On the Side of Life

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Pablo Beltran recently visited Bogota, the capital of his native country Colombia, for the first time in 31 years. Beltran is a leader in the National Liberation Army – known by its Spanish acronym ELN – a Marxist guerilla group. He has been living in Cuba since peace talks between the Colombian government and the ELN broke down in 2019 after the guerrillas detonated a car bomb at the Bogota police academy, killing 20 people, Agence France-Presse reported.

Good news precipitated Beltran’s return. He was in the capital to sign a six-month ceasefire with Colombian President Gustavo Petro. The deal was a major step in ending nearly 60 years of conflict between the country’s central government and rebels who operate in Colombia’s remote interior regions, the New York Times wrote.

Around 450,000 people have perished in the ongoing violence. In 2016, officials reached a separate agreement with another rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). “Everyone who really wants to transform this society, in today’s world, must be on the side of life,” said Petro, Colombia’s first leftist president, at an event to mark the start of the ceasefire, according to the Associated Press.

Problematic signs are already appearing, though. The ELN has decentralized leadership, for example. While some factions have signed up to the ceasefire, others aren’t so sure about it.

ELN leader Aureliano Carbonell said that the guerrilla group’s revenue-generating activities would not stop. They allegedly include kidnapping, extortion, drug trafficking, and illegal mining. “Financing activities continue,” Carbonell told the Reuters news agency. “This process cannot weaken the organization.”

Other rebel groups are also still active in Colombia. Earlier this year, officials stopped negotiating with the Clan del Golfo, sometimes called the Gaitanista Self-defense Force of Colombia, because the group allegedly helped unlicensed miners organize violent protests. Officials are also supposed to start talks with the Estado Mayor Central, a FARC faction, but they have yet to begin.

Additionally, the ceasefire only pertains to fighting between ELN fighters and government troops, not any violence among ELN fighters and other rebels or criminal groups, added Al Jazeera. No matter who the belligerents are, if serious fighting breaks out, the ceasefire could collapse.

Petro faces problems, too, that could erode his government’s capacity to maintain the peace. Petro’s son, Nicolas, recently told prosecutors that his father received funding of “dubious origin” in his 2022 election campaign. Nicolas, a lawmaker, is facing charges of illicit enrichment and money laundering, the Associated Press reported separately.

For now, though, score one for peace.

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