The recent arrest of an ex-FARC criminal boss who controlled swathes of drug trafficking territory points to a key scenario in Colombia’s new criminal era: former members of the guerrilla army will likely become one of the dominant players in the transnational cocaine trade.
Jefferson Chávez Toro, alias “Cachi” was one of the most wanted men in Colombia. He was also a former rebel with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC), among possibly thousands of those who chose not to demobilize last year as part of a historic peace process with the government.
Authorities arrested Cachi on March 13 in the city of Pereira. He is accused of being the second-in-command of Los de Guacho, a group of criminalized former FARC members that operates in Nariño department and is named after its leader Walter Arizala, alias “Guacho.”
Attorney General Néstor Humberto Martínez claimed that Guacho’s group is 300-strong, and is “at the service of [Mexico’s] Sinaloa Cartel.”
Police and Defense Ministry press releases state that Cachi was the group’s finance chief and was in charge of drug trafficking and social control, and was just as important to the organization as Guacho himself. El Tiempo reported that local communities accused Cachi of forcing them into violent protests against security force eradicators.
Specifically, Cachi ran the production and sale of cocaine in Colombia’s cocaine capital, Tumaco, and all along the remote Ecuadoran border, where he had his own laboratories. From there, the drugs were sent to Central America and the United States, according to the Defense Ministry and El Tiempo.
Cachi’s turf therefore sits on one of Colombia’s densest coca production hubs, with access to two key departure points: the Pacific Ocean and Ecuador. It is also traversed by a vital supply line for cocaine produced in Nariño: the Transandino Oil Pipeline (Oleoducto Transandino - OTA), from which illegal groups steal millions of gallons of oil a year, much of which is used to make cocaine.
InSight Crime Analysis
What we are learning about Guacho’s organization offers three main takeaways.
Firstly, it supports the theory that the FARC dissidents are poised to become Colombia’s next big drug trafficking network. As detailed in a new InSight Crime investigation, the new “ex-FARC mafia” have the military savvy and cocaine trade experience to run their own transnational rings. Cachi’s transnational operation in this highly strategic corner of Colombia is illustrative of what we have labeled the “FARCRIM,” and of the reach these new organizations already have.
Helping them are Mexico’s cartels, which have been expanding their role within Colombia. During InSight Crime field research in Nariño last year, we were told of Mexicans’ involvement in the drug trade, buying the services of local groups. This system appears to have grown in sophistication, with Guacho’s group recruiting Mexican agricultural engineers to increase the productivity of local coca fields, according to reports citing the attorney general.
Yet a direct link between the Mexicans and ex-FARC members in Nariño is not too surprising. Before demobilizing, the main FARC unit in Tumaco (the Daniel Aldana Front, from which Guacho dissented) was an alleged drug trafficking partner of the Sinaloans.
Lastly, the rise of criminal ex-FARC groups like Guacho’s threaten the success of the peace deal that they distanced themselves from. According to authorities, the group has impeded the coca crop substitution process from advancing in the area, an initiative created by the peace deal that aims to lift coca farmers out of poverty with legal crop options. And they have been successful recruiters – Guacho’s organization is now reportedly six times larger than when Guacho dissented in 2016.
The very existence of these groups undermines the FARC’s rebirth as a political party, and is a bad antecedent for another, crucial peace negotiation: that of the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional – ELN), which resumed this week after some severe stumbling blocks.