The start of October brought new hope for peace to Colombia- the last guerilla group, the National Liberation Army, agreed to a ceasefire with the Colombian government. Though the ceasefire is temporary, scheduled to last for just over one hundred days, the promise of a more permanent peace rings through. This process has not been easy, so every step forward is monumental.
Colombia is home to various guerilla armed forces. One of the largest groups is the National Liberation Army (ELN), which was was founded in 1964 following the Cuban Revolution in the late 1950s. The group is on the left side of the political spectrum, following the ideals of Lenin and Marx. The ELN claims they are fighting on behalf of the poor and rural people of the country, believing that their ideology will help change the vastly uneven distribution of wealth throughout the country. In the 1990s, the ELN was at its peak, terrorizing the citizens of Colombia through kidnappings and the destruction of infrastructure. Yet over time, the ELN’s membership has fallen. Today, there are only about 1,500 active members.
Inequality in Colombia has contributed to the rise of violent groups such as the ELN. The exportation of oil is the main source of wealth in Colombia’s economy, but that wealth has not been evenly distributed- less than 1% of the population owns 62% of the land in Colombia. This inequality is the result of cronyism between business and government, as well as the lack of a strong social safety net.
There have been many attempts for peace talks with the ELN, but they have been mostly unsuccessful. These talks kept getting delayed and were more difficult to facilitate than the peace talks with the other guerrilla armed forces such as the FARC, another left wing terrorist organization. The reason for the delays was that the ELN refused to release their hostages prior to the meeting, something President Juan Manuel Santos required for the peace talks. Originally, the peace talks were supposed to commence in March of 2016, but the delays caused the talks to start in February 2017.
On October 1st, a major breakthrough occurred with the ELN. From now until the second week in January, ELN leader Nicolas Rodriguez and President Santos have entered a bilateral ceasefire. The ceasefire is the first major sign of progress in more that 50 years- a monumental accomplishment. The ceasefire was agreed upon in early September of 2017 to go into effect on the 1st of October. The ELN was the last group in Colombia to reach this milestone. This is one of the first steps forward for peace with the ELN and throughout Colombia as a whole, bringing more safety and security to a county with a violent history. The ceasefire also allows for the continuation of the peace talks, taking place in Ecuador, as well as humanitarian relief within the country of Colombia.
With the news of the ceasefire, the extent of UN forces in Colombia has also changed. On October 5th 2017, the United Nations Security Council has allowed for the addition of roughly 70 UN personnel will help aid the enforcement of the ceasefire. The expansion of UN presence in Colombia is an expansion of the UN Verification Mission. Their mission, implemented in November 2016, is to ensure any steps forward in terms of progress along with helping the rebel groups to be reintegrated into the political and social systems through the peace talks. The Verification Mission mainly focuses on the FARC, simply because it is the most prominent force, however it is now expanded to include the ELN.
The peace talks bring hope for Colombia. With both groups now in a ceasefire, the focus will be on an establishing a permanent agreement that will bring lasting security to Colombia. The fight is not over though. These next 102 days until the end of the ceasefire will go quickly. There is also a chance that members on the ground will break the truce, in defiance of their organization’s leadership.
Though by no means a total solution, a ceasefire and its subsequent negotiations is a step in the right direction. With more time and effort, Colombia can hope of being a nation of peace that can ensure the rights and freedoms of all its citizens.