The Colombian government has named a new head of its delegation to ongoing peace talks with the ELN (Army of National Liberation, Guevara) rebel group.

In the 1980s, Vera Grave was a founding member and fighter of the far-left movement M-19 (“Movement of April 19”), whose ranks also included the current social democrat president of Colombia, Gustavo Petro, who was elected in the summer of 2022.

He replaces Otti Patinho, also a former M-19 member, who was named in late November “High Commissioner for Peace” by President Petros, replacing Danilo Rueda.

Mr. Rueda, who oversaw the start of peace talks with most of the armed groups operating in Colombia — a campaign promise of Mr. Petros — was replaced simply by a presidential tweet of thanks.

Negotiations with the ELN, currently the strongest and oldest rebel organization in Colombia, began a year ago. Their fifth round has been taking place in Mexico since last week.

However, these talks have gone through a serious crisis, following the kidnapping in early November by National Liberation Army fighters and the hostage-taking for about ten days of the father of a Colombian club international who plays for Liverpool, Luis Diaz.

The rebels acknowledged that the kidnapping was a “mistake”, but the case shed light on the ELN’s persistence in carrying out kidnappings for ransom to fund its operation.

The kidnapping of Luis Manuel Díaz jeopardized the peace process itself and the mutual ceasefire that has been in place since August 3rd. For president Petros, the action undermined “trust” between the parties.

Negotiator Otti Patinho demanded an end to the kidnappings, while the ELN demanded the government guarantee its funding.

According to the authorities, ELN fighters are currently holding around thirty hostages.

Mr. Petro, the country’s first leftist president in history, has been trying to end the six-decade armed conflict in Colombia by negotiating with all armed groups, especially the ELN, but also with dissidents of the ex-FARC rejecting the 2016 peace deal, far-right paramilitaries and gangs.

But his policy of achieving “absolute peace” is facing many obstacles and has been criticized by the right-wing opposition, which says it is exacerbating the lack of security, while some armed groups are intensifying their activities to expand their territorial control.