Shortly after the decision by Ecuadorean President Lenin Moreno to suspend Ecuador’s role as guarantor country in the peace talks between Colombia's government and the National Liberation Army (ELN), teleSUR’s Victor de Currea-Lugo talked with commanders Pablo Beltran and Aureliano Carbonell about their insurgent organization in the Ecuadorean capital, Quito.
Victor de Currea-Lugo: There was a change in the Colombian negotiating team. Was there a change in the talks due to the arrival of a new team under Gustavo Bell?
Aureliano Carbonell: We have understood that there is a change, there is a more positive attitude, the context in which things flow has a more cordial atmosphere. In terms of the contents of the issues we are discussing and the possibilities of making progress, well, we are entering the critical points and it would be premature to say to what extent there is a more flexible situation. But we think there is more interest, a more constructive spirit. In these days we will see because we will discuss difficult issues, like the new ceasefire and the design of social participation.
VD: This Aug. 7 a new government, soon to be elected, will take power. What do you want to show the new government as progress? What do you hope to build with Santos’ government in the peace process?
Pablo Beltran: We have an agreement to move forward, especially in two paths: the Great National Dialogue and a bilateral ceasefire better than the previous one. That is what the V cycle is about. We have two months to make progress, if both parts maintain a good disposition these goals can be met.
AC: In terms of participation, so far we have evaluated the results of the preparatory hearings, we shared assessments and conclusions. In these there are similarities, but also divergences. In these days we will start working fully in the model for social participation.
PB: In term of the ceasefire, there is a will to agree on a new and better one, based on our previous experience. Based on the evaluation of the previous ceasefire, we have agreements, dissent and contributions for the new one. Now we have to include active military and the creation of technical commission. There are some details to work on but we will enter a more operative design phase.
VD: Elections near and the country is highly polarized. What does the ELN think about the political moment and electoral scenario?
AC: In the legislative election (March 2018) we saw the same things that always happen in Colombia: vote buying, the client-patron machinery… What was positive? Putting together the Democratic Pole, the Green Alliance, the Indigenous, and what is left of the FARC we would have around 25 or 30 legislators who don't have the same views as the traditional parties. It’s a small number, but if they commit to denounce and push an active left-wing and center opposition, and to relate in a dynamic way with social struggles, that can be positive.
In the presidential elections we see the ruling classes support the ultra-right: Uribe’s candidate and Vargas Lleras. We also see a positive phenomena in the country and that is a different voice that has generated expectations, he has done well in public squares and according to polls he has a favorable situation. This generates a tendency that we see as positive. But in this moment there is a strong dominion of the right and the ultra-right that want nothing to do with the peace process, that don’t want the country to change a millimeter.
VD: How do you see the detention of a leader of the negotiation process between the government and FARC: Jesus Santrich? Does it affect the talks in Quito?
PB: I’ll give you a comparison: a blind man is coming, you threw a banana peel and he falls. And everyone cheers because you threw that peel. Colombia is at that point. There is a conspiracy to entrap and everyone applauds for he who places the trap. That picture is a very clear message: an meddling, clearly, by the United States government to trash the peace process. And Santos’ government cheering.
VD: Some people ask themselves, why does the ELN stay in the talks?
PB: You don’t resolve that by leaving the talks. We must persist in looking for a political solution. There will always be many adversaries. What greater adversary than the U.S. government? But that doesn’t matter, we must persist.
VD: In these days there is concern over the Catatumbo region in Colombia, where you have had confrontations with the guerrilla of the Popular Liberation Army (EPL). What balance do you make of this situation?
PB: The situation is lamentable. Here we have made efforts in various directions to solve the problems. We have contacts with Indigenous communities, campesinos, political sectors, and the governorship (of Norte de Santander). We must search for negotiated solutions to problems, despite their gravity. In the area there are very well-organized communities and we must respect that. That is a part of the border that, no matter how hot or porous, one has to respect the neighbors, not export problems.
There, they have a forest reserve area and that has to be respected, but the coca crops are growing mercilessly and those promoting the multiplication of crops are encroaching on the Indigenous reservation. In addition, logging comes and the Catatumbo river is being affected. They are not respecting the Indigenous authorities. Our position: we must respect the community norms, the Indigenous laws and authority, we must know how to be on the border and respect the neighbors, and we must make agreements and fulfill them.
VD: What feeling you have towards Ecuador after the decision made by President Lenin Moreno to suspend his role as guarantor?
PB: Ecuador has been a very good guarantor country since the beginning of the confidential talks, it has been host of five cycles in their public phase, it has made great efforts, but now he tells us it can’t continue its role as guarantor. It is their decision and we respect it. Another thing is to share the motives publicly announced. But we respect that because it has been a good guarantor country, it has given all its support and we recognize that.