The 10th Front, also known as the Martín Villa Front, is one of the most active elements of the ex-FARC Mafia, a loosely connected network of criminal groups that splintered off from the defunct Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia - FARC).
Shortly after the 2016 demobilization agreement between the FARC and the Colombian government, dissident elements of the 10th Front emerged in Colombia's Arauca department. Since then, it has expanded into Venezuela, most notably in the state of Apure, where it has engaged in repeated hostilities with other ex-FARC Mafia groups, the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional - ELN) and the Venezuelan authorities.
Prior to the demobilization of the FARC, the 10th Front was part of the group's Eastern Bloc (Bloque Oriental) and was once commanded by Germán Briceño Suárez, alias "Grannobles," the brother of Víctor Julio Suárez Rojas, alias "Mono Jojoy," one of the FARC's most senior figures until his death in 2010. They were in the frontlines of the FARC's war with the ELN in Arauca between 2004 and 2010, which killed and displaced hundreds.
After the FARC signed the peace agreement in 2016, numerous members refused to lay down their arms. Dissident members of the 10th, 28th, 38th, 45th and 56th Fronts abandoned the reintegration process and formed the new Martín Villa 10th Front dissidence in the Colombian department of Arauca and the Venezuelan state of Apure. The group soon received support from the 1st Front dissidents, led by Miguel Botache Santillana, alias "Gentil Duarte," and Néstor Gregorio Vera Fernández, alias "Iván Mordisco."
In September 2020, the 10th Front began to face off against two separate adversaries, as InSight Crime reported in an investigation at the time. First, it became a spearhead for Gentil Duarte against his largest rivals in the ex-FARC Mafia, the Second Marquetalia. Led by some of the most prominent former FARC commanders, the Second Marquetalia also sought to claim the legacy of the old guerrilla group and operated in both Colombia and Venezuela. Repeated clashes by the 10th Front saw the Second Marquetalia pushed back and three of its four top leaders killed on Venezuelan soil.
The Martín Villa 10th Front has a wide-ranging criminal portfolio on both sides of the Colombia-Venezuela border.
The group is involved in transporting and sending drug shipments across the border from Apure state. According to field investigations conducted by InSight Crime, the group controls several clandestine airstrips from where drug shipments leave for Central America and the Caribbean.
In addition to participating in drug trafficking, the 10th Front also profits from extorting business owners and ranchers on both sides of the border.
The group has also been involved in several kidnappings in the Arauca department. According to reports of these incidents, the people kidnapped on the Colombian side of the border are taken to Venezuela. However, it is unclear whether the group receives any gains in the form of ransom payments.
Jorge Eliecer Jiménez Martínez, alias ‘Arturo’ or alias ‘Gerónimo,’ was considered the leader of the 10th Front when he was killed in a Colombian military strike in February 2022. The attack occurred when the group crossed from Venezuela into Arauca and was a severe blow, leaving nearly two dozen dead.
Jiménez Martínez, who was previously a member of the 56th Front, was arrested in 2004 and received amnesty in 2017 as part of the peace process. Shortly thereafter, he deserted the peace process and joined the 10th Front dissidents.
Among the other important leaders of the group are Fabián Eliécer Jiménez Martínez, alias "Ferley González," who acts as the dissidence’s financial head, and Luis Felipe Ramírez, alias “Pescado,” who serves as the group’s explosives expert and third-in-command
Allies and Enemies
Since its inception, the 10th Front dissidents have been linked to Gentil Duarte and Iván Mordisco. More recently, the group has been linked to the 28th Front in Casanare, a group which has come to the group's defense on several occasions.
The 10th Front expanded into Venezuela, originally finding approval by Venezuelan authorities, which allowed the group to settle in the state of Apure. However, the criminal loyalties of the Venezuelan regime shifted with the rise of the Second Marquetalia.
After rejecting initial outreach efforts by the leader of the Second Marquetalia, Iván Márquez, in March 2021, a war broke out between the 10th Front and security forces in Venezuela. According to investigations conducted by InSight Crime, the conflict was motivated, in part, by the relationship between the Segunda Marquetalia and the Venezuelan government.
Despite the fact that the 10th Front managed to force security forces to withdraw in Apure, security forces in Venezuela continued to crack down on the group, arresting hundreds of people accused of having links with the group in an attempt to undermine their support networks.
Until late 2021, the 10th Front dissidence and the ELN, also present in Arauca and Apure, did not have a hostile relationship. According to several sources and press reports, both groups maintain territorial division agreements and criminal economies on both sides of the border. However, on January 2, 2022, several alleged members of the 10th Front were murdered by the ELN in Apure, Venezuela and Arauca, Colombia. This conflict has only intensified throughout January, with dozens killed and hundreds displaced.
According to press reports and alerts issued by the Ombudsman's Office in Colombia, and field work conducted by InSight Crime, the Martín Villa 10th Front is present in the municipalities of Arauca, Arauquita, Tame, Saravena and Cravo Norte, in the Arauca department, and in the municipalities of Páez, Rómulo Gallegos and Pedro Camejo in the Venezuelan state of Apure.
The 10th Front is making a habit of claiming victory against unenviable odds. Despite its victory against the Venezuelan army in 2021, the 10th Front found itself at a disadvantage when compared to the rival Second Marquetalia, which had the support of the security forces and local authorities in Apure.
However, the murders of Second Marquetalia commanders, Hernán Darío Velásquez Saldarriaga, alias El Paisa, and Henry Castellanos Garzón, alias Romaña, in December 2021, gave the 10th Front a distinct advantage.
Recent clashes with the ELN may be a step too far for the 10th Front, as they confront the strongest criminal group on both sides of the border. It has not yet been confirmed which side began the conflict in January 2022. But either way, the 10th Front faces an uphill battle to come out on top.