Last week, members of Colombia’s ELN left-wing rebel group and government negotiators began talks seeking to end more than five decades of conflict.
The negotiations were launched at a ceremony in the capital of Ecuador, Quito, where the talks will be held. Ecuador is hosting the first round of negotiations, with Brazil, Chile, Cuba, Norway and Venezuela acting as guarantors. The chief ELN negotiator, Pablo Beltran, has urged both sides to rally around the points that united them and to leave aside their differences. He further called on the rebels to officially suspend its kidnapping policy during the negotiations. The ELN relies on the ransom obtained from kidnappings to finance its activities. Mr Beltran disclosed that peace would not be achieved through more repression, adding “we need a political solution. We are willing to take responsibility for the mistakes we have made but we expect the other side to do the same.
The top government representative, Juan Camilo Restrepo, meanwhile disclosed that he expected to draw from the lessons of the negotiations with the FARC in order to reach a peace accord with the ELN. Both officials however agreed that this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for the country to achieve peace.
The ELN, or National Liberation Army, is Colombia’s second largest rebel group. It was founded in 1964 with the stated aim of fighting Colombia’s unequal distribution of land and riches, which was inspired by the Cuban revolution of 1959. The talks were initially due to begin at the end of October last year however they were delayed as the Colombian government refused to sit down for formal negotiations while the rebels still held Odin Sanchez, a former congressman. Mr Sanchez was released on 2 February 2017 while on 6 February, the group released a solider it had been holding hostage for two weeks. The soldier, Freddy Moreno, was handed over to delegates from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Arauca province.
The talks come just months after the Colombian government signed a peace agreement with Colombia’s largest rebel group, the FARC. In November 2016, the Colombian government signed a revised peace agreement with the country’s largest group, the FARC, after four years of negotiations in the Cuban capital, Havana. Members of the FARC have ben gathering in “transition zones,” where they are to demobilise and lay down their weapons under the supervision of United Nations monitors. According to government officials, the last of the FARC rebels are expected to reach the designated debilitation areas by 15 February.
Late last month, Colombia’s second largest rebel group, the ELN, announced that it was ready to call a bilateral ceasefire with the Colombian government while they negotiate an end to five decades of war.
According to the National Liberation Army’s (ELN) negotiator Aureliano Carbonell, “we are willing to have a bilateral ceasefire from the beginning…That would help create another climate to the peace process; send the nation a positive message.” He went on to say that the ELN would allow former President Alvaro Uribe’s participation in the talks, adding “we agree that Uribe, or a representative, participates at the negotiating table. Peace is made with adversaries and Uribe leads the biggest war mongering sector.” Uribe is the strongest opponent of the FARC accord and demands that rebel commanders are jailed for their crimes. Juan Camil Restrepo, chief government negotiator, has said that he will seek a “de-escalation” of the conflict.
The government and the ELN will begin formal peace talks in Ecuador on 7 February, once the insurgent group frees a kidnapped politician and authorities pardon two jailed rebels. The sit down will effectively end three years of back and forth between the two sides. Officials are also hoping that it will stop a conflict that has pitted leftist rebels against right-wing paramilitaries and the military, killing over 220,000.
Any early bilateral ceasefire would contrast with the FARC talks, which stretched for four years in Cuba and which were conducted mostly amidst fighting and bomb attacks. A bilateral ceasefire was only called in the final stages of the talks.
The Colombian Senate has approved a revised peace accord with the country’s largest rebel group, the FARC after the first agreement was narrowly rejected in a referendum in October 2016. The revised agreement will now go to the lower house of Congress for approval.
President Juan Manuel Santos has disclosed that the new proposals are stronger and take into account the changes that were demanded by opponents of the initial scheme. Those opponents however, who are led by former President Alvaro Uribe, have already indicated that the revised deal is still too lenient on FARC leaders.
The peace accord is aimed at ending an armed conflict that has killed more than 260,000 people over five decades. The two sides reached an agreement earlier this year after four years of talks that were held in the Cuban capital, Havana.
The US presidential elections are already swinging the pendulum for Latin America in significant ways. The fear that the US will now revert to protectionism lead to a major sell off across different asset classes. The Mexican Peso tumbled to 20-years lows and has hardly recovered as of yet, pulling down the entire region. After an initial quick fall the Dollar bounced hard and is currently trading at multi-month highs. This has exacerbated the devaluation of Latin American currencies, which are traded against the Dollar.
Apart from the financial fallout, geopolitical consequences of Trump’s future policies have appeared as well. Now that Trump has confirmed he will not support the Trans-Pacific Partnership, potential members like Chili, Peru, Mexico and Colombia will likely beef up their bilateral economic relations in order to compensate for TPP. Peru already stated to foresee bilateral negotiations with Australia and New Zealand. Argentina, very open to free trade, will receive $4.1 billion in investments from Canada. This is about half the amount expected from US companies through 2019. A more protectionist approach by Trump could bring that amount down and leave the door open for Canadian companies to fill the gap. Withdrawal from NAFTA could exacerbate this and will constitute extra incentive for Latin American countries to strengthen bilateral relations with other geopolitical powers. Peru, which has strong historic ties with China, already trades more with China than with the US, a development that could potentially spill over to increased security and military cooperation. President Kuczynski’s pull to China is very clear: “We hope to tap into new markets in China, especially for agriculture. We are also interested in cooperation on science and technology. Furthermore, cultural exchanges and cooperation in archaeology and climate change are also very important for us.” It remains the question whether the US will look on from the sidelines if Russia and China increase their influence in Latin America.
Interregional relations are likely to strengthen as well, given Trump’s veiled threats to Central American countries on the topic of immigration. Whether the US will build a wall or will significantly increase deportations of immigrants, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador have said to form a bloc with Mexico to deal with the US under Trump leadership. However, with regards to Mexico, it is likely that organized-crime competition will increase, as a result of traffic restrictions and stricter border controls. In this scenario, conflict over control over the remaining open crossings would lead to increased violence. Violence in border cities like Ciudad Juarez and Tijuana is already on the rise. The second security consequence for Mexico stems from the influx of deportees, who would have few employment opportunities in Mexico. They could provide a ready pool of labour for criminal organizations. Central American cooperation is said to increase collaboration on jobs, investments and migration.
It remains to be seen as to which direction the pendulum will eventually swing, however, for the moment significant financial, economic and security consequences are already visible in Latin America.
President Juan Manuel Santos disclosed on 22 November that a new peace accord between the Colombian government and Marxist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels will be signed on Thursday 24 November, effectively bringing a formal end to the 52-year civil war ever closer.
The revised document will be signed in Bogota between FARC leader Rodrigo Londono and President Santos, who won the Nobel Peace Prize last month for his efforts to end the conflict with the insurgent group. During a televised address on Tuesday, President Santos stated, “We have the unique opportunity to close this painful chapter in our history that has bereaved and afflicted millions of Colombians for half a century.
Over the last four years, the Colombian government and the FARC have been in talks in Havana, Cuba in a bid to agree on a peace deal to end a conflict that has killed more than 220,000 and displaced millions in the Andean country. In a bid to build support, after the original draft was rejected in a 2 October referendum amidst objections that it was too favourable to the rebels, the government published the revised version last week. The expanded and highly technical 310-page document appears to make only small modifications to the original text, such as clarifying private property rights and detailing more fully how th rebels would be confined in rural areas for crimes committed during the war.
President Santos and London had signed the original deal two months ago in a ceremony before world leaders and United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. This time however it has been decided that the revised accord will be ratified in Congress instead of holding an other referendum – a move that will likely anger members of the opposition, particularly former President Alvaro Uribe who spearheaded the push to reject the original accord. The former Colombian leader wants deeper changes to the new version and he has already criticized it as just a slight altered version of the original. Furthermore, he wants rebel leaders to be banned from holding public office and for them to be jailed for crimes. In his televised address, President Santos stated that “this new accord possibly wont satisfy everybody, but that’s what happens in peace accords. There are always critical voices; it is understandable and respectable,” warning that another plebiscite could divide the nation and put in danger the bilateral ceasefire.
The FARC, which began as a rebellion fighting rural poverty, has battled a dozen governments as well as right-wing paramilitary groups. An end to the war with the FARC is however unlikely to end violence in the country as the lucrative cocaine business has given rise to dangerous criminal gangs and traffickers that operate throughout the country.