The ex-FARC mafia are a series of criminal structures that emerged during the peace negotiations between the Colombian government and the FARC guerrilla, specifically after signing the peace agreement in 2016.
The ex-FARC mafia consists of groups that do not necessarily have a relationship, nor do they make up a structured organization. Still, they share some common characteristics, such as being composed of former members of the guerrilla and occupying areas that were previously controlled by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC).
These groups have a presence in at least 20 departments in Colombia, including along the borders with Venezuela, Brazil, and Ecuador. The ex-FARC mafia seeks to control criminal economies such as drug trafficking and illegal gold mining along these border areas.
The most important factions of the ex-FARC mafia are the factions allied to Néstor Gregorio Vera Fernández, alias “Iván Mordisco,” and those belonging to the Second Marquetalia, a group led by Luciano Marín, alias “Iván Márquez.” Both of these larger groups operate in both Colombia and Venezuela. There are also several small, more independent structures such as the 36th Front in Antioquia and the Oliver Sinisterra Front (Frente Oliver Sinisterra – FOS) in Nariño.
While the number of combatants across all ex-FARC mafia groups is uncertain, current estimates place the figure at around 2,500. The entire ex-FARC mafia network, however, has been weakened by the repeated killings of top leaders in 2021 and 2022.
Internal divisions within the FARC, regarding the peace process with the Colombian government, started to become evident shortly after negotiations began. Despite the guerrilla group’s leadership demonstrating its willingness to put an end to more than half a century of armed violence, some of the organization’s most important group leaders entered the process with doubts or did not participate at all.
The first to distance himself from the FARC was Néstor Gregorio Vera Fernández, alias “Iván Mordisco,” commander of the infamous 1st Front, or Armando Ríos Front In July 2016, the 1st Front informed negotiators of its decision to withdraw from the peace process and would not turn over its weapons via a press release. Additionally, it claimed that the unit would remain in place to combat the structural causes of the armed conflict.
In response to this situation, the FARC Secretariat in Cuba, ordered Miguel Botache Santillana, alias “Gentil Duarte,” to return to Colombia to take up command of the 1st Front and restore discipline. With more than thirty years of experience as a guerrilla fighter and political leader, Gentil Duarte had been an active negotiator in peace talks since 2012.
However, upon arriving in Guaviare, where the 1st Front is located, Iván Mordisco proposed that Gentil Duarte join the dissident movement and continue controlling drug trafficking to the south of the country. Gentil Duarte accepted this proposal and abandoned the peace process at the end of 2016, escaping with $1.35 million and several of his men from the 7th Front, who formed the first FARC dissidence.
This turn of events had serious implications for the future of the process. After learning of Duarte’s departure, the Secretariat expelled four other commanders from its ranks that had also been opposed to the negotiations. Among those expelled were: Géner García Molina, alias “Jhon 40;” Luis Lizcano Guadrón, alias “Euclides Mora;” Miguel Díaz San Martín, “Julián Chollo,” and Ernesto Orjuela Tovar, alias “Giovanny Chuspas.”
Since then, thousands of members from across the FARC’s ranks have left the peace process to return to illegal activities, strengthening the different groups included within the ex-FARC mafia.
One of the watershed moments for the ex-FARC came in in August 2019. A a video was released in which Luciano Marín Arango, alias “Iván Márquez,” Seuxis Pausias Hernández, alias “Jesús Santrich,” and Hernán Darío Velásquez, alias “El Paisa,” announced the “birth of the Second Marquetalia” due to the “treason of the State” in regards to the peace agreement.
Márquez, the only commander to speak in the video, explained that the group would embrace the legacy of the FARC and that it would accept any former guerrillas within its ranks.
Around 37 criminal units linked to the ex-FARC mafia have been identified up until now. However, these differ widely in their structure, arsenals, leadership, alliances, participation in illegal economies, and even in their levels of social and ideological control.
In this sense, each group seeks to expand its own control in different criminal economies. Some have focused on illegal mining in Colombia’s Cauca and Valle del Cauca, others on the production and movement of drugs, particularly along routes headed toward Venezuela, Ecuador and Brazil.
Another difference between most ex-FARC mafia groups and the now-defunct FARC is in their use of violence. To the ex-FARC mafia, using violence to dominate and control territory is crucial to allow criminal economies to flourish.
And while some structures do exercise a level of criminal governance more akin to the FARC, such efforts appear more focused on protecting criminal revenue than in pursuing a political ideal.
The only major to fall outside of this spectrum is the Second Marquetalia led by Márquez. This group claims to want to continue the FARC’s “political struggle,” demonstrating an attitude close to that of the original FARC. However, its ability to do so, given stalled recruitment and the losses of key leaders, is in serious doubt.
The last two years have been bitterly difficult for the ex-FARC mafia, coming under prolonged pressure from Colombian and Venezuelan authorities, as well as engaging in clashes with each other and the ELN. At least six high-profile leaders have fallen since May 2021, including legendary figures from before demobilizations and prominent commanders who had risen to the fore in recent years.
The dissident elements that make up the ex-FARC mafia operate more like a federation, in which different leaders coordinate actions according to their economic and commercial interests, rather than working as a hierarchical organization.
A clear example of this organization model is how the 1st and 7th Fronts, under the leadership of Iván Mordisco and Gentil Duarte, respectively, operated. Prior to Duarte’s death, he and Mordisco were in charge of their respective fronts, but maintain an alliance so as to control territory and the drug trafficking routes to Venezuela and Brazil that pass through the departments of Guaviare, Vaupés and Guainía.
Géner García Molina, alias Jhon 40, was another important FARC dissident leader. Thanks to his control of drug trafficking routes in southeastern Colombia and border crossings into Venezuela, he controls the Acacio Medina Front, a dissident faction in the Venezuelan Amazon and the Colombian department of Guainía. While his loyalties have often been uncertain, he most recently was aligned with the Second Marquetalia.
In the same way, the Second Marquetalia seems to function more as an alliance than as leaders and subordinates, as each dissident front contributes an important dimension to the group. Márquez offers the group continuity, having previously been the second in command of the FARC. However, the deaths of Santrich, El Paisa, and Romaña, along with Márquez’s suspected death and confirmed health problems, have cost the group not only experienced commanders, but also ideological weight.
While the ex-FARC Mafia structures do not exercise complete control of the territories where they operate, at present, their presence is registered in the Colombian departments of Amazonas, Casanare, Córdoba, Arauca, Nariño, Putumayo, Cauca, Valle del Cauca, Antioquia, Meta, Caquetá, Guaviare, Tolima, Huila, and Guainía.
These departments are the scene of a wide portfolio of criminal activities, like coca crops, illegal mining, and drug trafficking, as well as an export point for drugs destined for international markets, among them the border areas with Venezuela, Brazil and Ecuador.
Venezuela has also become a crucial destination for certain ex-FARC Mafia groups. Structures like the Acacio Medina Front, led by Jhon 40, the 1st Front, and the 10th Front, maintain a presence in the states of Amazonas, Apure, Bolívar, Guárico, Mérida, Barinas, Táchira and Zulia, which allow them to control key areas for drug trafficking, extortion, illegal mining and contraband smuggling,
Allies and Enemies
As a result of the multiple groups that make up the ex-FARC mafia, it is difficult to precisely chart which groups are allies and enemies, as these vary widely and depend on the areas in which they operate.
Ex-FARC mafia groups have readily created alliances with other criminal groups if this allows them to maintain strategic control of key areas and criminal economies. These alliances can be diverse and often compete with each other as ex-FARC mafia groups have at different times allied with the ELN, the Urabeños, and the Caparros.
In the same vein, disputes that have occurred among ex-FARC mafia groups have also revolved around the need to preserve or expand their control of Colombia’s strategic locations.
In other cases, disputes between dissident factions have plunged the country into violence. In Nariño, various ex-FARC groups are disputing control of coca crops and drug trafficking routes towards the Pacific. Along the border with Venezuela, the 10th Front has been attacked by Venezuelan armed forces – who allegedly acted to advance the interests of the Second Marquetalia – in a military campaign that generated the displacement of thousands of people to Colombia.
Additionally, in January 2022, dissidents of the 10th Front in Arauca and Apure, Venezuela, started a violent war against the ELN for territorial control.
The ex-FARC mafia represent one of the main security risks in Colombia, due to its rapid growth, its control of strategic areas around the country, and its ability to strike at the civilian population, armed forces, and other criminal groups.
However, the main characteristic of the ex-FARC is that it does not exist as a homogenous group, it is a collection of different groups with different characteristics, interests and perspectives.
For example, the Oliver Sinisterra Front (FOS), at one point the most violent of ex-FARC dissident groups in Nariño, had weakened so much by early 2020 that it split into smaller groups that are currently fighting each other. Meanwhile, other groups, like the Border Command in Putumayo and the Jaime Martínez and Dagoberto Ramos Mobile Columns in Cauca, have quickly gained strength.
Considering this, it is projected that all of these ex-FARC groups will end up falling into three important segments, but without forming a unified structure.
The first segment, and probably the largest, would be led by Iván Mordisco. This group exists as a criminal federation, where each group fills out specific objections or carries out operations of interest but ultimately remains relatively independent.
Although the presence of this segment could be felt in different departments, its criminal strongholds would be Guaviare, Meta, Caquetá, Amazonas, Guainía and Vichada, where the 1st, 7th, and 16th Fronts control cocaine trafficking.
The second segment would be the Second Marquetalia led by Iván Márquez. Despite the fact that he carries the FARC’s political and ideological banner, his group has struggled to make a real difference.
While they have gained the support of some already established dissident groups, the ex-FARC fronts attached to the Second Marquetalia appear, in general, to have little capacity to act, despite having a presence in key areas such as Norte de Santander, Bolívar, Cauca and Nariño.
The most notable exception would be the Border Command, who are in conflict with the Carolina Ramirez First Front, allied with Iván Mordisco, for control of Putumayo.
Finally, a group of independent ex-FARC mafia groups looms on the horizon. These structures would not fall under the umbrella of larger organizations and instead seek to consolidate their individual criminal strength.
This is true for groups like the Oliver Sinisterra Front in Nariño, which is directly involved in drug trafficking in its areas of control and with no apparent intentions to enter a larger structure.
It is likely that this growth will result in clashes between the different ex-FARC elements.
Meanwhile, Venezuela will also play a crucial role, as its political and economic crisis provide freedom of movement for the groups, ample streams of criminal income, and a market that is dollarized in practice, which facilitates money laundering and arms trafficking.