Colombia’s second largest rebel group, the ELN, warned throughout the week that the recent dismissal of the leftist mayor of Bogota has jeopardized the country’s hope for an end to its longstanding armed conflict.
According to the leftist rebels, the decision of President Juan Manuel Santos to ignore an order of the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights and sign off on the controversial dismissal of former Mayor Gustavo Petro is a “turn to the far right” that “puts the peace process in danger.”
Petro was dismissed and barred from holding public office in December by the country’s inspector general, the conservative Alejandro Ordoñez. The Organization of American States (OAS) human rights commission subsequently ordered that Petro be kept in office, claiming a dismissal would be an infringement on the mayor and his constituency’s political rights.
Santos ignored the IACHR and replaced Petro with Rafael Pardo, a close ally of the president.
In a series of editorials on the ELN website and in a speech by the group’s leader, Nicolas Rodriguez, alias “Gabino,” broadcast on YouTube, the ELN said that Santos’ decision threatened the credibility of the government’s agreements with the FARC rebels regarding political inclusion.
“The arbitrary dismissal of the mayor breaks the rules of the institutional game,” the ELN’s central command said on its website, adding that legal actions impeding leftist politicians like Petro and former Senator Piedad Cordoba — dismissed over alleged ties with the FARC — “do not leave doubts that the law is used to persecute political opponents.”
|“To negotiate peace in order for everything to stay the same is not an option for the insurgency. The responsibility we carry for the people is that a peace process opens the way to the horizon, to the possibly better world of which we dream.”|
According to Gabino and his commanders, this has harmed the rebels’ confidence that laying down weapons will lead to a substantial change in Colombian politics.
“If the conduct of the current powers that be are this deceitful, what guarantees do agreements between the insurgency and government have?” the ELN asked on its website.
“To negotiate peace in order for everything to stay the same is not an option for the insurgency. The responsibility we carry for the people is that a peace process opens the way to the horizon, to the possibly better world of which we dream,” Gabino said on YouTube.
In order to pressure the Colombian government to respect agreements, Gabino said that “the ongoing peace process with our brothers of the FARC and an eventual table of negotiations with the ELN require an increased international accompaniment.”
Both the ELN and the FARC have been fighting the Colombian state since the early 1960s. Political violence in Colombia has cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, while the government estimates that some six-million Colombians, more than 10% of the country’s population, have been directly victimized by the violence.
Since November 2012, the government has been engaged in formal negotiations with the FARC rebel group, the country’s largest. Progress has been slower than the government initially projected, but the parties have reached agreements on two of six agenda items so far, including agrarian reform and political participation rights for a demobilized guerrilla.
Petro, himself an ex-member of the now-defunct M-19 urban guerrilla group, has framed his dismissal in similar terms, calling it a “constitutional coup” and galvanizing his supporters to show nonconformance with the government’s decision.