La ambición y la dificultad del objetivo de la ‘Paz Total’ en Colombia

The ambition and difficulty of Colombia's 'Total Peace' goal


14 | 04 | 2023


Status of the talks opened by the government of Gustavo Petro with all armed groups to end the persistent violence in the country.

In the picture

ELN propaganda image taken from its web page.

report AMERICAN REGIONAL SECURITY, SRA 2023 /PDF version from article


° After taking office in August 2022, the Colombian president launched an attempt to agreement with all armed groups, both political and criminal.

° Petro's haste in announcing a general ceasefire, on New Year's Day 2023, met with the ELN's warning that the process requires time.

° The fragmentation of the clans and the dissidences, as well as their illicit businesses that they sometimes cover for ideological purposes, pose a challenge that can overcome Petro.


On November 3, 2022, the Colombian Senate approved Law No. 181 of 2022, also known as the Total Peace Law, which allows the Government of Gustavo Petro to negotiate peace agreements with political Organized Armed Groups (GAO) and submissions to justice with criminal GAO. In order to reach agreements with criminal groups, the Submission Law is still pending approval, which provides for reduced sentences of between 6 and 8 years if the members of these groups surrender, collaborate with justice and make reparations to their victims. They would also have 4 years of probation to carry out these actions and the reductions would be annulled in case of failure to comply with any of the conditions. To date, 26 GAOs have already expressed their interest in participating in the process. statement their interest in participating in the process, being priority for the Government the ELN, the Clan del Golfo, the dissidents and deserters of the Peace agreement with the FARC-EP, and some local urban groups.


The ELN is a guerrilla group that began its activity in 1964. This group is characterized by its federated structure, led by a Central Command (CoCe) composed mostly of elders living in exile and five fronts that carry out armed actions in the territory. While the members of the CoCe have a lot of seniority in the organization and are the guardians of ideological motivations, the fronts are formed by a younger generation that grew up with the coca business and prioritizes pragmatism and the regional status of their Front. Following the 2016 Havana agreement with the FARC-EP, the ELN has undergone a phase of expansion and as of today is particularly strong in the Departments of Arauca, Norte Santander (especially the coca-growing region of Catatumbo) and Chocó. It also has a presence in 12 Departments in Venezuela where it allegedly collaborates with the Venezuelan armed forces to control mining and confront other armed groups. Its presence is mostly rural, although it has also committed attacks in large cities.

The ELN is the priority of Petro's peace diary , due to its political character, its size and previous attempts to negotiate with the guerrillas. Negotiations with the ELN will have Norway, Venezuela, Cuba, Brazil, Mexico and Chile as guarantor countries. The first cycle negotiations took place in Caracas between November and December focusing on bringing positions closer and achieving a ceasefire and humanitarian relief. A few weeks later, the Government announced a bilateral ceasefire with several OAGs, among them the ELN, but this was denied by the ELN itself, causing the first crisis in the negotiations. The second cycle was held in Mexico between February and March. It established the peacediary composed of the following six points: participation of society, democracy, transformations, victims, end of the conflict and implementation plan.

However, on March 29, an ELN attack killed nine army soldiers in Norte Santander, followed by an ELN attack on the Western Front criticizing the talks, causing a second crisis in the negotiations. statement by the Western Front criticizing the talks, causing the second crisis in the negotiations. The president urgently convened the government negotiating table and is expected to push for a bilateral ceasefire and ceasefire. This will be the topic to be discussed at the third cycle negotiations to be held in May in Cuba.

The structural nature of the ELN is the major challenge of the negotiations as the CoCe will have to mediate between its own will and that of each of the fronts to reach agreements with the Government. For now the fronts have little incentive to demobilize either because of their bi-national nature, the fear of other GAOs occupying their zones of influence or their deep presence in their zones of control.

Gulf Clan

The Clan del Golfo, or AGC, is a post-AUC group that managed to bring together different criminal groups under its command. It has a criminal character, but has a political speech and carries out indoctrination and criminal governance in the municipalities under its control. It engages in various illegal activities such as drug trafficking, illegal mining or human trafficking. It acts as a node in the drug trafficking chain, handling the export of cocaine and resorts to subcontracting to carry out its operations. As such, a peace strategy will have to reckon with the subcontracted groups, as happened in Buenaventura in October, and take into account that international partners will seek to reinforce other groups to maintain the flow of drugs. The AGC is Colombia's largest GAO, spreading along the coast, especially in the Uraba region. Its horizontal structure has allowed this group to survive the capture of its leaders.

Negotiations are still pending the approval of the Submission Law, which for the moment has been rejected by Prosecutor Barbosa. At the beginning of March 2022, 'Siopas', one of the leaders of the Clan, was assassinated on the orders of 'Chiquito Malo', another of the leaders. Allegedly, 'Siopas' sought to create his own structure in order not to negotiate with the government. However, rapprochements will have to wait, after the Gulf Clan instigated a mining strike that caused chaos in Antioquia, violating the ceasefire agreed with the government.

Post-FARC-EP: dissidents and deserters

After the 2016 Peace agreement certain fronts located in coca cultivation or transit areas decided not to demobilize. Subsequently, some of these fronts federated around the Central General Staff, led by 'Gentil Duarte' and 'Iván Mordisco'. In 2019 a group of former FARC high commanders who had signed the accords, returned to arms forming the Second Marquetalia, around which other dissident fronts that had not joined the EMC federated. However, despite operating under the same name, the fronts enjoy a great deal of autonomy in both groups. This mix of dissident members, deserters, new recruits and criminal groups that form part of the same front - which in turn is federated in a larger group , but acts autonomously from it - makes it very difficult for the State to deal with these groups in order to reach agreements. The task is even more difficult, since Law 181/2022 treats deserters as criminals, but allows dissidents to be treated as political group .

Both the EMC and Segunda Marquetalia have shown interest in negotiating with the government. The group of 'Iván Mordisco' has announced the beginning of negotiations for May 16. The government has recognized the political status of the EMC and has expressed that legal formulas are being studied to deal with Segunda Marquetalia. In December, both groups took advantage of the bilateral ceasefire agreed by the government with several GAO, but not all EMC fronts complied with it. It should also be noted that the State considered the commands attached to the Second Marquetalia as independent groups, something it did not do with the EMC. For now, the inclusion of these GAOs in the total peace is unpopular, as it is argued that it will discourage future GAOs that make peace with the State from complying with the agreement.

The challenges of peace

The construction of peace involves an extraordinary challenge for the Petro government as the dynamics of violence have been changing since peace was signed with the FARC-EP in 2016. While the FARC-EP was a huge group with a vertical structure whose major confrontation was with State Forces, the current groups tend to have a horizontal structure and prioritize confrontations with other armed actors in order to control coca routes and production. These characteristics limit the Government's negotiation capacity since the fronts can disobey and survive without their commanders.

agreement The fact that their major disputes are with other armed groups also makes the fronts fear that a peace agreement with the government could lead to control of the zone by their enemies. Likewise, the ideological motivations for taking over the State have been replaced by criminal motivations and regional control of the territory. In terms of their form of violence, they tend to carry out selective assassinations against social leaders who oppose their interests, instead of carrying out large-scale operations.

The peace policy will have to face these challenges, without forgetting the implementation of the 2016 agreement , in order not to fail and worsen the map of violence. For the moment, the Petro government's strategy has not led to clear improvements in security. However, the events that have occurred so far can act as a turning point to know the intentions and ways of acting of the different OAGs. Based on this, it will be possible to establish more effective agreements to alleviate the status of the populations and to start a peace process with the ELN.