Authorities in Ecuador have captured a man alleged to be both a finance chief for Colombia’s FARC guerrillas and the head of a narco-paramilitary gang, highlighting how the distinction between the insurgents and criminal groups is becoming ever more blurred.
On July 20, Ecuadorian authorities announced the capture of Diego Mauricio Mejia Rojas, an alleged finance chief of the 48th Front of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), reported El Universo. The 48th Front operates along Colombia’s southern border with Ecuador.
Colombian police have previously identified Mejia as a key contact between the FARC and the Constru, a local gang of criminalized former paramilitaries. The Constru were believed to have been part of the network of criminal organization the Rastrojos, but in recent years have forged what security forces called a “terrible alliance” with the FARC.
Police said the FARC, acting through Mejia, collaborated with the Constru on drug and arms trafficking. The rebel group has also allegedly contracted the Constru to carry out assassinations, attacks on oil infrastructure and even bombing of police stations, reported WRadio.
However, reports following Mejia’s arrest identified him not as the FARC’s contact for the gang but as the head of the Constru, a position he allegedly rose to after the capture of the group’s principal leader in January.
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There appears to be some confusion over Mejia’s exact role in the Constru and the FARC, which in itself is a sign of the increasingly blurred line between the guerrillas and the criminal networks with which they have formed alliances.
Such alliances generally begin as business arrangements in trafficking arms and drugs — an agreement the FARC had with the Rastrojos in southwest Colombia at least as far back as 2012.
However, in some parts of the country this appears to have evolved, with the FARC sub-contracting criminal gangs to carry out assassinations, manage extortion networks, and, as allegedly took place in Putumayo, even to conduct activities more commonly associated with their revolutionary war against the state, such as attacks against security forces and infrastructure.
Such alliances may prove to be one of Colombia’s key security challenges if peace talks with FARC leaders currently underway in Havana reach a successful conclusion. In a post-conflict environment, criminal networks — such as the Constru — who are ready to step into the underworld gap left by their departing allies would likely see their ranks boosted by holdout FARC factions.