The leaders of the two guerrilla organizations offered a press conference in Havana following their talks. Photo: Juvenal Balán

The two largest Colombian guerrilla organizations met in Havana this week to discuss the peace process. Despite holding separate talks with the government of President Juan Manuel Santos, the two organizations met in order to “join forces” to help put an end to more than half a century of armed conflict in the South American nation.

“Despite the disparity between the two sets of talks between the insurgency and the government of President Santos, we maintain common goals, with different but complementary paths,” read a Joint Communiqué signed by Timoleón Jiménez, leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army (FARC-EP), and Nicolás Gabino, head of the Central Command of the National Liberation Army (ELN).

Despite sharing the purpose of achieving social change in Colombia through armed struggle, the two guerrilla organizations have historically maintained their independence in terms of their command and operations, as well as differences regarding their methods of struggle and political formation.

In November 2012, the FARC-EP and the Colombian government began peace talks in the Cuban capital, which lasted nearly four years and concluded with the signing of a historic peace agreement. This was rejected in a plebiscite and then updated by the parties to be submitted for legislative approval.

The implementation of the points agreed is ongoing, while FARC-EP fighters are now grouped in Transitional Zones, where the process of disarmament and reintegration into civilian life is taking place.

However, despite the long negotiation process with the FARC-EP, peace talks with the ELN only began in February of this year, hosted by Ecuador.

According to statements made during a press conference in Havana, an atmosphere of understanding reigned during this unusual dialogue between the FARC-EP and ELN leadership, which lasted a week and was closely followed worldwide given the possible impact on the peace process.

“There were more agreements than differences,” stated Timoleón Jiménez. Meanwhile, Nicolás Gabino noted that the meeting served to assess the developments of each group and discuss how to achieve complementarity that assimilates their differences.

The Joint Communiqué details some of the points of agreement, including on the rights of victims and the need for a deepening of democracy in Colombia to ensure equity and dignity for its citizens.

Regarding the deadlines for the talks in Ecuador, Gabino stressed that after half a century of war, his group can not afford to “do things badly or hastily.” In this sense, he added that the ELN has no plan to reach an agreement before the 2018 elections, although he clarified that achieving results in the short term did not depend solely on his organization.

In response to a question regarding the implementation of the agreements reached in Havana between the government and the FARC-EP, Timoléon Jiménez noted that, as expected, difficulties are being encountered in the process, but efforts are ongoing to resolve these.

He added that his organization has shown that it is willing to comply with the agreements as they were signed. He explained that the guerrilla forces have gathered in the Transitional Zones and remain there, despite not having all the agreed conditions.

He also noted that progress is being made in the surrender of arms, despite logistical difficulties.

The FARC-EP leader explained that his organization provided the location of some 900 caches of weapons, but the United Nations has had difficulties in disabling them and turning them into pieces for the three monuments that will be erected in honor of the victims of the conflict.

Both guerrilla organizations expressed their appreciation for the willingness of the Colombian government to facilitate the meeting, and thanked once again the countries accompanying the process, especially Cuba, Venezuela and Norway.