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

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This is the second part of a two part interview. Read the first one here at The Dawn News

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.

-In the same line about the effect of the electoral politics in these negotiations; the withdrawal of the government spokespersons in Quito, was a measure of Santos to neutralize the discourse of Uribe-Pastrana?

It is said that the Government is being pressured by Uribe and Pastrana but the truth is that Santos likes to put ultimatums and conditions on the agreements. He considers that the Negotiations should be imposed, not that the Negotiations are a space where the agreements are built. In this way, he does not recognize the Negotiations and puts the logic of the process outside the Negotiations. This has happened since the first day of the beginning of the process in its confidential phase. This has not changed. The ELN does not move according to what is imposed.

Everything seems to indicate that with the Government of Santos there will be no peace agreement signed, do you fear that with the arrival of a new Government without an open decision to negotiate a just Peace would the already established Negotiations be aborted?

It does not make sense to sign a Peace agreement with a Government that has to subject it to an internal negotiation in diverse powers of the State or of the political expressions of the powerful class. This is evident in the weakness of the State to sign agreements and follow through on them. This is what the Agreement with the FARC shows.

The ELN wants to achieve Peace quickly but that it be one that gives happiness and goodness to Colombians, to its majority, that favors people. We don’t want to hastily sign a bad agreement. An agreement will be reached with the Government that has this real will for change for the good of Colombia. The speed of its resolution depends on this.

The Santos Government puts as a goal of the Negotiations the culmination of the military expressions of the confrontation, with the objective that the advances in this aspect put aside the Participation of the Society, how do you deal with this contradiction?

This was an element that our delegation made clear in the Ceasefire Agreement: that the time of said ceasefire should be used to advance with the agreements of the Agenda and to give dynamic to the Participation of the Society.

The idea was that, while the ELN stopped its military actions, the Government would contribute effectively to stop the assassinations of social leaders, that there would be a humanitarian relief for the people. However, they did not even want to clarify what happened in the Tumaco Massacre, and in the other cases that happened.

The previous and preparatory processes of participation were very lukewarm and limited, they were barely even made known. It was even prohibited for people to bring phones, something unheard of. As one can see, the contradiction exists as it is. Not as our response but how the Government sees it and applies it. For the Government it is less Participation and more military pressure so that the agreements that favor it are accepted.

What conditions would a new Ceasefire need?

The essential in all agreements about the ceasefire is the objective that is pursued. It should be in line with that. It is not about getting advantages in a unilateral way, and as such it should be referred to and linked to the comprehensive overcoming of the conflict and it should be accompanied by the agreements about concrete transformations that Colombia needs.

That is why the focus that the Government gives it is unilateral, because, for them, the objective is incapacitating the guerrilla by taking out their military capability and then bringing them to an inevitable surrender.

If a guerrilla does not have what it takes to make them respect the agreements, we would be before a caricature of a negotiation. There are norms to pact a ceasefire since Bolívar signed the treaty in Santa Ana with Morillo. As there are many failed attempts from which we have to learn. In Colombia there are a few.

No one who wants to sign a Peace agreement goes to the dialogues thinking of accepting only what is convenient to their enemy. That is impossible. And who accepts it is fucked. It is about agreements that work for both sides.

There are many criticisms in the country in regards to your actions with explosives that damage oil pipelines, due to the environmental damage that they cause. How would you respond to such critiques?

The environmental damage is not only because of the actions of sabotage that we do, but also because of the way that the Government along with the transnational companies exploit the mining and energy resources. That is totally calculated.

So, if it is about talking the issue, we have always expressed  ourselves about it and we are open to discuss it. At the same time, we aren’t denying that some of our actions can produce environmental damage and that we have taken measures to avoid them or minimize them. We are open to evaluate it and consider another way to act in the line of building sovereign proposals that have in mind the people and the nation, not only that favor the Government and the transnational companies.

Some say that the participation of the civil society could be achieved in three or four months, how do you think Point 1 of the Agenda about Participation of the Society could be carried out? What would the reach be? Do you consider this would be an attempt of negotiation between the Government and the people’s movements?

The participation of the society is a matter of the society, and it should be taken seriously. Nor the Government nor the ELN is capable or has the authority to raise it. The society has its own expressions and it should be them who say in what way they want to participate, what issues should be discussed, with what methodology, in what type of setting and, of course, who.

We can’t repeat what the parties do in Parliament. We cannot say what cannot be done this way or the other way because we are tempted. Or say that it will be a long time or put some sort of obstacle or another. This is why we have been in conflict for more than half a century.

In the background of everything is the exclusion of the people in the search of solutions to problems of the people, that are the problems of the country. The people are essential to a nation. We cannot continue underestimating or taking their place.

In the case that the negotiations advance and an end to the war is agreed upon, what significance to you all give to the possibility of becoming a legal political party?

We are a political organization, we do politics, we have never denied it. And of course, we do it with weapons too. As all Governments do. The difference is that we say it.

In another way the Colombian Government explains that when it says that it is legal what they do and when we do it it is illegal. We point out that there are many things that the Government does, without weapons or with weapons, that are illegal.

The future of ELN is very related to the future reality that it will have to live. If the reality of the exclusion, exploitation and repression is the same; the ELN will not change. But if the reality changes that is something else. A Peace Process cannot be a paper full of promises, which is why we have to walk at the same rhythm as the changes.

What do you say to those who say that the complete territorial Peace consists in fixing things in the territories where you are present and in those where the FARC were they were already fixed?

In the territories where the FARC were nothing has changed, just that en some of them there is not there as an armed organization, in others they are. It is necessary to look at what has been “fixed” in said territories, that is yet to be seen.

What one hears frequently -said by its representatives- are complaints to the Government for it not respecting the agreements. The territorial problem is not with the guerrilla but with the communities, with their lives, their future, as they are actors in the construction of the territory. It is not about promises and simple programs, it is life in the here and now.

How do you guys evaluate the Peace Agreement reached with the FARC, and its implementation in the 12 months since it was signed?

When speaking of the FARC today, it is necessary to clarify some things. For example: there are groups that still are armed and say that they were betrayed by their leaders, who ignored the internal agreements; there are also groups of people who follow the agreements and say that they were betrayed; the spokespeople of the new legal political party of the FARC – the Common Alternative Revolutionary Force- also says that their agreements were not respected and they feel betrayed.

In general, all of this shows that it was a process that failed and each one gives their version. There is a disillusionment, it is not a process that attracts anyone that is thinking in revolutionary or democratic changes for Colombia.

The traditional media outlets say that you all don’t have a unified authority that all of the fronts respect; as being distinct from what is seen with the FARC. What would you say to that claim?

In the ELN there is a political culture of old tradition, a lot of reflection, and political discussion. It is what has allowed us to make strategic adjustments when it has been necessary. There is a vigilance from the base on what we do or what we want to do as leaders, and that is good.

When we mess up our bases call us out. This is completely different to what the traditional political parties are used to, they like for the bases to follow them without any criteria, lead like sheep or with a discipline for dogs.

Here one can make a mistake and the bases correct you. We are too old to think believe in these tall tales, we have already seen more than one Peace Process that doesn’t end up in anything good. And the unified authority of the FARC is not as it seems, I already pointed it out: there are fractures and divisions. There are many expressions which we are informed of.

What are the bases of internal democracy of the ELN?

In the ELN the big decisions are taken collectively and the organisms of political direction are elected democratically and receive mandates that we have to follow. We are an organization united on political agreements. With the difference that ultimately they have been an internal consensus. The ELN is a very democratic organization. For example, the Delegation to go to the current cycle of negotiations in Ecuador had to follow a mandate that is above the Central Command and the National Political Direction. The National Direction and the leaders of the War Fronts who operate in the regions gave it.

To finish, one can’t leave out the international perspective. Venezuela is going through a tough crisis, what impact could it have on Colombia and the continent?

The continent in general is going through a moment of uncertainty where Venezuela, with proposals of an alternative society, is one of the countries where the tensions are more visible of a crisis essentially created and sustained by international powers.

To whom are these crises, that have complex causes, beneficial? Who pays the consequences and the difficulties in these neighboring countries?

The crisis of Bolivarian Venezuela, at 18 years of its advance in a process of social transformation, is the result -not counting the weaknesses and errors- of a multidimensional war of aggression orchestrated by the rich of the world who are led by the United States. All against a people and Government that look for forms of organization that permite the path to social justice and the deepening of the democratic processes.

These models of change, of greater democracy and social equity, are against the political, economic and social model of the oligarchy, who in unison impose in diverse ways the most aggressive ways to maximize their profits without caring about the lives of hundreds of millions human beings in the continent. This is the principle reason of the savage attack against the Bolivarian Revolution and its people.

The paths of resolution to these crises must be chosen by their own people without the interference of anyone. A violent resolution in Venezuela, an intervention of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization -NATO- and its allies, it would have unimaginable consequences in the whole continent. What is sure is the response of solidarity of the movements of the continent in the face of a direct military intervention against Venezuela and its people.

What do the measures of the Trump government mean for Colombia and Our America?

The first year of the Donald Trump presidency has showed to the world the more hostile side of imperialism: threats to people, impositions, direct aggressions to multilateralism, pressure and measures against the people of Latin America –especially against Venezuela- this alarms us. Trump is a global Uribe: quarrelsome and shameless but out of control, unruly and unpredictable.

Attacks the BRICS – countries considered as the “emerging economies” and named for the union of the initials of their names: Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa- supports Macri, Temer and Kuczynski.

Trump is the expression of the neoliberal crisis and has made more evident the world imperialist crisis and how the North American hegemony, in its vain intention to recuperate them, does the staunch defense of the interests of USA. It puts the world in danger, in the abyss of a global war that is evident. The people that fight for self-determination and sovereignty become a principle line of defense against this avalanche of big capital and neofascism.

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