HomeNewsEx-FARC Mafia vs. ELN: a Fight Too Far at Colombia-Venezuela Border?
NEWS

Ex-FARC Mafia vs. ELN: a Fight Too Far at Colombia-Venezuela Border?

COLOMBIA / 11 JAN 2022 BY JUAN DIEGO POSADA EN

The dissident 10th Front of the ex-FARC Mafia has been busy. After taking on multiple enemies on Venezuelan soil, the group now appears to be taking on a far larger criminal obstacle: the ELN.

On January 7, Colombia's Attorney General's Office issued a warning that the fight between dissident forces of the now-defunct Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia - FARC) and the the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional - ELN) was expanding. In a statement, authorities warned that ex-FARC forces were moving from their stronghold in Norte de Santander to attack the ELN in Arauca, a Colombian department on the border with Venezuela.

Additionally, Colombia's attorney-general, Francisco Barbosa, warned that clashes between the 10th Front and the ELN had stretched to three border areas, Norte de Santander, Arauca and Casanare.

This expansion comes after at least 27 people were killed since the start of January in this conflict on both sides of the Venezuela-Colombia border.

The 10th Front has grown in prominence in the last two years as arguably the strongest remnant of the FARC. It has aligned itself with Miguel Botache Santillana, alias “Gentil Duarte,” who is seeking to unite the disparate ex-FARC Mafia, a network of loosely connected criminal groups which broke off from the FARC after their demobilization in 2016.

In September 2020, the 10th Front began to face off against two separate adversaries, as InSight Crime reported in a recent investigation. First, it became a spearhead against the largest rivals in the ex-FARC Mafia, the Second Marquetalia. Led by some of the most prominent former FARC commanders, the Second Marquetalia also sought to claim the legacy of the old guerrilla group and operated in both Colombia and Venezuela. Repeated clashes by the 10th Front saw the Second Marquetalia pushed back and three of its four top leaders killed on Venezuelan soil.

SEE ALSO: The Venezuelan Military: Outfought and Outmatched

At the same time, the 10th Front stood up successfully to several attacks by Venezuelan military forces. Thousands of people were displaced, at least 16 Venezuelan soldiers were killed and the 10th Front remained entrenched in the western state of Apure.

Buoyed by these victories, the 10th Front has taken the fight to the ELN. But could this be a fight too far? The ELN is another kettle of fish. While the latest news suggests other ex-FARC fronts are going to back up the 10th Front, the ELN can call on more men across more territory, it is better financed and is led in the area by a feared veteran commander, Gustavo Aníbal Giraldo, alias "Pablito."

The ELN largely controls Arauca and Apure, in Colombia and Venezuela, and had remained outside the clashes between FARC dissident groups. There is no clear reason for this fight with the 10th Front, though various versions have emerged, including top commanders being killed and quarrels linked to drug trafficking and territorial control.

InSight Crime looks at three potential consequences of this conflict:

A Risky Bet

Both the 10th Front and the ELN have cards to play here.

The 10th Front, led by Jorge Eliécer Jiménez, alias “Arturo,” has high confidence after fighting off the Second Marquetalia and the Venezuelan Army. While there have been casualties on both sides, the army eventually withdrew from Apure and the Second Marquetalia has been greatly weakened by the loss of key leaders and fighters. Meanwhile, the 10th Front does not appear to have ceded any territory. It has developed the military capacity and support networks necessary to resist incursions and may feel it can now take on the larger ELN.

The ELN has advantages, however. It maintains close ties to the Venezuelan government of President Nicolás Maduro and its fighters can easily move across the border. Its most numerous and powerful front, the Eastern War Front, commanded by Pablito, rules over most of the border crossings between Apure and Arauca. It could also call upon troops from neighboring areas to pour in to defend territory. Pablito is not one to be intimated, with a track record among the guerrillas going back decades. He allegedly ordered the January car bomb attack on a Bogotá police school that killed 23 and led to the end of peace talks between the ELN and the government.

Renewing Historic Conflict

After the FARC demobilized in 2016, several ex-FARC Mafia groups tried to take over ELN territory at the Colombia-Venezuela border. Clashes were mostly sporadic until last year. The level of violence seen in early 2022 and the expansion of the conflict to multiple departments suggest this may be a drawn-out conflict.

However, the ELN and the 10th Front have a history of conflict. From 2004 to 2010, when the FARC was still active, it is estimated 50,000 people were displaced and over 1,100 killed along the border as a result of ELN-FARC violence involving the 10th Front, according to the BBC. In 2010, the two groups agreed to a truce and divided control of lucrative criminal economies, especially cocaine trafficking and contraband.

SEE ALSO: The Battle for Apure: Chavismo and the ex-FARC

Uncertain Military Impact

On January 3, Colombian President Iván Duque announced the deployment of two army battalions in the region, saying that "intelligence and counterintelligence" efforts would be supported by drones and border surveillance.

It is not the first time that the Colombian government has taken this approach. Colombia has permanently mobilized the military in Norte de Santander, due to prior disputes among FARC dissident groups. However, the presence of security forces has not had a measurable permanent impact on criminal operations. It is uncertain whether this new deployment to counter the 10th Front-ELN conflict will lead to a different result.

Additionally, the movement of Colombian troops to the border may increase tensions between the two countries Venezuela's security forces were hit hard by the 10th Front and are known to cooperate with the ELN, giving them a clear reason to take sides in the fight. Maduro has also doubled down on blaming the Colombian government for the presence of "terrorists" inside Venezuela.

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 / 23 JUN 2014

One of Colombia's largest gold export companies is under investigation for money laundering and ties to narco-paramilitaries, shining…

COLOMBIA / 24 SEP 2013

Despite pioneering laws to combat human trafficking, Colombia is one of the countries most affected by the crime in Latin…

COLOMBIA / 8 AUG 2012

A new report describes the shifting role of an unnamed female crime boss in Medellin's fractured mafia, evidence that the…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Guatemala Social Insecurity Investigation Makes Front Page News

10 DEC 2021

InSight Crime’s latest investigation into a case of corruption within Guatemala's social security agency linked to the deaths of patients with kidney disease made waves in…

THE ORGANIZATION

Venezuela El Dorado Investigation Makes Headlines

3 DEC 2021

InSight Crime's investigation into the trafficking of illegal gold in Venezuela's Amazon region generated impact on both social media and in the press. Besides being republished and mentioned by several…

THE ORGANIZATION

Gender and Investigative Techniques Focus of Workshops

26 NOV 2021

On November 23-24, InSight Crime conducted a workshop called “How to Cover Organized Crime: Investigation Techniques and A Focus on Gender.” The session convened reporters and investigators from a dozen…

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Names Two New Board Members

19 NOV 2021

In recent weeks, InSight Crime added two new members to its board. Joy Olson is the former executive director of the Washington Office on Latin America…

THE ORGANIZATION

Senate Commission in Paraguay Cites InSight Crime

12 NOV 2021

InSight Crime’s reporting and investigations often reach the desks of diplomats, security officials and politicians. The latest example occurred in late October during a commission of Paraguay's Senate that tackled…