The Peace Dialogues in Colombia Analyzed by Women of the ELN

250px-flag_of_eln-svgBy Carina López Monja
Resumen Latinoamericano

Colombia is agitated by a turmoil. In the span of just a few weeks, the results of the plebiscite blocked the Peace Agreement between the government and the FARC, there were mass mobilizations, President Juan Manuel Santos was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize (not without controversy) and the dialogue with the National Liberation Army (ELN) was announced, but then postponed by the government. We’ll explore the key issues of this armed conflict, which is affecting all sectors of Colombian society, through the voices of women.

The result of the referendum generated uncertainty in all sectors. Although the No won by a small margin and with a large rate of abstentions, it left no clue as to what would happen with the armed conflict. The unanimous response was the desire for peace. Everyone —voters against the referendum, for the referendum, politicians, unions, social movements and the entire population reaffirmed their desire for peace and the need to achieve it. Since then, in vertiginous times, Santos was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, Uribe manifested his will to dialogue and millions of Colombians took to the streets.

The beginning of the public phase of the dialogue between the ELN and the government and the reactivation of the dialogues with the FARC were specific steps forward, together with the participation of civil society. However, the unilateral decision made by Santos’ government to put a hold on the negotiations in Quito (alleging that the ELN must first release Odín Sánchez, one of the people they kidnapped) soured the expectations for the negotiations.

Unlike the male-only delegation of Santos’ government, the ELN is represented by several women, who are a part of the organization. One of them, Consuelo Tapias, explained: “the dialogue table was supposed to be inaugurated on the 27th of October, but there were difficulties and until it begins, we will stay in Quito, waiting for the misunderstandings to be solved and to install the public phase of the dialogues. Both parties had agreed on making humanitarian gestures in order to begin the dialogues. These included the release of members of the ELN that are imprisoned by the state and the release of people that are currently being held by the ELN. That’s where we’re at today, and hoping that the dialogue begins”.

Chronicle of a frustrated dialogue

Hundreds of leaders of social movements, chancellors from the guarantor countries, Colombian and Ecuadorian journalists were ready to participate in the opening of the public phase of negotiations in Quito, Ecuador. But President Santos decided to postpone them arguing that Odín Sánchez was to be released first. The ELN pointed out that this isn’t written in the agreements and that they have fulfilled their commitments.

So now all of the national and international supporters have returned to their homes with their hands empty. The participation of civil society in the peace process is the first item of the agenda of negotiations in Quito. Numerous social sectors launched yesterday the Social Roundtable for Peace, which highlights the importance of listening to the voice of social movements in this discussion. Another female representative of the ELN, Silvana Guerrero, remarked the importance of encouraging a nation-wide discussion around the peace process. “The core of this process is the participation of civil society, through its social organizations, economic guilds, excluded sectors, those who have never had the chance to be listened to and much less to propose their ideas. Only with the participation of all Colombian people will we be able to transform Colombia and make it peaceful, and end the problems that affect our people and our territory, with effective solutions to the causes that generated the armed conflict to begin with”, Guerrero affirmed.

Dialogues with the voters of the Yes, the No and the FARC

After the results of the plebiscite, countless actions and initiatives were set up in Colombia to promote peace: from yesterday’s Social Roundtable, to camps and vigils, which have lasted over a week, debates, dialogues between President Santos and political parties and a new meeting with the FARC delegation in Havana.

Many social sectors are concerned about the smear campaign that former president Álvaro Uribe Vélez has done to get the No to win at the plebiscite —which has been even confessed by other campaign members— and the ongoing criminalization of social movements by the government, that has been institutionalized by a heavy-handed police code and has imprisoned union leaders and murdered a peasant leader of Patriotic March only in the last week.

On this regard, María Helena Buitrago, who is a member of the peace delegation of the National Liberation Army, affirmed: “the plebiscite has left a lesson for the Colombian people: peace has no color, nor sides, therefore at the table we maintain that the confluence of all sectors of society is absolutely necessary. Peace must be built by all of us —it depends on a joint effort by the State, the guerrillas and the Colombian people”.

All three women —Tapias, Guerrero and Buitrago—, concluded by remarking the importance of the role of women not only in their organization but in the peace process: “what we as women of the ELN and as Colombian women propose is that women should play a very important role as political subjects and as subjects of rights. We must change the reality of our country and the patriarchal system”.