FARC dissidents massacred a group of indigenous guards protecting a reserve in Colombia's southwestern department of Cauca, adding to the killings of indigenous and community leaders who are increasingly coming into conflict with ex-FARC Mafia groups that control the illicit crops and trafficking routes in the region.
On October 29, the dissident Dagoberto Ramos Mobile Column, formerly of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC), attacked a group of indigenous guards protecting the reserve of Tacueyó in the municipality of Toribío, Cauca. Five people died in the assault, including the governor of Tacueyó, Cristina Bautista.
According to witnesses, the dissidents also attacked ambulances and community members who came to help the victims.
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Within 48 hours, four other people were found dead after another massacre in Corinto, Cauca. The victims were members of a team of engineers and topographers who were carrying out a survey of the area.
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.
However, several indigenous leaders have rejected Duque's plan for more boots on the ground, stating that deep structural changes are needed to reduce violence in Cauca.
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The body count is rising in Cauca as the fight for control of drug trafficking intensifies, especially as ex-FARC Mafia groups clash with indigenous communities and security forces.
Authorities say that the Dagoberto Ramos Mobile Column is responsible for the October 29 massacre. It is a break away group from the FARC's 6th Front, which long had its power base in northern Cauca prior to the 2016 peace agreement.
Currently, this column operates in the municipalities of Caloto, Corinto, Santander de Quilichao and Toribío, but also has a presence in the departments of Huila and Tolima, two strategic regions that connect Colombia's Pacific coast to the center of the country.
According to the Attorney General's Office, the Tacueyó massacre was ordered by Gerardo Ignacio Herrera, alias “Barbas,” who leads the group along with Fernando Israel Méndez Quitumbo, alias “El Indio.” Both men are among the most wanted criminals in Cauca.
Th Dagoberto Ramos column also has an alliance with Leider Johani Noscue, alias “Mayimbú," and his Jaime Martínez Mobile Column. The latter group is another offshoot of the 6th Front, operating in northern Cauca and in the south of Valle del Cauca. This partnership enables the columns to control of drug trafficking routes.
In response to increasing presence of ex-FARC mafia in the region, the indigenous guard has increasingly confronted these two dissident groups, including destroying quantities of marijuana and coca, acts that have contributed to the rising violence.
To further hinder criminal activity around their ancestral lands, indigenous communities have collaborated with security forces and prosecutors to seize drug shipments, capture members of dissident groups and restrict the cultivation of coca.
Eduar Dagua Calix, senior advisor to the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca, told Semana that collaboration with authorities happened regularly in order to track and stop illegal shipments from entering or exiting reserves.
In July, the army arrested Barbas and El Indio, the two dissident leaders, in the village of El Palo, a rural area of the municipality of Caloto. At that time, the indigenous guard claimed the dissidents had been involved in several cases of violence against their community. But it is unclear what happened following the arrests, and both men are now free.
As part of a broader strategy against coca and marijuana cultivation, the Attorney General's Office ordered in June for power to be cut to four municipalities in Cauca known to harbor drug processing laboratories and marijuana farms: Miranda, Corinto, Toribío and Caloto. The power cuts were supported by local community leaders, including mayors and indigenous governors.
The municipalities of Miranda, Corinto and Toribío are known as the “Golden Triangle” of Cauca due to the profits generated from growing a potent and coveted strain of marijuana dubbed "creepy." Control of the region also extends to the Naya River, which is used to bring drugs from Colombia's central mountain range to the Pacific coast.