The ELN must end the
kidnapping – Cambio
June 21 1999
It’s not easy to speak to Werner Mauss. From the moment we discovered that he was working in Europe to revive the peace talks between the ELN and the government we began making efforts to get in contact with him and talk about it. First of all he was unable to oblige because an important meeting between the guerilleros and a highly placed representative of the Church was about to take place and an interview, in their opinion, was therefore not appropriate. Then there was a problem because the outcome of certain things that followed this meeting had to be waited on. And finally, because Mauss had decided that it should be his wife, Michaela who should speak to the Colombian press, something that did indeed happen last week.
The interview could be held in time for the arrival of former German minister Bernd Schmidbauer in Colombia. After a thousand attempts to find Werner Mauss in Germany, he finally, and gradually, agreed to give this interview. First of all we discussed the main points for interview over the telephone, then he asked for this information to be faxed. Finally a two-hour telephone discussion took place with Michaela Mauss acting as simultaneous translator on another line. His talk peppered with comments and explanations in English, the controversial Mauss urged the ELN to end their kidnapping activities in order to create the conditions for a dialogue on peace and to follow the government resolution to go to the negotiating table.
The main points from the interview are as follows:
Roberte Pombo: Tell us how you first came to make contact with the ELN, and how your relationship with them has developed since then.
Werner Mauss: In late 1984, my wife and I were sent to Colombia, with the approval of the German security authorities, in order to obtain the release of some kidnapped German engineers as well as to help with the protection of a construction site in the Arauca/Cúcuta region. Initially it was our job to combat the guerrillas. Never having been in Colombia before, we took a few months to weigh up, very carefully, how exactly we should tackle the job. We realised that the people who lived in the area where the construction work was going on were living well under the subsistence level, in spite of the oil wealth being produced, and we came to the conclusion that it was this situation that had created the guerrilla movement in the first place. We saw then that the best way to protect the construction project was by fighting the poverty and not the guerrillas.
R.P: And what was the result?
W.M: A pilot project was created along a construction site of more than 300 kilometres and a social programme was started to provide medicines and other essentials to help local people who were often lacking the most basic necessities. Members of the ELN took part in this programme – though we only found this out very much later. Tackling the problem in this way brought us respect and appreciation from the ELN and they released the hostages. We were then able to bring the project to an end without further guerrilla attacks.
R.P: The project you are referring to was a pipeline, built by the Mannesmann company. According to information provided by the military security services, you were used by the company to make payments to the guerrillas to stop them from sabotaging the project. What is your response to this allegation?
W.M: That is not how it was. The guerrillas did not demand – nor did the company pay – any money. There was however a programme of investment in the region, which was set up at the suggestion of my wife and myself. More than one thousand people were employed, support was received from other companies, and there were many activities on behalf of the people, all approved and controlled by the then Procurador and assistant Procurador. I believe even the president himself was informed about what was happening. I can remember all sorts of things being done, such as the handing over of medicines and gifts to the people. Once, at Christmas, we even brought Santa Claus to Saravena. I believe that this was appreciated by the ELN and that’s why the workers were released.
R.P: How would you describe your current relationship with the ELN?
WM: In 1995 we were sent by the German Chancellor’s Office to sound out the situation with regard to the guerrillas, to find out whether they were interested in seeing an end to the fighting, and if so, under what conditions. I believe that we were successful in this task, although we encountered many problems and experienced a great deal of hardship along the way. We see our relationship with the ELN in terms of its connection with this mission, delegated to us by the Chancellor’s Office in 1995 and with the aim of helping in the setting up of the peace process. From our point of view it is absolutely essential to the success of a peace table that it have the assistance of a sovereign, impartial foreign government to act as mediator and facilitator in the negotiations.
R.P: But the Colombian authorities are certain that your relationship with the ELN is financial rather than political. What do you say to that?
W.M: In answer to the first question I have described the beginning of our relationship to the ELN. Afterwards, beginning in 1986, we were involved in missions in other parts of the world. It was only in 1988 that we managed to achieve the release of five Europeans in Colombia, without ransom payments. That was the first time that we invited a commission from the ELN to come to Germany to take part in these negotiations. The commission spent some time in Germany and handed a petition over to the Chancellor’s Office in which a plea for the observance of human rights in Colombia was made. The handing over of this petition, which is also known in Colombia nowadays, played a vital role in the immediate and ransom-free release of the hostages.
R.P: Why do you insist on acting as mediator for the release of ELN hostages? Has that sort of work not already caused you enough problems with the law in Colombia?
W.M: Our work and our objective from the beginning was to help to bring about the ELN’s complete renunciation of kidnapping. The objective was, and is, to remove the violence from the conflict and replace it with peace talks. Even before the meeting at Himmelspforten convent near Wurzburg we helped to gain the release of ELN hostages without the payment of a ransom. Our arrest in November 1996 was the result of a devious intrigue against us and had nothing to do with our work on the peace process.
R.P: What happened?
W.M: We know very well that people who defend the peace process become targets for those who are opposed to peace. A small group of these plotters succeeded in having us put out of the way into Colombian prisons for nine months. They did not succeed in preventing the continuation of our work however. Furthermore, on May 20th 1998, the tribunal of Antioquia fully vindicated and acquitted us. The verdict made it clear that we had never violated any Colombian laws, that our work had been in the service of the peace process, and that the arrest had been illegal. The prosecuting attorneys also clearly proved that the kidnap of Frau Schoene had been the work of common criminals, and the ELN, in response to a request from the German government during the peace negotiations then in progress, had helped to bring about the release of Frau Schoene. As everyone in Colombia knows, the kidnappers were arrested and convicted.
R.P: Many people in the know say that negotiations for the release of kidnap victims in Colombia no longer has anything to do with humanitarian motivations, but, instead, has simply become a mechanism which works to increase this type of crime in the country. What is your response to that?
W.M: My wife and I are opposed to violence in any form, above all to kidnapping. I believe that the conflict with the guerrilla organisation should be resolved as quickly as possible by means of negotiation. We are of the opinion that negotiations with the ELN could begin immediately with an end to the kidnapping and the release of all hostages. It is important here for both sides that they work through an experienced mediator, and so receive help – perhaps with the support of all of Europe – to open up new ways of reaching agreement.
R.P: What sort of European support do you visualise?
W.M: Were the German government to receive an official petition from Colombia, other European countries would also become involved in the process. Moreover, the European community would also be in a position to offer substantial financial assistance.
R.P: Are you and your wife diplomatic agents for the ELN?
W.M: We maintain sufficient distance to both parties in the conflict. We act as impartial defenders of human rights. This is something about which we are very clear, because we are neither spokespersons for, nor members of, the ELN.
R.P: Why were you not in attendance at the release of the hostages with ex-minister Schmidbauer?
W.M: Herr Schmidbauer, in consultation with the German government and the entire opposition held talks in Germany with the ELN’s top commander, Nicolás Rodríguez, and their fourth in command, to assess the situation: this then led on to talks in Rome on June 4 with Cardinal Dario Castrillon. Negotiations on the release of the hostages were the political responsibility of Herr Schmidbauer and he informed the German government on all of the details. For a quick resumption of the peace negotiations with the ELN it would be important for the Colombian president too to talk with Herr Schmidbauer
R.P: But the German government does not acknowledge any of these contacts….
W.M: Of course not. The German government’s request to Herr Schmidbauer to provide an analysis of the situation was off the record. When he found out, via commander Nicolás, that release and dialogue were possible, he informed the German government that he should go ahead. However, the government said that he could only do so if Colombia requested it. Otherwise one would be guilty of interfering in the country’s internal affairs, or of taking sides, by talking with only one side or the other. His statements must satisfy this criterion.
R.P: Apparently the ELN insists on having you, in spite of all objections, as mediator and on bringing Germany into this – why?
W.M: In our opinion, Germany, with its experience and with the backing of other European countries, is perfectly suited to bringing about an end to the conflict. Naturally, my wife and I are ready, should it be wished, to put our assistance and experience at the disposal of the conflicting parties or the mediator.
R.P: What role does Schmidbauer play in all this?
W.M: Herr Schmidbauer is a member of the German Bundestag and has the complete backing of his party in helping the peace process in Colombia. The present German government also chose him to look into the question of the ELN’s desire for peace. He could also play an important part in future peace negotiations.
R.P: Are you and Schmidbauer partners?
W.M: I have not started up any companies with Herr Schmidbauer as was claimed in CAMBIO. No such plan ever existed in the past, nor will it in the future. Herr Schmidbauer was a minister in the Chancellor’s Office as well as coordinator of the intelligence services. He is trusted by many German people because of his mandate as member of the Bundestag. He is very popular and on June 4th in Rome was successful in bringing about the release of many hostages. The Colombians should acknowledge this and continue to support Schmidbauer in the future.
R.P: Did you have any contact with the government of Andres Pastrana with regard to the release of hostages or the preparation of peace talks with the ELN?
W.M: Shortly after he took up office in August of 1998, President Pastrana sent his High Commissioner for Peace, Dr. Victor G. Ricardo to Germany and assigned us to the job of helping to bring about the release of Senator Carlos Espinosa who was being held hostage by the ELN at that time. Espinosa had been kidnapped in connection with the Barrancabermeja massacres. The ELN wanted to bring an end to the massacres. My wife and I have committed ourselves to helping with the peace process in the future and this is something we have also talked with the president’s adviser about. Espinosa was released without any ransom being paid. With the authorisation of congress, he travelled to Germany in order to thank my wife and I and Herr Schmidbauer. Following this, on November 18th 1998, the ELN issued us with a mandate for peace. We also succeeded, with the backing of the German government, in negotiating the release of a German hostage who had been kidnapped in December. We managed to achieve this without any ransom payment.
R.P: In conclusion – what future do you see for an ELN-government dialogue?
W.M: Knowing the situation as thoroughly as we do, I can only recommend the Colombian president that he appoint a mediator immediately, so that talks can begin. My wife and I have a 5-point plan from the ELN.
R.P: What are these five points?
W.M: They are five points that would allow for a quick release of all hostages and a cessation of the violence. Of course, bilateral action is needed. The first priority is to remove the violence, including the kidnapping, from the conflict, and this within a set period of time so that the opportunity for peace, which is already there, can be used. Himmelspforten was a beginning. The ending of the discussions in Venezuela was a mistake: doors were slammed closed, causing a great deal of frustration, conflict and violence.
R.P: What is your relationship to the English company Control Risk?
W.M: Control Risk was behind the scheming that led to our arrest. It was something that caused a great deal of damage to the peace process. The Control Risk company offers insurance cover against kidnapping. Such insurances are an offence in Colombia under the country’s anti-kidnapping law. We are against these sorts of insurances; they help sustain the kidnapping market. We have no relationship at all to them.
R.P: How is your relationship to German bishop Emil Stehle?
W.M: As far as I know, Bishop Stehle was a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize. He is a very honourable and good person, and he has done a lot for the cause of peace in Colombia over several decades.
R.P: What do you think about the accusations that have been raised, that say he received financial benefits from the negotiations with the guerrillas for the release of hostages?
W.M: It’s very easy to accuse, isn’t it? This is something I know about very well having experienced it after my arrest in Colombia in 1996 when the Colombian media airily blundered into the trap of a disinformation campaign. Character assassination is moral murder, worse than real murder because the victim of a moral murder lives on, plagued by the false accusations.
That, for many people, is a fate worse than death.