While the death of Iván Márquez, arguably the most well-known former FARC commander, has yet to be confirmed, his killing would mark a major turning point in Colombia’s security panorama.
On July 2, Colombia President Iván Duque told reporters that intelligence services were investigating the possible death of Luciano Marín Arango, alias "Iván Márquez," in Venezuela. Colombian media had been reporting claims of his killing when Duque made his statement.
Outlets have reported different details about the circumstances surrounding Márquez's death, including that he was targeted by a rival group of dissident FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia - Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia) rebels, that he was killed during a firefight along the Colombian border and that Márquez's location was provided by corrupt Venezuelan soldiers. One source told El Tiempo that the information about his death may have been falsely broadcast by Venezuelan authorities to help him hide his whereabouts.
The exact location of his killing was also unclear. According to El Tiempo, citing anonymous sources in Venezuela, Márquez may have been killed in eastern Venezuela, near Guyana, and not along the Colombian border as was initially reported.
If confirmed, Márquez’s death would be a crippling blow to the ex-FARC Mafia, a term used to describe a loosely connected network of criminal groups that refused to join the 2016 demobilization of the FARC.
Having joined the guerrilla group in 1985, Márquez quickly climbed up the ranks and earned respect as both a military commander and political operator. He became the international face of the FARC and was the chief negotiator during peace talks with the Colombian government in Cuba, which started in 2012. After four years of negotiations, Márquez was a key figure in the 2016 peace deal, which called for the FARC to put down their weapons and transition into a legal political entity.
He was offered a seat as a senator in Colombia’s congress in 2018, but he turned it down. His rejection came after his comrade and fellow former FARC commander, Seuxis Pausias Hernández Solarte, alias "Jesús Santrich," was arrested on drug trafficking charges.
For Márquez, Santrich's arrest showed that the peace process was a sham, and he accused the government of not complying with essential aspects of the deal. In July 2018, he moved to a camp for demobilized FARC in the southwest department of Caquetá, from which he then disappeared.
In May 2019, he released a message on Twitter lamenting the entire process. And in August 2019, he appeared in a video surrounded by former senior FARC rebels, stating that the government had “betrayed…the peace accords” and that his group would “continue its guerrilla warfare.”
He called this new force the Second Marquetalia (Segunda Marquetalia), which he claimed to be the successors of the FARC guerrillas. During the announcement, Marquez surrounded himself with several former guerilla commanders, including Santrich, Hernán Darío Velásquez, alias “El Paisa,” and Henry Castellanos Garzón, alias “Romaña.”
The Second Marquetalia, however, found itself among several criminal groups that had filled the vacuum left by the FARC's demobilization. It carved out a profitable niche along the Colombia-Venezuela border, controlling drug trafficking and other criminal economies in Arauca, Colombia and Apure, Venezuela. But it never seemed to have the financial clout and manpower to consistently take on larger ex-FARC Mafia groups or the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional - ELN).
And while Venezuela at first seemed a refuge for the Second Marquetalia to avoid Colombian army raids, this quickly changed. By mid-2022, all four of the Second Marquetalia’s top commanders were reportedly killed there.
Iván Márquez’s death has both symbolic and practical consequences. Márquez was the chief negotiator for the FARC in the successful peace process before turning his back on it. His death would mean that his return to both a political and criminal fight has now ended in failure.
InSight Crime Analysis
The death of Iván Márquez would have several major impacts on the ex-FARC Mafia and other criminal groups in Colombia and Venezuela.
Firstly, the Second Marquetalia's political aspirations would be little more than a sham. Márquez and Santrich were both savvy negotiators, having done so with the government and other guerrillas. With their passing, no major criminal group in Colombia has real political ambitions left, preferring to maximize criminal profits instead.
Secondly, it is unlikely that Márquez's alleged successor, José Vicente Lesmes, alias "Walter Mendoza," a military commander by experience, will have any chance at reuniting the disparate ex-FARC cells into a fighting force. Mendoza's area of expertise lies along the Colombian Pacific Coast, and it is difficult to imagine him continuing Márquez's legacy.
Márquez's death also leaves the Second Marquetalia without any of the main commanders who were at its formation. El Paisa, Romaña and Santrich have all been killed.
Thirdly, a weakened Second Marquetalia means it could be taken over by another group. In its heartland of Norte de Santander and Apure, the ELN is in a position to do so. The first in command of the ELN’s Central Command (COCE), Gustavo Aníbal Giraldo, alias “Pablito,” may well be interested in incorporating the remnants of the Second Marquetalia, in an effort to further solidify his group’s influence in this lucrative border territory.