Zuluaga says Santos revealed ELN peace talks for electoral purposes

Oscar Ivan Zuluaga (Photo: Semana)

Hard-line Colombia presidential candidate Oscar Ivan Zuluaga criticized a recent deal between rebel group ELN and the government to begin formal peace talks, calling them opportunistic, reports W Radio.

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Just after several leftist groups and the international community praised the reaching of this point with the ELN rebel group, Colombia’s second largest rebel army, figures on the right, including Zuluaga and Conservative Marta Lucia Ramirez sharply criticized the deal as being “political,” and “part of the Santos campaign.”

MORE: Colombia’s left, international community generally praise proposed ELN-govt talks

The announcement of peace talks comes four days before a run-off election is slated between incumbent President Juan Manuel Santos, and Democratic Center (Centro Democratic0 – CD) challenger Zuluaga.

Zuluaga responds

When asked by W Radio about the recent deal between the two warring parties, Zuluaga stated that, “it is suspicous that a few days before the election of a new government, in an act of desperation, they use peace for their electoral processes, it is a bad precedent for the country,” he told Bogota-based W Radio.

Zuluaga continued, stating “This is a a desperate government that the people don’t approve of, a government without social backing, an oligarchical government without social dialogue, their only tools are to once again betray Colombians a few days before elections.”

Ramirez’s reaction

Ramirez, afirst-round presidential candidate for the Conservative Party and current debate chief for Zuluaga, called the talks “a movement of the campaign. It doesn’t deserve a positive or negative comment, it is simply an act of campaign,” she told W Radio.

Ramirez criticized the dialogues, “Will the ELN also stop attacking the petroleum infrastructure of the country? Will they have a license to continue the recruitment of children, while they converse with the Santos government? The peace is not Santos’, rather that of a country that must advance in negotiations, along with transparency in the conditions of this dialogue.”

Peace talks with other guerrilla group already contentious

Colombia has been in peace talks with the FARC, the largest guerrilla group in Colombia, since November of 2012 in Havana, Cuba, already a contentious issue in the upcoming second-round of Colombian elections.

The peace talks with the FARC have seemed to monopolize the discourse of the presidential elections, as incumbent President Juan Manuel Santos claims to represent “peace, as opposed to a war without end,” while challenger Oscar Ivan Zuluaga promises a peace “without impunity,”alleging that Santos would give too much leniency to the leaders of the FARC in the event of a peace accord being reached.

Since no candidate received over 50% of the vote in the first round, a second round is mandated by law.

MORE: Colombia govt, ELN rebels announce formal peace talks

Peace talks with the ELN

The ELN (National Liberation Army) and the government have been fighting since 1964. It was originally formed as far-left movement with both Marxist and Catholic influences. Today the group is better known for kidnapping and the targeting of  multinational oil companies.

After two years of on-again, off-again communication between the guerrilla group and the government, the warring parties announced the beginning of formal peace talks on Tuesday morning.

Peace negotiations in 2002 and 2004 between the rebel group and the administration of Alvaro Uribe failed and military pressure intensified. In response, the ELN allied itself with drug gangs such as the Rastrojos to remain intact. The ELN currently has about 2,000 combatants as opposed to the 8,000 currently fighting with larger Colombian rebel group, the FARC.

MORE: Correa says preliminary peace talks with ELN took place in Ecuador


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