New Names, Old Tricks for ex-FARC Mafia in Colombia’s Putumayo

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Recent reports of a criminal group calling itself the Border Commandos in Colombian’s southern Putumayo department, along the border with Ecuador, have caused concern. But all signs indicate this is yet another name change for a well-established group belonging to the ex-FARC Mafia.

In August, Ecuadorian authorities dismantled a camp reportedly belonging to a criminal gang in El Carmen, a province of Sucumbíos, close to the border with Colombia. Pamphlets were seized, declaring the camp belonged to a group calling itself “Border Commandos” (Comandos de la Frontera – CDF). In September, Colombia’s Inter-Ecclesiastical Commission of Justice and Peace (Comisión Intereclesial de Justicia y Paz) reported the murders of two people in Puerto Asís, Putumayo, at the hands of this group. 

Nevertheless, the CDF does not appear to be a new criminal actor in what is an already complex security situation in Putumayo. According to the Inter-Ecclesiastical Commission, the CDF is the latest attempt by a group, previously known as La Mafia or La Mafia Sinaloa, to change its name.

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“Their name change is an effort to change their image and distance themselves from past them murders, among them, that of the social leader Marco Rivadeneira (in March 2020),” the Commission told online news portal Colombia 2020.

Despite its various names, the CDF is made up of elements from the ex-FARC Mafia’s 48th Front and a criminal group known as La Constru, as InSight Crime reported in 2019. The ex-FARC Mafia are a series of criminal structures largely made up of former guerrilla fighters who refused to lay down their arms or abandoned the peace process that led to the demobilization of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC) in 2016.

InSight Crime Analysis

The CDF, or La Mafia as it has most commonly been known, is one of a number of groups that have tried to take over drug trafficking at the Colombia-Ecuador border after the demobilization of the FARC in 2016.

The Putumayo-Sucumbíos border is crucial for drug trafficking, with Putumayo one of Colombia’s main coca crop production areas, while the San Miguel River serves as a highway for moving cocaine to Ecuador.

After the exit of the FARC, the local drug trafficking economy collapsed. Sources on the ground told InSight Crime that, at its lowest point, the price of a kilo of cocaine paste fell to 1.3 million pesos ($350) but it has now rebounded to around 2.4 million ($647).

SEE ALSO: Resurgence of Coca in Putumayo Reflects Colombia’s Failed Strategy

This is in no small part due to La Constru using their international contacts to reactivate the logistics networks of the defunct FARC on both sides of the border in order to move cocaine shipments. 

Meanwhile, members of the 48th Front assumed responsibility for the security of the coca crops and laboratories. This gave rise to the alliance known as La Mafia. 

This alliance managed to assert its influence over several municipalities within Bajo Putumayo, such as San Miguel and Valle del Guamuéz, on the border with Sucumbíos, in Ecuador.

La Mafia was implicated in the murders of several social leaders, as well as in acts of intimidation and control over the local population and the recruitment of minors. 

Sources on the ground on the border in Colombia and Ecuador who spoke with InSight Crime in 2019 reported that an alliance between these two groups for the control of coca paste in the municipalities where they have a presence.

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