National Liberation Army leader Pablo Beltran (left) with Otty Patiño, the Colombian government’s chief negotiator, at the end of peace talks in Caracas, December 12, 2022. FEDERICO PARRA / AFP
Gustavo Petro wants to pacify his country. The first left-wing president in Colombia’s history, in power since August 7, 2022, has made “total peace” his government’s priority. On the night of Saturday 31 December to Sunday 1 January, the head of state announced on his Twitter account that bilateral ceasefire agreements had been reached with the country’s five main armed groups. The ceasefire, initially granted for six months, may be extended depending on the progress of talks with each of them. “Total peace becomes reality,” concluded Mr. Petro as a wish for 2023.
“These ceasefire agreements show that total peace is possible,” said Senator Sandra Ramirez, who belonged to the now demobilized guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The five groups that have accepted President Petro’s outstretched hand are the National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrillas, two so-called “dissident” remnant groups of the FARC (the Segunda Marquetalia and the Central General Staff), and two heir groups of the FARC narco-paramilitary militias : the Colombian Self-Defense Forces (AGC) and the Sierra Nevada Self-Defense Forces.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres welcomed the government’s decision. “It brings a renewed hope of complete peace to the Colombian people at the beginning of the new year,” said Stéphane Dujarric, his spokesman. In Bogota, too, the bishops’ conference welcomed the announced armistice. “Only people who live far from the conflict will say that it is useless,” the Catholic Church’s press release said.
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The decision was “brave,” Mr Petro himself agreed. The outstanding issues, including verification based on five simultaneous ceasefires, are thorny and the challenges manifold. “For two years, the majority of violent actions recorded in the country have been the result of a confrontation between armed groups and not a confrontation with the army,” recalled Camilo Gonzalez, director of Indepaz, the Institute for Development and Peace, which conducts statistical surveillance Force. That is, if the ceasefire review promises to be difficult. “But Colombia has experience in this area,” Mr. Gonzalez continues. And reducing violence could eventually lead to a multilateral ceasefire. »
More than 10,000 fighters
Mr. Petro wants to put an end to the armed violence and its procession of tragedies across the country. The historic 2016 peace deal with the FARC had certainly enabled the demobilization of some 13,000 guerrillas. But in the absence of effective territorial intervention by the state, others have taken over: dozens of armed groups, more or less structured and mostly not very politicized, share and contest control of the territory and its illicit economies, starting with cocaine, from the Colombia of the world leading producer remains. Massacres, assassinations, enforced disappearances and expulsions of people in peripheral regions that the state is fighting to occupy continue. A recent report by Indepaz estimates that the armed groups still active in the country number more than 10,000 fighters.
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