Cardenas: The ELN won't do what the FARC did

Olimpo Cardenas, member of the national committee of participation and the Peoples Congress, said that the agreement between the ELN and the Colombian government won't be like the one signed by the FARC.

After the ceasefire between the National Liberation Army (ELN) organization and the Colombian government took effect, eyes turned to the preparations for the peace process.

A group called National Participation, made up of delegates from many parts of the country, is working to come up with a peace plan.

One of the participants in this work is Olimpo Cardenas, a member of the Peoples Congress. Cardenas spoke about the peace talks between the Bogota government and the ELN.

Our goal is to solve the causes of the armed conflict

Cardenas said that the aim of the peace talks is to eliminate violence as well as the political causes that cause violence. "Our vision is not just to solve the armed conflict, but to solve the root causes that provoke the armed conflict. Those causes are economic, political, environmental, social, cultural. The objective of our participation in this committee is to try to bring together and create an alliance of other sectors, to get support for this vision of peace and this proposal of what is peace." 

Violence-based neoliberalism applied

Cardenas said that there have been 9 processes involving the ELN and the Colombian State and added that their main goal is to involve the whole of society in the process. "Today the government that is representing the state of Colombia is totally different from the one we had in the past 216 years. Even if it is not a leftist government, the head of the state is a ex-guerrilla member. He comes from the democratic sector. There are some leftist leaders who are part of this government and there are some democrats, liberals. They have an argument in favor of democracy. They demand a liberal democratic state. And at that moment, their demand was a new constitution.

This new constitution was actually implemented starting in 1991 and has some good elements, which would be the right of law and state based on law. The other half of the constitution is the political and legal basis for neoliberalism. So, basically, the neoliberal part of the constitution will not lead to implementing the rights that are written in the other parts of the constitution. But neoliberalism was implemented."

The Committee will ensure participation of everyone

Cardenas said that the Committee is composed of 81 delegates out of 30 sectors in society. Cardenas explained the functioning of the Committee by saying that "the main objective of this committee has to do with four main phases or steps of its work. The first phase is to design a proposal or plan for participation of society. And the objective of this plan is to be as inclusive as possible, as diverse as possible and as dynamic as possible. This is the mandate given to this committee.

The second phase of participation is the actual participation. So, the second point in the agenda: democracy for peace. What needs to be done is a deep diagnosis of the current Colombian democracy. If we make a good description of the problems and the issues which need to be dealt with, that should bring us to how we can overcome them. You need to propose another democracy. Which is a popular democracy from our point of view. [...]

The third phase is where you participate in order to elaborate proposals for structural transformations. And the fourth phase of the process is to systematize all that. All this should  happen before May 2025. All these will be given to the negotiation table. And what is on our shoulders as civil society is to make sure we have a broad enough alliance to push for those transformations to actually happen." 

It won't be an agreement like the one the FARC signed with the government

Comparing the negotiations between the ELN and the government with the process that resulted in a peace agreement between the FARC and the Colombian state 7 years ago, Cardenas said: "FARC was  negotiating with the Santos government and the ELN too at the same time. And the government decided that the two negotiating tables should be separated. At some point, the FARC and ELN had a dialogue to try to get together to make just one peace process. For reasons we can analyze, neither the government nor the FARC agreed to that finally. To understand that, we need to know that the conditions on the negotiating table with FARC had a specific agenda. So the FARC peace process was going forward with an agenda, while the ELN  process was still negotiating the agenda. The timing was not the same.

But there are other reasons. What we call balance of power is that the FARC sat down at the negotiating table very weakened. They were injured. And also FARC had taken the decision that it was a moment in which it was good for them to come to an agreement. Their main demand was the fight for land. [...]

The ELN liked to have small agreements. If they agree on something, they implement it. Step by step. That's the kind of model they are going for. And with FARC it was totally different. Because implementation was the last point.

The ELN will not do the same the FARC did. If things are not implemented, they won't get to the end of the process. The narrative is that they don’t want peace, but they just saw what happened.

The agreements that led to negotiations

Cardenas said about the agreements that "a first agreement called 'the agreement of Mexico' was signed on 10 March 2023.  The document agreed on the origin of the conflict and on the reason why and on the elements on which the conflict is based. They agreed on building a common vision of peace. There they agreed that it is needed to build a great alliance for peace and that the six points on the agenda should be addressed. And that participation is gonna be the core or heart of the whole peace process. 

Then there was the Cuba agreement, signed on 5 June 2023, in which they agreed on a methodology for participation."

Biggest threat is paramilitarism

Cardenas said that the biggest threat to the peace process is paramilitarism. "Paramilitarism is a state policy and a powerful organization. It is not just an armed practice, they also have political power, great economic power and now they have cultural power. They are everywhere in the country. They have a cultural impact. For example, one of the main economies of paramilitarism is drug trafficking. So, where they are, they instrumentalise around them in narco-trafficking. The whole community ends up involved in drug trafficking. The paramilitary groups have their own music  which promotes this way of life. 


Let’s say we even convinced a sector of militaries and businesses to agree to some transformation. This structure, which is armed and which is used to use state terrorism, genocide, will not make any changes happen. That is why in our action plan our main demand of the state is the dismantlement of para-militarism. Because it is financed - and we have proof of it and it is obvious - by the main business sectors. There are intellectuals from the far right who say that paramilitarism is necessary. And, sadly, they do have a social base. 

The Congress of the Peoples

Cardenas explained what the Congress of the Peoples and said: "The strategical horizon of the Congress of the Peoples is socialism. Socialism for us is people power. So our goal is always the same: to build popular power towards socialism. 

Whether the peace process succeeds or fails, we have to keep our fight. We have a struggle, goals and objectives which go ahead whatever happens with  the peace process. But in this specific case, because there is a new government which is very different, that has a better vision of peace and in the government you have different people. So we have a struggle as a social and popular movement and we will also take advantage of opportunities inside the state and institutions. And opportunities are open from the current government and we will take advantage of them.