QUITO, ECUADOR – The Colombian peace process was dealt another huge blow last week, after the launch of the long anticipated peace talks with the ELN guerrillas was cancelled Thursday. This move left many people feeling even more concerned about the future of the country and its prospects for peace.
Last week, the Colombian government and the second largest guerrilla group, the National Liberation Army (ELN), were scheduled to begin the long process of peace negotiations in Ecuador’s capital, Quito. But, at the last minute, the launch was canceled by President Juan Manuel Santos over a hostage dispute with the guerrillas.
According to the president, the ELN failed to meet the deadline to release former legislator Odin Sanchez Montes de Oca, who has been held captive since April of this year. The government had given the guerrillas an ultimatum: release Sanchez by Thursday or the talks won’t happen.
The ELN responded by saying ultimatums are a bad way to start the peace talks and will jeopardize the process, but reluctantly agreed. According to the group’s main negotiator, Pablo Beltran, the release process was underway and Sanchez would have been released during the first round of negotiations – what Beltran says was the initial agreement.
Both the Red Cross, which will facilitate Sanchez’ release, and the government’s lead negotiator, former Minister of Agriculture Juan Camilo Restrepo, have since confirmed that the release process is now underway – but the peace talks still have not been rescheduled.
The launch of these negotiations with the ELN would have been somewhat of a saving grace for Colombia’s peace process, after citizens narrowly voted down the peace deal with the FARC in a national plebiscite earlier this month. Heads are still spinning, while the world wonders how Colombians could have possibly voted ‘No’ for peace.