Gustavo A Maranges
Last week in Havana, the Colombian government stated its willingness to resume peace talks with the National Liberation Army (ELN), having Cuba and Norway as the guarantors of the process. The announcement comes just four days after Gustavo Petro took office as President of Colombia. This is undoubtedly a sign of how important achieving “absolute peace” is for the new government.
The peace in Colombia is closely related to Cuba, a country that has been a mediator between the guerrillas and the different Colombian governments for over forty years. The relationship strengthened and grew during the last negotiations with the Armed Forces of Colombia – People’s Army (FARC-EP) between 2012 and 2016, which ended with the Peace Agreement and, subsequently, allowed the beginning of the dialogue with the ELN. Therefore, it is no coincidence that Havana is once again the capital of peace in this new era for Colombia.
The Colombian delegation to Cuba was headed by Foreign Affairs Minister Alvaro Leyva, who traveled with the President of the Peace Commission of the Colombian Senate and former FARC-EP member Ivan Cepeda and the High Commissioner for Peace Ivan D. Rueda. President Petro’s envoys met ELN representatives and Cuban and Norwegian authorities, who have served as guarantors of the dialogue since its beginning.
Cuban President Miguel Diaz Canel met all parties involved in resuming the negotiations and remarked Cuba will always support peace in Colombia and will continue to defend it despite the pressures of the regional right-wing led by the United States. Meanwhile, the head of the ELN delegation in Cuba Pablo Beltran thanked the Cuban people for being on the side of peace after the boycott by former Colombian President Ivan Duque.
“At this moment, the peace process is being offered with friends, facilitators, etc. although, nobody was there at the hardest time. It has allowed us to know that Cuba and Norway have a state policy towards peace and that is extremely valuable,” Beltran assured.
Peace negotiations with the ELN began in Quito, Ecuador, in 2017 and later moved to Havana. After the peace agreements with the FARC-EP and its subsequent demobilization, the ELN was the most active guerrilla in Colombia, so these negotiations were strategic to strengthen peace in the South American country.
Ivan Duque, a follower of Alvaro Uribe, won the Presidential Elections in 2018 and broke the peace process by withdrawing the government delegation from the dialogue with the ELN. Duque’s government went even further and demanded the extradition of the ELN delegation. Cuba, in strict compliance with its commitments as guarantor, did not accede to Duque’s request since it was a blatant violation of International Law and the protocols for breaking off the dialogue.
This dignified response was then manipulated by the Colombian government, which accused the island of sheltering terrorist groups. Of course, this was not a random move. The Trump administration, along with Cuban-American politicians from Florida, was behind such this shameful act, which was used as a vile excuse to return Cuba to the State Department’s illegitimate List of Sponsors of Terrorism. The objective was more than obvious: erasing the last loophole of Obama’s policy towards the island and strengthening the economic blockade.
Therefore, Cubans have not only supported peace in Colombia with words, but they have paid an extra sacrifice to defend it. Putting Cuba on the list implied many economic sanctions, which have affected the island’s capacity to deal with the pandemic and the subsequent economic crisis. For Cuba, peace in Colombia is not only a matter for the South American country, but a priority for all countries in the region committed to the welfare of Colombians and Latin America in general. That is why Havana will host once again the peace talks.
After all this, Colombia’s Foreign Affairs Minister, in an act of justice, went out of his way to express his country and government’s deepest rejection of the inclusion of Cuba on the so-called list. He also thanked Cuba’s firmness in sticking to its principles despite the extortions and the damages it has implied to the Cuban people. Given this scenario, it is impossible not to question the fact that those who comply with their international commitments are punished while those who have violated them are celebrated, as was Ivan Duque’s case.
Today, four years after the peace process stalled, all those involved have given signs that they are interested in moving forward as quickly as possible to ensure “absolute peace,” as Petro declared. However, recent history shows that the biggest challenges are not the negotiations but the enforcement of the accords, something we will discuss in the second part of this article.