Wednesday, November 14, 2012

ELN Guerrillas Look to Join Colombia Peace Talks

With the start of negotiations between the Colombian government and leftist rebels the FARC just days away, Colombia’s second largest insurgency, the National Liberation Army (ELN), has again indicated it wants to participate.

The ELN leadership has published an “open letter to the negotiating table in Havana,” in which they announced they were ready to begin exploratory talks with the government and had formed a delegation for that purpose. The Colombian government has yet to respond to the ELN’s letter.

Since the announcement of this latest round of talks, the ELN has engaged in a media back and forth with the government, declaring their willingness to join talks one minute, denouncing negotiations  as “cheap” and “doomed to perish” the next.

The group has criticized the government’s refusal to discuss Colombia’s social and economic order and called for increased participation from civil society and for the imposition of ceasefire - something the government has so far refused to consider.

However, despite the for-the-media rhetoric, the ELN may already be involved in behind the scenes talks. Last month, former ELN guerrilla turned NGO analyst Leon Valencia claimed that negotiations to join the table had begun and that an ELN delegation was in Oslo for the launch of the talks to observe the process. Peace campaigner and former senator Piedad Cordoba supported the claim, saying the ELN and the government had an "exchange of letters" over the issue.

According to Valencia, the participation of the ELN could be crucial to the success of the talks. “A delay in the process could result in sad temptations for the country,” he said. “The ELN could decide to continue in the conflict, it could feed on the FARCs sources of finance, FARC dissidents could reinforce the ELN’s military structure.”

The participation of the ELN, could also change the shape of the talks, according to Valencia. While the FARC considers itself to be the representatives of certain sectors of society, the ELN has always looked for a more participatory process, possibly involving the formation of a national people’s convention, he said.

The ELN is estimated to have around 2,500 armed insurgents - about half the number of its mid-90s peak. The group is implicated in drug trafficking, recruitment of minors and extortion. Ideologically, the ELN combines a Marxist-Leninist outlook with Catholic liberation theology.

The peace talks have now been moved from the scheduled start date of the 15th to the 19th.

Ahead of the start of negotiations, La Silla Vacia analyses the FARC’s military strength while the Just the Facts blogs has compiled a list of “interesting sources” on the talks.

News Briefs
  • The Mexican senate has approved proposed new labor reforms, the AP reports, leaving the controversial bill just needing the approval of President Felipe Calderon - who originally proposed the measure - to pass. The bill is designed to increase labor flexibility by loosening regulations on outsourcing and part-time and hourly work. While supporters claim it will generate thousands of jobs, critics say it strips away job protections and benefits - which are needed to supplement meager wages. The bill originally contained measures to democratize Mexico’s unions, but these were removed in the lower house. As reported previously in this briefing the bill has been seen as a challenge to the modernization credentials of the incoming PRI government of Enrique Peña Nieto.
  • Jailed former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori could face new corruption charges after the Chilean High Court gave the go-ahead for a trial for allegedly misappropriating nearly $50 million in public funds to bankroll a group of tabloids that lobbied for his re-election during his final years in office, the AP reports. The news comes just a month after Fujimori’s family requested a pardon for his conviction on human rights abuses and corruption. 
  • The Inter Press Agency also looks at the latest World Bank figures, which suggest the Latin American middle class has grown 50 percent in the last ten years. However, the article cautions that the gains may be fragile and that many of the region’s population that moved out of poverty did not join the middle class but a new “vulnerable” class, which could easily slide backwards. 
  • Colombia Reports reports on a shocking UN study, "The State of Food Insecurity in the World,", which states that 120,000 Colombians dies of malnutrition every year. 
  • The Venezuela Politics and Human Rights blog looks at the possibility of a change in U.S.-Venezuela relations following the elections in both countries. The author calls for the U.S. to balance criticisms over civil liberties with recognition over advances in economic and social equality, stating “acknowledging progress in social and economic equality does not mean retreating from criticism of democratic shortcomings; it provides a platform for it.”
  • The Council on Hemispheric Affairs analyses plans in Bolivia to limit freedom of expression on the internet by punishing users that level insults at President Evo Morales and his government on online social media outlets like Facebook, Twitter, and online forums. The article concludes that although this is a complicated issue, the proposed measure is worryingly authoritarian and that “protecting public order shouldn't occur by suppressing constitutional rights.”
  • The election victory of Maya Fernández Allende - granddaughter of deposed socialist president Salvador Allende - has been reversed following a recount that saw victory - by just 30 votes - handed to her opponent Pedro Sabat, reports the Guardian.
  • The Guardian also reports on efforts by Brazilian scientists to clone and hybridize endangered species such as the jaguar, anteater and maned wolves. According to the article, “The project is being designed to supply zoos, but it appears likely to generate unease among conservationists who are already concerned that rare animal farming generates market demand and distracts from the more important task of habitat protection.”
  • The L.A. Times features a story on the alleged Nazi past of one of Colombia’s best-known anthropologists, Gerardo Reichel-Dolmatoff, who immigrated to Colombia in 1939. According to the Times, Reichel-Dolmatoff was an “Indiana Jones figure” renowned for his work with indigenous groups. However, a fragment of his diary suggests he was an active member of the Nazi party and was in the SS - from which he was kicked out in 1936 for insubordination. 
  • The Latin America Working Group (LAWG) has published excerpts of a new book - Throwing Stones at the Moon: Narrative from Colombians Displaced by Violence - a collection of oral histories describing forced displacement in Colombia.