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Death of Jesús Santrich Throws Wrench Into Conflict in Venezuela

COLOMBIA / 18 MAY 2021 BY VENEZUELA INVESTIGATIVE UNIT EN

The killing of a notorious Colombian dissident guerrilla leader on Venezuelan soil has the potential to destabilize underworld dynamics in both countries, fueling an already raging conflict along their shared border.

On May 18, the Segunda Marquetalia – a dissident network of former guerrillas from the demobilized Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC) – announced the death of Seuxis Pausias Hernández Solarte, alias “Jesús Santrich.”

The formal announcement came after a flurry of news reports alleging Santrich's death, first by news site El Expediente and then by Semana magazine, which stated it had confirmed the death with “high-ranking sources” in Venezuela.

Shortly afterward, Colombia Defense Minister Diego Molano wrote on Twitter that “intelligence information signals that alias Santrich and other criminals were killed in supposed confrontations that took place yesterday in Venezuela." He added that the information was "being verified."

SEE ALSO: Profile of Seuxis Pausías Hernández, alias ‘Jesús Santrich’

Reports conflicted as to how the guerrilla leader was killed. El Expediente claimed the Venezuelan Bolivarian National Guard (Guardia Bolivariana Nacional – GNB) was responsible, while Semana asserted that Santrich died in clashes between armed groups. The Segunda Marquetalia claimed that Colombian armed forces killed him in a raid, while the El Tiempo newspaper reported claims that mercenaries seeking a bounty were behind the operation.

While it's unclear who killed Santrich, his death comes amid growing tensions among various factions of dissident FARC guerrillas.

This conflict has centered around the western Venezuelan state of Apure, where the Segunda Marquetalia has been at loggerheads with the 10th Front faction of the former FARC.

In addition, the 10th Front has been battling with the Venezuelan military in Apure since March 2021, leaving an official death toll of 16 soldiers and an unknown number of guerrillas. The 10th Front has also kidnapped eight Venezuelan soldiers.

The 10th Front's leaders and their allies have accused the Segunda Marquetalia of being behind the conflict, claiming they have been coordinating the attacks against the group with corrupt Venezuelan officials. In turn, the Segunda Marquetalia has pledged never to attack Venezuelan forces and dismissed the 10th Front as “irregular Colombian forces.”

InSight Crime Analysis

Santrich’s death is a strong sign that Venezuela is no longer a safe haven for Segunda Marquetalia guerrilla leaders. The question is now whether the threat to the group comes from elements of the Venezuelan state, from Colombian forces or from underworld rivals.

Of the numerous versions of events, the least likely one has been put forward by the guerrillas themselves: Colombia dispatched commandos into Venezuelan territory to kill Santrich. This would represent a violation of sovereignty with international repercussions that the Colombian government would be unlikely to court, even amid long-running animosity between the countries.

The idea that a mercenary force launched such a dangerous expedition within Venezuelan territory to claim a bounty also seems unlikely, though given the recent history of mercenary activities in Venezuela, cannot be ruled out.

While it is possible that Venezuelan forces led the attack, this would represent a huge shift in the government’s approach toward this faction of the ex-FARC.

SEE ALSO: Profile of Segunda Marquetalia

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has been publicly supportive of Santrich and Luciano Marín Arango, alias "Iván Márquez," who formed the Segunda Marquetalia in August 2019 after abandoning the peace process with the Colombian government. A month before the announcement, Maduro directly welcomed Santrich and Márquez to Venezuela. Since then, the group’s leadership has been based in that country, where it has been able to operate freely.

If Venezuelan security forces did kill Santrich, this either means that Maduro is no longer willing to protect the Segunda Marquetalia or that security forces were not responding to orders from the national government.

The most feasible scenario is that Santrich was killed by criminal rivals, most likely connected to the ex-FARC 10th Front and their allies.

While the conflict in Apure has mostly been between the 10th Front and the Venezuelan armed forces, local media reports claim that there have recently been clashes between the Segunda Marquetalia and the 10th Front in the municipality of Muñoz in Apure.

Furthermore, the most powerful ex-FARC faction, the dissident network led by Miguel Botache Santillana, alias "Gentil Duarte," has publically sided with the 10th Front in the conflict, while making it clear that he blames the Segunda Marquetalia for the violence in Apure.

Both Duarte and the Segunda Marquetalia have sought to bring together various dissident FARC factions in Colombia and Venezuela into a united fighting force, resulting in a growing rivalry between the two sides.

If the 10th Front or Duarte’s network had a role in killing Santrich, the powderkeg of tensions between this dissident FARC faction and the Segunda Marquetalia could explode into open conflict, with potentially severe repercussions in Venezuela and parts of Colombia.

Either way, the Segunda Marquetalia's perceived impunity in Venezuela has been shattered.

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