José Vicente Lesmes, alias ‘Walter Mendoza’

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José Vicente Lesmes, alias “Walter Mendoza,” played a historic role within the ranks of the now demobilized FARC, playing an important in the creation of the guerrilla group’s infamous Mobile Columns and helping to found the FARC’s Joint Central Command.

He was a substitute member of the FARC’s Central General Staff and part of the implementation team for the 2016 peace agreements between the guerrillas and the Colombian government. However, in August 2019, he appeared in a video alongside Iván Márquez and other former guerrilla leaders, announcing their formal abandonment of the peace process and return to arms.

History

Walter Mendoza joined the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC)) in the 1970s. He was influential in creating much of the group’s structure, including the Joint Central Command and the Mobile Columns, which became the guerrilla group’s “elite troops,” carrying out crucial military and criminal operations across the country.

His criminal history began in the Western Bloc, operating in the departments of Cauca, Valle del Cauca and Chocó, located along Colombia’s Pacific coast. He also led the Libardo García Mobile Column in Buenaventura, Valle del Cauca.

Mendoza was responsible, along with Diego Ardila Merchán, alias “Leonel Paz,” for a motorcycle bomb attack in the municipality of Pradera, Valle del Cauca, in 2014, which killed one person and injured 56 others.

He was an early critic of the peace process and there was doubt whether he would participate in peace talks between the government and the FARC in 2014. He fueled this speculation in a video where he vowed that his men would never hand over their weapons.

However, after the peace agreement was signed, he became an active participant, being in charge of implementing the peace process among the demobilizing FARC members in southern and western Colombia.

Mendoza gained further notoriety by giving interviews to various media organizations and participating in a documentary about the peace process. He spoke calmly about his days in the FARC and the tactics he implemented, including about the Mobile Columns.

“When there is more mobility the guerrilla is more offensive […] a single guerrilla unit can attack up to three times a day […] the regular army has to walk in large units.”

Mendoza also reportedly had plans to branch out into other ventures, including setting up a project to export coffee or becoming the coach of soccer teams made up of demobilized FARC fighters.

But in August 2018, he was arrested on charges of manufacturing, trafficking and illegally carrying firearms and ammunition, although he was released days later due to inconsistencies in the arrest procedure.

By late 2018, he was facing at least eight different arrest warrants for a range of crimes, most of them in Valle del Cauca. inconsistencies in the procedure.

Shortly afterward, he vanished and his whereabouts remained unknown until the August 2019 video announcing the return to arms of key FARC leaders, including Luciano Marín Arango, alias “Iván Márquez,” Seuxis Pausías Hernández, alias “Jesús Santrich,” and Hernán Darío Velásquez, alias “El Paisa.”

Criminal Activity

Mendoza’s biggest contribution to the FARC was the creation of the Mobile Columns. This tactic allowed FARC units to operate with greater autonomy and versatility.

But Mendoza was also involved in drug trafficking, extortion and attacks on the civilian population in the departments of Cauca and Valle del Cauca.

Geography

However, his command of the Libardo García Mobile Column meant that his seat of operations was in Buenaventura, capital of Valle del Cauca. But his broader actions within the Western Bloc meant that he operated across the departments of Cauca, Valle del Cauca and Chocó.

During the peace process, he integrated the Territorial Space for Training and Reincorporation (Espacio Territorial de Capacitación y Reincorporación – ETCR) of La Elvira, in Cauca, but visited multiple departments as a trainer and promoter of the peace agreements until he abandoned the process in 2019.

Allies and Enemies

As part of the Western Bloc, he was close to Jorge Torres Victoria, alias “Pablo Catatumbo,” who became his second-in-command within the Libardo García Mobile Column. Additionally, he is known to have had a close relationship with Leonel Paz.

Currently, his closest allies are those who alongside him in the August 2019 video, including former FARC commanders, Iván Márquez and Jesús Santrich.

Prospects

Walter Mendoza possesses in-depth tactical, military and political knowledge, making him a real asset to the ex-FARC Mafia and likely giving him authority in the ranks of those who have answered Márquez’s call.

It seems probable that his contribution to the rebuilding of the FARC will be focused on training dissidents and creating new criminal structures similar to the Mobile Columns.

In addition, he is likely to prove a valuable political asset since he knows the peace process very well, having worked briefly as one of the key former FARC members in charge of implementing it.

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