With the future of talks between the Colombian government and the ELN uncertain, the FARC is now actively promoting the inclusion of its smaller guerrilla cousin in the peace process.
On Monday the official website of the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) negotiating team in Havana published a joint communique signed by FARC commander Timoleon Jimenez and Nicolas Rodriguez Bautista, head of the smaller National Liberation Army (ELN). The statement claims that the two held a rare “summit” somewhere in the interior of the country with the aim of strengthening their mutual goals. In addition to stressing the need for a “united guerrilla and revolutionary movement,” the two rebel leaders agreed that “any solution to the internal conflict in our country through dialogue must inevitably advance through conversations with all Colombian insurgents.”
The statement is a rare demonstration of cooperation between the two rebel groups, each of which has historically taken great pains to distance itself from the other. The two have occasionally even engaged each other in combat, most recently in a 2010 clash over territory in the northeastern province of Arauca.
By declaring support for wider talks, the FARC are adding pressure on the government of President Juan Manuel Santos to involve the ELN in the peace process. The latter guerrilla group has been highly vocal about its desire to participate in the negotiations, even sending representatives to Havana in January only to have them turned away by Cuban officials because they lacked the permission of the Colombian government.
In April the president said he was willing to negotiate with the ELN “sooner rather than later,” but subsequently insisted that the rebels release all prisoners and hostages as a pre-condition, especially Jernoc Wobert, a Canadian mining engineer who was captured in January. The ELN has said it is open to freeing the Canadian, but gave no details about a date or the logistics of the release.
Reuters notes that the communique amounts to the FARC “flexing its political muscles,” and claims it is “sure to annoy President Juan Manuel Santos who has called on the rebels to stick to what was agreed upon before talks began in Cuba.”
The statement comes just as the government resumes the latest round of talks with the FARC in Havana, which will focus on participation in democratic politics. Last month FARC added ten points to the previously agreed-upon agenda for the round, advocating for the attorney general and ombudsman’s offices to be submitted to popular election and reasserting their position that the government should delay elections to hold a constituent assembly.
In an op-ed for El Tiempo, Colombia historian Eduardo Posada Carbo argues that the FARC’s changed proposal “dilute the climate for peace, feeding doubts about the motives of the FARC in this new phase.” For Mauricio Garcia Villegas of the Bogota-based Dejusticia research center, the rebel’s demands for a new constitution reflect “a mix of ingenuity and dogmatism,” fueled by the inaccurate assumption that they speak for a majority of the country.
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