A former Panama policeman has become a commander in the FARC's 57th Front, demonstrating the Colombian guerrillas' established presence across the Central American border and practice of recruiting foreigners into their ranks.
According to a Colombian Defense Ministry document accessed by El Tiempo, Jose Luis Valencia Mosquera Asprilla, alias "El Pana," has been promoted to a commander in the 57th Front of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), following the death of a former unit leader in an August military air bombardment.
This same information was relayed by Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon and Panamanian Security Minister Jose Raul Mulino when they met on September 30 to discuss border security. Mulino said: "For us, alias 'Pana' is a narco-terrorist who represents what the FARC is for Panama: another drug cartel linked to international drug trafficking," reported AFP.
According to El Tiempo, the new leader spent two years in the Panamanian police force before joining the guerrilla group in 2001. The Defense Ministry document suggests Mosquera's knowledge of military strategy and drug trafficking in the Darien Gap helped him gain promotion.
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The news provides further evidence of the 57th Front's infiltration into its Central American neighbor. Despite government claims that Panama is FARC-free, the destruction of two FARC camps in 2012 highlighted the group's presence in the Darien Gap, a dense jungle region along the border between the two countries. The recent discoveries of two coca plantations in Panama were also thought to be linked to the 57th Front, which is heavily involved in cocaine trafficking and is one of the organization's richest fronts.
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This announcement is also further evidence of the FARC's recruitment of foreigners. In 2011, the Panamanian government expressed concern over the recruitment of minors in their country by guerrillas, several months after a video emerged showing the group training minors on the Panamanian border.
The trend is not limited to Panama. A Brazilian who recently turned himself in to authorities said he was recruited by the rebel group along with at least 30 compatriots. An Ecuadorean FARC member was killed in the 2008 bombing of the camp of alias "Raul Reyes," and there have been reports of Peruvian and Venezuelan FARC members. Perhaps the most high-profile example of a foreign FARC member is Tanja Nijmeijer, a Dutch woman currently participating in peace talks in Havana.