Colombia’s government on Wednesday called on the private sector to take active part in peace talks with ELN rebels who say public participation in the talks is key to their success.
Public participation in shaping an agreement that should lead to the rebels’ demobilization was one of the principal tenets demanded by the left-wing ELN when a framework for negotiation was published last month.
While the ELN as an organization is highly unpopular, mainly because of decades of kidnapping and killing, a number of their ideas regarding Colombia’s socio-economic system are shared by many Colombians.
For that reason, the guerrillas called on Colombians, in particular marginalized minorities, to help define the content of an eventual peace agreement with the administration of President Juan Manuel Santos.
We want to study society’s interests, study the democracy to see what transformations need to be made. This is also an opportunity for the state to reflect, learn and listen, and this can not just be done between the ELN and the government, but with society in its entirety.
ELN commander “Antonio Garcia”
While the rebels are hoping that broad public participation will advance their political cause, the government urged the private sector, politically opposed to the ELN’s Marxist ideals, to also participate.
The head of the government delegation, Frank Pearl, specifically urged the private sector to get involved in the negotiations in what he described as “a huge opportunity,” attempting to ease fears that businessmen may be frozen out of the process, but be confronted with potentially negative consequences for their businesses.
“Entrepreneurs should individually or collectively use the mechanisms of participation so that their perspective is there. They cannot be spectators.” he said.
Both sides announced the formalization of talks on the 30 March and published the agreed framework for negotiation.
The first item on the agenda entitled “Public participation in peace building” aiming at allowing the public to shape the course of the agreement is close to the heart of the rebels’ Marxist ideology.
The rebels cited “the presence of society in almost all points” as paramount when the framework was agreed.
According to ELN commander “Antonio Garcia,” a broadly supported peace deal “can not be an idea of ours, of what we have in our heads, we need to address reality, go to Colombian society, its social organizations, its political organizations, its native peoples, its black communities, its women, the academic world, intellectuals, the media, businessmen and farmhands.”
However many in the private sector expressed concerns about their interests if the government proceeded with negotiations with the rebels whose Marxist ideology goes directly against the free market principles cherished by most business owners.
While primarily calling on the private sector, Pearl also moved to encourage other groups in society to contribute and engage in the public phase of the talks in order to have their voices heard.
“The unions, organizations and citizens can sit initiatives and proposals on the items on the agenda,” said the chief negotiator.
He stressed that “participation of society in building peace is one of the issues on the agenda of negotiations with the ELN, the guerrilla special order, and so is the recognition of the victims.”
The negotiations between the ELN and Colombia’s government will commence in Ecuador in May.
There will also be workshops in held in Venezuela , Chile , Brazil and Cuba while Norway act as a guarantor nation.
The talks will seek to end a 51-year-conflict between the Marxist-inspired rebels and the state.