Gentil Duarte: The war between FARC dissidents leans in favor of a former warlord | International

Gentil Duarte, commander of dissident groups of the FARC that withdrew from the peace process in Colombia.
Gentil Duarte, commander of dissident groups of the FARC that withdrew from the peace process in Colombia.Javier Sulé Ortega

Photos of the corpses of the ‘most wanted’ have returned to the front pages of the Colombian press. As it happened in the midst of the heat of the war that the country seeks to leave behind, the newspaper Time published this week the images of the lifeless face of Henry Castellanos, Romagna, as proof that he died in confused clashes on the other side of the border with Venezuela. The news was known when they were still trying to confirm another death, that of Hernán Darío Velásquez, alias The Paisa, and it also joins that of Jesús Santrich in the middle of the year, all in similar circumstances in different parts of Venezuelan territory, near the border line. El Paisa and Romaña were the most bloodthirsty among the dissidents of the defunct FARC guerrilla that took up arms under the leadership of Iván Márquez. His project, the Second Marquetalia, seems to fall apart in favor of the structures headed by another long-time warlord: Gentil Duarte.

Romagna He will be remembered for the “miraculous fishing”, the massive kidnappings that he turned into one of the most lucrative businesses of the armed conflict; The Paisa for having commanded the Teófilo Forero Mobile Column, one of the bloodiest structures of the insurgency, responsible for the attack on the El Nogal club; and Sántrich for the defiant “perhaps, perhaps, perhaps” with which he answered in 2012 the question of whether he was willing to apologize to the victims, when the peace process with the Government of Juan Manuel Santos was just beginning (2010-2018 ). Also for the bizarre case of drug trafficking that preceded his return to hiding. They all turned their backs on the historic five-year-old peace agreement. Iván Márquez, the former chief negotiator of the FARC who chose to rearm, for that very reason the one with the greatest media notoriety, is left more and more alone.

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President Iván Duque has celebrated that “these symbols of terrorism and evil go out of circulation.” The first versions speak of attacks with rifle bursts and explosives, perpetrated by other factions of dissidents in the Venezuelan state of Apure, where various criminal groups are fighting for control of illegal economies. “Five months ago there was a dispute that involved the FARC dissidents commanded by alias Gentil Duarte and Segunda Marquetalia, all for the same drug trafficking business that are being fought on Venezuelan soil,” explained the Colombian Defense Minister. , Diego Molano, on the hypotheses of military intelligence that account for the deaths of The Paisa Y Romagna. “Here what would be in evidence, if the information were to be true, is that the Nicolás Maduro regime protects terrorists in Venezuelan territory,” he stressed.

Both groups were designated last month by the United States Government as terrorist organizations, when in a long-awaited decision Washington withdrew from that black list the former FARC, now disarmed and converted into a political party with representation in Congress. More than 90 percent of the peace signatories, some 13,000 ex-guerrillas, have fulfilled their commitments, remain legal and are advancing in their reintegration process. Although there was no disbandment, as was feared at first, the fire of the dissidents has been fueled by new dynamics of forced recruitment, often of minors. Without making as much noise as Iván Marquez, Gentil Duarte prevails in the fierce competition between dissident structures.

The phenomenon precedes the Second Marquetalia, since it began before the signing of the agreements when a part of Front 1, one of the most representative structures of the FARC in three departments in the southeast of the country – Vaupés, Guaviare and Meta -, under the command of Ivan Bite, withdrew from the process in mid-2016. That announcement caused the FARC leadership, which by then was finalizing the details of the negotiation in Havana, to expel five commanders, including Gentil Duarte, whom it had previously sent to try put order. Since then, various factions, joining an archipelago of armed groups trying to occupy the space abandoned by the rebels, have emerged in different regions.

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The FARC dissidents Iván Márquez and Jesús Santrich, the day they announced that they were rearming, in August 2019. Behind them, 'Romaña'.
The FARC dissidents Iván Márquez and Jesús Santrich, the day they announced that they were rearming, in August 2019. Behind them, ‘Romaña’.AFP

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Márquez -who became the ‘number two’ of the guerrilla-, Santrich, The Paisa Y Romagna, who were unaccounted for after having left the reincorporation spaces, reappeared at dawn on Thursday, August 29, 2019 in a video to proclaim that they were taking up arms. Since then, intelligence sources assured that they were in Venezuela. Attempts to unite with Gentil Duarte, Iván Mordisco, and their associates collided with resistance from those groups, which already had significant influence in southeastern Colombia and across the border. “The pretense of imposing a vertical command has run into structures that have territorial power, independence and access to sources of financing,” stated in July a report on the Second Marquetalia of the Ideas for Peace Foundation (FIP).

Miguel Santanilla Botanche, the real name of Gentil Duarte, who was a FARC commander since the late 1990s and is recognized by his former colleagues for both political and military capabilities, has become the man most wanted by the Colombian authorities. Being the oldest dissidence, it is the one that has the most legitimacy among those who never surrendered their arms, “the one that has been consolidated the most militarily and economically,” the most robust, explains Jorge Mantilla, an expert on the dynamics of the armed conflict at the FIP. . “In the case of Iván Márquez, one sees more of a political dissidence, focused on the communications issue, but that could never gain military traction, at least in Colombia,” he points out. His plans have been largely frustrated by the military capacity shown by Gentil Duarte’s dissidents, or others more local, in a context of more fragmented groups.

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“The vast majority of people living in areas controlled by dissidents in Colombia describe these groups as motivated by money, largely generated by the illegal economy, as well as ideologically rudimentary and extremely violent,” notes the International Crisis Group (ICG) in a detailed report on the occasion of the fifth anniversary of the agreements. “It really is a very strong competition, a direct clash,” says Elizabeth Dickinson, analyst at ICG. “I do not see any possibility that they will be able to work together, or join, it is rather a question of who is going to win in the territory, which of the two is going to be able to consolidate most of the routes, control of the territory, greater influence Social. The danger is that we are just entering that fight, “he warns. “It can be very violent.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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