Blow to ELN peace as Colombia’s chief negotiator walks
December 5, 2017
On 4 December, Juan Camilo Restrepo, the head of the Colombian government’s negotiating team with the Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN) guerrilla group, officially tendered his resignation in a letter to President Juan Manuel Santos.
Significance: President Santos endeavoured to put a brave face on Restrepo’s resignation, but it is another telling blow to his hopes of cementing his political legacy by securing a total peace with Colombia’s guerrilla groups. His ruling coalition Unidad Nacional is unravelling in congress ahead of elections next March, seriously complicating the passage of key legislation required to implement the peace accord with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Farc) guerrillas, especially with the recent expiry of the ‘fast tack’ mechanism, which had reduced the number of debates needed to approve bills. Now Restrepo’s imminent departure has reduced the likelihood of the protracted peace negotiations with the ELN in Ecuador reaching a successful conclusion.
Restrepo, who was appointed to the role by Santos in October 2016, attributed his decision to resign to “professional and personal reasons”. He said that various business interests would require him to be in Bogotá much more in the first quarter of next year.
Sources close to Restrepo confided to the national daily El Tiempo that he had grown frustrated with the pace of talks with the ELN and the lack of concrete progress.
It could also be that Restrepo has lost the support of his party, Partido Conservador (PC), which has been taking an increasingly critical position on Colombia’s peace talks as elections approach. Restrepo had urged the party in October, while it was celebrating the 168th anniversary of its foundation, to be in “the front line in the peace processes” and not to “succumb to incoherence”.
Santos was adamant that Restrepo’s resignation would not derail the ELN negotiations. He said the negotiating team would be “renewed”. The ELN described Restrepo as “a cordial and respectful interlocutor”, while reiterating its commitment to peace.
Looking Ahead: Restrepo will leave his post on 8 January, one day before the bilateral ceasefire with the ELN is currently scheduled to end and the fifth round of negotiations in Ecuador to start.
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