The light from a kerosene lamp illuminates the faces of several youths who, in the heart of the Colombian jungle, made the decision to rise up in arms to overthrow the country’s oligarchy and install a new revolutionary government.
This utopian ideal emerged from a dream inspired by the triumph of the Cuban Revolution in January 1959. Thus was founded the José Antonio Galán National Pro-Liberation Brigade, which months later would change its name to the National Liberation Army (ELN).
This guerilla unit, created on July 4, 1964, by Colombian trade unionists and students, began operating only months after the emergence of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army (FARC-EP) on May 27, 1964.
Colombian Priest Camilo Torres Restrepo (1929-1966) joined the nascent ELN in 1965, followed by three Spanish clerics, including Manuel Pérez (1943-1998), who eventually became a commander of the guerilla organization. All were defenders of Liberation Theology, a distinctly Latin American movement with an emphasis on the participation of the poor, which emerged from the Catholic Church in the region.
Despite differences in their approach, both guerilla organizations share the same objective: To achieve social justice through armed struggle. However, after five decades of bloody conflict, both are turning to dialogue to achieve their aims.
After several failed attempts, Colombia’s long-awaited peace process is being concretized first with the FARC-EP and now with the ELN, the second largest guerilla group in the country. Various experts see this new chapter as an opportunity for Colombia to finally achieve long overdue peace and justice.
The ELN - how many are they?
Close to 2,000 combatants, and several thousand militias, according to the government; although the ELN claims there are more.
Past attempts at peace:
• César Gaviria (1990-1994)
• Ernesto Samper (1994-1998)
• Andrés Pastrana (1998-2002)
• Álvaro Uribe (2002-2010)
• Juan Manuel Santos (current)
NICOLÁS RODRÍGUEZ BAUTISTA (GABINO) - Commander in chief. Joined the ELN at 14 years of age.
ELIÉCER HERLINTON CHAMORRO (ANTONIO GARCÍA) - Joined the ELN in 1975. He became military commander of the organization following the death of Manuél Pérez.
ISRAÉL RAMÍREZ (PABLO BELTRÁN) - Responsible for working with the masses and political cadres. Head of the guerrilla delegation to the peace talks.
GUSTAVO ANÍBAL GIRARDO (PABLITO) - Was appointed to the ELN Central Command (COCE) in February, 2015.
2014 – After 10 months of confidential exploratory negotiations, the Colombian government and ELN announced the start of peace talks. However, the process was postponed following the kidnap of a former congressman.
• March 10: Peace agenda agreed upon in Caracas.
• October 10: Delegations meet again to try to resume talks.
• January 17: After six days of conversations, the two delegations formally announce the commencement of a peace process for February 7.
• February 2: Former Congressman Odín Sánchez, and two guerrillas released by ELN and Colombian government, respectively. Everything set for the public phase of talks to begin in Ecuador.
• Both delegations are composed of 30 representatives
• A maximum of 10 people (five plenipotentiaries and five alternates) from each delegation can participate in the sessions.
• Specific channels of communication will be established.
• Delegations will issue a joint statement at the end of every round, if and when they deem appropriate.
• The talks will take place within the framework of confidentiality.
• Conversations will be held in Ecuador. Sessions will also take place in Venezuela, Chile, Brazil and Cuba, acting as guarantor nations together with Norway.
*The Colombian government delegation is being led by Juán Camilo Restrepo.
AGENDA (Agreement on Peace Talks between Colombian government and the ELN)
Objective: “To put an end to the armed conflict, the political violence must be eradicated; centering the treatment of the situation of the victims; and advancing towards the national reconciliation by having active participation of the society in the construction of a stable and lasting peace.”
Six point plan:
01. Participation of society in the construction of peace (core aim).
02. Democracy for peace.
03. Change for peace.
05. An end to the armed conflict.
Sources: HUMAN RIGHTS OBSERVATORY: POLITICAL VIOLENCE IN COLOMBIA 2013-2017 BY THE PEACE AND RECONCILIATION FOUNDATION; ARTICLE “THE 11 MOST IMPORTANT MOMENTS IN THE HISTORY OF THE NATIONAL LIBERATION ARMY,” PUBLISHED IN LAS DOS ORILLAS MAGAZINE; NEWSPAPERS EL ESPECTADOR AND EL TIEMPO.