Marin Arango, alias “Iván Márquez,” is a former guerrilla commander who has called on demobilized fighters to join a dissident force helmed by ex-leaders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC).
Marquez, wearing fatigues and carrying a pistol, declared in a video that the group would return to war, claiming the Colombian state had “betrayed” the peace accords signed in 2016 between the government and the FARC. The address — published on YouTube on August 29, 2019 – has jeopardized the future of a process that aimed to end a half a century of civil conflict.
Marquez was the FARC’s second in command before its demobilization, and his return to armed conflict may attract former FARC fighters considering whether to abandon the peace process and may also embolden ex-FARC mafia cells already operating within the country. Márquez brings serious political clout and the potential ability to unite disparate FARC dissidents.
His return also comes amid an unfolding crisis in Venezuela, which is likely to be a base of operations for the new force, as the country provides ample opportunities to cash in on drug trafficking, illegal gold mining and other illicit economies.
Iván Márquez was born on June 6, 1955 in Florencia, the capital city of Colombia’s southern Caquetá department. Like many of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia’s (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC) oldest members, Márquez was part of the Colombian Communist Party Youth Organization (Juventud Comunista Colombiana – JUCO), joining in 1977.
As a member of the JUCO, he supported the FARC in part by taking provisions to the group in the countryside. He later joined the FARC in 1985 as a political commissioner (“comisario político”) for one of the rebels’ most active units, the 14th Front in Caquetá.
In the early 1980s, as part of a peace process between the Colombian government and the FARC, Márquez became a top emissary for the rebels’ nascent political party, the Patriotic Union (Union Patriótica – UP). He was later elected as a city council member and then as an alternate congressman for Caquetá.
In 1987, as the persecution of UP members intensified, the FARC called Márquez and other top rebel emissaries in the party back to the mountains. For his efforts with the UP, the rebels named him commander of the Southwest Bloc.
In the 1990s, Márquez was transferred to the northwestern part of the country where he took part in a bloody battle for control of the Urabá region along the Colombia-Panama border.
This earned Márquez respect within the FARC as a strong military commander, complementing his political skills. The combination of these two abilities contributed to his trajectory as an international representative of the organization. His activities and influence spread far and wide: he became the guerrillas’ top foreign emissary, and intelligence officials in Colombia said he headed efforts to infiltrate universities and create student federations to support the FARC’s political and military strategy in Colombian cities.
Thanks to his political and diplomatic skills, Márquez was chosen to head the FARC’s delegation for peace talks with the Colombian government in Havana in 2012. He continued to head the guerrillas’ negotiating team after the talks moved to Havana in November of the same year.
After four years at the negotiating table followed by the signing of the peace accords in 2016, Márquez joined the Monitoring and Implementation Commission of the Agreement (Comisión de Seguimiento, Impulso y Verificación a la Implementación del Acuerdo), the mechanism created to ensure both parties implement the accords.
With the transition of the FARC to a political party called the Common Alternative Revolutionary Force (Fuerza Alternativa Revolucionaria del Común – FARC) between August and September 2017, the FARC Secretariat became the party’s national directorate. Márquez received the most votes during the party’s founding congress.
A year later, however, the peace process was beset by turmoil after Jesús Santrich’s arrest on drug trafficking charges. Considering the April 2018 arrest a setup, Márquez refused his post as a senator in the Colombian congress, which had been granted to him as part of the accords. In an interview, Márquez said his refusal was evidence the peace process had failed and questioned how he could be a senator, “when they’ll say I’m a drug trafficker.” He also demanded that the government comply with stipulations in the agreement that had not been fulfilled, such as funding projects for ex-FARC members.
Amid this uncertainty, Márquez moved to a reintegration camp in Miravalle, a village in the municipality of San Vicente del Caguán in the southwest Caquetá department. The Training and Reincorporation Space (Espacios Territoriales de Capacitación y Reincorporación – ETCR) was headed by former FARC commander Hernán Darío Velásquez, alias “El Paisa,” who previously led the militant Teófilo Forero Mobile Column.
Sometime later, he fled from the camp along with El Paisa and went into hiding. He wasn’t heard from until May 2019 when he sent a message via Twitter saying that the FARC guerrillas made a “grave error” when they put down their weapons.
According to the US State Department, Iván Márquez was in charge of the FARC’s drug policies, as well as directing and controlling the production, the manufacture and the distribution of cocaine. Eventually, the State Department offered $5 million for information leading to his arrest. He also commanded FARC units accused of kidnapping, extortion and murder.
Before the peace agreement was signed and amnesty was subsequently granted, the Colombian government considered Márquez a narco-terrorist.
In April 2018, US authorities revealed that Márquez was under investigation for alleged cocaine trafficking after he was caught on a cellphone video speaking to a supposed Mexican cartel operative. The investigation is the same one that has led to drug charges against his comrade, Santrich. It stems from a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) operation in which Marlon Marín, Marquez’s nephew and assistant, was observed retrieving $5 million from a DEA informant. The money was exchanged for the movement of ten tons of cocaine to Mexico’s powerful Sinaloa Cartel.
US authorities arrested Marín, and he is cooperating with investigators in the drug trafficking case. It is unclear what evidence he has given about his uncle.
Before heading up the FARC’s peace negotiating team, Márquez mostly operated in northern Colombia. As commander of the Caribbean Bloc, his zones of influence included the Serranía del Perijá mountain range, the departments of La Guajira and Cesar, and some regions along the Colombia-Venezuela border.
Allies and Enemies
Historically, the main enemies of FARC leaders like Márquez have included extreme right-wing elements of Colombia’s political elite, some of whom have had ties to paramilitary groups.
However, the FARC has seen its share of infighting as well. A rift formed in its ruling body when Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri, alias “Timochenko,” assumed leadership of the FARC because Márquez was also a candidate for the guerrilla group’s top position. Although the replacement of FARC commanders had been resolved through its handover mechanism, the succession of Guillermo León Sáenz Vargas, alias “Alfonso Cano,” was a challenge for the rebel group.
In the wake of successful military operations against its commanders, the FARC increasingly depended on young leaders due to its need to continue with the chain of command. This meant that even though Márquez was a strong contender for the top leadership position, Timochenko took the reins because he had more years of service in the Secretariat under his belt.
The division became most evident as the FARC transitioned into a political party. Márquez earned more votes than Timochenko to be elected to the party’s national directorate after running on a more critical line regarding the implementation of the peace agreement. The party has a high risk of criminalization, and counts among its members Seuxis Paucis Hernández Solarte, alias “Jesús Santrich;” Milton de Jesus Toncel, alias “Joaquin Gomez;” Henry Castellanos, alias “Romaña;” and Hernán Darío Velásquez, alias “El Paisa.”
Márquez is one of the more radical leaders among the ex-FARC Mafia and is likely to use his leadership position to try and undermine the peace agreement, especially by being highly critical it has been handled. The platform and authority he carries among former guerrilla fighters means that his message is likely to find listeners. As the former second-in-command of the FARC, his presence gives the group he leads a real legacy as the continuation of the original guerrilla group.
He has taken on a natural leadership role within this new ex-FARC Mafia group and his presence will lend weight and credibility to the emissaries sent to negotiate with other dissident groups and invite them to join. He will also be a lightning rod which will encourage other demobilized fighters to take up arms once more.
His deep insider knowledge of the FARC’s operations, his experience of combat tactics and the respect he carries makes Márquez one of the principal criminal actors in Colombia and Venezuela, with the ability to wield real influence in both countries.