Beltrán: “We are Walking Along Different Paths Towards a More Just Society”

María Fernanda Barreto

Exclusive interview with Commander Pablo Beltrán, head of the ELN Peace Delegation, regarding possible dialogues with the new Colombian government.

The presidential triumph of the Historical Pact in the last elections in Colombia, has awakened an unprecedented hope in the majority of the Colombian population and in general, in all the countries of the region, particularly in those that in the last decades have consolidated progressive or leftist processes, which saw in it a lag for the entire continent.

An enclave of imperialist terrorism and a platform for the relaunching of the Monroe Doctrine of the United States, Colombia is the only country in Our America that has not known peace since the European invasion until today.

Although some discourses intentionally try to hide it and those who fail to understand the complexity of the country refer to the internal conflict in the past tense, Colombia continues to be a country at war.

That is why one of the most important chapters of the government program presented by Gustavo Petro and Francia Márquez, is the one entitled “Colombia, world power of life” which in its point 5 ,”We will leave the war behind and finally enter an era of Peace“, specifically states: “we will resume negotiations with the ELN to put an end to the existence of the armed insurgency in Colombia through political dialogue“.

Given the importance of this issue, as soon as the result of the presidential elections was announced, we decided to contact Commander Pablo Beltrán, head of the Peace Delegation of the National Liberation Army (ELN) that is still in Cuba, to conduct a brief interview with him on the subject, whose answers we received today (July 2, 2022), and which we present below.

Have you already had any kind of rapprochement with the new government of Colombia?

With the outgoing government of Duque it was not possible to develop peace negotiations, we only maintained an intermediated communication thanks to the Good Offices of the UN Mission, the Vatican and the Catholic Episcopal Conference, who have already met with the new government to inform them of our responses to their proposals on peace with the ELN.

Are they ready to resume dialogues with the Colombian State on August 8 of this year, and if so, do they expect to give continuity to what they have managed to advance since 2017 or will they start from scratch?

President Gustavo Petro has reaffirmed his commitment to give course to the Peace Process initiated with Santos and that Duque dedicated himself to shatter, we share that we must “build on what has been built”, but since it is a new Government we will have to talk to him about how these lines of continuity would be and what would be the adjustments they require.

How important does the ELN consider the role of Venezuela and Cuba in the construction of peace in Colombia?

Venezuela has supported our peace negotiations with the National Government since 1999 and in the last period it has acted as Guarantor Country, a similar role it fulfilled in the Peace Process with the former FARC; we know that this will to support the achievement of peace in Colombia is maintained by the Government of the sister Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Likewise, Cuba has maintained its policy of support for peace in Colombia, despite the attacks it has received because of its principled position on international law.

What is your opinion of the report recently delivered by the Truth Commission?

A flank of the war is disinformation and those who develop it do so to perpetuate the war and to avoid taking responsibility for it, which is why this Final Report of the Truth Clarification Commission (CEV) is a contribution in the right direction.

Today there is less “Night and Fog”, but we are still half way to the Colombian society having full answers to big questions, such as: why is there a war, why are there still factors of recidivism, what are the two sides of the Internal Conflict, who wants and who does not want to turn the page of the war and why?

As head of the Peace Delegation of the ELN, which defines itself as a revolutionary organization, do you think that it would be enough to fulfill the government program proposed by the Historical Pact for the next four years, to think that Colombia could finally know what it means to live in Peace, or will it take more than that?

We do not see the Petro government as an enemy, our adversaries are those who oppose democratization and oppose changes in favor of the people; when we were born on July 4, 1964 we raised the anti-imperialist and anti-colonialist slogan of National Liberation and if you observe, today the second progressive wave is going to achieve greater integration of Latin America and the Caribbean, which will make us become more sovereign peoples, so we are moving forward.

From our origin we also proclaimed the struggle for Socialism, and today given the crisis of capitalism as the dominant system, the peoples of the world are fighting for peace, another model of development and a democracy that serves the vast majority, components that make up a new model of post-capitalist society, that is, we are walking along various paths towards a more just society, in peace and kind to Mother Earth.

In conclusion, when comparing our strategic objectives with the Program of the Historic Pact, we find important coincidences that make us companions on the road in this period of history.

As mentioned by our interviewee, on July 4, the ELN will celebrate 58 years of existence, which makes it the largest and oldest guerrilla organization in the continent. During this time they have held dialogues with delegations from seven different governments, the first one with President César Gaviria, then Ernesto Samper’s, Andrés Pastrana’s, continuing with the two governments of Álvaro Uribe Vélez and finally with the two governments of Juan Manuel Santos. However, that last dialogue table that had been installed in Quito, Ecuador in February 2017, had to move to Cuba, after the Ecuadorian government of Lenin Moreno renounced to continue being “Guarantor Country” so Cuba agreed to become the headquarters of those dialogues since May 2018.

In July of that year we had the opportunity to interview for the first time Comandante Pablo Beltrán, who expressed his hope that the then candidate-elect, Iván Duque would not close the doors to a political solution to the armed conflict.

But those dialogues never started and on the contrary, the protocols signed between the Colombian State and the guarantor countries were ignored, which forced the guerrilla delegation to remain in Cuba and cost that country to be included in the list of countries sponsoring terrorism by the United States.

Just today, the outgoing president of Colombia, Iván Duque ratified his pro-guerrilla position. Questioned by Semana magazine on the possibility that the new government will restart dialogues with the guerrilla organization, he said that he does not believe in the ELN, that he opposes any possibility of dialogues both with this organization and with the FARC-EP Segunda Marquetalia and, on the contrary, he boasted about the counterinsurgency military actions of his administration which, by the way, will end next August 7 with the highest unpopularity ever achieved by a Colombian president in the whole 21st century.

Although the administration that Petro and Marquez will start in a little more than a month, will have many difficulties to face the great de facto powers that perpetuate the social and armed conflict that Colombia lives in all its expressions, the possibility of initiating a real process of Peace with social justice, is today the most latent hope in the majority of the Colombian People and also, a great expectation of all Our America.

We will be writing about these de facto powers, the difficulties and challenges that the new Colombian government will face in the coming days.