On Thursday 17 January, a car bomb attack on the General Santander police academy in Bogota killed 20 cadets, as well as the driver of the vehicle, and injured at least 68 other people. It was the highest loss of life in an attack in the Colombian capital for over 15 years.
The Colombian government blamed the bombing on Colombia’s last remaining armed guerrilla movement, the National Liberation Army (ELN), and said it would not resume peace talks that have been on hold since last year. The ELN subsequently accepted responsibility for the bombing, saying it was a response to the government failing to reciprocate an ELN ceasefire in December.
Peace negotiations have been stalled since Iván Duque’s presidential inauguration in August 2018, with the two sides unable to agree terms for their resumption. The ELN is estimated to have around 2,000 guerrillas across Colombia.
Duque said the bombing was ‘a terrorist act’ and called on Cuba to detain ten ELN members who have remained in Havana pending the possible resumption of peace talks. The Colombian government also said that ELN leaders were finding refuge in Venezuela.
Cuba said it will uphold previously-agreed protocols under which the sides decide what course of action is to be taken if talks end unresolved. According to the protocols, the ELN delegation should be granted a set period to return to Colombia, as has happened with past peace negotiations involving the Colombian state. The ELN also urged the government to return to the negotiating table.
On Sunday, thousands of people marched in Colombian cities, with many demonstrators shouting or carrying slogans of support for a renewed military campaign, while others called for fresh negotiations. There were a number of reported clashes between protesters. The march in Bogota was attended by President Duque and his predecessor Juan Manuel Santos, as well as other high-profile political figures.
In a joint statement, Colombian senators Iván Cepeda and Alvaro Leyva said that negotiations were the way forward. ‘We deplore President Duque’s decision to break peace talks with the guerrilla. Breaking the peace dialogues always implies a new cycle of violence. We know that in Colombia ad nauseam. We reiterate that the only path that has proven to overcome armed conflict is the political solution. We ask the President to reconsider his decision’, said the statement.
The FARC political party, which formed from the 2016 peace agreement, also called on the government to negotiate with the ELN. ‘Peace will always be better than war. Count on us for the former’, said party leader Rodrigo ‘Timochenko’ Londoño in a letter to Duque.