After two years of on-again, off-again communication between the guerrilla group and the government, the warring parties announced the peace talks less than one week before presidential elections in which President Juan Manuel Santos faces hard-liner Oscar Ivan Zuluaga.
The government and the rebel group released a formal, joint statement on Tuesday morning.
The ELN (National Liberation Army) and the government have been fighting since 1964. Colombia’s second largest guerrilla group, the ELN, was originally formed as a Marxist-Leninist/Liberation Theology movement. Today however, the group as currently constituted bears little resemblance to its founding ideology. The ELN regularly kidnaps and targets multinational oil corporations in its rebellious acts, as its strongholds are found in oil-rich areas.
Peace negotiations in 2002 and 2004 between the rebel group and the administration of Alvaro Uribe failed and military pressure intensified. In response, the ELN allied itself with drug gangs such as the Rastrojos to remain intact. The ELN currently has about 2,000 combatants as opposed to the 8,000 currently fighting with larger Colombian rebel group, the FARC.
Colombia has been in peace talks with the FARC, the largest guerrilla group in Colombia, since November of 2012 in Havana, Cuba, and is a contentious issue in the upcoming second-round of Colombian presidential elections, slated for 15 June.
The peace talks with the FARC have seemed to monopolize the discourse of the presidential elections, as incumbent President Juan Manuel Santos claims to represent “peace, as opposed to a war without end,” while challenger Oscar Ivan Zuluaga promises a peace “without impunity,”alleging that Santos would give too much leniency to the leaders of the FARC in the event of a peace accord being reached.
Since no candidate received over 50% of the vote in the first round, a second round is mandated by law.