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Colombia: The ELN and the Ceasefire

Gearóid Ó Loingsigh

31 January 2018

On the 9th of January the ceasefire agreed to by the Colombian government and insurgents of the ELN came to an end. The state’s army reacted quickly with large scale operations, surely planned and prepared a long time ago and the ELN also did their bit with armed actions in various parts of the country.  The attack in Barranquilla, which took the lives of fives police officers, was the most serious of their acts and that which prompted the right to demand the ending of the peace process with that group.  The “left” was not far behind in their statements.

From the word go, various Ngoers, academics and others did not hesitate in blaming the ELN, amongst them Victor de Currea-Lugo.  This person has managed to present himself as the main expert in the country on the ELN.  We are never short of his interviews nor photos of himself smiling between ELN commanders like Gabino and Antonio García.  We don’t know what sweet lullabies he whispers in the ears of the elenos, but his public declarations are hard and forceful.  He attacks them and, not for the first time, he is in the wrong.

In an article published the day after the ending of the ceasefire, he points to, as is his wont, a lack of unity in the ELN and that the tail of the most violent wags the dog and furthermore he accuses them of being stupid and naïve and asks:

But, did the ELN really expect a perfect ceasefire?  Did the ELN really think that the government and its armed forces would comply 100% when they didn’t do so?  It would seem that the breakdown of a consensus for peace within the organisation and the rush to guarantee their organisational unity at any price, won out.
The ELN is aware of the serious problems of non-compliance by the government in the case of the FARC, but that is not what is daunting, that is part and parcel of it.  What weighs them down is the internal unity that they want to save any price and as the saying goes and army marches at the rhythm of the slowest.(1)
In other words, such idiots to think that the ceasefire would apply to the state and moreover he wants them to surrender just like the FARC did.  Without a doubt, there is a wide section of the “left” that wants the ELN to hand themselves in, as soon as possible, just like the FARC did.  Last year the FARC travelled to Quito to convince the elenos of the virtues of their process whilst all around them social leaders and demobilised guerrillas were cut down.

Now, following the attack in Barranquilla, more voices have been added to the cry against the ending of the ceasefire and, it must be said, against the ELN as the only or main culprit of it.  The NGO Associación Minga asked for a unilateral ceasefire on the ELN’s part, as did various personalities like Alejo Vargas.  Of course, we can ignore Alejo Vargas, as after years of strutting around amongst sectors of the “left” when it was convenient, last year he was awarded a medal by the state’s army, with a military parade included.  Vargas’s criticisms are those of the army that decorated him and the state to which he promises loyalty.

They all demand a unilateral ceasefire from the ELN.  When the army, which nobody asks for a ceasefire, attacks the ELN, what are they to do?  Surrender? Flee? Die?  The statements from the NGOs and these personalities are not surprising.  The ELN in all its contacts with the government, such as the Peace House in Medellín, has surrounded itself with NGOs and public figures that only want the elenos to hand themselves over at any price and as soon as possible.  What is surprising is that the ELN continues to place its trust in the virtues of a gang of organisations and people that have no interest in confronting the Colombian state, nor the European Union, their main benefactors, but rather want whatever these states ask for to be done.

The ceasefire ended not just due to the state’s breaches of it, but also because the state showed no will to make any necessary adjustments to it.  In December 2017, the ELN announced they were withdrawing from the ceasefire monitoring mechanism.  It was a clear sign that there would be no automatic renewal of the ceasefire, but those who now demand a unilateral truce from the ELN said nothing.  The ELN did not break the ceasefire on January 9th, rather it ended as had been agreed to.

In recent days, the paramilitaries killed a leader of the civic strike in Buenaventura, they killed two other leaders in Southern Bolívar and three more in Sucre, amongst others.  Of course, for De Currea-Lugo and others, these murders are not violent actions by the state, as they have already accepted the discourse, against which human rights organisations have fought, that the paramilitaries are not part of the state.  When the state attacked the ELN capturing and killing various guerrillas, they did not call for a unilateral ceasefire from the state, as far as they are concerned, its actions are legitimate.  Recently the state’s military forces bombarded an indigenous reservation and this is also the ELN’s fault.  This episode clearly shows that the NGOs that most frequently appear in the media talking about peace are not NON governmental organisations, the N is superfluous and the ELN would do well to take note, as neither do they represent the people that the ELN want to enter into a dialogue with.

To cap it all, De Currea-Lugo sent out the following gem on twitter: “We have supported peace for years.  After the suspension of the talks in Quito and the continued violation of the rights of peace activists, I have taken the decision to leave the country for a while and withdraw from public activities.  I need a fresh start.”  He has the right to do whatever he wants with his life, there are many Colombians who would love to leave the country with the same ease that he does and make a fresh start, but they can’t as state policies have real consequences in their lives and they do not enjoy the luxury of fresh starts, from one day to the next.

(1) Victor de Currea-Lugo, Semana (10/01/2018), Sobre el error del ELN de finalizar el cese al fuego

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