[Interview] Antonio García: “The ELN wants peace for all Colombians”. Part One

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Source: Colombia Informa / The Dawn News / February 5, 2018

 

The ELN has a rush for the Peace that will give happiness and goodness to all Colombians, to the majority of the population. We are not hasty for a bad agreement,” affirmed Antonio García, who is in charge of Military matters and the Second Commander of the National Liberation Army -ELN-. With respect to the current crisis that faces the Peace Process between this guerrilla group and the Government of Juan Manuel Santos, he also affirms that his organization “has not violated any agreements and the crisis has generated because the Government has not attended the beginning of the Fifth Cycle and because it tries to make unilateral demands from the media.” To explain this situation from a position from below and from the left-wing, this politician in arms speaks from Desinformémonos (México), Resumen Latinoamericano (Argentina) and Colombia Informa about the current political context in Colombia.

-Why are the Negotiations in Quito in crisis?

What was agreed upon with the Government was a Bilateral, Temporary and National Ceasefire, especially referring to a cease in offensive operations between the State Armed Forces and the ELN, and in a particular way, some commitments referred to humanitarian actions and dynamics that would improve the environment in the country.

A Mechanism of Oversight and Verification of said ceasefire, that allowed for evaluation, qualification and overcoming of the incidents of those who did not respect the agreements, was created. Said mechanism did not work; the Government limited it to only considering the actions where the ELN were in question and it denied to contemplate the actions where it was compromised. It established itself as the judge in the process. This situation caused the ELN to pull their comrades out of the participation in said mechanism.

In said ceasefire there was never talk or agreements on a prolonging of said ceasefire, only the date of its ending and the beginning of a new cycle of conversations was set. As such, when the said ceasefire was over, each part remained at liberty to carry out military operations, defensive or offensive. The Government had clearly carried out offensive actions in the midst of the ceasefire and it rejected the evaluation.

The ELN did not respond militarily to said actions that violated the ceasefire, showing its commitment to respect the agreement. It insisted in the need to evaluate said actions but the Government refused to participate in the evaluation, invalidating the mechanism. The message was made clear to us: for the Government it was not very important to evaluate the incidents and it wanted to impose its form of applying the ceasefire in its favor, to take advantage.

What time of offensive operations did the Government take against the ELN?

It occupied internal areas of operations and mobility of the ELN that the Government was obligated to respect. It capitalized on the manner in which it carried out the operations of intelligence and territorial control. In the midst of these operatives, it attacked two camps but fortunately we were able to avoid confrontation respecting the agreements.

In summary, the ELN has not violated any agreements and the crisis is generated because the Government did not attend the beginning of the Fifth Negotiations Cycle and because it tries to make unilateral demands from the informative media.

The correct thing was to attend the new negotiation cycle and evaluate the Ceasefire. If they wanted a new better agreement for the ceasefire, they should have proposed it in the Peace Talks which is the space where it should happen. But they wanted to put pressure from outside the Negotiations and impose its logics and dynamics.

Different sectors consider that it was a political error of the ELN to have initiated the military offensive on January 10. How do you explain the actions, keeping in mind the beginning of the Fifth Cycle?

The ELN is not on a military offensive. Let us remember that it was the Government that carried out offensive operations in the midst of the ceasefire. The ELN brought its complains to the Mechanism of Oversight and Verification and denounced them. We did not see in these moments the so-called “creators of opinion” say anything then. Meanwhile, now that the ELN can carry out offensive operations, they jump into the ring to give a slanted view.

The ELN normally carries out several dozen actions every month, which is why we can not say that it is an offensive. It is a routine action inside the reality of the country and the war. No one has signed any agreements with the objective to end of any armed conflict. We were clear that [the ceasefire] was temporary, its name establishes this. An offensive would be concentrated efforts on a national level with great reach and strategic objectives.

After months of negotiation that the Santos Government has had in Quito, what is the evaluation that you make of this new attempt and exploration to arrive to a political solution to the conflict and a final Peace agreement?

The evaluation helps us realize the complexity of said conversations. The Government grew accustomed to the negotiations it had with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia -FARC-, to the contents and the issues of the Agenda, to the design of the process, the objectives of the negotiation and the techniques of the negotiation and it doesn’t understand that this process is distinct.

A line of opinion was created that manipulated the information to make it seem as though the ELN did not have another alternative to accept the same Agenda or even still, the same agreements that they had arrived to with the FARC.

The result is not what they imagined since this is not our focus. It was and continues to be necessary to create something distinct. In effect, we were able to agree upon our own agenda to work towards a political solution. It is in the imagination of of the society a distinct design that puts the participation of the people at the center and it is not about a process of surrender and backing down. In Quito the Government is discussing with an armed rebel organization for which the armed conflict has essentially a political nature. In this sense, the right to rebellion is used.

Up until now, the Government has been delaying the development of the agreed upon Agenda and it has tried to impose unilateral demands within and outside the Negotiations. When it is expected that in a negotiation both sides assume equal commitments.

The country is entering into an electoral period whose immediate effects on the Negotiations in Quito could be contradictory. Within the context of elections, will the negotiations be put on hold or be potentialized for the ELN?

The electoral process that is being seen does not show changes in the reality of the country nor in its political dynamic, on the contrary, it reaffirms that things continue the same. Perhaps the problems of the country are made worse. The inertia of them make it so the electoral politics continues to reproduce in a morbose manner. In the countries with real democracy, the elections are used to discuss the principal problems and the possible solutions.

If this was a mirror for Colombia, the ideal would be that the different candidates dared to dialogue with the Negotiation Process being developed in Quito. However, in this electoral context there is nothing new, it is the repetition of the same thing: clientelism, buying votes, machinery, discourses full of promises and insults, absence of real leaders and the imposition of the law of money and bullets.

If this Government wanted to create policies for the future it should hand over agreements in construction to the new government as they are new realities of Peace in process. This depends of the strength that the current Government has. We are willing to work in this direction. We will continue working towards Peace.

So, your assessment is that it is being put on hold. What can be done so this does not occur?

It is not necessarily that the elections put the dialogue process of the Government with the ELN on hold but it is a little more than that, it puts on hold the political life of the country. There is nothing new that shows change. What we see is a dispute of the political sectors representing the powerful recomposing its alliances that maintain the reality of the country as it is.

There are no proposals that touch on the deeper issues of the problems in this country, that call for policies that favor the excluded and poor majorities, that favor the good of the nation, that put in the center of the extension of democratization like people participating in the construction of the solutions to problems and not participation simply by the exercise of voting. What should occur is a real true Peace Process where the people participate in the construction of solutions.

The demobilization and political electoral action of the FARC contributes to this democratization?

The demobilization of the FARC is a process that has not helped much the unity and convergence of democratic and social forces because it prioritizes the possible alliances with the sectors of the establishment that guarantee the following through of the Agreements of Havana. What is necessary today is unity for the change and transformations that the country needs.

The electoral process can not give what it has never given. It is more of a mechanism of the reproduction of exclusion, of clientelism and of the buying and selling of votes. Because of this abstention is the best way to judge the little interest of the people in this type of corrupt political exercise.

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