Colombia's Defense Minister has reported that top ex-FARC commanders El Paisa and Romaña were shot dead in Venezuela, making them the latest former FARC leaders killed in the neighboring country in 2021.
Darío Velásquez, alias "El Paisa," and Henry Castellanos Garzón, alias "Romaña," died on December 5 in separate shootouts in Venezuela, according to Colombia's Defense Minister, Diego Molano, on December 8.
Both men were high-ranking commanders who demobilized with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia - FARC) in 2016 but later returned to arms three years later as part of the Second Marquetalia, a FARC dissident force led by Luciano Marín Arango, alias "Iván Márquez."
"Colombia is freed from two symbols of evil, who belonged to the FARC, alias El Paisa and alias Romaña," said Molano, adding in an interview that an isolated Iván Márquez would have to surrender or "end up like his companions."
On December 6, the first reports of El Paisa's death came from unnamed sources described by Colombian media outlets as high-ranking military and intelligence sources in Colombia and Venezuela, according to a BBC Mundo roundup reporting on the claims of his death.
SEE ALSO: Profile of Hernán Darío Velásquez Saldarriaga, alias 'El Paisa'
Colombian news outlet Caracol then published a few details about the killing. According to Caracol, El Paisa was shot dead in an ambush by the 10th Front, another FARC dissident faction that has been fighting the Second Marquetalia in Apure.
Then, on December 7, further reports from Colombian media revealed that Romaña had also been killed in Venezuela.
According to Semana, "it is believed this was a settling of scores between drug traffickers who put together a plan to eliminate the former commanders of the FARC who are part" of the Second Marquetalia.
InSight Crime Analysis
The killing of El Paisa and Romaña is an absolutely crippling blow to the Second Marquetalia, whose commanders announced the formation of the dissident group more than two years ago with a new call to arms.
Their deaths come several months after the killing of Seuxis Pausias Hernández Solarte, alias "Jesús Santrich," another former FARC commander who formed the core of the Second Marquetalia. Santrich was also killed in Venezuela.
The Second Marquetalia has found itself up against a separate FARC dissident group in Venezuela's border area – a region critical for drug smuggling. That group is the 10th Front, part of a FARC dissident force led by Miguel Botache Santillana, alias "Gentil Duarte."
The 10th Front has shown immense strength in Apure, staving off attacks from criminal rivals and Venezuelan state forces. This battle was the focus of a recent InSight Crime investigation.
If the 10th Front was responsible for El Paisa and Romaña's deaths, it underscores that the Second Marquetalia has failed in one of its primary goals: uniting the disparate dissident factions that InSight Crime has come to label the ex-FARC Mafia.
SEE ALSO: Profile of Second Marquetalia
El Paisa was a legendary figure in the FARC, joining the guerrilla force at the age of 19 after coming under the tutelage of Pablo Escobar's Medellín Cartel.
He was imprisoned in 1989 after being caught in an operation brokering a deal to trade cocaine for thousands of rifles and mortars. Later, he commanded the FARC's first "mobile column," a group of elite armed fighters who protected the guerrilla leadership.
El Paisa was behind some of the most violent and infamous actions taken by the FARC during the conflict, including the murder of Diego Turbay Cote and his family in 2000, the notorious takeover of the Miraflores building in 2001, and the hijacking of a commercial aircraft carrying political opponent Jorge Gechem. This was followed by the car bombing of Club El Nogal in Bogotá in 2003 and the kidnapping of 12 deputies from Valle del Cauca in 2007.
He went on to head the FARC's Teófilo Forero Column, a special forces unit that inflicted such damage that the Colombian government created a unit to combat him and his fighters. El Paisa also played a leading role in the group's drug trafficking activities, protecting coca crops and providing security for drug shipments.
Though he expressed reservations about the peace process, he eventually participated, joining the group's delegation in Havana in 2016. Two years later, he fled a reintegration camp and wasn't seen again until the announcement of the Second Marquetalia in 2019.
Romaña had a similar reputation, having been mentored by Jorge Briceño, alias' Mono Jojoy," once the FARC's second-in-command.
In the 1990s, he led the FARC's 53rd Front, which operated in between the capital, Bogotá, and Villavicencio to the southeast. As the leader of this group, Romaña allegedly ordered the murders of police officers and soldiers. He also had three foreign tourists executed on suspicion of espionage in 1999, which saw the United States demand his extradition.
He also developed the practice of kidnapping victims seemingly at random and holding them to ransom, a criminal economy so lucrative for the FARC that it became known as "pesca milagrosa" (miraculous fishing).
In 2014, he joined the FARC's delegation to Cuba to engage in peace talks with the Colombian government. After the 2016 peace agreement, Romaña was assigned to oversee demobilization efforts in the southern municipality of Tumaco.
However, by 2019, he had vanished until he resurfaced in August of that year, alongside many old comrades to declare a return to arms and the foundation of the Second Marquetalia.
These killings would isolate top commander "Iván Márquez" as the only old-guard commander left in the Second Marquetalia, severely weakening any chances the group has to establish itself as the true heir of the FARC.
*This article has been updated on December 9 as confirmation was received of the deaths of El Paisa and Romaña .