The death of FARC dissident leader “Rodrigo Cadete” in a recent Colombia military operation has dealt a severe blow to a group of FARC dissidents who wish to unite the former militants that have abandoned the peace process.
On February 2, Colombian President Iván Duque announced that Edgar Mesías Salgado Aragón, alias “Rodrigo Cadete,” died in an operation carried out by security forces against dissident members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC).
The operation took place in a rural area within the municipality of San Vicente del Caguán, a town located between the Camuya and Yarí rivers in the Amazonian department of Caquetá in the south of Colombia.
The loss of Cadete is a setback for “Gentil Duarte," who is leading the movement to unite the dissident FARC members.
“Cadete was regrouping former FARC militants to set up a new movement, and that is where we were able to neutralize them. Cadete declared himself a dissident of the FARC (in September 2017)," said Defense Minister Guillermo Botero.
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Before deserting the peace process in 2017, Cadete and 170 other men operated in the hamlet of La Fila, in Tolima department’s Icononzo municipality. He later joined the dissident movement that Miguel Botache Santillana, alias "Gentil Duarte", was establishing after escaping with a group of armed men during a trip between El Paujil and Cartagena del Chairá.
With Cadete’s death, Colombian security forces have dealt their second major blow to the FARC dissidence in the span of just a month and a half, after neutralizing Walter Arizala, alias “Guacho”, in December 2018. Guacho led the Oliver Sinisterra Front in Colombia’s southern department of Nariño, on the Pacific coast.
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The significance of the loss of Cadete, especially to the portion of the FARC dissidents led by Gentil Duarte, lies in the direct impact it will undoubtedly have on Duarte's project to link together several dissident guerrilla structures in Colombia.
It is suspected that Duarte is planning to restore the FARC guerrilla presence to its pre-peace process levels throughout the country. Cadete’s mission was to unite dissidents in the southern departments of Caquetá and Putumayo.
Duarte assigned experienced, high-level leaders to the task of setting his unification plan into motion. Among his most well-known appointees alongside Cadete was Géner García Molina, alias “Jhon 40,” who operates in the Venezuela-Colombia border region in the country’s northeast.
Cadete spent 39 years with the guerrilla movement, climbing the FARC’s ranks until becoming commander of the 27th Front Isaías Pardo Leal in the Eastern Bloc, which was once the guerrilla group’s strongest military branch.
A source from Colombia's Ombudsman’s Office told InSight Crime that Cadete’s arrival in Caquetá did more than strengthen the region’s dissident movement. It was also fundamental in efforts to secure the Caquetá and Caguán rivers, a key area for trafficking weapons and drugs between Colombia and Brazil.
In Putumayo department, Cadete was sent as an emissary for Gentil Duarte to secure an alliance with Pedro Oberman Goyes Cortés, alias “Sinaloa,” who commands the 48th Front. Sinaloa rejected the proposal to form an alliance, stymying Duarte and Cadete’s efforts at unification in the south.
During Cadete's decades with the FARC, he also developed extensive knowledge of the drug trafficking trade. Before his death in 2010, top FARC military commander Victor Julio Suarez Rojas, alias “Mono Jojoy,” appointed him as the guerrilla group’s intermediary with Brazilian drug trafficking structures and placed him in charge of drug trafficking routes between the Colombian departments of Vichada and Guaviare after the 2007 death of Tomás Medina Caracas, alias "Negro Acacio," former head of the 16th Front.
Cadete’s death robs Gentil Duarte’s dissidents not only of a potential negotiator with regional drug traffickers but also a crucial piece in their project to unite the fractured dissident guerrilla movement into one powerful criminal network stretching across Colombia and even beyond. With the numbers of high-ranking dissidents with both criminal and military experience dwindling, replacing Cadete will be no easy task.
Reports about his replacement point to alias "Cachorro", Cadete's second-in-command. Cachorro was first reported as having been killed in the same attack on Feb. 2 but military intelligence sources have since confirmed he remains alive, according to BluRadio.
*This article was written with assistance from InSight Crime’s Colombian Organized Crime Observatory.