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Colombia: The Return To Armed Insurgency By Some Of the FARC Membership

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By Daniel Edgar for SouthFront

Approximately 12,000 members of the FARC-EP participated in the process of demobilization, disarmament and reincorporation in the transitional zones established pursuant to the Peace Accord signed in late 2016. Crisis Group and Fundación Ideas para la Paz have estimated that between 2,000-2,500 members who were eligible to participate chose not to. As of June 2019 it was reported that approximately 8,200 were still actively participating in the process of capacitation and reincorporation in the stipulated transition zones.

It remains unclear how many of those who have left the formal process of reincorporation (or who declined to participate in the first place) intend to return to the path of armed insurgency, as opposed to those who left the transition zones due to the lack of security, basic services, infrastructure and social and economic opportunities.

The following articles, translated from the originals in Spanish, identify the key commanders of the FARC-EP that have ‘returned to the mountains’.

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“Who are the FARC commanders that accompany Iván Márquez?” (“Quiénes son los comandantes de las Farc que acompañan a Iván Márquez?”)

By Edinson Arley Bolaños, 29 August 2019, El Espectador

Since they announced that they were abandoning the peace process, it has been reported that the former FARC negotiator was also accompanied by Aldinever Morantes, Hernán Darío Velásquez (El Paisa), Iván Merchán, Henry Castellanos (Romaña), Enrique Marulanda and, finally, Jesus Santrich. Who are they?

Colombia: The Return To Armed Insurgency By Some Of the FARC Membership

The column to the left from top to bottom: Hernán Darío Velásquez, (‘El Paisa’); Walter Mendoza and Enrique Marulanda.
The centre column, from top to bottom: Iván Márquez, Jesús Santrich.
The column to the right, from top to bottom: Henry Castellanos (‘Romaña’); Iván Merchán (‘El Loco Iván’) and Aldinever Morantes.

On 9 April 2018, two weeks after Seuxis Pausias Hernández (known as Jesús Santrich) was accused of conspiring to send cocaine to the United States and imprisoned, Iván Márquez took refuge in the Territorial Space for Reincorporation of Miravalle (in the province of Caquetá), which at the time was led by Hernán Darío Velásquez (‘El Paisa’).

Months later, while Santrich was in jail and Márquez was seeking to secure his freedom, other former guerrilla commanders abandoned their security schemes and left the reincorporation spaces claiming they lacked legal and physical guarantees of their safety to continue in the peace process.

Subsequently, after over a year in prison Santrich was released in May 2019. By that time Ivan Márquez, as well as Hernán Darío Velásquez (El Paisa), Aldinever Morantes, Iván Merchán (El loco Iván), Henry Castellanos (Romaña), Walter Mendoza and Enrique Marulanda, had gone underground, although they had not yet announced their intention to take up arms. All were FARC guerrilla commanders who participated in the process of disarmament and demobilization in August 2017, and all of them had a significant number of people under their command during the war.

Iván Márquez was the chief negotiator of the FARC-EP in Havana, a key element in the elaboration of the Peace Agreement that was signed in 2016 on the island of Cuba. Then, having returned to Colombia, he campaigned for several months in Caquetá and subsequently occupied one of the seats in the Senate of the Republic, as part of the Havana agreement. His last months before going underground were spent in the Territorial Reincorporation Space of Miravalle (Caquetá). Subsequently, he disappeared and sent several letters to the international community asking for physical and legal guarantees to return to the process.

It must be emphasized that Márquez was the second most important guerrilla commander who agreed to leave the path of armed struggle in August 2017. He commanded the Caribbean block and was a member of the FARC Secretariat. There are at least 28 charges and 128 arrest warrants registered against him in the Colombian justice system. According to the authorities, he was behind the capture of the Las Delicias military base in 1996, where 28 soldiers died and 60 people were kidnapped; he was also allegedly involved in the massacre of Bojayá in 2002, and the bombing of El Nogal in 2003.

The video announcing the return to armed struggle also shows Hernán Darío Velásquez, also known as ‘El Paisa’. He was the commander of the mobile column ‘Teófilo Forero’ and has more than twenty judicial processes pending…

During the peace process, ‘El Paisa’ moved to Havana and this was widely interpreted as a gesture of good faith by the FARC and an indication that the reincorporation process would be complied with. Then, after signing the initial agreement in mid-2016 in Havana, he was entrusted with the leadership of the Miravalle Territorial Reincorporation Space (Caquetá) where more than 300 demobilized guerrilla fighters were concentrated. That was where the rafting team that recently competed internationally emerged from, an activity that also served to symbolize the social and economic reintegration of the group of ex-combatants. Also, in the ETCR (Reincorporation Space) that he abandoned there are several production projects supported by the international community.

Another former commander that appears in the photo is Jose Manuel Sierra Sabogal, also known as ‘El Zarco Aldinever Morantes’. He is also known as the political and military heir of the guerrilla leader of the Eastern Bloc, ‘Mono Jojoy’. Morantes was the commander of this block, and a member of the Central General Staff. He was called by the JEP (transitional justice system, a type of ‘war crimes tribunal’) to appear for the crime of illegal retention or kidnapping… He entered the guerrilla group on 27 December 1990, when he was just 14 years old, two years after the paramilitaries murdered his grandfather and two of his uncles in Restrepo (in Meta province)…

Iván Olivo Merchán, known as ‘El loco Ivan’, was a member of the staff of the Eastern Bloc and was responsible for coordinating the territorial space in La Macarena (Meta), where more than 125 ex-combatants were concentrated. During the conflict, he was captured by state forces and he succeeded in escaping twice, from the La Picota and La Modelo prisons in Bogotá respectively. He is also accused of having participated in the capture of La Calera (Cundinamarca) and the judicial authorities refer to him as an important explosives expert of the former guerrilla group. He was also called by the JEP to appear for the crime of kidnapping.

The other guerrilla commander who appears in the video is Henry Castellanos, known as ‘Romaña’. He was responsible for managing the finances of the Eastern Bloc of the FARC…. The justice system is investigating him for the kidnapping of then Governor Alan Jara, as well as for the military takeover of Mitú in 1998 during which 40 uniformed men and 11 civilians were killed.

In the final stages of the insurgency and during the initial phase of the peace process, he led the coordination of 400 ex-combatants in the municipality of Tumaco (Nariño). He subsequently left the area for Meta due to what he argued was the lack of security guarantees. From there he disappeared in September 2018, when it became known that he had abandoned the protection scheme assigned by the National Protection Unit (UNP).

Enrique Marulanda, who also appears in the video, is one of the sons of the legendary founder of the guerrilla group, Manuel Marulanda Vélez. He also left the territorial space of Mesetas (Meta) where he entered the reincorporation process along with Aldinever Morantes, a member of the former eastern block of the FARC. Two of his brothers are said to remain in Mesetas, where more than one hundred ex-combatants are concentrated.

‘Wálter Mendoza’ is another dissident that has announced his rearmament. He operated in the Western bloc, together with ‘Pablo Catatumbo’. José Vicente Lesmes (his legal name) is recognized in the guerrilla group as the creator of the ‘mobile columns’. He commanded the ‘Libardo García’ column, which operated in Valle del Cauca, and was allegedly behind several armed attacks in Buenaventura.

Finally, there is Jesús Santrich, the controversial member of the Caribbean Block, which had formerly been commanded by Iván Márquez. Márquez had also helped found the Southern Block of the FARC. Santrich is a personal friend of Márquez, who defended him vehemently following his imprisonment after the signing of the Peace Agreement. With respect to this latter point, on 9 April 2018 Santrich was requested for extradition by the United States and captured by the Prosecutor for this purpose. The reason: the US accused him of conspiring to send cocaine to that country.

However, after one year of the judicial process conducted by the transitional justice system (JEP) he was granted a guarantee that he would not be extradited after it was determined that there was no evidence to ascertain when the alleged crime occurred. For this reason he was released on parole, subsequently being designated as one of the FARC political party’s delegates in the House of Representatives (the lower house of the national Congress). Several weeks later he disappeared, after a magistrate of the Supreme Court announced the re-instigation of judicial proceedings for the alleged crime of drug trafficking.

Towards the end of June it became known that he had left the Territorial Space of Tierra Grata and abandoned the security scheme that had been provided for him. The Supreme Court subsequently issued an arrest warrant against him…

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“The history of the guerrillas that appear next to Márquez and Santrich in the video” (El historial de los guerrilleros que aparecen junto a Márquez y Santrich en el video)

29 August 2019, Semana

At least eight rugged combatants with more than two decades of experience in the guerrilla group appear in the video (announcing their return to the path of armed struggle) alongside the former chief negotiator of the FARC-EP in Havana.

The core of the military apparatus of an insurgent group is usually its mid-level commanders. These are the front line fighters with the most experience and recognition. It is as if they were colonels within the guerrilla group because they have an enormous influence on the base membership and operational decision-making.

Next to Iván Márquez and Santrich, there are six other men who have been leading the FARC’s transition to civilian life and who are precisely within this category of ‘middle managers’. They will immediately lose the benefits offered by the transitional justice system. Semana explains who these guerrillas that appear in the video are and what their importance is within the organization:

El Zarco Aldinever

To talk about José Manuel Sierra, aka Zarco Aldinever, is to get to know one of the most important guerrilla fighters that the FARC had. He was the commander of the 53rd Front, which primarily operated in the Meta region but also had an influence around Sumapaz (near the capital city of Bogotá). Aldinever was considered the man of confidence of ‘Mauricio the Doctor’, former commander of the Eastern Bloc, who today continues to participate in the process of reincorporation and leads the search for missing persons pursuant to the provisions of the Peace Accord… He entered the FARC at the age of 15, and intelligence reports describe him as a native of Villavicencio in the province of Meta. He led the productive projects associated with the transitional reincorporation process in Mesetas, Meta, where about 500 ex-combatants were located.

He faces judicial processes for recruitment and for activities related to extortion in Cundinamarca and Meta…

Walter Mendoza

José Vicente Lesmes was at the forefront of the reincorporation process in Cauca. He disappeared from public life at the same time that Jesus Santrich did. 15 days ago the Special Jurisdiction of Peace (transitional justice system) opened a proceeding of verification of non-compliance for not having responded to the repeated calls to appear before the court.

The 61-year-old, who participated in the dialogue in Havana, entered the FARC in the late 1970s. He became more widely known when he assumed the command of the mobile column Libardo García, where he operated for several years in the vicinity of Buenaventura. Once in command, he reorganized the mobile columns and issued the order to resume lost areas such as Villa Colombia, Mesetas and Pance, located within the territory of the municipality of Jamundí (in the Valle province).

After the death of alias Franco Benavides at the hands of the ELN, it was Walter Mendoza who assumed command of the Arturo Ruiz Mobile Block, a key structure in the kidnapping of the 12 deputies of the Valle Legislative Assembly on 11 April 2002.

Ivan ‘el loco’

He was one of the chiefs of the well-known Eastern Bloc of the FARC. He was in prison several times and escaped from La Modelo prison in 1998, through a tunnel. He was recaptured and escaped from La Picota in July 2001, when a former guerrilla command dynamited a prison wall. He was a ‘raspachín’ (coca leaf harvester) from the age of 13 until he joined the guerrillas. He was part of the 26th Front…

Enrique Marulanda

He is one of the 13 children of Manuel Marulanda Vélez. Although he did not have a significant role within the organization, he has been an active member of it. There he was born, and for all of his life he has served the interests of the insurgent group.

Nelson Robles

His legal name is Julio Enrique Rincon Rico. He was commander of the 55th Front that was active in Cundinamarca. Its area of ​​interference was located in the municipalities of Lejanías, El Castillo, Vista Hermosa, San Juan de Arama and Uribe in the province of Meta.

In 1994, by order of the Secretariat, Julio Enrique Rincón Rico was transferred from the 26th Front with the mission of taking command of the 52nd Front, previously led by Carlos Arturo Osorio Velásquez (aka Marco Aurelio Buendía). The latter was ordered to join the General Staff of the Eastern Bloc (EMBO).

Finally, by order of the EMBO, Nelson Robles moved to the area of ​​operations of the 55th Front ‘Teófilo Forero’ to take command, leaving the 52nd Front under the command of Nelson Quintero Estévez (aka Arcesio Angarilla).

Ariel

He was commander of the Fifth Front ‘Antonio Nariño’. He started his reintegration process in Dabeiba (Antioquia) until he disappeared without a trace. His legal name is Germán Silva Hernández.

Romaña

Henry Castellanos, aka Romaña … was coordinator of Fronts 17, 25, 31 and 55. The judicial system has opened more than 70 proceedings against him for crimes related to kidnapping, terrorism, drug trafficking and homicide.

The first time the country heard his name was in April 1998. At that time the guerrilla leader mounted several checkpoints on the Bogotá-Villavicencio highway and kidnapped a large group of people, including four Americans. The then commander of the 53rd front of the FARC threatened to ‘prosecute’ the foreigners if he could verify that they were US spies.

Romaña, formerly a resident of Bogota, is of approximately 58 years of age, 1.73 meters tall and white complexion. He joined the guerrillas at the beginning of the 1980s, after being a militant for many years in the Communist Youth (Juco) in the capital city of the Republic…

Gonzalo

He was commander of the 41st Front, and is also known as Cacique Upar.

The Paisa

More than 3,000 million pesos have been offered by the authorities for information that leads to his arrest. He was raised in Medellín at the time of the rise of Pablo Escobar and was one of the hired assassins of the capo. In 1989 he was captured by the authorities with 1,000 rifles and 250 mortars from a weapons trafficking network he was managing. During his time in prison, he met several guerrillas and when he was released he entered the FARC as a member of the Eastern Bloc…

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“The Two FARC” (“Las dos FARC”)

Diego Aretz, 11 September 2019, Semana

Since the final agreement with the FARC was signed in 2016, followed by their demobilization, it has been apparent what would be one of the most controversial factors in the implementation of the agreement, which has been slow and in many cases has been hindered by the lack of precision. This factor is related to the particular processes and methodologies to be followed: compounded by the lack of commitment or disagreement with the terms of the Peace Accord on the part of some members of the former armed group. This discord has resulted in the greatest crisis of the peace process since the failure of the referendum to approve the initial Accord, and led to the fragmentation of the FARC into two separate groups.

One of the key developments in the deepening of this divide was the case of Jesús Santrich, who was put in jail for over a year on the basis of charges of drug trafficking against him; however, he was eventually released due to lack of evidence.

Following his release he was appointed to take up membership in the House of Representatives on behalf of the FARC political party; shortly thereafter, the Supreme Court asserted jurisdiction over the investigation against him (for alleged conspiracy to traffic drugs to the US). At the time, many sectors of society expressed their dissatisfaction with what they have called from the beginning ‘an overly permissive and generous agreement with the demobilized FARC members’. This dissatisfaction became stronger after he escaped on the 30th of June when, without prior notice, he abandoned the security scheme that accompanied him while he was in an ETCR (Territorial Training and Reincorporation Space) in Cesar province.

Following his escape, various hypotheses were generated from all political fronts in the country: there was talk that he fled due to a lack of security, and also rumours of a possible meeting on the Venezuelan border with Iván Márquez and other senior FARC officials who have left the peace process. The latter theory was confirmed a few days ago when in the company of Márquez and other members of the demobilized guerrilla group, a group of dissidents announced their rearmament and their return to war via a video in which they also announced what their objectives and initial steps will be, and a list of reasons that are very similar to the reasons that prompted the insurgent group to rise in arms more than fifty years ago.

However, the video is not only an announcement of the group’s rearmament, it is also an open invitation to link up with the ELN and thereby strengthen their forces and begin to recover lost territory. It is true that the differences that these groups have had in the past are considerable concerning their methods and perceptions of the armed conflict; although this creates difficulties for a rapprochement between them, it remains possible that they will reach an agreement to fight together.

Even more so given that their options are very limited – among the combat options they have are seeking former FARC-EP militants who are not satisfied with the implementation of the peace agreement and the guarantees provided, or to engage in urban terrorism (as they said in their announcement). This scenario is not encouraging, but it is clear that creating a guerrilla group that is anything like the one that existed up until three years ago will not be an easy task.

On the other side of the coin are the vast majority of former combatants who pledged to abandon their arms and resume civilian life, and who are still linked to the process at this time. According to the quarterly report of the UN Security Council in June they represent about 8,194 former combatants…

Despite the unfortunate developments affecting the implementation of the peace agreement, we cannot fail to recognize the commitment that the membership of the FARC political party has assumed with respect to the demands of human rights and political struggles that seek to promote the needs of ‘the common people’. It must be pointed out that there are now two FARC groups and that each must be treated with a very different logic. There is the FARC that bet on peace and respect for democracy at the head of which is Rodrigo Londoño aka ‘Timochenko’, who leads the battle to support the continued implementation of the peace agreement throughout the country to ensure a successful transition to peace. And there is the FARC that has returned to the path of armed struggle led by Iván Márquez.

This is a moment in which the Colombian government cannot hesitate in the implementation of the agreement. On the contrary, it is necessary to strengthen it and generate the necessary trust among both those who have not returned to arms as well as Colombian society generally. The Executive must support those who remain committed to the peace agreement and legality. We must all embrace the peace agreements and respect them so that their implementation becomes a reality, and so that the joint struggle by the many different political and social fronts of the country realizes the opportunity to change history, to demonstrate that we are not the same society that 50 years ago allowed a conflict to escalate to inhuman levels.

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  • JustPassingThrough

    We know that Columbia has reneged on many of its promises to FARC.
    Has the FARC re-formation timetable been pushed forward a bit by Columbia joining the bolton-guano banderas?
    Some distraction by FARC will keep Columbia on the sidelines if push comes to shove in VE.

    I wonder who is footing the bill for the re-armanent etc.of FARC?
    just sayin’

    • Tommy Jensen

      If we guess on the usual suspect causing chaos in foreign countries by divide and conquer, and who benefit from the arm trade to FARC and who benefit of the drug trade to the US fastland, I think the answer may not be that difficult to figure out.