Following major setbacks in talks with the FARC terrorist group, the president of Colombia has announced his government will begin peace talks with another terror group, the Marxist National Liberation Army (ELN).
The ELN is the second-largest terrorist group in Colombia after the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and are responsible for an array of crimes in their half-century of existence ranging from murder, kidnapping, rape, and widespread use of child soldiers.
“We are taking a step towards public conversation,” Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos announced Wednesday. “The ELN was born more than 50 years ago. It is an organization we have fought and continue fighting, and just as we face them militarily, we believe they should have a role in the construction of peace.” Santos suggested ELN leadership “recognizes that this is the moment to seek peace.”
The talks will center on establishing concrete agreements on six subjects: “the participation of society in the construction of peace,” “democracy for peace,” “transformations for peace,” “the victims,” “the end of conflicts,” and “the implementation of agreements.”
The Colombian government, BBC notes, has been in talks informally with the ELN in Venezuela for some time. ELN leaders demanded a complex logistical execution of the talks that may require up to six nations to host them. The first talks will occur in Ecuador, but may later be moved to Brazil or Chile. All three countries are currently run by leftist presidents and, in the case of Brazil, by a former guerrilla militant.
The ELN is a U.S.-designated terrorist organization founded on Marxist principles promoted by mass murderer Ernesto “Che” Guevara, who advocated for the use of terrorism to overthrow stable governments. Estimates regarding death tolls vary. According to Argentine news outlet Infobae, the ELN has kidnapped, murdered, or injured 9,221 Colombians in the last 37 years. 1,904 were “selectively murdered,” while 426 are estimated to have been killed during an ongoing massacre and not personally targeted.
The Colombian government admitted in its announcement Wednesday that it did not know how many people are currently being held hostage by the ELN. Chief negotiator Frank Pearl stated that Santos had ordered any talks “unacceptable… so long as the ELN keeps hostages.” The ELN has shown to be open to releasing prisoners on one condition: payment. In the most recent case, attorney Ramón José Cabrales Camacho was liberated after the ELN received a million-dollar payment, triggering national outrage.
The incident echoes concerns with the peace talks ongoing with the FARC, the world’s wealthiest non-jihadist terror organization. Talks have stalled, sending Santos’ approval rating plummeting to 13 percent nationally. Skeptics suggest the Colombian government has made secret concessions to the FARC, and at least one retired general claims he was pushed to leave his post in order to keep the FARC at the negotiating table.
The ELN has engaged in peace talks with the government of Colombia before. Every attempt — in 2001, 2002, 2004, and 2005 — has failed. When the ELN was excluded from the FARC peace talks currently ongoing, its terrorists blew up major Colombian pipelines and killed police.
Colombians who oppose negotiating with terrorist organizations has organized a series of national rallies for Saturday, April 2, titled “No Mas.”
— Álvaro Uribe Vélez (@AlvaroUribeVel) March 31, 2016
“We refuse to allow Colombia to turn into a paradise for terrorism,” legislator Álvaro Hernan Prada said Wednesday, echoing the sentiments of much of the Colombian right.
Victims of the ELN have largely remained silent or anonymous. A former child soldier going by the name “Dina Luz” said in an interview Thursday that she “has no idea” what is going on with peace talks, but will continue to share her story. At age twelve, she was kidnapped and forced to fight in the ELN. At sixteen, she gave birth to a son after years in captivity, being used as a child sex slave by an ELN terrorist. “All I want is my son back,” she insisted, noting that her first escape attempt failed after being kidnapped a second time and threatened with having her entire family killed if she tried a second escape.