Colombia’s last-standing guerrilla group ELN on Thursday reiterated its hopes that peace talks that were suspended by the government in February can be resumed.
Following a terrorist attack that killed more than 20 police cadets and injured more than 60, President Ivan Duque said he would not resume the talks he had suspended when taking office in August last year.
“We maintain a certain hope that the day the Duque administration rethinks its negative position on the dialogues is getting closer,” said “Pablo Beltran,” the ELN’s chief negotiator in Cuba.
Beltran justified his optimism by claiming that President Duque has been severely weakened by his refusal to talk to the ELN and his resistance to implementing a peace deal made with FARC guerrillas.
“The government has many problems and if it stops being so reactive to the peace project, it can get a margin of governability,” Beltran told French news agency AFP.
The ELN leader stressed that the surge in dissident FARC factions and tensions with Venezuela weakened the government’s military effectiveness to combat the 55-year-old guerrilla group.
Beltran also claimed that rearmaments of demobilized FARC guerrillas was no surprise because of “an alliance of state and paramilitary actors that are extracting territory from social leaders.”
Most of the ELN’s leadership remained in Cuba after the government refused to honor international protocols which were agreed to ahead of the talks that would allow the commanders to safely reunite with their troops.
The ELN’s chief negotiator denied recent military claims that almost half of his guerilla troops are in neighboring Venezuela. Military intelligence shows that the guerrillas have been active here since the 1990’s.
“There are no troops [in Venezuela]. Sometimes, you have to pass through when we are in a hurry at the border,” Beltran said.
Until there is a peace deal, the ELN will continue to fight the Colombian government, said the rebel chief, stressing that “as long as the extermination [of community leaders] continues, we have to continue our resistance,” Beltran said.
The group has been fighting the Colombian state since its inception in 1964 in an attempt to replicate the successful revolution in Cuba and “overthrow the oligarchy.”
The armed conflict in which multiple illegal armed actors have taken part has cost the lives of at least 265,000 Colombians and has left another 80,000 missing.