Miguel Botache Santillana, alias ‘Gentil Duarte’

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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 leads the Seventh Front of the FARC dissidents, 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 has become one of the main actors in Colombia’s new criminal dynamic.

He is also currently leading efforts to bring disparate ex-FARC Mafia groups together into a united force.

History

Gentil Duarte was born in Florencia, the capital city of rhe department of Caquetá, 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.

For over a year now, Gentil Duarte has coordinated a plan to bring together the disparate guerrilla units of the ex-FARC Mafia into one fighting force. To do so, he has sent offers to dissident leaders in Colombia and has dispatched some of his closest men as emissaries for his plan. He is believed to have had links with dissidents in the 33rd Front in Catatumbo, 10th, 28th, 38th, 45th and 56th Fronts in Arauca and the 1st, 16th, 27th, 47th and 53rd in Guaviare and Meta.

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.

Criminal Activity

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 controls drug trafficking routes that begin in the neighboring department of Guaviare and end at the Brazilian and Venezuelan borders. His power over these routes is believed to have allowed him to strike alliances with drug cartels in Mexico and Brazil.

Geography

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 has recently been reported in the state of Amazonas in Venezuela, which has allowed him to further his criminal operations since he is far safer than in Colombia. This has also made it easier for him to place strategic pressure on various fronts to join his FARC unification plan.

Allies and Enemies

As a guerrilla commander, Gentil Duartes currently has close ties with Géner Medina, alias “Jhon 40” and Néstor Verá, alias “Iván Mordisco” who are his principal criminal allies. As well as both being commanders of other dissident groups, they have become the main operators for Duarte’s plan to unite FARC dissidents. It is known that Jhon 40 was sent by Duarte to the Catatumbo to lead the 33rd Front and recover drug trafficking routes to Venezuela, while Mordisco has been tasked with leading the unification plan in northern Colombia.

Another dissident Duarte is known to have ties with is 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. He has also been linked in the past to drug lords such as “El Loco Barrera.”

Finally, Gentil Duarte is allied with international criminal groups such as Brazil’s Red Command (Comando Vermelho) and the Family of the North (Familia del Norte – FDN), 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.

Prospects

Gentil Duarte’s long presence within the FARC, along with his ideological beliefs and his leadership ability, have made him one of the most important men within the ex-FARC Mafia. With the death of alias “Rodrigo Cadete”, Duarte has become the only leader able to wield the power and territorial control to bring his unification plan to fruition.

Beyond his criminal profile, Gentil’s role has been focused on restoring the ideological credentials once held by the FARC-EP to create the illusion that the FARC dissidents are keeping up their guerrilla struggle. This allows him to recruit new fighters to his ranks and further drug trafficking and illegal gold mining. Recent intelligence reports state that Duarte and his men are reactivating old training schools in Venezuela, specifically in the border states of Amazonas, Táchira y Apure, in order to teach Colombian and Venezuelan recruits in political ideology and combat strategy.

Duarte’s leading role within the new criminal dynamic in Colombia has made him one of the top priority targets for Colombian authorities, who are currently offering a reward of over $1.7 million for information leading to his capture.

 

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