The reintegration process for demobilized FARC fighters in Colombia’s Eastern Plains is under threat by ex-FARC Mafia groups looking to recruit and reassert power in territories historically under rebel control.
On October 16, Juan de Jesús Monroy Ayala, a demobilized member of the now-defunct Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia - FARC), was shot dead in La Uribe, a municipality in the Meta department. Known to the FARC as Albeiro Suárez, he worked with demobilized fighters on several projects intended to support the reintegration process locally. His bodyguard, a demobilized fighter as well, was also killed.
In the years, months and even days before his murder, Suárez warned Colombia's Special Jurisdiction for Peace (Jurisdicción Especial para la Paz - JEP) that the security situation faced by demobilized guerrilla combatants in Meta was deteriorating due to the presence of criminal groups in the region.
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Albeiro Suárez had sounded the alarm about disputes over territorial control and criminal economies between two factions of ex-FARC Mafia, criminal groups composed of ex-FARC fighters who are not part of the peace process. One group, which calls itself the Segunda Marquetalia, is helmed by former commander Luciano Marín Arango, alias "Iván Márquez," who returned to armed conflict in August 2018. The other is the 40th Front, which is aligned with ex-FARC groups led by former commander Miguel Botache Santillana, alias “Gentil Duarte,” who never demobilized after the 2016 peace agreement with the government.
Ten demobilized FARC fighters have been killed in Meta this year. Five of the slayings occurred in La Uribe, the municipality where Albeiro Suárez and his bodyguard were gunned down, according to figures from the Institute of Studies for Development and Peace (Instituto de Estudios para el Desarrollo y la Paz - Indepaz).
Only two demobilized fighters were killed in La Uribe in all of 2019, according to figures presented by the political party now called the FARC. The increase can be explained, in part, by the presence of the ex-FARC Mafia in the area. Although there are no reports of direct clashes between the two groups, it is clear that both are grappling for territorial control.
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Demobilized fighters in Meta are caught between a rock and a hard place: exhorted by their former comrades to return to armed conflict while also under constant threat from them if they resist.
Offers to return may vary depending on the person’s rank. In Meta last year, Márquez and his men were offering a “two to three million pesos base salary and 20 percent of what they would earn, according to region, as a mid-ranking commander,” La Silla Vacía reported.
Reintegration process leaders who oppose such recruitment efforts by the ex-FARC become targets. In 2019, Alexander Parra was murdered in a reintegration camp, known as a Territorial Training and Reincorporation Space (Espacio Territorial de Capacitación y Reincorporación - ETCR) in Mesetas, also in Meta.
The reintegration project led by Albeiro Suárez and the demobilized fighters who have settled in the La Julia village community has come under threat.
The region is of historical importance to the FARC, as the former headquarters for the FARC Secretariat and where longtime spiritual and military commander, Pedro Antonio Marín, alias “Manuel Marulanda," left ranches and other properties in the hands of straw men. It was also where the Colombian army killed Víctor Julio Suárez Rojas, alias “Mono Jojoy" in 2010.
Today, those lands are in dispute. According to a list handed over to the Attorney General’s Office by the FARC political party in 2017, several properties later became targets for the ex-FARC Mafia.
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The Ombudsman’s Office has issued warnings about land claimants being displaced in the La Uribe region since 2018. That same year, before announcing his return to arms alongside Márquez, Henry Castellanos Garzón, alias “Romaña,” had been accused of threatening and displacing residents of the La Ativa community, also in La Uribe.
According to JEP records, Romaña “met with rural farmers in La Ativa, in order to inform them that he had returned to the area for his lands" -- lands he'd previously given up as a part of the peace process.