Colombian president Gustavo Petro has dismissed Danilo Rueda from his position as High Commissioner for Peace. He will be replaced by Otty Patiño, who was the head of the government’s delegation in the ongoing talks with the guerrilla group Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN). Patiño holds experience in peace processes; he was a negotiator in the peace agreements between M-19 and the government in 1990 and part of the constituent assembly of the Democratic Alliance, a political movement arising from the demobilization of that guerrilla, in which the current Colombian president was involved.
With this decision, the Colombian president aims to rectify and maintain his Total Peace project, which is currently facing its most critical moments since his tenure began. This comes after the crises in the ongoing dialogues between the government and the illegal armed groups ELN and the Central High Command of the FARC (EMC).
Unsustainable Situation for Danilo Rueda
Danilo Rueda, a social communicator and human rights defender by training, held the position since Gustavo Petro took office as head of state in August last year. With a long trajectory defending human rights, he has been involved in humanitarian agreement processes and peace dialogues in conflict zones. He has intervened on behalf of victims in international instances like the International Criminal Court and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. His beginnings in the field are closely linked to the respected Colombian priest Javier Giraldo.
During Petro’s almost fourteen-month government, the outgoing commissioner initiated and maintained eight negotiation processes with various illegal armed groups and the implementation of the Final Agreement with the FARC signed in 2016 during the presidency of Juan Manuel Santos. Of these, two became formal negotiations.
The dismissal of Danilo Rueda as the head of the peace office had been widely rumored in recent weeks. It was finally confirmed by the Colombian Head of State on his social media. “The country’s peace processes will be led by Otty Patiño, I thank Danilo for all his immense efforts,” stated the President.
Rueda had been subject to widespread criticisms in recent weeks, including several requests for resignation or dismissal made in Congress by opposition politicians. Rueda was significantly affected by disagreements and actions from both the ELN and the Central High Command of the FARC, the two illegal armed groups with which Colombia had initiated discussions.
However, both dialogue tables were interrupted and overshadowed by acts of war, including kidnappings, which put Rueda in a precarious position. The outgoing head of the government’s peace policy had even faced questioning from sectors close to the government that had demanded his departure.
This was expressed by Carlos Medina, a professor and researcher of the internal conflict at the National University. “It’s necessary for the high-ranking position of the High Commissioner to be in different hands,” affirmed the professor, closely aligned with sectors of the Colombian political left.
In the absence of any reaction from the former peace commissioner, representatives from various political forces have already shared their initial responses. One of the first reactions came from the representative of Alianza Verde, Catherine Juvinao, who had previously demanded Rueda’s resignation during the last parliamentary control committee.
Juvinao stated: “Finally! My best wishes to Otty Patiño. The government now has a great opportunity to adjust and refine the strategy for seeking an effective and sustainable peace for our beloved Colombia.” Later, the politician added a new comment affirming, “This is the opportunity for a re-engineering of Total Peace, to articulate this strategy with the Ministry of Defense and outline specific, viable, and measurable objectives.”
Meanwhile, Senator María Fernanda Cabal from Centro Democrático demanded that “Before leaving, Danilo Rueda must explain to the country the allegations about secret pacts (…) to withdraw the Security Forces from El Plateado – Cauca,” referring to a news report by W Radio claiming the withdrawal of the security forces from a region with a strong presence of the illegal armed group EMC.