Latin America

FARC holds secret meeting with sister group to push them to join peace talks

Colombia's second-largest insurgency, ELN, has rejected disarmament treaty in the past

Members of the ELN rebel movement seen last April.
Members of the ELN rebel movement seen last April.REUTERS

The leaders of two of Colombia’s biggest guerrilla insurgencies met in secret last month in Havana to discuss trying to advance the ongoing peace talks taking place in the Cuban capital between the government and one of the rebel groups.

National Liberation Army boss Nicolás Rodríguez Bautista, known as “Gabino,” and the leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri, known as “Timochencko,” held the meeting to discuss whether the ELN will join the talks.

Santos made a reelection campaign pledge last year to try to bring the ELN to the negotiating table

The announcement was made by the local press and confirmed later in a statement by President Juan Manuel Santos.

It wasn’t the first time that the two guerrilla leaders had met in secret, but it was the first time the Colombian government had supported the groundwork for their meeting.

“The government and the FARC are concerned that there is no negotiating table open to the ELN, and all of their efforts could fall apart if an agreement with the ELN isn’t reached,” said Eduardo Celis, an analyst with the Peace and Reconciliation Foundation.

One of Santos’s reelection campaign pledges last year was to try to bring the ELN to the negotiating table in Cuba, where his government has been holding peace talks with the FARC since November 2012.

The aim of the meeting was for “Gabino” to personally recognize the advances that the FARC has made in the peace process and decide if the ELN should also enter formal negotiations with the government, according to the local Colombian press.

The government didn’t sit in on the meeting with the two rebel leaders, according to the local press.

In a statement, the government’s lead negotiator, Humberto de la Calle, said that “incorporating the ELN in the process is in the best interest of Colombian society.”

The government didn’t sit in on the meeting with the two rebel leaders, according to the press. However, 11 months ago Santos announced that his government had maintained contacts with the ELN to explore the possibility of starting peace talks.

“We must be clear that there is only one conflict, and for that reason, there is only one process to end it. There cannot be two types of models for disarmament or two different process to clear up the truths,” he said then.

The FARC leaders also seem to share Santos’ vision. Iván Márquez, the number-two official in the rebel movement, wrote on his Twitter account on Tuesday that he backs holding just one peace process. “The goal of the two sister organizations is to work together from two tables and in the same process.”

In the past, exploratory talks between the ELN and the government have been fruitless.

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“The current situation is very complex because we have the FARC, which is aiming for a peace agreement, but we don’t know whether the ELN will also join in,” said Celis, “If there is no agreement with the ELN, then there could be a divorce between the two guerrilla groups. They can be talking now as friends, but that could change.”

The differences between the ELN and the Santos administration are difficult to resolve. The Colombian government wants a logical process whereby the guerrillas would first negotiate an agreement to lay down their arms and then discuss the terms of how peace will be implemented.

But the ELN wants the peace treaty deals first and then to discuss disarmament later.

The ELN was formed in 1964 based on Liberation theology, while the FARC was officially organized shortly before in that same year as a Marxist-Leninist group. Both have sought to overthrow the Colombian government in their decades-old war.