Interview with the chief of the ELN Peace Delegation: “We have a problem with the interlocutor; at the roundtable some of us want peace and other don’t”

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Last Thursday, in Havana, Cuba, the director of Resumen Latinoamericano interviewed the chief of the peace delegation on the Colombian ELN, Commander Pablo Beltrán. On that same day, the leaderships of the ELN and the FARC guerrillas met with Cuban leader Raúl Castro and presented him with a report of what both delegations had discussed for several days in the Cuban capital.

Photo credit: Resumen Latinoamericano
Photo credit: Resumen Latinoamericano


By: Carlos Aznárez / Source: Resumen Latinoamericano / The Dawn News / May 13, 2017

Commander, we want to hear your opinion on the development of the dialogues that the ELN is having in Quito with the government’s delegation. From what we’ve seen so far there are advances and setbacks but the uncertainty remains: precisely what do you expect to achieve in the upcoming months?

At the roundtable in Quito we have two opposing visions of peace: the one of the Colombian regime, which is to pacify, and ours, which is a vision of peace with changes and social justice. Then, that collision of visions frequently causes crises in the negotiation table,despite that, we’ve been able to establish a common agenda of conversations and we’ve begun to develop it in Quito. We’ve already done a first round that lasted two months, next week the second one begins, and the table has been subdivided into two sub-tables: one to design the method for participation of society in the whole peace process, and the other one destined to produce a draft of humanitarian agreements that benefits Colombian society as a whole, as a proof that we want to create a climate of peace, a sort of progressive bilateral armistice to accompany the conversations since day one.

So that’s the work that’s being done at the roundtable. There are obstacles, of course. One of them is that the government continues to make unilateral demands: “do this or that or else we won’t participate at the roundtable”. We’ve told them that the mission of this delegation is to come and negotiate, and if they insist on making unilateral demands we won’t go through the trouble of sending a delegation, and they can send their concerns to our e-mail account and we’ll read it when we see fit. In a negotiation, each party states their ideas, there are approaches between them and from there agreements are created on bilateral efforts—not on unilateral demands. But as I said, frequently there are problems at the table and there’s a crisis. We aspire that in the round that we’re going to begin next week there’s progress in assigning people to the design of participation methods, and also progress on the first drafts on immediate humanitarian bases.


Does the ELN think that the government will rationally accept the people you want to assign to the roundtable?

First of all, they have opposed the very idea of creating this table. They have already accepted, for example, our plan to ask 24 sectors of Colombian society what they think the method for participation should be and what they can contribute from their experience, but to achieve that meant a lot of work. And now, those people are going to be heard, but whatever they say won’t be binding because the government says so. And that’s our struggle now, because we say yes. What the people want can’t be merely a salute to the flag, as we say here in Colombia [meaning it’s purely symbolical]. We’re working so that what the people say is taken into account. And we, in the social and political movement in Colombia, for long have maintained that ‘when the people speaks, the people leads’. So there’s our next fight.


Do you take the lack of compliance by the government of the agreements they made with the FARC as a warning? For example, they aren’t complying with the amnesty for the political prisoners, and paramilitary groups continue to act and kill with complete impunity.

And they’re killing more than ever before, instead of less.

Exactly. How do you address this at the roundtable?

We have a problem with the interlocutor: there’s a part of the regime that wishes to achieve peace agreements through this process, and another part that doesn’t want it. That’s the first big problem. That is, our interlocutor is divided.

And the second one is that the government we’re negotiating with is getting weaker and weaker. Which means we have an interlocutor that governs less and less, and a government coalition that’s crumbling.

Of course, we know exactly who our interlocutor is and we know that their political will is scarce and their governing abilities too, but nevertheless we’ve said “we won’t leave the roundtable, we’ll make an effort wherever we can so that by August 2018 this agreement can be as advanced as possible so that the next government, whether it’s right-wing, far-right or whatever, has the pressure to give continuity continue to the agreements. That’s the political goal.

Commander, let’s imagine a scenario where the agreements are finally closed, like the ones with the FARC. Do you also see yourselves in the future forming a party and using the electoral way to make politics?

That’s the political goal in item five of our agenda, which says “we’re going to eradicate violence from politics. But there’s two parts: we, who until now have seeked power by armed means, and those who defend power with arms. So this agreement is meant for both parts to sign and fulfill. What does reality show? That while we’re cackling about eradicating violence from politics, the fight for power continues—but without violence the dominant classes intensify paramilitarism. Last year they killed three leaders each week, now they’re killing two. Comrades of the alternative forces are falling, while the right has no losses. That means there’s a political genocide like the one of the Patriotic Union, 30 years ago. That means that while one thing is being said at the roundtables, real life is completely different. We’re revolutionaries and we believe more in facts than in words. So this makes us question the will of the dominant classes, but still we’re going to persist until we reach that point where in Colombia there’s a struggle for power without violence. Ah, but if we want it and they don’t, then we’re going to have to make it clear that it’s them who don’t want it, not us.

How do you see this moment in the regional context where the right and imperialism are in full counteroffensive.

The worst thing that has happened to the world and the continent is the arrival of Mr. Trump to the US presidency. In Colombia we have a saying: “he’s like a madman with a shotgun”. So, that’s not a good message. It means that these are their last resources as a declining empire: supposedly putting an anti-establishment person in power, but actually strengthening the establishment.

But the empire doesn’t fall nor gets weaker. Look at what it did in Syria with false-flag operation, or what they’re doing in Venezuela and other countries. They conspire. Trump’s government said they wouldn’t overthrow any more governments but what they’re doing in Venezuela is trying to overthrow the revolutionary government. What’s at stake? The biggest oil reserve in the world: 300 thousand million barrels of oil. That is a lot, and they have been stealing it for 100 years, and with Chávez they lost it. So, all the money they invest in the Venezuelan opposition is aimed at recovering that power and get their earnings back.

Is that the only problem? No, it’s worse. The current scenario is of war, not only to overthrow Venezuela’s legitimate government but to “pacify” Colombia in order to attack better. That’s how we read their attempts to “pacify”.

Besides, we deeply regret—and we’ve said it before—the fact that Colombia is being used as a spearhead for this whole imperialist plan and, even more, we regret seeing Colombia participate in secret agreements with NATO, which has ceased to be a defensive alliance years ago. Trump is seeking to defeat governments who don’t align with the US and pacifying Colombia to improve his imperialist plan of war. In this sense, the juncture is not very good.

In this difficult and complex panorama, are the principles of fighting for socialism in Colombia and as a project for the Patria Grande?

Of course, I believe the example that has been set by the governments that have distanced themselves from transnational corporations and imperialism in America, by handling resources in a sovereign manner, by putting economy at the service of the majorities of the country—that is democracy.

So who’s in charge of making democracy in Latin America? Us revolutionaries are. They won’t make it, they’re comfortable the way things are. So all of the agreements we’re discussing in Colombia have the goal of democratization, but that’s not our ultimate goal.

Capitalism is increasingly harmful to humanity and the planet. We need to change it, we need a different thing—that’s the post-capitalism we need to seek.

And what’s post-capitalism like? It’s gentle with nature, it prioritizes national majorities, it respects the political processes of each people, it lets each people choose. That’s what we fight for. And sure, we already have a Patria Grande, we’re already one and the same people, we have a common history, a common enemy, and common cultural behaviors. So in this sense, Bolivar’s dream of the Big Motherland is real and we aspire to keep the institutions that have been built in the region on their feet. The plan of imperialism is to end them. The plan of the peoples and of progressivist and democratic governments is to keep them.

To fight separately against imperialism is to succumb, therefore fighting in group, as a Patria Grande, for our sovereignty, and for the second independence of our lands and peoples—that’s the immediate future.

Photo credit: Resumen Latinoamericano
Photo credit: Resumen Latinoamericano
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