HomeNewsIs Colombia’s Military Deployment Playing into FARC Dissidents’ Hands?
NEWS

Is Colombia’s Military Deployment Playing into FARC Dissidents’ Hands?

COLOMBIA / 29 JUL 2021 BY CHRIS DALBY AND SANTIAGO RODRÍGUEZ EN

Colombia is sending thousands of troops to a border region with Venezuela, where two high-profile attacks were recently carried out by a FARC dissident cell. Still, the ultimate consequences of this deployment remain to be seen.

On July 24, Colombia announced that 14,000 troops would be deployed to Norte de Santander, a northern department bordering Venezuela, to dismantle the 33rd Front and capture its leader, Javier Alonso Veloza García, alias “Jhon Mechas” or "Jhon Milicias."

The 33rd Front is part of a fragmented network of groups formerly belonging to the now-demobilized Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia - FARC), known as the ex-FARC Mafia. It has taken responsibility for two notable attacks against Colombian authorities in recent months.

On June 15, a van carrying 30 kilograms of explosives blew up inside the headquarters of the Colombian Army's 30th Brigade in Cúcuta, the capital of Norte de Santander. The attack injured 34 soldiers and two civilians.

On June 25, shots were fired at a helicopter carrying Colombia's President Iván Duque and several ministers when it tried to land in Cúcuta. The helicopter was hit several times, but no one was harmed.

SEE ALSO: ELN Car Bomb in Bogotá Takes Fight to Colombia's Cities

Colombia's attorney general, Francisco Barbosa, blamed the attacks on the 33rd Front, who promptly admitted to it in a video of their own.

This led the government to order the deployment of the 14,000 troops and to announce a reward of 600 million Colombian pesos ($150,000) for the 33rd Front's leader, Javier Alonso Veloza García, alias “Jhon Mechas” or "Jhon Milicias."

InSight Crime Analysis

This military deployment places the 33rd Front as a new security priority in Colombia. But despite two high-profile attacks, this group does not appear to be a national threat, raising questions as to whether the size of the response is justified.

First, the 33rd Front did not act in a vacuum. While the 33rd Front was a known element among dissident FARC groups, these two attacks marked a significant escalation in its status among Colombia’s criminal threats. The group has long supported attempts by seasoned FARC commander Miguel Botache Santillana, alias "Gentil Duarte," to reunite fragmented fronts into a single fighting force. According to Colombian military intelligence cited by El Tiempo, its leader, John Mechas, joined the FARC in 1996 and worked his way up to command the 33rd Front in 2016.

As aforementioned, the 33rd Front is part of a coalition of former FARC groups led by Duarte. In May 2020, the 33rd Front released a video publicly recognizing Duarte’s leadership. According to army intelligence sources, while the 33rd Front is believed to number around 200 men, Duarte may have up to 3,000 men under his control in Colombia and Venezuela. And while authorities have repeatedly tried to capture Duarte, he remains at large.

According to investigators within an international organization present in Norte de Santander, who requested to stay anonymous for security reasons, the 33rd Front has acted directly under orders from Duarte in the past. On several occasions, John Mechas and the 33rd Front have fought off and killed members of the Segunda Marquetalia, a rival faction of FARC dissidents, InSight Crime learned.  

There is no information indicating whether Duarte personally ordered either the attack on the presidential helicopter or on the 30th Brigade.

SEE ALSO: Chronicle of a Threat Foretold: the ex-FARC Mafia

Second, the 33rd Front has an easy getaway route into Venezuela. Open hostility between Bogotá and Caracas has allowed numerous Colombian criminal groups to use Venezuela as a refuge. The 33rd Front has been known to operate out of the state of Zulia inside Venezuela.

In 2021, clashes between former FARC groups and Venezuelan forces have escalated drastically. But Mechas and the 33rd Front could still go to ground where Colombian troops cannot enter. President Duque did not help matters on July 26 by asking the United States to list Venezuela as a state sponsor of terrorism for sheltering former FARC guerrillas.

Third, there is legitimate concern about what this deployment can truly achieve. While the new force will reinforce existing police and military missions in Norte de Santander, it has clearly set its sights on the 33rd Front. But identifying the whereabouts of John Mechas and his troops in a region rife with criminal threats and with a hard border the Colombian Army cannot cross will prove difficult.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

COLOMBIA / 3 OCT 2022

Colombian guerrillas evolved from seeing Venezuela as a safe place to retreat to seeing it as a full-blown expansion of…

AUC / 27 OCT 2021

New documents in the case against accused paramilitary drug lord Guillermo León Acevedo, alias “Memo Fantasma,” reveal that former top…

ARGENTINA / 5 JUL 2022

Why did drug trafficking enjoy such a boom during the COVID-19 pandemic…

About InSight Crime

WORK WITH US

Open Position: Full Stack WordPress Developer

28 NOV 2022

As Full Stack WordPress Developer You Will: Work collaboratively with other developers and designers to maintain and improve organizational standards.Demonstrate a high level of attention to detail, and implement best…

THE ORGANIZATION

Join Us This #GivingTuesday in Exposing Organized Crime

24 NOV 2022

For over twelve years, InSight Crime has contributed to the global dialogue on organized crime and corruption. Our work has provided policymakers, analysts, academics, journalists, and the general public with…

THE ORGANIZATION

Like Crime, Our Coverage Knows No Borders

18 NOV 2022

The nature of global organized crime means that while InSight Crime focuses on Latin America, we also follow criminal dynamics worldwide. InSight Crime investigator Alessandro Ford covers the connections between Latin American and European…

THE ORGANIZATION

Using Data to Expose Crime

11 NOV 2022

Co-director Jeremy McDermott made a virtual presentation at a conference hosted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The ‘Sixth International Conference on Governance, Crime, and Justice…

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime ON AIR

4 NOV 2022

InSight Crime Co-director Steven Dudley was interviewed for the podcast The Rosenberg Case: A Tale of Murder, Corruption, and Conspiracy in Guatemala, which explores the potential involvement of then president, Álvaro Colom,…