Peace in Colombia Requires Deal With ELN as Well as FARC

Peace in Colombia Requires Deal With ELN as Well as FARC

After nine months in Havana, Cuba, negotiators are making slow but steady progress toward ending the conflict between Colombia's government and its largest leftist guerrilla group, the 49-year-old Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The talks are now at the second of five agenda points, and a growing segment of public opinion believes that this peace process—the fourth in the past 30 years—may end in an accord.

But the FARC are not Colombia's only leftist guerrilla group with a national presence. The National Liberation Army (ELN), like the FARC, was founded in 1964. The ELN differs from the FARC in several ways, however. For one thing, it is smaller—about 2,000 fighters compared to about 8,000 in the FARC. And while the FARC grew out of a community of radicalized peasants, the ELN's founders were radical students and priests inspired by the Cuban revolution. The FARC leadership is a rigid hierarchy, while the ELN makes decisions through a slower, consensus-based process. The FARC and ELN have allied at some moments and places; at others, they have fought bloody feuds. Finally, the ELN has been more reluctant to negotiate peace: Except for a brief moment in the early 1990s, it has never gone beyond informal "talks about talks."

The ELN remains on the sidelines of President Juan Manuel Santos's current negotiations with the FARC. But if ELN leaders' recent statements are to be believed, the group wants to talk peace. Quiet contacts with the Santos government are ongoing.

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