EXCLUSIVE-Biden may be a “good neighbor” to unfreeze ELN dialogue and Colombian Government: Beltrán

By Nelson Acosta

HAVANA, Nov 20 (.) – Joe Biden’s arrival as president of the United States may facilitate an eventual restart of peace negotiations between the National Liberation Army (ELN) and the government of Colombian President Iván Duque, he said on Friday a leader of the rebel group in Havana.

The ELN, the largest active guerrilla in Colombia, and the government of the right-wing Duque are keeping talks frozen to seek a negotiated peace in the South American country that ends a historic confrontation that has left more than 260,000 dead and millions displaced.

“Biden wants respect for the United States, we want a good neighbor (the United States) who respects us,” said Pablo Beltrán, head of the ELN delegation for the peace talks that remains in Havana awaiting a possible reopening of the the conversations.

In May 2018 and during the government of former President Juan Manuel Santos, Havana replaced Ecuador as the venue for the negotiations that have as a precedent the peace agreement signed in 2016 with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

“I hope so,” Beltrán said directly to a question about whether he thinks that Biden could find new formulas for the restart of the dialogues.

Beltrán, 66, criticized former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe, arguing that “his most bitter position against peace is on the decline (and) his great support was Trump and Trump left.”

Duque has refused to start negotiations with the ELN and demands that the rebel group, which has about 2,000 combatants, suspend kidnappings, recruitment of minors, plant antipersonnel mines, release the hostages and end the attacks against infrastructure.

The ELN, founded in 1964 and considered a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union, has rejected the government’s demands and refuses to comply with them.

Duque canceled a possible negotiation with the ELN after a car bomb attack on a police academy in Bogotá in January 2019, which left 22 cadets dead.

However, the ELN believes that talks with Duque can be resumed. “I think that it is not closed because always a contribution to peace, opening a stretch of the road, will be the best for Colombia and I do not believe that in Colombia there is a politician who does not want to do that. I do not think that Duque is the exception” Beltrán said.

“Each government seeks to make a mark on the issue of peace (…) and I see the possibility of resuming the talks before the end of 2021,” the rebel commander said slowly.

(Report by Nelson Acosta. Edited by Luis Jaime Acosta and Javier Leira; REUTERS NAB LJA JL /)