Pablo Beltrán, ELN Dialogue Delegation Member: “Majorities Must Press for Peace”. of the members of the guerrilla dialogue delegation in Havana said that they were awaiting a resumption of talks with the Government, with which they maintained channels of communication. He spoke of the new blueprint for violence in the country and how it was driven by major economic interests.

Every morning, Pablo Beltrán is somewhere in Havana, Cuba, on the Internet for two hours reviewing Colombian and world media.

He then begins activities assigned to him by his organization, the National Liberation Army, ELN, related to communications, meetings with diplomats and political leaders, in an effort to restart peace talks with the Colombian government.

With his colleagues he attends to the media and delegates from countries that are friends of the process. These are hectic days in which, he says, there is always plenty to do. Even so, he and his fellow delegates from that insurgent organization make time to visit some places in Cuba and practice sports to maintain their physical condition.

Pablo swims, a sport he has been involved in since his school days, thanks to the fact that he was born in a town full of rivers and streams, San Gil, Santander: “One learns to swim first, then to walk”.

He is not a fan of any football team, although he always does his best because of the tricolor. He likes to watch sports, and like millions of Colombians he vibrated with the pedals of Egan Bernal in France, and now he does it with Nairo and Supermán López in Spain.

Cinema is his hobby. He enjoyed the film Vice very much, “because it shows how politics works in the United States”. His favourite food is all that has spice and he recommends having rum, hopefully Cuban, with gatherings.

As a revolutionary, he has had to develop a very specific version of love, because although he loves his children very much, he must stay away: “The closer I get to them, the more I communicate with them, the more they become a military target”.

He dreams of a better country for his grandchildren. This yearning is dependent on a political solution to the war in Colombia, a country that, he says, will be a good living wage earner because it has ample resources, space, ingenuity and tenacity to be a great nation.

On the subject of those dreams, VOZ spoke to him via the Internet to find out if there are any rapprochements between the ELN and the national government, to find out his vision of the new wars in the territories abandoned by the FARC and about the dissidents led by Iván Márquez and Santrich.

New map of violence

On the agenda you signed with the Santos government, what progress did you make?

We managed to develop the beginning at point one, in the sense of creating a methodology of participation that was designed in November 2017 in Tocancipá. The report of this work with society was done by the United Nations.

We also agreed to a bilateral ceasefire of 101 days, where the ELN made a commitment not to detain, not to attack the oil infrastructure. When Santos left, we tried a second bilateral suspension, but due to the haste to change the government, it was never done, although there are protocols already in place to continue developing what we call the dialogues to provide society with relief and reduce the intensity of the conflict.

With Duque’s government and after signing with the FARC, there is a new map of violence in the country. The areas that that guerrillas left behind have been covered by you, such as drug trafficking and paramilitaries.

Colombia from La Colonia is a country of isolated regions where there is no presence of any type of authority. In the generation of revolutionary guerrillas born in the 1960s, we started to take over that territory and we are an element of social control, of territorial organization, to establish norms of coexistence. When the FARC departed, those regions were left without God or law. Where we were together, we remained, but in other parts the void is noticeable and those areas are propitious for illicit crops, several are rich in biodiversity and minerals.

And the economic plan of this oligarchy is extractivism. So what better way than to displace these populations so there can be major projects? The formula is to increase the cultivation of illicit use because with that comes the mafias, the paramilitaries, the oppression, the fumigations, the people are displaced and everything is ready for agro-industry or extractivism.

If you are in the process of reinsertion, we respect it, but do not abandon us because if you go, it will be in the hands of the big companies, of the gangs, and we will end up under the bridges of Pereira and Medellín.

What is happening in Catatumbo?

There are important geographical features. It is a province bathed by the Catatumbo River that goes south of Lake Maracaibo, to which are added the peasant, indigenous, and worker struggles that have been going on for a hundred years. Today, coca crops, militarization and criminal gangs have grown. What do they need? Get the people out. The map of mining titles there ranges from gold, oil, to uranium. So, these organized communities are an obstacle to extraction, they have to be displaced. That chapter closed with the declarations of General Diego Villegas, commander of the Vulcan Task Force, which has four thousand soldiers, alone. He said that the ELN had to be eliminated “and if for this we have to ally ourselves with Los Pelusos, we allied ourselves and we have already spoken with them, and if for that we need money we also have it”. What message does that send? That the alliance between state and paramilitary forces is more alive today than ever, that with the money of the Colombian people the hired killers who are killing leaders and ex-combatants are paid. When are they going to call General Villegas to trial?

From the Catatumbo every day there are dozens of covert operations against Venezuela. The Catatumbo is part of the U.S. war plan in the region.

And in the north of the Cauca, what happens?

They killed a candidate, why? because an opponent said she was going to take the multinationals or the paramilitaries. Who killed her? El País de Cali says that in the area there are six gangs and the gang with which we have had many problems, Los Pelusos, appeared in Cauca, in Suarez where the woman was killed. That municipality is the entrance to El Naya, which is where there are large coca fields. The corridor between the Pacific, the Huila and the Amazon leaves El Naya, to Suárez, to Toribío, to Caloto, passes to Tierradentro and there connects to the Amazon. Where does the marijuana go that they plant in the North of Cauca? Well, the seizures of the cargoes are made on the border with Venezuela. It corrupts state officials, the National Guard, and police officers. It is not a problem of two or three gangs, but there is a strategic design to achieve this. All the military and all the police know that. In the northern part of the Cauca there are eight military bases. A few weeks ago some men machine-gunned a goat in the North of Cauca, the Indigenous Guard detained a few who said they were not dissidents or gangs, but had been sent from Cali. The landowners are interested in limiting the Indigenous Guard.

The Process with the FARC

In other words, is it not due to the lack of capacity of the State to cover the territories left by the FARC, but is it intentional to leave those gaps?

A diplomat told us that the mistake of the Colombian ruling class was to remove the FARC from the territories because they represented a factor of social order. That was not a mistake, that was a plan because they needed to get them out. We have reached a major point: the FARC’s pacification plan did not seek to promote them as a left-wing political force, but to dissolve them, atomize them, disappear them. The plan to disperse them began when they began the process of concentration, disarmament, reinsertion, and surrender of arms. In Chocó, the Bajo Atrato gangs give the ex-combatants four times what the government gives them monthly, and the commanders eight times.

What happens militarily to the ELN?

Since the beginning of the peace process in 2012, there has been an intensification of psychological operations against us with stigmatization, discrediting and isolation; military, attacking guerrilla forces and criminalizing what they consider to be our political and social periphery. We carry out response operations and those who bear the greatest burden are the social organizations where they see that we have historic settlements.

How do you see the decision of former FARC commanders to resume the armed struggle?

Let’s put ourselves in their shoes. They’ve killed 150 ex-combatants, and fifty of their relatives, and it’s only been two years since they signed the agreement. In addition, there is a stigmatization where they are made to look like stinkers so that no one comes near them, if Santrich goes to Congress and receives insults and threats, if Santrich is staged by the DEA, they put him in jail for a year and want to extradite him, and if you have signed a peace pact so that they can do that to him, well, they can’t wait for all that to prosper.

Did they meet with members of your Central Command?

No, we haven’t met with them. In the proclamation they invite us. From that our leadership will have to give an official answer.

President Duque has asked for an answer as to why their picture appeared on the cover of your magazine.

I think they’re surprised because the first covers of those magazines were almost always made attacking Uribe, they must be claiming why not this time.

How do you evaluate the FARC’s peace experience for future negotiations with you?

We say that it is a pity that this process with the FARC is sinking like the Titanic. That leaves us with a lesson: that there was a perverse blueprint that was applied to them and that there were mistakes that the FARC comrades made, and all that led them to the state of prostration in which they are, parties in five pieces, which was what the oligarchy wanted, to destroy a force that was built over 60 years.

That model that produced the fragmentation and disappearance of FARC as a political subject cannot be followed. So, we must build another one. There are positive things, but also negative things that should not be repeated.

Is your reading of this process so pessimistic that in your words you believe that the FARC disappeared as a political subject?

Look at the guerrilla organizations of the processes of the 1990s and ’91, where are they? There are only a few illustrious isolated figures, summer swallows. What political force is being shouldered by the fight for the Constitution of 1991? How many counter-reforms in favour of the transnationals and the capitalists have done to it? And look at the state of society, the party system, the corruption from which not even the judges are spared.

Regional Elections

Are you optimistic, because what you see are clouds in the picture, how do you see the possibilities of a peace process with this government?

Politics in Colombia is ever-changing. It’s not that I say that tomorrow Uribe is going to say: “Well, I’m going to send a delegate to Havana to talk to the elenos”, but I think that to the extent that the government receives many pressures from Colombian society and from the international community, that it has them, that makes them think. These efforts are sustained by majorities and struggles; for one reason, I remember a lot about Alfonso Cano: “Nothing the people get is given away by the oligarchy, everything must be taken away from them”, beginning with peace, everything is struggle.

What is going to happen in these regional elections, in the military action of the National Liberation Army, is there going to be some kind of truce? What have you discussed, what do you intend to do about it?

We as guerrillas can neither push people to vote nor prohibit them from voting, the ELN continues to abide by that, which is like one of the founding laws of the guerrilla.

So, no sabotage of polling stations or burning of buses transporting voters?

Absolutely not.

Channels are maintained

But has there been talk, for example, of a truce on election days?

In many regions there are very difficult situations of confrontation and war, which make me wonder whether it will be possible for there to be a kind of cessation. By that I do not mean that I rule it out, but that I say two things: Traditionally we do it but this time I see it as complex because of the levels of confrontation that exist, by that I am not saying that there won’t be, because that is the direction we have in Colombia.

Is it true that there is some kind of mediation by the Church, that the Vatican is interested in rapprochement? At least one channel of communication?

Channels with the Government we do maintain, of various kinds because we are interested in keeping communication to a minimum, that is true. There are sectors of the church, the Colombian Episcopal Conference itself, including the Christian Reformed churches that are grouped in the World Council of Churches, the Vatican itself, have a position of fighting tooth and nail so that the peace process does not go to waste.

Installation of the dialogue table in Quito, Ecuador.

What sectors of civil society are pressing for dialogue?

Yes, there have been expressions, demonstrations, I have seen statements from trade unions, human rights coordinators and social organisations following the declarations of 29 August, calling for the peace process not to be abandoned, for the Agreements not to be followed up, for what has been agreed to not to be thrown out of the bag.

I also read, for example, a joint declaration by the Kingdom of Norway and Cuba, calling for the continuity of the Agreements, for the resumption of this round table, in other words, there are very consistent calls for all this effort for peace not to be abandoned.

What do you think of the unity of the left in this path towards the achievement of peace?

We hope that the most advanced sectors, of the left, democrats, progressives, will be the heart of this struggle for peace and the political solution; that no problem or setback or crisis will lead us to abandon the effort along that path, and that initiative must come from the left, the most democratic and progressive people.

Semanario Voz

Translation by Internationalist 360°