The ex-FARC Mafia are a series of criminal structures that emerged during the peace negotiations between the Colombian government and the guerrilla, specifically after the signing peace agreement in 2016.
The ex-FARC Mafia consists of groups that do not necessarily have a relationship, nor do they make up a structured organization, but they share some common characteristics, such as being composed of former members of the guerrilla and occupying areas that were previously controlled by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC)
These groups have a presence in at least 19 departments in Colombian, including the borders with Venezuela, Brazil, and Ecuador. The ex-FARC mafia seeks to control different criminal economies such as narcotrafficking and illegal gold mining from these border areas.
The most important factions of the ex-FARC mafia are the First and Seventh Fronts, led by Miguel Botache Santillana, alias “Gentil Duarte,” and Néstor Gregorio Vera Fernández, alias “Iván Mordisco,” in Meta, Guaviare and Caquetá; there is another group in Venezuela, led by Luciano Marín, alias “Iván Márquez,” and several structures in Nariño, like the Oliver Sinisterra Front (FOS) and the United Guerrillas of the Pacific (las Guerrillas Unidas del Pacífico – GUP).
While the number keeps growing, it is estimated that there are currently around 3,000 ex-FARC mafia combatants.
The internal divisions within the FARC, regarding the peace process with the Colombian government, started to become evident shortly after negotiations began. Despite the guerrilla group’s leadership demonstrating its willingness to put an end to more than half-a-century of armed violence, some of the organization’s most important group leaders entered the process with doubts or did not participate at all.
The first to distance himself from the FARC was Néstor Gregorio Vera Fernández, alias “Iván Mordisco,” commander of the infamous 1st Front, or Armando Ríos Front In July 2016, the 1st Front informed negotiators of its decision to withdraw from the peace process and would not turn over its weapons via a press release. Additionally, it claimed that the unit would remain in place to combat the structural causes of the armed conflict.
In response to this situation, the FARC Secretariat in Cuba, ordered Miguel Botache Santillana, alias “Gentil Duarte,” to return to Colombia to take-up command of the 1st Front and restore discipline. With more than thirty years of experience as a guerrilla fighter and political leader, Gentil Duarte had been an active negotiator in peace talks since 2012.
However, upon arriving in Guaviare, where the 1st Front is located, Iván Mordisco proposed that Gentil Duarte join the dissident movement continue controlling drug trafficking to the south of the country. Gentil Duarte accepted this proposal and abandoned the peace process at the end of 2016, escaping with $1.35 million and several of his men from the 7th Front, who formed the first FARC dissidence.
This turn of events had serious implications for the future of the process. After learning of Duarte’s departure, the Secretariat expelled four other commanders from its ranks that had also been opposed to the negotiations. Among those expelled were: Géner García Molina, alias “Jhon 40;” Luis Lizcano Guadrón, alias “Euclides Mora;” Miguel Díaz San Martín, “Julián Chollo,” and Ernesto Orjuela Tovar, alias “Giovanny Chuspas.”
Since then, thousands of members from all different positions with the FARC’s ranks have left the peace process to return to illegal activities, strengthening the different groups included within the ex-FARC mafia.
One of watershed moments for the ex-FARC occurred in August 2019, when a video was released in which Luciano Marín, alias “Iván Márquez,” Seuxis Pausias Hernández, alias “Jesús Santrich”, and Hernán Darío Vélez, alias “El Paisa,” announced the “birth of the second Marquetalia” due to the “treason of the State” in regards to the peace agreement, promising that the “guerrilla fight would continue.”
In fact, Márquez, the only one of the commandants that speaks in the video, explains that the group will continue to use the name FARC-EP and that it will accept any former guerrillas in its group.
Around 37 criminal units linked to the ex-FARC mafia have been identified up to present. However, they are not all equal. They differ in their structure. arms capacity, leadership, alliances, disputes, penetration into illegal economies, and even social and ideological control.
In this sense, each groups seeks to expand their control to different criminal economies of interest, particularly illegal mining in Cauca and Valle del Cauca, or the control of the production and movement of drugs, particularly along routes headed towards Venezuela, Ecuador, and Brazil.
Another difference between the majority of the ex-FARC mafia groups and the now-defunct FARC is that their relationship with the communities is marked by violent attacks, the imposition of force and the control of economic transactions, as these groups appear to be more interesting in controlling the territory so that their criminal economies continue to flourish.
And while some structures do exercise this type of social control, this effort seems more focused on protecting criminal revenue streams and territorial control, rather than the consolidation of a political idea of pursuing a particular ideology.
The only group that falls outside of this spectrum is the one that Márquez appears to lead, which plans to continue the FARC’s “political struggle,” demonstrating an attitude close to that of the guerrillas’ armed insurrection, which could become a form of social control similar to that of the former guerrilla group.
All this demonstrates the tremendous diversity within the dynamics of the now-defunct guerrilla, which ranges from criminal groups with no apparent ideology, to criminal control of former members of the most infamous fronts, such as the First Front, to groups attempting to continue the FARC’s insurgent struggle.
In comparison with the former FARC movement’s clear hierarchical structure, the dissident elements that make up the ex-FARC mafia operate more like a federation, in which different leaders coordinate actions according to their economic and commercial interests, rather than working as a hierarchical organization.
A clear example of this organization model is the form in which two of the First and Seventh Fronts under the leadership of Iván Mordisco and Gentil Duarte, respectively.
As key partners, Duarte and Mordisco are in charge of their respective fronts but maintain an alliance to control territory and the narcotrafficking routes that they have towards Venezuela and Brazil through the departments of Guaviare, Vaupés and Guainía.
Within this federation, Géner García Molina, alias Jhon 40, the other important leader in this group, offers economic support thanks to his control over drug trafficking routes in the southeast of Colombia and border crossings into Venezuela.
In the same way, Iván Márquez, El Paisa and Jesús Santrich seem to operate more as an allianze than as leaders and subordinates, due to the fact that each one contributes an important dimension to the group.
Márquez offers the group an aura of continuity, as he was previously the second in command of the FARC. The Paisa, on the other hand, brings knowledge of orchestrating highly complex criminal activities and several drug trafficking connections, something that he consistently used when he commanded the Teófilo Forero Mobile Column. Meanwhile Santrich, less important within the previous structure of the FARC, has positioned himself as one of the public faces of the new group.
While the ex-FARC Mafia structures do not exercise complete control of the territories where they operate, at present, their presence is registered in the Colombian departments of Nariño, Putumayo, Cauca, Valle del Cauca, Chocó, Antioquia, Arauca, Meta, Caquetá, Guaviare, Tolima, Huila, Amazonas, Vichada and Guainía.
These departments are the scene of a wide portfolio of criminal activities, like coca crops, illegal mining, and drug trafficking, as well as export point for drugs destined for international markets, among them the border areas with Venezuela, Brazil and Ecuador.
In fact,an important aspect for certain ex-FARC Mafia groups is Venezuela. Structures like the Acacio Medina Front, lead by Jhon 40, the First Front, and the 10th Front, maintain a presence in the states of Amazonas, Apure, Bolívar, Guárico, Mérida, Barinas, Táchira and Zulia, which allow them to control key areas for drug trafficking, extortion, illegal mining and contraband smuggling,
Allies and Enemies
As a result of the multiple groups that make up the ex-FARC mafia, it is not possible to talk about just alliances and enemies given that this depends on the characteristics of each one of the groups and the areas in which they operate.
It can be observed that these structures create alliances with other criminal groups that allow them to maintain strategic control of reach zone, as well as their respective illegal economy. Nevertheless, these alliances can be diverse and compete with distinct groups, like the ELN, Los Urabeños, Los Caparrapos and even other dissident elements of the ex-FARC Mafia.
their affiliate structure and due to the operational differences of each one of these dissident elements that make up the ex-FARC mafia, it is not accurate to speak of one specific ally or enemy, given that their alliances or disputes along the national territory respond to the characteristics of each one of the places where they operate. This relationship can be based on the illegal economies that they handle there, the presence of other armed groups or even their interactions with the communities present there.
It has been observed that these structures create alliances with other criminal groups that permit them to maintain strategic control of each zone, as well as their respective illegal economy. However, these alliances can be of a diverse nature and with more than one armed groups like for example the National Liberation Army (Ejército para la Liberación Nacional – ELN), los Urabeños, los Caparrapos as well as with other dissident ex-FARC mafia elements.
In the same vein, the disputes that have occurred since the emergence of these groups also revolve around the struggle to preserve or expand their control of the country’s strategic locations. This is the case of the confrontations that different ex-FARC mafia structures have had with members of the Popular Liberation Army (Ejército Popular de Liberación – ELP), in the departments of Valle del Cauca and Norte de Santander, particularly in the region of Catatumbo.
The ex-FARC Mafia dynamic represents one of the main security risks in Colombia, due to its rapid growth, the control of strategic areas around the country, and its ability to attack the civilian population, state agents and other criminal groups.
However, the main characteristic of the ex-FARC is that it does not exist as a homogenous group, it is a collection of different groups with different characteristics, interests and perspectives.
For example, the Oliver Sinisterra Front (FOS), once the most violent ex-FARC dissidence in Nariño, has weakened so much that by early 2020 it had split into smaller groups that are currently fighting amongst each other. Meanwhile other groups, like the ex-FARC of the 48th, 36th and 18th Front are rapidly gaining strength in Putumayo y Antioquia.
Considering this, it is projected that all of these ex-FARC groups will end up falling into three important segments, but without forming a unified structure.
The first segment, and probably the largest, would be led by Gentil Duarte, Iván Mordisco and Jhon 40. This group, exists as a criminal federation made up to fulfill specific objectives or to carry out operations of interest for the various members, but in which each party is relatively independent.
Although the presence of this segment could be felt in different departments, its criminal strongholds will be Guaviare, Meta, Caquetá, Amazonas, Guainía and Vichada, where ex-FARC structures like the First, Seventh, 16th and Acacio Medina Front control cocaine trafficking.
The second segment will be led by Iván Márquez, El Paisa and Santrich. Despite the fact that they represent the core group with the longest trajectory and carry the FARC’s political and ideological flags, no great action has been seen on their part since their return to illegality.
Only the ex-FARC groups the 18th Front in Antioquia and the 33rd Front in Norte de Santander have demonstrated a particular ability on the part of the former commanders to make their presence felt in key drug trafficking zones, albeit without major consequences within these areas. Therefore, the most likely scenario is that this group will grow at a slower rate and its actions will be more closely based on the FARC’s ideology.
The leadership ranking of Iván Márquez and El Paisa could be greater than that of their allies, but there does not appear to be a firm hierarchical structure. In fact, rumors about differences between Iván Márquez and Gentil Duarte are supported by the first attempt to to be an undisputed FARC-style leader of yesteryear, but runs into resistance on the part of Duarte and his allies. This just goes to show that there is no going back to the hierarchical structure the guerrilla had before.
Finally, the group of independent ex-FARC mafias loom on the horizon. These are structures that would not claim to fall under the umbrella of any of the previous segments and instead seeking to consolidate their criminal strength.
This is true for groups like the United Forces of the Pacific (FUP) in Cauca and in Valle del Cauca, and the United Guerrillas of the Pacific (GUP) in Nariño, both directly implicated in drug trafficking in their areas of control and appear to have no intentions to enter into a larger structure.
Therefore, in an area with profound difficulties in implementing the peace process, a drug-trafficking economy producing more money than ever before, and a criminal power vacuum after the FARC’s departure, the ex-FARC Mafia are expected to have found the perfect breeding ground to keep growing and strengthening.
It is likely that this growth will result in clashes between the different ex-FARC elements, as occurred between the groups that inherited paramilitarism, demonstrating that independence and individual objectives will be the norm.
Meanwhile, Venezuela will also play a crucial role, as the political and economic crisis provides freedom of movement for the groups, ample streams of criminal income for their enrichment, and a market that is dollarized in practice, which facilitates money laundering and arms trafficking.
All of the above applies, under the understanding that, although the Government of Colombia can diminish the phenomenon of the ex-FARC through the implementation of the peace process, the reality is that there appears to be no concrete plan to achieve this, rather the government continues to use the same strategies that it used for years to put an end to the now-defunct FARC guerrilla.