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A ‘historic cease-fire’ in Colombia only ever existed in the presidents imagination
Petro's announcement on new years eve inspired hope and headlines, until the criminal groups named denied any ceasefire existed
In the final hours of New Years Eve, 2022, Colombian President Petro Gustavo, via twitter, announced a 6-month bi-lateral cease-fire with the six biggest criminal armed groups in the country— an agreement that supposedly would affect an estimated 10,000 fighters operating in over a third of the country.
Monday, after the holidays had passed, his spokespeople deployed on a press tour victory lap for interviews with local press. The story was quickly picked up by international news wire services such as Reuters and AFP, though details were scarce.
El Espectador, one of the largest newspapers in Colombia, stated that Petro had “achieved the impossible”. UN representatives in New York City hailed the announcement as a victory, and offered their support. Petro invited them to be “guarantors” of the process. Petro supporters on twitter trumpeted the deal as “historic”.
The only problem was no ceasefire existed.
Rebel group the National Liberation Army (ELN) on Tuesday denied not only that they had agreed to any cease fire agreement, but also that they had even been formally consulted about one. So did Colombia’s Army officials, as well as Colombian police.
Two ex-FARC dissident groups who, according to Petro, were already signatories, Segunda Marquetalia and Estado Mayor Central, were a bit more diplomatic. They expressed interest in a possible cease-fire moving forward, a ceasefire which they did not claim at any point they had prior knowledge of.
The government, in an extremely awkward press conference the following day, admitted that no cease fire had been signed and formally canceled a truce which never existed. Peacebuilding experts suggest that Petro’s incomprehensible announcement will make ongoing talks with ELN more difficult.
ELN negotiators, who began peace talks with the government in November, said Thursday that they are willing to discuss the issue when negotiations resume later this month in Mexico City, but the government’s actions have left both supporters and critics doubting whether what the administration says can really be trusted.
Petro, who took office in June, promised to bring what he calls “Total Peace” to Colombia, through disarmament negotiations with armed criminal groups.
Colombia, in 2016, signed a historic peace accord with rebel group the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), officially ending over half a century of civil war. But despite widespread hopes of peace-building at the time, violence has risen in recent years, particularly in rural areas formerly controlled by FARC forces, as a host of armed groups fight both the government and amongst themselves for territorial control.
Residents who live in conflict areas, who largely supported Petro during his election, have long faced broken promises on the part of the government to bring peace, as well as investment.
Petro’s unforced error likely compounds their doubts Petro’s government will, or can, make good on its word.
Andrés Silva Rojas is a community leader who advocates for sustainable farming practices among coca farmers in Catatumbo, one of the largest coca producing regions in the world, and a region which has been left behind by government promises in the past.
“This just further damages trust in the community that the government can be trusted,” he told PWS. Rojas explained that many in the community strongly supported the country’s historic peace deal with the FARC in 2016. But the government’s promises to build infrastructure and create economic opportunities outside of illicit markets never materialized.
“The only time we see the government is when they come to burn our [coca] fields down.”
Rojas says that without support from communities who live in zones controlled by armed groups, real reform will not be possible. And though he supports peace efforts, he also says this latest episode just reinforces a perception among coca growers that “politicians will promise whatever they think people want to hear during the campaign, then leave us all behind once they have power. That’s how it has always been in Colombia.”
It’s quite possible that peace negotiations over the next month will lead to bilateral cease-fires that actually exist, but for those ceasefires to hold, both residents and armed groups will need to be able to trust the government— and the president needs to not announce accords that dont exist.
Today the government claims they have signed a bilateral ceasefire with a right wing paramilitary group in Santa Marta, and the ex-FARC dissident groups who were supposedly part of the original accord.
I think this time PWS will wait for confirmation before writing a story about the details.
Avast me hearties!
Happy New Year! We’re changing up the format at PWS somewhat this month. To start with, we will be publishing the newsletter on Wednesdays to avoid being part of the death of the news cycle on Friday afternoons. We will also be publishing Spanish-language articles separately rather than as an addendum to the English language features, which requires scrolling through a few thousand words of text.
We are hoping this allows us to promote that work directly in Spanish-language markets. If you’re interested in the Spanish language coverage, don’t worry, it will continue! Just not as part of the main newsletter.
For now, Spanish editions of our work will be published on the website and our social media accounts (which, if you haven’t followed, you should), and we hope to formally launch a Spanish-language only newsletter in the coming months.
Our bi-monthly “Ship’s Log” pieces, which focus on in-person reporting and analysis from our respective countries will continue for paid subscribers.
And rather than flood your inbox with the usual features twice in 5 days (as we will see you again Wednesday on the new schedule), we’re keeping this weeks edition short.
But all the bells and whistles will be back next week— Quick summaries of the Big Headlines in Latam, What We’re Reading/Writing and the Spanish word of the week.
Thank you once again for reading and we’re excited to jump into 2023. The region has a lot of big stories on the horizon and a lot of crucial events on the news calendar.
And we’ll be here for all of it