Delegations representing the Colombian government and the National Liberation Army (ELN) militant group, the last such organisation in the Latin American country, began formal peace talks on Monday, at a hotel in the mountains of Caracas.
“Let’s not say love at first sight, but trust at first sight, and the optimism of these first meetings,” said Otty Patino, head of the government’s delegation. “A reasonable optimism, which in this first meeting allows us to say that the trust we have in this process has been affirmed, to debate not only complicated issues like the ceasefire, but all other issues.”
It marks the first round of renewed peace negotiations, aiming to end the conflict in Colombia which has been ongoing since the 1960s. The country’s left-wing President Gustavo Petro, a former guerrilla fighter himself who took power in August, promised efforts to resume negotiations for the first time since 2019.
“There is a leftist government, that is the main difference. We have been dealing with governments since the 90s, and there really has not been a state policy, but what we managed to advance with one, the next denied it,” claimed Pablo Beltran, head of the ELN delegation.
“The difference today is that there is a progressive government, that since the electoral campaign said that it was risking peace. So we can say that we have an interlocutor,” he continued.
Talks were called off three years ago by former president Ivan Duque, after a car bomb attack on a police academy in Bogota which killed 22 people.
The negotiations, scheduled to last 20 days in the first instance, are backed by guarantors and observers from Cuba, Norway, Spain, Chile and Venezuela.