The new round of negotiations between Colombia’s government and the ELN (Ejercito de Liberacion Nacional, or National Liberation Army), which was set to begin in Quito, Ecuador, has been placed abruptly on hiatus by Juan Manuel Santos, the Colombian president.
Both Santos and the Colombian government want the ELN, the country’s second biggest guerrilla group, to release Odin Sanchez, who was captured by the guerrilla group six months ago and has remained their hostage ever since. Mr. Sanchez, a former congressman, was initially set to be released on Tuesday, October 26th. However, the increased pressure placed on the action ended up having the opposite effect on the ELN’s camp.
The negotiations were set to begin on the evening of October 26th in the Ecuadorian city of Quito, and to follow a similar pattern as the peace talks held with the ELN’s bigger and more famous counterpart, the FARC. However, the event was canceled less than 12 hours before its scheduled opening ceremony. According to the Colombian government, they remain willing to resume talks as early as Friday evening, provided Mr. Sanchez is released into the custody of the Ecuadorian Red Cross.
Dark Times For The Peace Process As Setbacks Accumulate
The Colombian pacification process has been long, tense, and fraught with obstacles. In particular, 2016 has been a bittersweet year so far for peace hopefuls, after the Colombian people voted to reject the government’s treaty with the FARC. This deal included a generalized amnesty for many of the guerrilla group’s leaders, as well as the right to participate in elections and win seats in Parliament, in exchange for laying down their weapons permanently.
Hard as it was for both parties to find common ground, a referendum showed that most Colombians opposed the deal, and considered it “too soft” on the FARC fighters. Nevertheless, Juan Manuel Santos was rewarded by the Norwegian Nobel Academy, who awarded him the Nobel Peace Prize in early October.
The Nobel Committee’s show of good faith seems to have allowed Santos to maintain support for his continued efforts at peace, despite his narrow defeat on the polls. With a difference of less than 2% in the polls, the referendum showed a country that is still divided and still grieves after decades of conflict.
A Long, Civil War Of Attrition
Both the FARC and the ELN’s initial uprisings date back to the 1960s. Considered terrorist organizations by the U.S. government and most of the international community, they have at times controlled sizable chunks of the country’s territory. In addition to guerrilla actions, they have been known to repeatedly use hostages as bargaining chips with the government or as ways to help raise funds from the victim’s families.
Both organizations are believed to be vastly weakened nowadays, compared to their peak in the 1980s. However, getting them to work with the government is considered a vital step to pacify sections of the Colombian jungle that are still threatened by the violent tactics of drug kingpins.