BOGOTA – Former Colombian Vice President Gustavo Bell will be the new head of the government’s negotiating team in peace talks with the National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla group, replacing Juan Camilo Restrepo, President Juan Manuel Santos announced on Tuesday.
“I have decided to name as chief negotiator our former Vice President Gustavo Bell. Together we will form a team to work with him starting Jan. 9,” Santos told a press conference.
The president also said he has “only words of gratitude and praise for the negotiating team headed by Dr. Restrepo,” who asked to be relieved of his duties last Dec. 4.
After learning about Restrepo’s resignation, Santos announced that he would recompose the team for the next negotiating phase set to begin next Jan. 9.
The peace talks began last February in Quito and their main achievement up to now has been a bilateral ceasefire that will remain in force until next Jan. 9.
In that regard, the Colombian president said he hopes they can “negotiate an extension and conditions of the ceasefire.”
Shortly before that, and after taking stock of 2017, he had said “a ceasefire and an end of hostilities” had been reached with the ELN for the first time in the 53 years of the guerrilla group’s existence, an agreement he considered “not perfect” but which “has been positive.”
“And we’re going to work to improve it and extend it into January,” he said.
Bell was vice president during the 1998-2002 presidency of Andres Pastrana, who has become, together with former President Alvaro Uribe, one of the main critics of the peace accord signed with the FARC. He was also defense minister between 2001-2002.
Born in the Caribbean city of Barranquilla in 1957, he is a member of the Conservative Party, studied law, worked as a journalist and became director of the daily El Heraldo.