Miguel Botache Santillana, better known as "Gentil Duarte," was one of Colombia's most wanted criminals and one of the main leaders among the dissident elements of the former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia - FARC).
At the end of 2016, he dissented from the peace process between the rebel group and the Colombian government. Gentil Duarte led the Eastern Joint Command (Comando Conjunto Oriental), the largest group of ex-FARC Mafia, controlling much of the drug trafficking between Colombia and Venezuela and sent on to neighboring countries and around the world.
On May 24, 2022, it was confirmed by Colombia's Defense Ministry that Gentil Duarte is believed to have been killed in early May during on an attack on his camp in the Venezuelan state of Zulia. It is believed the ELN may have been behind this strike. At the time of his death, he was Colombia's most-wanted man.
Gentil Duarte was born in Florencia, the capital of the department of Caquetá, on October 15, 1963. He first joined the FARC by way of the 14th Front, where he began a criminal career spanning more than 30 years.
Gentil Duarte quickly rose through the echelons of the Eastern Bloc, especially in the 7th Front, where he became commander. In the 2000s, the group controlled coca farming, extortion and drug trafficking operations in Meta, which turned him into a powerful guerrilla commander.
The unit was concentrated in the town of La Macarena, where it controlled many properties and large swaths of land. In fact, demobilized FARC members say Gentil Duarte used to control the entire rural zone of the municipality.
Through his power and close relationships with guerrilla icons such as alias "Alfonso Cano" and alias "Jorge Briceño," or "Mono Jojoy," Gentil Duarte became part of the Greater State of the Eastern Bloc of the FARC in 2009.
After the deaths of Jorge Briceño and Alfonso Cano in 2010 and 2011, respectively, Gentil Duarte became one of the main targets of the Colombian armed forces. In fact, in 2010, he led several Eastern Bloc operations in the south of the country, where he ordered attacks to paralyze economic activity in retaliation for military and police operations. Gentil Duarte's importance in the Eastern Bloc had an ideological component reflected in the education and training of new recruits to the 7th Front -- a political one due to the Communist training he had received since childhood and which he shared with the fronts he commanded, and an economic one given that he was one of the main drug money suppliers to the entire bloc.
In 2012, the public phase of the peace talks between the FARC and the government began in Havana, Cuba, and Gentil Duarte gained notoriety as a negotiator. He was one of the first commanders to travel to Cuba in 2012, and he actively participated in the round table discussions. In 2015 he was promoted to FARC's General Staff (Estado Mayor Central) and attended the 10th guerrilla conference in 2016, where he publicly supported the peace process and the Secretariat.
It was after this conference, which would be the last held by the FARC as an illegal group, that Gentil Duarte would become a dissident from the peace process. June 2016 would see the 1st Front, under the command of alias "Iván Mordisco," announce that it did not accept the peace agreement and would continue with the "guerrilla struggle" in the department of Guaviare. The Secretariat consequently appointed Gentil Duarte commander of the front, sending him to Guaviare to put a stop to the dissidence and keep the guerrillas under control.
After returning to Colombia from Cuba, Gentil disappeared for several months. There was even talk that he had been assassinated by dissidents in the jungles of Guaviare. What really happened is that when he arrived in the department, Iván Mordisco offered for him to join the dissenters and continue with drug trafficking operations in the south. Gentil Duarte officially left the peace process at the end of 2016, when he escaped with $1.35 million and six of his most trusted men.
After leaving the peace process, Gentil Duarte coordinated a plan to bring together the disparate guerrilla units of the ex-FARC Mafia into one fighting force. To do so, he sent offers to dissident leaders in Colombia and has dispatched some of his closest men as emissaries for his plan. He is believed to have had links with dissidents in the 33rd Front in Catatumbo, 10th, 28th, 38th, 45th and 56th Fronts in Arauca and the 1st, 16th, 27th, 47th and 53rd in Guaviare and Meta.
Gentil Duarte became the most-wanted man by Colombian authorities, with a reward of up to $1.7 million on offer to anyone who provides information that leads to his arrest.
As commander of the Joint Eastern Command, with direct control over the 1st and 7th Fronts, Gentil Duarte managed illicit crop production, extortion and coca leaf processing in Meta.
There have been indications that he commanded the FARC Eastern Bloc's offensive in 2010. When the government implemented tough military actions against them, Gentil then ordered attacks in Meta and Guaviare and measures to be taken to paralyze economic activity in the departments of Nariño and Putumayo.
He ran coca farming, cocaine processing laboratories and extortion in southern Meta and controls drug trafficking routes from the neighboring department of Guaviare to the Brazilian and Venezuelan borders. His power over these routes allowed him to strike alliances with drug cartels in Mexico and Brazil.
During the armed conflict, Gentil Duarte had a presence in the entire department of Meta with his command of the 7th Front, although his power was particularly felt in La Macarena.
His last known whereabouts were in Guaviare department thanks to the 2016 order he received from the FARC Secretariat to take over the command of the unruly 1st Front. After that, Gentil Duarte disappeared.
In 2021, Colombian authorities allegedly carried out several attacks on encampments where Duarte is believed to have been hiding in Guaviare and Caquetá. Fleeing this manhunt, he fled to Zulia in late 2021 where he likely took refuge with the 33rd Front, loyal to his Joint Eastern Command. He was killed there in an attack allegedly carried out by the ELN in May 2022.
Allies and Enemies
As a guerrilla commander, Gentil Duarte had especially close ties to Néstor Verá, alias “Iván Mordisco,” his fellow commander of the Joint Eastern Command. They were the main operators of Duarte's plan to unite FARC dissidents.
He was also close to Géner García Molina, alias “John 40," another former FARC commander who controlled drug trafficking through Amazonas in Venezuela. John 40 initially aided Duarte in his recruitment efforts but eventually switched sides to the Second Marquetalia, Duarte's bitterest rivals, in June 2021.
Another dissident Duarte is known to have ties with is alias "Nicolás" in the department of Caquetá, brother of the late "Euclides Mora," who led ex-members of the FARC on the Caquetá-Meta border. He has also been linked in the past to drug lords such as "El Loco Barrera."
Finally, Gentil Duarte is also believed to have ties to Brazilian criminal groups such as Brazil's Red Command (Comando Vermelho) and the Family of the North (Familia del Norte - FDN), with which he exchanged cocaine for weapons and munitions between Guaviare and the nearby Brazilian border. He also reportedly had ties to the Sinaloa Cartel through emissaries that were sent to Guaviare to guarantee the flow of cocaine from there to Mexico.
Gentil Duarte's long presence within the FARC, along with his ideological beliefs and his leadership ability, made him one of the most important men within the ex-FARC Mafia. With the death of alias "Rodrigo Cadete" in 2019, Duarte became one of the only leaders with the power and territorial control to bring a unification plan to fruition.
Beyond his criminal profile, Duarte focused on restoring the ideological credentials once held by the FARC-EP to create the illusion that the FARC dissidents were keeping up their guerrilla struggle. This allowed him to recruit new fighters to his ranks and further drug trafficking and illegal gold mining. Duarte and his men were believed to have been reactivating old training schools in Venezuela, specifically in the border states of Amazonas, Táchira y Apure, in order to teach Colombian and Venezuelan recruits in political ideology and combat strategy.
However, he was never able to really unite the FARC past recruiting a number of loyal fronts. That loyalty may have been based on criminal convenience instead of political loyalty. The continued manhunts launched by the Colombian authorities to capture him also hindered his unification plan and he was eventually killed in Venezuela in May 2022, reportedly by the ELN.