Peace talks resumed this week in Havana between the Colombian government and the nation’s remaining guerrilla faction, the National Liberation Army (ELN).
Negotiations began last year in Quito, Ecuador, and five rounds of talks had been completed, including an extended ceasefire that lasted for most of the final four months of 2017 before expiring and ELN members allegedly carried out several attacks on both police stations on the Caribbean coast and road infrastructure in central Colombia.
In April, ELN was also blamed for killing two Ecuadorian journalists and their driver near the Colombian border, a belligerent attack that preceded the government in Quito pulling out as a guarantor host for ongoing negotiations.
“I have asked the foreign minister of Ecuador to put the brakes on the conversations and put the brakes on our role as a guarantor of the peace process while the ELN does not commit to ending terrorist actions,” said Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno in an interview with Colombian news outlet NTN24.
Weeks later, Colombian President Manuel Santos announced that the dialogues would continue in Cuba, the same country that hosted around four years of formal talks that led to a peace deal in late 2016 with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
According to Santos, the two sides, which began talking again on Thursday, May 10, will first focus on carving out a renewed ceasefire before moving on to higher level issues concerning a larger framework that will lead to group’s full demobilization and disarmament.
“I have faith,” said Santos from Germany during an overseas trip. “All my life, I’ve been a born optimist … It will be difficult, but there is no alternative. I think the ELN also understands that there is no alternative.”
While the talks are re-engaging, there remains a large degree of skepticism that any real progress will be made in the short term. Santos, who has been the main driver of talks with guerrilla groups and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2016 for coming to terms with FARC, will be leaving office in August and is currently occupying the presidential home of Casa de Nariño in Bogotá as a lame duck head of state.
The first round of the presidential election will be held in a few weeks on May 27. With no one candidate currently holding a majority in polls, most analysts expect a follow-up run-off election between the two highest vote getters in June.