The murder of a high-level commander of Colombia's Gaitanistas at the hands of his own group reveals discord within the criminal organization as it prepares to negotiate with the Colombian government as part of the "Total Peace" strategy.
Wilmer Antonio Giraldo Quiroz, alias "Siopas," a prominent member of the Gaitanist Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia – AGC), also known as the Urabeños, was found dead on March 1 in the municipality of Dabeiba, in the western part of the state of Antioquia, according to police. His corpse was left on a main road, dumped from a vehicle.
Colombian authorities had been seeking confirmation of Siopas's death since mid-February after intercepting communications between his family in which they said that his whereabouts were unknown, multiple media outlets reported.
Siopas was reportedly killed after being summoned to a meeting in the Chocó jungle by Gaitanistas leader Jobanis de Jesús Ávila Villadiego, alias "Chiquito Malo."
Siopas was reportedly intending to split from the Gaitanistas to form an independent criminal group in northern Antioquia, a department in northwestern Colombia. The breakaway would take place as the Gaitanistas and Colombia’s government move toward dialogue as part of "Total Peace" (Paz Total), an initiative for the disarmament of many of Colombia's armed groups.
Siopas is not the only high-profile member of the Gaitanistas who appears to have paid a price for going against the group recently. On February 28, the body of Omar Noguera Camacho, alias "Boyaco," was found in the town of Galeras in the northern state of Sucre. Boyaco, a leader, who oversaw the Gaitanistas' finances, was reportedly killed for supporting Siopas' plan.
InSight Crime Analysis
The assassinations of dissenting Gaitanistas' leaders send a clear message that the group will be united in the negotiations with the government and whoever is not on board will face consequences.
The rivalries between Siopas and Chiquito Malo came as no surprise. Since October 2021, after the arrest and extradition to the United States of former Gaitanistas’ leader Dairo Antonio Úsuga, alias “Otoniel," both men have competed for power, General Jorge Luis Vargas, director of Colombia's national police, told newspaper El Espectador.
These fractures appear to have intensified once the group expressed its willingness to enter peace talks with the Colombian government. Siopas was the only member of the Gaitanistas’ leadership not included as a spokesman for the group in talks with the government.
Siopas' dissent was a direct threat to the Gaitanistas' interests, who have sought to appear united ahead of the peace talks.
"What we see is an armed organization that is trying to align its leadership around the eventual process of submission to justice, to avoid actions that contradict or cast doubt on its willingness to submit or negotiate," Luis Fernando Trejos, a professor at Colombia's Universidad del Norte, told InSight Crime.
"The death of 'Siopas' is not a message to the government or to the communities, it is a message to those who sympathize with his ideas," Trejos added.