In August 2019, four former top commanders of the demobilized FARC guerrillas returned to arms in Colombia, forming a powerful new armed group that aimed to reunite dissident fighters around the country. More than two years on, the Second Marquetalia's leaders have been decimated and it faces enemies on all sides. Can it hold on much longer?
In a 32-minute video, Luciano Marin, alias "Iván Márquez," announced the formation of the Second Marquetalia, saying that the government had “betrayed…the peace accords” signed in 2016 with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia - FARC), then Colombia's largest rebel group.
The former second-in-command of the FARC, Márquez was flanked by legendary guerrilla commanders, including Hernán Darío Velásquez, better known as "El Paisa," Seuxis Pausías Hernández, alias "Jesús Santrich," and Henry Castellanos Garzón, alias “Romaña.” All of them lent credibility to the message that the new group would represent the true legacy of the FARC.
The name also harkened to the group's past. Marquetalia is a rural area in the Colombian department of Tolima where the FARC was formed in 1964.
By 2021, however, the group was already failing to live up to this promise. While it had a solid presence in both Colombia and Venezuela, it had not gained the allegiance of many of the disparate FARC dissident groups, which InSight Crime refers to as the ex-FARC Mafia.
Then, in quick succession, three of its top four commanders were killed. Jesús Santrich was gunned down in Venezuela in May while El Paisa and Romaña were killed in two separate attacks on December 5, also in Venezuela.
The deaths have likely severely weakened the Second Marquetalia, leaving its remaining commander with few options. InSight Crime considers various possibilities for the group.
SEE ALSO: Profile of Second Marquetalia
Vendetta to Kill Former FARC Commanders
There are many versions circulating regarding the deaths of the Segunda Marquetalia leaders.
In the case of Jesús Santrich, CNN reported that the group confirmed he had died during an attack by Colombian forces inside Venezuela. However, Colombian media reports have indicated that mercenaries or FARC dissidents not aligned with Márquez may have been responsible.
An investigation by InSight Crime chronicled how the Venezuelan government and the Second Marquetalia had repeatedly tried to expel dissidents from the 10th Front, another ex-FARC Mafia group, from Apure for the past year. With the 10th Front loyal to Miguel Botache Santillana, alias "Gentil Duarte," a major rival to the Second Marquetalia, it is highly possible Santrich's death was related to this dispute.
Versions also vary regarding the deaths of El Paisa and Romaña. The director of the National Police, General Jorge Luis Vargas, told El Tiempo, that El Paisa may have been betrayed by his own comrades after disputes over the group’s criminal earning.
As for Romaña’s death, the involvement of the 10th Front has again been heavily suspected.
InSight Crime learned from a FARC dissident source who preferred to remain anonymous for security reasons that the 10th Front might have been getting intelligence on the Second Marquetalia from an unlikely place. The source mentioned that a Colombian army colonel who had allegedly been “kidnapped” in April may have been collaborating with the 10th Front, providing them with military intelligence that contributed to successful operations against the Second Marquetalia. Colombian news outlet, La FM, reported a similar story about Colombian police and army personnel allegedly participating in Romaña’s death. On December 19, a few short weeks after El Paisa and Romaña were killed, the colonel was released by FARC dissidents.
Can Segunda Marquetalia Recover From These Losses?
While any talk about the end of the Second Marquetalia may be premature, the deaths of Romaña, El Paisa and Jesús Santrich must surely put to rest any hopes the group had of uniting the ex-FARC Mafia.
Much of the Second Marquetalia's credibility came from the seasoned commanders within its ranks, who represented the FARC's former ideological and political ideals, as well as its years of armed struggle.
While a few dissident fronts pledged their allegiance to Marquez in 2019, most continued to belong to the dissident force that Gentil Duarte has been creating since before the peace accords were even signed.
Without these leaders, it is unlikely the Second Marquetalia can consolidate its control over the territories, criminal economies and alliances left behind by the demobilized FARC.
And its leader, Iván Márquez, has few cards left to play.
Iván Márquez Fears for His Life
After the deaths of El Paisa and Romaña were revealed, questions arose about Márquez's whereabouts, as it became clear that he could be targeted next.
El Colombiano cited sources on the Colombian and Venezuelan sides of the border that said that the Segunda Marquetalia commander is looking to save his life by negotiating away money and cocaine in Venezuela.
Other media outlets claimed that he had fled to Cuba and was now looking to reach Nicaragua, generating diplomatic tensions between the Colombian government and its Cuban counterpart. Days later, the director of the Colombian police, General Jorge Luis Vargas, said Márquez was still in Venezuela, though he did not denying that Márquez was looking to flee elsewhere.
What is certain is that Venezuela is no longer the safe haven it had once been for the Colombian guerrillas, and the Second Marquetalia may have already lost its main center of operations there with the recent killings of its commanders.
Meanwhile, Márquez remains a target, including for the US government, which has offered a $10 million dollar reward for his capture.