The leader of Colombia’s second largest rebel group, the ELN, said Sunday that any peace dialogue between his organization and the government must take into account the “historical reasons of the conflict.”
“The case of Colombia is this, all generations since the [Spanish] conquest [have] lived through war and desired peace has not arrived. When prior governments have set out their willingness for peace, the ELN has been available. Since last year we have said to President [Juan Manuel] Santos that if public opinion is for peace, they can count on the ELN,” said the ELN leader, Nicolas Rodriguez Bautista, alias “Gabino,” in an interview with with newspaper El Espectador.
Gabino said it was difficult to know how a possible peace negotiation with the government would differ from the ongoing FARC-government peace talks in Havana, Cuba.
“It is difficult to say, because to date the reaches and methodologies of the process in Havana are not clear…between the FARC and the government there is an ongoing process and we are not even in exploratory dialogues, for this reason we cannot speak of a single table, we are willing to accept the reality of two separate negotiation tables,” said Gabino
The rebel leader stated that Colombia’s “oppressed majorities” should have a significant say in any given peace process.
“Colombia suffers from a complex social and armed conflict, the most serious analysts acknowledge its economic, political and social origins have been shaped by the terrible inequality and the repression to silence the struggles of the great majorities that lie at its center. This is also the interpretation of the ELN and this reality has resuled in the taking up of arms. Peace begins with acknowledging this reality and beginning a process which progresses towards the great solutions; if the Santos government understands the [causes] in this way, the road is clear and an inclusive process could be initiated, where these majorities would be protagonists.”
Gabino criticized the government for allegedly allowing transnational mining companies have more influence in the country’s future than the Colombian people.
“Who has overseen Colombia’s transformation from agriculture to mining? The idea that the [government] are the defenders of the Colombian homeland is relative, their soul is Occidental, British [Petroleum], Nestle, Drummond…Chiquita…the [thought] that [state-owned oil company] Ecopetrol is a part of Colombian heritage is contradictory. If Santos’ mining-energy plans are realized, Colombia would go down a terrible tunnel, with very grave consequences not only for the population but for the planet, in a continent where the conscience for the harmony between humanity and mother earth are growing.”
“The government should consult with the majority about the strategic, economic and political plans, and not the transnational capitalists. This would be democracy and sovereignty, which is the opposite of what the [Colombian] president did at the Rio [de Janeiro] meeting last year, when he offered more than 42 million acres to the mining transnationals. Also, the debacle with the FTA [free trade agreements] which is reflected in the coffee strike and which ruins the medium [manufacturing] sectors of production, shows that the government is on one side and, [but] the the majority is on the other, and this behavior of the those in power has [forced] the country into a an unprecedented crisis.”
In late February, some 90,000 workers in Colombia’s iconic coffe sector called a two week strike, arguing that the government had abandoned the industry in favor of other sectors.
The rebel also said that the Colombian state had been responsible for the majority of human rights’ violations in recent history.
“Our last [ELN] congress reaffirmed the validity of the victims’ claims in pursuing truth, justice and compensation, and we have ratified that publicly. The most serious statistics have showed that the State is the main violator of human rights in Colombia…the ELN has never had a policy of harming the population and when we have committed errors and affected the population we have [admitted] that.”
Furthermore, the commander said the Colombian government needed to end the practice of criminalizing popular protests and social movements in order to reach lasting peace.
“The ELN did not start the war, they launched military and political repression against us and declared war against social protest. The origins of our most recent armed uprising in 1964 was the criminalization of the oil strike in [the northern city of] Barrancabermeja in 1963 and the repression of student protests in the 1960’s…Since 1980 we extended throughout country and maintained our forces in vast regions, where the State is only present through their armed forces and where we are the real authority, together with community organizations,” said Gabino.
The ELN, with some 2,500 armed members, is Colombia’s second largest rebel group, and has consistently expressed its desire to take part in the peace talks taking place between the Colombian government and rebel group FARC.
- “Si es para la paz, cuenten con el Eln” (El Espectador)