Epistolary Exchanges: Intellectuals Offer Support for Peace Talks

March 18, 2014

One interesting mechanism for peace that has evolved in Colombia has been the use of epistolary exchanges and letters by armed and unarmed actors.  In a conflict environment, the exchange of ideas is not always easy, particularly across battle lines.  Furthermore, where the officially assigned roles of civil society are somewhat limited, this practice offers an innovative (if imperfect) mechanism for civil society to be heard and to contribute to policy discussions.  It allows the parties to float ideas, test for areas of common ground, generate specific ideas for peace gestures, build trust between the parties, and establish a relationship (at least on paper) based on respectful dialogue.  Likewise, it provides a space for all those who engage in the exchange to focus their thinking and to find and articulate their own priorities and areas of consensus.  This practice can be an important step in assisting each side to develop more effective strategies for moving forward and can strengthen alliances in pursuit of common goals.   The give-and-take of such dialogue processes will be critical in the transition from war to peace.

An incipient peace process with the ELN, heralded months ago, has appeared to stall out. Various parties, not least of which the head of the ELN, are resorting to the mechanism of epistolary exchanges as a way to reignite interest and generate momentum.  This week, the latest salvo in a chain of communications between ELN commander Nicolás Rodríguez Bautista and a group of distinguished academics was launched.  This particular sequence began in early February, with a letter from Rodríguez Bautista calling on a group of respected academics to find ways to support a peace process with the ELN.   (See letter here).  On Feb. 22, the academics replied directly to Rodríguez Bautista in support of government peace talks with the ELN (see their response here).  Yesterday, the academics followed up with a letter to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, offering their services in deepening the peace process and requesting a meeting to discuss their proposals.  This is a positive development and, hopefully, President Santos will look favorably on their offer and find a way to make good use of the tremendous intellectual capacities the signatories have to offer towards the pursuit of peace.  I quote the letter here in its entirety:    


President of the Republic

Mr. President:

On February 3rd this year, we received a public letter signed by Nicolás Rodríguez Bautista, first commander of the ELN.   In it, he invited us to initiate “… a productive interchange regarding … peace building in our country.”  We consider as positive the missive’s urgent tone:  “The year 2014 must be definitive for Peace,” Rodríguez Bautista affirmed.

In our response, we indicated, “we consider it necessary that negotiations between the Government and the ELN be opened.”  And we urged our interlocutor’s organization to demonstrate effective signs of peace to contribute to the prompt initiation of public talks.  In response to this communication, the ELN manifested its disposition to “give an accounting to the victims in terms of truth, justice and reparations,” as well as to “produce convincing gestures before society.”

This epistolary interchange with the guerrilla leader is animated by our conviction that a negotiated political solution is the most realistic and convenient path for society to put an end to the internal armed conflict.  In taking [this position], Mr. President, we are supported by the Political Constitution of Colombia, which in Article 22 establishes [that], “Peace is a right and a duty of obligatory compliance.”

In our ongoing attention to the acts and signals of peace and war, we did not miss your declaration on July 3, 2013, in which –- on signaling your interest in advancing talks with the ELN—you specified that the release of the Canadian geologist Gernot Wobert, then in the power of that organization, would be a gesture in that direction. When his release was produced on August 27, 2013, you emphasized the action as “a step in the right direction” and, in turn the insurgents noted that perhaps they were ad portas “of a fluid dialogue”, which regrettably still has not yet materialized.

There are many voices today that await the initiation of these talks, without which the definitive end of the armed conflict cannot be imagined.  In recalling these events and declarations, we do not find it imprudent now to note that, in the talks between the previous government and the ELN in Cuba, various formulas for a humanitarian solution and preparing the ambience for peace were circulated that would lead, among other consequences, to the release of the kidnapped and the elimination of this ignominious practice.  It would be appropriate to reexamine those propositions now.

Independently of the inevitable differences of interpretations that accompany the analysis of the electoral processes, we believe we are not wrong in affirming that the general results at the polls on March 9th reflected the advance of sectors and political formations that favor the process of talks in Havana and the opening of a new table of talks with the ELN.  The latter, in our understanding, is a new factor that works in favor of broadening the peace talks.

It is no secret to us, Mr. President, that there are political forces that are partial to a unilateral military victory and opposed to a negotiated political solution.  Likewise, there are rumblings originating in some economic corporations (gremios), especially those linked to agricultural sectors, that—while they may not openly express their rejection of the peace process—oppose it by linking the advances on certain social reforms, even if they are modest, to the negotiations that are advancing in Havana.  The procedure today is the same as always, in the sense of triggering alarming forecasts about supposed “juridical insecurity” or the rejection of private property that would be threatening to the business sector.

Given these political forces, we believe the peace debate needs to be filled with the oxygen that a national movement of public opinion favoring this desired end [of peace] can provide.  In relation to the corporations, we consider, Mr. President, that your government must deepen its efforts so that the policies that open the way for peace are enacted.  In this regard, we believe it is urgent to accelerate the effective devolution of lands to the displaced, [as is the] objective of the Victims and Land Restitution Law.  The contrast between the limited quantity of hectares that the displaced have received and the significant number of assassinations of those who decided to pursue their claims under said law is dramatic.

Mr. President, we respectfully request a meeting with you, in order to present our considerations and proposals to you in relation to the current realities of the peace process and alternatives for deepening it.


Adolfo Atehortúa, Alejo Vargas, Alfredo Gómez Muller, Alfredo Molano, Alpher Rojas, Alonso Ojeda, Álvaro Delgado, Armando Palau, Armando Silva, Antonio Morales, Ciro Roldán Jaramillo, Bernardo Alfredo Hernández, Carlos Álvarez N,  Carlos Guillermo Álvarez, Carlos Mario Perea, Carlos Medina G, Carlos Miguel Ortiz, Carlos Salgado, Carmen Eugenia Ruano, Consuelo Ahumada, Daniel Pecaut, Daniel Samper Pizano, Edgar Moncayo Jiménez, Eduardo Díaz Uribe, Eduardo Gómez B, Eduardo Sarmiento, Fabio López de la Roche, Fernán González, Francisco Leal, Gabriel Awad, Gabriel Izquierdo SJ, Galo Burbano, Gelasio Cardona S, Gustavo Páez Escobar, Héctor Tico Pineda, Hernando Calvo O, Hernando Gómez Buendía, Hernando Gómez S, Hollman Morris, Jaime Arocha, Jaime Zuluaga N,  Jahel Quiroga, Jairo Maya Betancourt, Jimmy Viera, Jorge O. Gantiva S, Jorge Guerra, Juan Carlos Célis, Julio Silva Colmenares, Leopoldo Múnera, Lilia Solano, Libardo Sarmiento, Luis Ignacio Sandoval, Luis Eduardo Célis, Luís Emiro Valencia, Luis Jairo Ramírez, Luís Jorge Garay, Manuel Guzmán H, Marco Palacios R, Marco Romero, María Elvira Samper, Mauricio Archila N, Mauricio Rojas R, Medófilo Medina, Mireya Ariza P, Oscar Mejía Quintana, Omar Gutiérrez, Pedro Santana, Rafael Ballén, Ricardo García D, Ricardo Pinzón, Rocío Londoño Botero, Rodrigo Uprimny, Rubén I. Sánchez David, Socorro Ramírez, Tila Uribe.

NOTE:  The original Spanish version of this letter was published at “Las 2 Orillas” and  can be found here

About Ginny Bouvier

Love reading, writing, thinking, and working with people to make the world a better place. Family and friends, yoga, travel, photography, perusing dessert menus keep me sane. Latin American enthusiast. Peace practitioner yearning for justice. Heading up the Colombia program at the U.S. Institute of Peace, but tweets and posts are my own.
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4 Responses to Epistolary Exchanges: Intellectuals Offer Support for Peace Talks

  1. jgriesgraber says:

    You are doing Such Important Work, Ginny!




  2. CEAS says:


    I want to thank you for your faithful reflecting, reporting and challenging to action through Colombia Calls.

    Paul Stucky El 19/03/14 16:22, COLOMBIA CALLS escribió: > WordPress.com > Ginny Bouvier posted: “March 18, 2014 One interesting mechanism for > peace that has evolved in Colombia has been the use of epistolary > exchanges and letters by armed and unarmed actors. In a conflict > environment, the exchange of ideas is not always easy, particularly > across ” >


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