The ex-FARC mafia's 18th Front has announced that it will stand in alliance with the new guerrilla movement led by commander Iván Márquez, making it the first cell to unite behind the longtime leader and his efforts to reestablish the former FARC.
Leaders with the 18th Front Román Ruíz dissidents of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia - FARC), said in a video published by the newspaper El Colombiano that they will recognize Luciano Marín Arango, alias “Iván Márquez,” as their new leader, about a month after he declared his return to war. The 18th front is positioned in the western part of Colombia.
In the video, a woman known as alias “La Reina," says that the front will follow the directives of the new dissident force formed by Márquez, Seuxis Pausias Hernández, alias “Jesús Santrich” and Hernán Darío Vélez, alias “El Paisa.”
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In the statement, the 18th Front's leaders rail against the peace accords signed in 2016 between the government and the FARC, calling members of the FARC’s political party traitors for not sticking to the “true ideals of the guerrilla organization.”
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The support of the 18th Front for Iván Márquez’s dissident group provides him an ally in a western part of the country and could portend advancements in the reunification of the guerrilla force.
In the past year, 18th Front leader, Erlison Chavarría, alias “Ramiro,” has sought to reach out to rural communities and promote the ideology of class struggle, activities championed by Márquez and reminiscent of the former FARC guerrilla movement.
The 18th Front's recognition of Márquez, El Paisa and Santrich as its new leaders is an initial sign of the power and legitimacy that these former FARC commanders still hold. And the front's commitment to the new guerrilla force could serve as an example to other ex-FARC mafia cells openly declaring their alliance with the former guerrilla leaders.
The 18th Front is positioned in the in northwestern Antioquia and southern Cordoba departments. This region offers Marquez and his dissident force, which is concentrating its operations in eastern Colombia along the border with Venezuela, an ally on the other side of the country.
Known as the Nudo de Paramillo, or Paramillo Massif, the region has a high concentration of illicit crops in municipalities like Tarazá and Valdivia, and it is essential to the movement of cocaine to the Colombian Pacific.
The strength Ramiro has obtained in this region over the last year is also advantageous for Márquez. At the beginning of 2018, Ramiro worked under the orders of Ricardo Abel Ayala, alias “Cabuyo,” the leader of the 36th Front of FARC dissidents that also operate in this area.
Within the 36th Front, Ramiro was second in command and controlled the towns of Tarazá, Valdivia, Briceño and Ituango in the department of Antioquia, where he guarded illicit crops and supervised various drug trafficking routes, according to information from the Army’s Fourth Brigade.
Ramiro, however, went on to create the 18th Front, a splinter force. Now with at least 120 men within its ranks, the 18th Front has managed to assume control of the towns of Tierralta, Puerto Libertador and San José de Uré in the departments of Antioquia and Córdoba. Other irregular armed actors are also present in the region, including the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional - ELN) and the Urabeños drug trafficking syndicate.
in April of 2018, a video was made public in which Ramiro speaks to the residents of Ituango, saying that he was part of a "new generation" of the FARC and that the "paramilitary phenomenon" in Colombia had forced him to take up arms again.