Colombia's government and military have shown renewed urgency in attacking dissident FARC commander Gentil Duarte, ramping up operations against his forces and killing his allies, while adding new charges to his already thick criminal file.
On April 30, Colombian troops killed Hilahin Mahecha, alias "Jaime Chúcula," a leader in the dissident 10th Front, which broke off from the now-defunct Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia - FARC). Five other members of the group also died in the attack in the eastern department of Arauca.
According to Colombian media reports, Mahecha and his 10th Front were close allies of Miguel Botache Santanilla, alias “Gentil Duarte,” and his dissident 1st Front.
Colombian security forces have Duarte and his comrades in their sights. This year alone, InSight Crime has tracked at least eleven instances in which Gentil Duarte was named, either by Colombian authorities or in the media, in connection with captured or killed criminals in Colombia and Venezuela.
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Colombia's Attorney General’s Office also has made Duarte a top priority, issuing yet another warrant for his arrest on April 18. Prosecutors charged Duarte with crimes related to the expulsion, transfer and forced displacement of civilians.
According to an Attorney General's Office news release, the charges stem from events that occurred between 2002 and 2004 in El Retorno, a municipality in the south-central department of Guaviare. At that time, Duarte commanded the FARC's 7th Front. He and his men forced at least 60 people to flee their homes. Several residents left because they feared "being killed, disappeared, recruited, accused of supporting the authorities or another armed group, as well as of disregarding instructions from the FARC,” the Attorney General's Office said in its release.
The Attorney General’s Office has issued at least three arrest warrants for Duarte over the past two years.
In November 2021, he was accused, along with other dissident leaders, of environmental crimes in the Colombian Amazon. In March of that year, he was charged with the forced recruitment of minors.
Additionally, in 2020, he was charged with being responsible for the deaths of 14 former FARC fighters who had demobilized as part of the peace deal signed with the government in 2016 to end more than 52 years of war.
InSight Crime Analysis
Despite being targeted by numerous operations, Gentil Duarte has managed, thus far, to evade the authorities and to create the largest former FARC dissident force in the country.
Gentil Duarte’s history with the FARC goes back more than 40 years. He joined the guerrillas at the age of 14, rising up the ranks to become one of the group's most powerful commanders.
In 2016, Botache Santanilla and Néstor Gregorio Vera Fernández, alias “Iván Mordisco," then commander of the “Armando Ríos” First Front, withdrew from the peace process, founding the first FARC dissident group in the country.
Under them, the FARC dissident force expanded rapidly throughout Colombia. Dissident structures have established a presence in at least 17 departments and have penetrated Venezuela, where the "Martín Villa" 10th Front battled the Venezuelan Army in 2021.
SEE ALSO: The Evolution of the Ex-FARC Mafia
The Colombian government has made Duarte's capture a top priority, with the Army recently offering about $1 million for his arrest. Forces have come close on several occasions.
In July 2021, Colombian media outlets reported that Duarte was forced to flee after security forces found his camp in San Vicente del Caguán, Caquetá. Just months before, the government had authorized the bombing of a camp in the municipality of Calamar, Guaviare, believing that Botache Santanilla was in the area.
Despite the operations against him and the loss of key allies in several areas of Colombia, Duarte has consolidated his power in the southwestern part of the country, with his men present in Caquetá, Meta and Guaviare.
The dissident Joint Command is composed of several groups in various parts of the country and does not have the same hierarchical structure as the former FARC, providing Duarte and Mordisco more control of their drug trafficking operations.
By coordinating groups in key territorial axes for drug trafficking, Duarte and his people have access to coca crops and cocaine smuggling routes, such as those in Cauca, Putumayo, Norte de Santander and the Colombian Amazon.