For the last three months, Colombia believed that Iván Mordisco, one of the foremost leaders of the ex-FARC mafia, had been killed in a military operation. But the revelation that he is alive raises questions about his influence on Colombia's "Total Peace" plan.
Néstor Gregorio Vera Fernández, alias “Iván Mordisco,” reappeared during an interview with Colombian media Caracol Radio on October 14, in which he said he was interested in negotiating with President Gustavo Petro's government as part of the Total Peace plan. He had previously been confirmed dead by Colombia's then-Defense Minister Diego Molano on July 15.
As the leader of the 1st and 7th Fronts, two of the largest factions of the ex-FARC mafia, a loosely connected network of armed groups who refused to join the demobilization of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia - FARC), Mordisco's support would be a major boon for Petro.
"The approach of President Petro is consistent with some of our plans ... as long as the government meets the expectations of society, there will be a greater commitment on our part," stated the guerrilla leader.
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Such statements, however, run contrary to Mordisco's past stances.
He was a radical opponent of the 2016 peace deal between the FARC and the Colombian government and was the first senior commander to abandon the peace talks.
In his recent interview, Mordisco criticized the existing peace deal, stating that "the signed peace [deal] is the peace of death, of dispossession, of hunger, of repression." But he added that "if there is a serious agreement, if the socio-economic problems of the marginalized and impoverished classes are solved, [then] there will be no need for weapons."
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Mordisco's reappearance presents a serious challenge to Petro's plans for Total Peace by forcing the government to deal with one of their most stalwart opponents.
Had Mordisco truly been killed, this may have placed extra pressure on ex-FARC mafia members to seek a negotiated settlement. But now, as one of the only former FARC commanders left standing, Mordisco's influence over whether armed groups under his control participate in negotiations has likely grown.
Mordisco may also see this as a chance to bolster his own credentials. The task of reuniting the disparate ex-FARC mafia factions did not originally fall to him but to one of his closest allies, Miguel Botache Santillana, alias "Gentil Duarte," who like many of Mordisco's former brothers-in-arms, was recently killed.
Mordisco may also struggle to get preferential treatment under the Total Peace plan, specifically because he always refused to negotiate, according to Colombian senator, Ariel Ávila, in a recent interview with Caracol Radio.
The terms under which Mordisco and his men might be willing to negotiate remain to be seen. "There is not going to be a peace negotiation with seats [referring to how seats in Colombia's Congress were allocated to the FARC as part of their demobilization] or a national agenda, but neither is there going to be a simple compliance with justice,” said Ávila.
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Other ex-FARC mafia leaders are in a similar bind, particularly Luciano Marín Arango, alias “Iván Márquez,” the former second-in-command of the FARC and current leader of the Second Marquetalia faction. Unlike Mordisco, Márquez was a prominent member of the FARC negotiating team and was offered a position as senator.
In 2018, he abandoned the peace process, declaring that the government's commitments had not been met after one of his closest allies was arrested on drug trafficking charges. A year later, Márquez created the Second Marquetalia and declared the group to be the heirs to the FARC.
He has also had a rough time of late. Most of his fellow commanders are dead. The Second Marquetalia has failed to rally its troops. And much like Mordisco, Márquez was also reported as having been killed in July in Venezuela before this was later debunked.
Negotiating with the Second Marquetalia might represent a higher political cost for Petro's government than sitting down with Mordisco, since Márquez signed the FARC peace agreement before later returning to war, according to Colombia's Conflict Responses Foundation (Fundación Conflict Responses - CORE).