Once a guerrilla stronghold, the southern Colombia coca-growing department of Putumayo is experiencing a new outbreak of violence among warring ex-FARC factions.
A pair of brutal slayings in early February in which six people were killed has raised alarm in Putumayo's Puerto Leguízamo, a municipality that borders Ecuador, according to Colombia-based non-governmental organization Institute of Development and Peace Studies (Instituto de Estudios para el Desarrollo y la Paz – Indepaz).
The killings began on February 2, when three people were massacred in an armed attack. Their bodies were burned and showed signs of torture, Indepaz reported. Three days later, another attack left three brothers dead, according to Indepaz.
Military officials blamed the spate of violence on incursions by dissident groups of the now-extinct Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia - FARC), Blu Radio reported.
The killings also came after Colombia's Ombudsman's Office put out a January 25 alert on clashes in the region between two ex-FARC cells aligned with different dissident groups: the Carolina Ramírez First Front and the Border Command. According to Indepaz, the First Front is aligned with ex-FARC commanders Néstor Gregorio Vera, alias “Iván Mordisco,” and Miguel Botache Santillana, alias “Gentil Duarte.”
The Border Command is aligned with the Second Marquetalia, the dissident faction led by ex-FARC commander Luciano Marín Arango, alias "Iván Márquez." Formerly known as the Mafia, the group is a reconstitution of the FARC's former 48th Front that also includes the Constru, a drug trafficking group.
The February killings follow other clashes between the two groups in Putumayo. On January 28, residents of the town of Piñuña Blanco, in the municipality of Puerto Asís, were forced to flee after a conflict broke out between Carolina Ramírez and the Border Command, according to a report between Inter-Ecclesiastical Commission of Justice and Peace (Comisión Intereclesial de Justicia y Paz) The clashes left three dead. Additionally, seven members of the Indigenous community of Buenavista, in the municipality of Puerto Leguízamo, were killed in an armed attack on December 25.
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While the war between the two ex-FARC groups has focused on the Venezuela-Colombia border, Putumayo has become another battleground in the conflict between the dissident factions of Gentil Duarte and Iván Márquez. Much of the expansion of the dissident force of Duarte and Mordisco has focused on southwestern Colombia, including the Putumayo department, whereas the Second Marquetalia has attempted to establish control over the northern part of the country.
However, since 2020, the Border Command has paved the way for the Second Marquetalia in Putumayo, thanks to their presence in the municipalities of Puerto Asís, San Miguel and Valle del Guamuez, which sit in the southwestern Putumayo river basin.
Putumayo is a crucial battleground for the ex-FARC Mafia groups for a simple reason.
According to the latest report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s (UNODC) Integrated Illicit Crop Monitoring System (SIMCI), 22,041 hectares of coca are planted in the Putumayo-Caquetá region, the fourth highest in the country. Additionally, Puerto Asís is among five municipalities in Colombia that are home to 33 percent of the country's total coca crops.
The dissident groups are not only interested in Putumayo's coca crops but also drug trafficking routes through southern Colombia, Admiral Harry Ernesto Reyna, commander of the Southern Naval Force, told Cambio.
Colombia's Putumayo is adjacent to Ecuador's Sucumbíos, a border province key for trafficking activities. The lawless province has also been the site of spillover violence from conflict between the two ex-FARC factions.