U.S. and Colombian civil-society organizations release Protect Colombia’s Peace, a joint report calling on the U.S. and Colombian governments to do more to implement the 2016 peace accord and to protect threatened social leaders. “The U.S. government’s diplomatic efforts in Colombia helped pave the way for peace, and this wise investment should not be wasted,” the report advises.
Colombia’s government rejects an ELN call for a bilateral ceasefire, which did not specifically address kidnapping, extortion, or other illegal non-combat activity.
The joint body for verification of the 2016 peace accord’s implementation (Commission for the Follow-up, Promotion and Verification of the Implementation of the Final Agreement, CSIVI) meets for the first time since May 14. On that date, the FARC delegation boycotted the CSIVI meeting, as did the ambassador from Cuba, after High Commissioner for Peace Miguel Ceballos applauded the United States’ addition of Cuba to its list of states not cooperating against terrorism. A subsequent effort to convene the CSIVI, on June 11, fell through.
High Counselor for Stabilization Emilio Archila says that the Colombian government “has never placed in doubt or questioned Cuba’s role as a guarantor country” for the peace talks, and “hopes it will keep exercising that function.” Cuban ambassador José Luis Ponce is a “formal invitee” to the June 26 meeting, at which, the government reports, the CSIVI “defined a calendar of meetings to speed up the work of overseeing implementation.”
Colombia’s Foreign Ministry issues a statement denying that it lobbied the U.S. government to include Cuba on its list of states not sufficiently cooperating against terrorism, which it did on May 13. The U.S. listing cites Cuba’s refusal to extradite ELN negotiators stranded in Havana since talks ended in January 2019, which would have violated the parties’ signed protocols for an eventual breakdown in talks. The Colombian government’s high commissioner for peace, Miguel Ceballos, angered the Cuban government at the time by publicly celebrating the U.S. move as a “huge support” for Colombia.
The U.S. State Department adds Cuba to its list of “Countries Certified as Not Cooperating Fully With U.S. Counterterrorism Efforts,” for the first time since 2015. This listing, while not as severe as that of the State Department’s “terrorist-sponsoring states” list, carries strong symbolic weight. The main reason cited for Cuba’s addition to the list: its refusal to turn ELN negotiators over to Colombian justice in January 2019, after a guerrilla bombing of Colombia’s police academy brought an end to peace talks that the government of Juan Manuel Santos (2010-2018) had been carrying out in Havana. Santos government negotiators had signed protocols for those talks stipulating that, should they break down, the ELN negotiators would be allowed to return to Colombia. The Duque government rejected those protocols and demanded the extradition of the ELN negotiators, who remain in Havana. The State Department finds that Cuba’s honoring of the protocols “demonstrates that it is not cooperating with U.S. work to support Colombia’s efforts to secure a just and lasting peace, security, and opportunity for its people.”
High Commissioner for Peace Miguel Ceballos celebrates the U.S. government’s addition of Cuba to the “not cooperating fully” list, calling it “a huge support from the U.S. government to the Colombian government’s, President Duque’s and the Foreign Ministry’s insistent request that these people be turned over to Colombian justice.” He tells El Espectador, “The United States doesn’t recognize the protocols.”
On May 14, in response to Ceballos’s comments in support of the U.S. move, the FARC suspends its participation in the joint body for verification of the 2016 peace accord’s implementation (Commission for the Follow-up, Promotion and Verification of the Implementation of the Final Agreement, CSIVI), demanding that the government clarify its position about Cuba’s status as a guarantor country. Cuba’s representative also refuses to attend a meeting of the CSIVI.
On May 16 the former chief government negotiator during the FARC peace process in Havana, Humberto de la Calle, publishes a column lamenting the U.S. government’s move, defending Cuba’s honoring of the protocols, and criticizing Ceballos’s statements.
On May 20, Norway’s ambassador to Colombia, John Petter Opdahl, tells El Tiempo that Cuba acted correctly in honoring the protocols for the end of the ELN negotiations. Norway and Cuba served as the two guarantor countries for the ELN talks, as well as the 2012-16 FARC process.
The ELN’s one-month unilateral ceasefire comes to an end. ELN negotiators who have been in Havana since talks broke down in January 2019 reiterate a demand that they be allowed to leave Cuba and re-enter Colombia. The Colombian think-tank CERAC, which maintains a database of conflict events, reports that it could not verifiably document a single offensive action by the ELN during this period, or indeed since March 12, 2020. It does note a few ELN aggressions during this period, but cannot state clearly whether the guerrilla group was the first to act in any of the cases.
The ELN announces that it will not renew the one-month unilateral ceasefire that it declared for April, citing the COVID-19 pandemic. “It was unfortunate that the Duque government did not respond in a reciprocal manner,” reads the guerrilla communiqué. The ELN missive calls for its negotiators to be allowed to leave Cuba, where they have been since peace talks broke down in January 2019, and re-enter Colombia as agreed in the talks’ protocols.
“We think there’s an enormous lack of harmony between the ELN’s leaders. Two have made declarations, one in Cuba and one is in Venezuela,” says High Commissioner for Peace Miguel Ceballos. “It would seem that they don’t have good contact with their organization’s members and they seem disconnected with the reality that needs non-violent action.”
Earlier in the day, the UN Mission in Colombia had called on the ELN to prolong the ceasefire.
CERAC, a Bogotá think-tank that monitors security, measured no ELN offensive actions during April.
From Cuba, ELN leader Pablo Beltrán insists that the guerrillas remain willing to re-start negotiations, and have enough “internal cohesion” to sustain talks. Beltrán had led the ELN’s negotiating team until talks collapsed in January 2019.
Former ELN leader Francisco Galán, named by the government as a “peace promoter” empowered to facilitate contacts with the guerrilla group, is freed from prison. A second former leader named a peace promoter, Felipe Torres, has an arrest order lifted. Both were wanted by a judge for their purported role in a 2000 ELN kidnapping (which occurred while both were already in prison).
The ELN rejects Galán’s and Torres’s mediation, saying the they are no longer members of the group and are instead “functionaries named by the government.” On April 8, Galán and Torres send a message to their former comrades calling on them to release kidnap victims. The ELN’s preferred interlocutor, active leader Juan Carlos Cuéllar, remains in prison.
- The ELN announces a unilateral ceasefire during the month of April in response to the COVID-19 emergency. The guerrillas’ statement asks the government to send negotiators to Havana to discuss making the ceasefire bilateral.
- The Defendamos la Paz movement issues a statement on March 30 hailing the ELN’s decision.
- The government’s high commissioner for peace, Miguel Ceballos, turns down the ELN’s demand that local military units pull back to their barracks during the ceasefire. He calls the ELN’s announcement “a good gesture, but late and insufficient,” calling on the group to make the unilateral ceasefire permanent.
- The government names former ELN leaders Francisco Galán and Felipe Torres “peace promoters”—advisors and possible interlocutors with the guerrilla group. This releases Galán from preventive prison for his alleged role in a 2000 kidnapping, and suspends an arrest order against Torres.
- The government’s high commissioner for peace, Miguel Ceballos, says that some factions of the ELN have been sending messages to the government indicating a willingness to negotiate. He mentions a leader, alias “Lenin,” who apparently supports reducing attacks on the Caño Limón-Coveñas oil pipeline.
- Police capture Gerardo Antonio Bermúdez, also known as “Francisco Galán,” a former ELN guerrilla who served as a key link to the group during past efforts to negotiate peace. A judge in Cali seeks to try Galán for his possible role in a September 2000 mass kidnapping on the highway between Cali and Buenaventura.
- Galán is known as a peace promoter who has served a complete term in prison and has long since abandoned violence. His arrest inspires an outcry across the political spectrum, including a tweet from former President Álvaro Uribe.
- Colombia’s Foreign Ministry sends a formal extradition request to Cuba for ELN negotiators who remain on the island. Those wanted include the group’s maximum leader, Nicolás Rodríguez alias “Gabino,” and former chief negotiator Pablo Beltrán. The ELN members were in Cuba in January 2019, when President Duque shut down peace talks following the ELN’s bloody attack on the Colombian National Police Cadet School in Bogotá. Negotiation protocols signed by the Santos government had arranged for the negotiators’ return to Colombia if talks broke down. The Duque government rejected those protocols and demand that Cuba turn the negotiators over.