Cuba resumes familiar role as host of Colombian peace processes
By Juan Palop
Havana, May 2 (EFE).- Peace negotiations between the Colombian government and the National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla group resumed on Tuesday in Cuba, a country that has played a key role in other similar dialogues despite the political and economic costs it has incurred.
One of the guarantor countries to the process, Cuba is playing host to the third round of peace talks after earlier rounds took place in Venezuela in December 2022 and then in Mexico earlier this year.
The priority now is to achieve significant strides, especially after violence in recent months has sown doubts about the viability of the process.
Securing a bilateral cease-fire, a topic that will be a focal point of talks scheduled to run throughout the month in Havana, would mark a significant breakthrough.
Other key items on the agenda will be the matter of humanitarian relief and the involvement of civil society organizations in the process.
Havana had served as a venue for talks between those two parties until those negotiations were frozen in January 2019 by then-Colombian President Ivan Duque following a deadly ELN attack on a police academy.
“Cuba has been indispensable in the search for peace between Colombian governments and the ELN” dating back many years, Sen. Ivan Cepeda, a member of the current Colombian government’s delegation, told Efe, adding that “crucial” dialogues involving the two sides have taken place on the Communist-ruled island.
The Cuban government also is well aware of the central role it has played in these processes.
In an interview with Efe, the Foreign Ministry’s director general for Latin America and the Caribbean, Eugenio Martinez, said that when both sides conveyed their interest in returning to the island the government responded that it would be an “honor.”
“Cuba has the firm conviction, the deep conviction, that there must be a political solution to the Colombian armed conflict” and that “it’s time for Colombia to achieve peace,” he added.
Martinez said Havana’s role is that of a “discreet,” “impartial” and “very responsible” host that will guarantee an appropriate climate for talks in which all obstacles to success are removed.
The official mentioned the “very high costs” his country has paid internationally owing to the commitments it has assumed under the peace process.
He was referring to the decision in 2021 by then-US President Donald Trump’s outgoing administration to redesignate Cuba as a State Sponsor of Terrorism, a move that has severely hindered Havana’s access to international financing at a time when it is undergoing a severe financial crisis.
That action was partly due to Havana’s refusal to heed Colombia’s requests to extradite 10 ELN peace negotiators living in Havana after the group claimed responsibility for the January 2019 car-bombing of the Bogota police academy.
Havana cited peace negotiation protocols indicating that in the event of a breakdown in the talks the parties must guarantee the safe return of the negotiators.
The ELN delegates subsequently remained on the Caribbean island until after leftist Colombian President Gustavo Petro took office in August 2022.
In that regard, Cepeda noted that “Cuba paid an extremely high price for respecting the rules as a guarantor country” and “having fulfilled its commitments.”
He said Duque’s extradition demand and failure to adhere to the rupture protocol were “disgraceful” from the standpoint of international law.
The ELN’s chief negotiator, Pablo Beltran, said it was “very commendable that Cuba maintained a principled position” and recalled that the island has been facilitating contacts between the Colombian government and the ELN since the 1990s.