Miguel Botache Santillana, better known as “Gentil Duarte,” is currently Colombia’s most wanted criminal. He used to be an important leader within the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC).
However, at the end of 2016 he dissented from the peace process between the rebel group and the Colombian government. Gentil Duarte currently controls part of the drug trafficking route in southeast Colombia and maintains ties with dissident groups and international criminal organizations with the aim of controlling the cocaine trade in neighboring countries. Gentil Duarte is one of the main actors in Colombia’s new criminal dynamic.
Gentil Duarte was born in Florencia, the capital city of Caquetá Department, on October 15, 1963. He first joined the FARC by way of the 14th Front, where he began a criminal career spanning more than 30 years.
Gentil Duarte quickly rose through the echelons of the Eastern Bloc, especially in the 7th Front, where he became commander. In the 2000s, the group controlled coca farming, extortion and drug trafficking operations in Meta, which turned him into a powerful guerrilla commander.
The unit was concentrated in the town of La Macarena, where it controlled many properties and large swaths of land. In fact, demobilized FARC members say Gentil Duarte used to control the entire rural zone of the municipality.
Through his power and close relationships with guerrilla icons such as alias “Alfonso Cano” and alias “Jorge Briceño,” or “Mono Jojoy,” Gentil Duarte became part of the Greater State of the Eastern Bloc of the FARC in 2009.
After the deaths of Jorge Briceño and Alfonso Cano in 2010 and 2011, respectively, Gentil Duarte became one of the main targets of the Colombian armed forces. In fact, in 2010, he led several Eastern Bloc operations in the south of the country, where he ordered attacks to paralyze economic activity in retaliation for military and police operations. Gentil Duarte’s importance in the Eastern Bloc had an ideological component reflected in the education and training of new recruits to the 7th Front — a political one due to the Communist training he had received since childhood and which he shared with the fronts he commanded, and an economic one given that he was one of the main drug money suppliers to the entire bloc.
In 2012, the public phase of the peace talks between the FARC and the government began in Havana, Cuba, and Gentil Duarte gained notoriety as a negotiator. He was one of the first commanders to travel to Cuba in 2012, and he actively participated in the round table discussions. In 2015 he was promoted to FARC’s General Staff (Estado Mayor Central) and attended the 10th guerrilla conference in 2016, where he publicly supported the peace process and the Secretariat.
It was after this conference, which would be the last held by the FARC as an illegal group, that Gentil Duarte would become a dissident from the peace process. June 2016 would see the 1st Front, under the command of alias “Iván Mordisco,” announce that it did not accept the peace agreement and would continue with the “guerrilla struggle” in the department of Guaviare. The Secretariat consequently appointed Gentil Duarte commander of the front, sending him to Guaviare to put a stop to the dissidence and keep the guerrillas under control.
After returning to Colombia from Cuba, Gentil disappeared for several months. There was even talk that he had been assassinated by dissidents in the jungles of Guaviare. What really happened is that when he arrived in the department, Iván Mordisco offered for him to join the dissenters and continue with drug trafficking operations in the south. Gentil Duarte officially left the peace process at the end of 2016, when he escaped with $1.35 million and six of his most trusted men.
Today, Gentil Duarte is the most-wanted man by Colombian authorities, with a reward of $1.7 million on offer to anyone who provides information that leads to his arrest. He was last seen in San José del Guaviare, the capital of the department of Guaviare, where he met with farmers and explained how the guerrillas’ struggle would continue. It is said that he has connections with dissidents in the 1st, 7th, 27th, 16th, 47th and 53rd fronts, and that he controls part of cocaine trafficking operations from Guaviare to Brazil and Venezuela.
As commander of the 7th Front, Gentil Duarte managed illicit crop production, extortion and coca leaf processing in Meta.
There have been indications that he commanded the FARC Eastern Bloc’s offensive in 2010. When the government implemented tough military actions against them, Gentil then ordered attacks in Meta and Guaviare and measures to be taken to paralyze economic activity in the departments of Nariño and Putumayo.
He now runs coca farming, cocaine processing laboratories and extortion in southern Meta and seems to control part of the drug trafficking routes that begin in the neighboring department of Guaviare and end at the Brazilian and Venezuelan borders. Lastly, he is looking to control the coca trade in the departments of Vichada, Guainía and Caquetá.
During the armed conflict, Gentil Duarte had a presence in the entire department of Meta with his command of the 7th Front, although his power was particularly felt in La Macarena.
His last known whereabouts were in Guaviare department thanks to the 2016 order he received from the FARC Secretariat to take over the command of the unruly 1st Front. After that, Gentil Duarte disappeared.
He is now thought to be somewhere in the jungles of Guaviare, but with mobility reaching to southern Meta.
Allies and Enemies
When he was a guerrilla commander, Gentil Duarte was linked to drug cartel bosses like “El Loco Barrera” and fellow front leaders such as the commander of the 1st Front in Guaviare, Néstor Verá, alias “Iván Mordisco,” and Géner Medina, alias “Jhon 40,” leader of the 43rd Front and known for his role in the drug trade along the borders of Venezuela and Brazil.
Now dissident commanders, Mordisco and Jhon 40 continue to be criminal allies of Gentil Duarte. Additional dissident he is known to have ties with include alias “Nicolás” in the department of Caquetá, brother of the late “Euclides Mora,” who led ex-members of the FARC on the Caquetá-Meta border.
Finally, Gentil Duarte is allied with international criminal groups such as Brazil’s Red Command (Comando Vermelho), with which he has been exchanging cocaine for weapons and munitions between Guaviare and the nearby Brazilian border. He is also partnered with the Sinaloa Cartel through emissaries that were sent to Guaviare to guarantee the flow of cocaine from there to Mexico.
His past experience with the FARC combined with his ideological training and leadership abilities have made Gentil Duarte one of today’s foremost dissidents. In fact, his role could be used to create the illusion that dissident fighters are continuing the struggle of the guerrillas in an effort to gain new recruits. Gentil could also be one of the protagonists in a new dissident dynamic, serving not only as the commander of a single group, but also as a link between the various groups already established in Caquetá, Guaviare and Meta.