Even as peace talks conclude with Colombia's largest insurgent group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), there remains plenty of work left to end insurgency in the country. The Colombian government and the National Liberation Army (ELN) will attempt to negotiate a bilateral cease-fire ahead of Pope Francis' visit to Colombia on Sept. 6, according to a July 23 report. The government's negotiators hope the ELN will reciprocate by halting guerrilla attacks against the country's citizens and oil infrastructure.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos' administration is looking for one last opportunity to begin talks with the ELN before the presidential and legislative election season kicks off in the first quarter of 2018. The goal for Santos' government is to begin talks in time to pass on a full-fledged peace negotiation with the ELN to the next administration. Just discussing a bilateral cease-fire is a major concession to the ELN and indicates the time constraints the Colombian government is working under. The government did not implement a cease-fire with the FARC, for example, until the rebels agreed to surrender their weapons to the state.
Divisions within the ELN will be the biggest hurdle to advancing negotiations with the insurgency. The ELN is split into two major factions: the Domingo Lain Front, which has previously acted autonomously from the insurgency's commanders, and a faction obedient to the group's central command. It is plausible that these divisions will prevent the ELN from fulfilling the government's primary demands to halt violence affecting the oil sector and civilian population. Because of this, even if negotiators agree to advance the talks, the ELN may be unable to keep up its end of the bargain. In comparison with the FARC negotiations, now entering their final stretch, the ELN peace discussions will be complicated. For the talks to succeed, the rebels will need to be unified in their approach to negotiations and concretely signal a willingness to fulfill government demands — that is, if they can get started in time at all.