It is undeniable that 2016 was a significant year in Colombian history, because the FARC guerrillas signed an agreement to lay down their arms and become a legal political organization, and this development enabled President Santos to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

In spite of the above, in our country the same conditions continue, of exploitation, impoverishment, exclusion, persecution and political elimination; marginalization and social criminalization; environmental and ecological destruction; abandonment of sovereignty and of public property to foreign interests; in other words, the conditions which led to and intensified the social and armed conflict persist. The regime is untouched and the war waged by the state continues with full intensity in its campaign against the people.

With the National Liberation Army a different negotiation process from that with the FARC has begun, and after many delays and breaches of trust by the Government, finally on March 30th 2016 the end of the private phase of talks was announced, the six points of the agreed Agenda were revealed and the prompt beginning of public talks was announced.

A few days later President Santos declared to the media his unilateral demand for the release of kidnapped individuals, something which had not been agreed in the formal negotiations, thus putting a brake on the possibility of beginning public talks.

It is clear that the government is trying to establish conditions which will prevent the implementation of what has been agreed in bilateral talks, manipulating the accounts presented to public opinion and breaking its word. In other words, Santos continues to choose a tactic of delays, of wearing us down and breaking his word, in order to renegotiate what was agreed.

For the National Liberation Army the process we are engaged in is not one of submission or of unilateral impositions, but of seeking convergence, of working together constructively and with society, in order to agree on changes which will enable us to build a just peace process.

On October 6th there was an agreement on humanitarian release of prisoners by both Parties in order to create a climate which would permit the beginning of the public phase of talks.

We know that fundamental considerations about the nature and limits of political offences and their implications are matters for the public phase of negotiations; for this reason the release and the pardons agreed upon are prior decisions and will occur as political goodwill gestures by the two Parties as agreed.

With regard to the pardons, our delegation initially proposed the pardon of two of our members condemned for kidnapping, but this was rejected by the government on the grounds of conditions laid down by Law 418 of 1997. This stance is intended to limit the broad definition of political offences and related activities. The government proposes to pardon political prisoners who were only condemned for the simple crime of rebellion and who have almost served their sentences.

Kidnappings are political and economic acts carried out by the National Liberation Army against individuals who while being civilians, are involved in the conflict, because not only do they finance or support the war in some areas of the country, but also in many cases their property has been obtained by the exploitation of their employees, the illicit extraction of natural resources or by taking advantage of the corrupt use of public goods.

The economic proceeds obtained in a kidnapping do not go to the personal or private holdings of those who order or execute the action, rather they become centralized resources of the ELN and are thus used to finance rebellion. This conduct therefore excludes the legal definition of the crime of kidnapping, which in Colombian law must include “lucrative advantage with expressly individual aims”.

It is clear that for the government it is not convenient to open public talks with the ELN, because that would imply giving voice to society in general and allowing the people to decide which are the main problems to be discussed and which should be the solutions to create peace.

The National Liberation Army assumes that matters relating to the topics of Justice, political and related offences will be part of a debate which should include all of society and not only the actors of the armed conflict. It therefore invites society, democrats, jurists, groups defending political prisoners, non-governmental organizations, Universities and Human Rights organizations to give their opinions and to participate in this discussion.

We also extend this call to all Colombian women and men to make this public phase of talks their own, becoming active participants and opening up a new area of political participation, so that we can move towards a new country where peace leads to concrete transformations and to a decent life, justice, sovereignty and joy for all women and men.

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