An attack on a police station in the municipality of Santander de Quilichao, located in the northern part of Colombia’s Cauca department, is the latest event in a series of violent attacks by FARC dissidents against local authorities in the region.
On the night of November 22, a number of gas cylinders were launched at a police station in Santander de Quilichao from a truck. The resulting explosion took the lives of three officers and left ten injured, including several civilians.
Authorities have attributed the attack to the dissident 6th Front of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia - FARC), part of the Ex-FARC mafia. The 6th Front, self-proclaimed as the Dagoberto Ramos Mobile Column, maintains a strong presence in northern Cauca.
A security council meeting chaired by the Minister of Defense, Carlos Holmes Trujillo, was held in the municipality in response to the attack.
As of the date of publication, five individuals have been arrested in relation to the attack, among them Gerson Antonio Pérez Delgado, alias “Caín.”
According to the branch director of the District Attorney’s Office in Cauca, Raúl González Flechas, Caín “acts as a contractor...(for the) Dagoberto Ramos Mobile Column in this jurisdiction for issues related to drug trafficking, arms trafficking and homicides."
InSight Crime Analysis
The Dagoberto Ramos Mobile Column’s attack on the police in Santander de Quilichao evokes old FARC practices in Cauca, which is far from surprising considering the members of this dissident faction. The group is made up of dissident elements of the 6th Front, as well as the Gabriel Galvis and Jacobo Arenas Mobile Columns, which operated in northern Cauca.
Under the command of Fernando Israel Méndez Quitumbo, alias “El Indio,” this group began to expand in Cauca in early 2019. Their attempts to gain territorial control led to a confrontation with a faction of the Popular Liberation Army (Ejército Popular de Liberación-EPL) which moved in from Catatumbo. But all signs seem to indicate that the 6th Front positioned itself as a dominant player in northern Cauca over the course of 2019.
Control over the area is now divided between the Dagoberto Ramos Mobile Column and another ex-FARC mafia group, the Jaime Martínez Mobile Column, under the leadership of Leider Johani Noscue, alias “Mayimbú.” Their presence is concentrated in the municipalities of Caloto, Corinto, Santander de Quilichao, Toribío, Miranda, Páez, Jambaló and Inzá in Cauca, as well as in the departments of Huila and Tolima, which connect Cauca’s Pacific coast with central and southern parts of Colombia.
Due to its proximity to the municipalities of Miranda, Caloto and Toribío, which make up Cauca’s Golden Triangle of marijuana, Santander de Quilichao is along the route for shipments headed to the southwestern part of the country.
Battle for control of marijuana crops in the area has seen the Dagoberto Ramos Mobile Column run up against indigenous communities, which oppose the planting of illicit crops on their land.
In October, the 6th Front was blamed for the killing of four members of an indigenous security force and the governor of the Tacueyó reserve in Cauca.
Faced with the national unrest generated by both events, President Iván Duque announced that he would strengthen the military presence in the area, with 2,500 members of the army’s FUDRA 4 rapid deployment force. They will join more than 8,000 troops already present in Cauca.
The reason behind these attacks is unclear. It may be that El Indio is trying to send a defiant message to any would-be opponents as well as to authorities about the lengths his forces are prepared to go to.
But writing in the Latin America Risk Report on November 25, political risk analyst James Bosworth said that "Colombia’s illegal armed groups, especially the FARC and ELN, have a history of misreading public opinion. They may increase attacks, believing that the public’s anger justifies them."
High-profile criminal attacks such as these also risk painting a dangerous target on El Indio's back. The situation is not without similarities to that orchestrated by Walter Patricio Arizala, alias “Guacho,” former commander of the dissident Oliver Sinisterra Front was targeted and killed in December 2018 after the kidnapping and murder of the journalists from Ecuadorean newspaper, El Comercio.