The Central General Staff (Estado Mayor Central – EMC) is the governing body of a group of factions within the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) that chose not to participate in the peace agreement signed in 2016 between the FARC and the Colombian government. These are known as the ex-FARC mafia, although not all of its structures obey the EMC.
The EMC holds significant military power and controls various criminal economies, particularly those related to drug trafficking. They have expanded their influence throughout Colombia, covering the central, southern, eastern, and western regions, and have a presence in Venezuela and other countries.
The EMC has become weaker in recent years due to clashes with other criminal groups and security forces in Colombia and Venezuela. For now, the group has decided to follow the Total Peace plans proposed by the current President of Colombia, Gustavo Petro. Although a bilateral ceasefire agreement has ended attacks by the Colombian armed forces, the EMC remains in conflict with other criminal organizations.
The EMC originated during the peace negotiations in Havana, Cuba, between the Colombian government and the FARC in 2016. The First Front declared in a statement it would continue to operate. The leader of the First Front at that time was Nestor Gregorio Vera Fernandez, alias “Iván Mordisco,” who had at least 400 members under his command.
To restore order, Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri, alias Timochenko, who was the negotiator for the FARC in the peace agreements, and other commanders, decided to send Miguel Botache Santillana, alias “Gentil Duarte,” a guerrilla fighter with over 30 years of experience and strong political leadership, to Colombia to reestablish discipline in the First Front.
However, Gentil Duarte betrayed the Peace Accords after Mordisco proposed that he join the dissidence and continue their criminal activities. Duarte abandoned the peace process with $1.35 million and several members of the Seventh Front who joined Mordisco’s structure.
Therefore, the top leadership of the FARC expelled Duarte from the guerrilla group due to his refusal to comply with their rules and actions that went against the goals of the peace talks.
In hiding, Mordisco and Duarte sent representatives to various regions in Colombia to convince other commanders to join their dissident movement to control lucrative criminal economies, such as drug trafficking. Their strategy was successful. In April 2017, the faction released a statement claiming to be the continuation of the FARC, signed by nine dissident fronts, a mobile unit, and seven urban militias.
In the years following its creation, the EMC began expanding into other countries, including Venezuela. With the support of fronts with a historical presence in the country, such as the 10th Front and a portion of the 33rd Front, Duarte and Mordisco solidified themselves as some of the strongest players along the Colombia-Venezuela border.
The EMC enjoyed its power on the border until 2019 when Luciano Marín Arango, alias “Iván Marquéz,” the second-in-command of the FARC, announced the creation of the Second Marquetalia. This was another group of former FARC Mafia who proclaimed themselves as the successors of the guerrilla project.
The Second Marquetalia aimed to rebuild the FARC by incorporating various fronts from the EMC network into its structure. However, the EMC labeled these fronts traitors and quickly became enemies. The competition between the two factions of the ex-FARC Mafia was clearly visible in the Apure region of Venezuela and its border with Colombia’s Arauca.
The conflicts between the two groups and the pressure from security forces in Colombia and Venezuela ultimately led to the death of several key leaders of the EMC, including Gentil Duarte. As a result, the members of the EMC retreated to Colombia.
Despite its recent decline, the EMC continues to exist under the leadership of Ivan Mordisco. He has been acknowledged as the leader of the EMC and continues to receive support from other factions of the ex-FARC Mafia, such as the 4th, 23rd, 28th, 33rd, 36th, and 37th Fronts which have a presence in central and eastern Colombia.
Drug trafficking is one of the top criminal economies in the EMC. Its presence in Colombian regions like Norte de Santander, Arauca, Meta, Guaviare, and Putumayo grants access to key cocaine production areas and drug trafficking routes that reach Central America and Brazil.
Finally, the EMC profits from the extortion of merchants, farmers, and migrants who cross the Colombian-Venezuelan border through informal passages or routes.
Iván Mordisco is the leader of the EMC. Until 2016, he commanded the First Front of the FARC, and today, thanks to his more than 20 years of experience within the FARC, he is considered one of the leading criminal actors in southern Colombia.
The potential successor to Mordisco is Alexander Díaz Mendoza, alias “Calarcá.” He was a former commander of the 40th Front and has decades of experience in the guerrilla group. Currently, Calarcá is involved in drug trafficking and leads dissident forces in Meta, Caquetá, and Putumayo. At the end of 2022, he met with Danilo Rueda, the government’s High Commissioner for Peace under Gustavo Petro, to discuss the Total Peace proposal.
Other important leaders include Iván Jacobo Arredondo, alias “Marlon Vázquez,” the commander of the Coordinating Command of the West (Comando Coordinador de Occidente – CCO), who controls ten structures in western Colombia; Javier Alonso Velosa, alias “Jhon Mechas,” the commander of the 33rd Front located in North Santander; and Omar Pardo Galeano, alias “Antonio Medina,” the leader of both the 28th Front and Tenth Front.
Allies and Enemies
The main rival of the EMC is the National Liberation Army (El Ejército de Liberación Nacional – ELN), the only remaining guerrilla group in Colombia. Although the EMC has reached agreements with the ELN, these pacts are unstable. The ELN has clashed with the Tenth Front in Arauca and Apure and the 33rd Front in Norte de Santander, Colombia. They also dispute control of criminal economies and territories with the CCO.
Another enemy of the EMC is the Second Marquetalia and its allied dissident structures. In Putumayo, located in southern Colombia, the EMC-supported Carolina Ramirez Front has clashed with the Bolivarian Border Commandos (CBF) for control of one of the country’s most significant drug trafficking enclaves.
Dissident groups loyal to the EMC are present in Colombia’s southern, eastern, and western regions. The main areas where this dissidence is based are in the departments of Guaviare, Meta, Caquetá, Vaupés, and Guainía. This group has extended its reach to Amazonas on the border with Brazil and Peru, Putumayo on the border with Ecuador, Casanare, Arauca, and Norte de Santander on the border with Venezuela.
It also has a presence in the departments of Cauca, Valle del Cauca, and Nariño, in the west of the country on the Pacific coast.
The EMC has expanded its territorial influence into Venezuela by establishing a presence in the Colombian departments that share a border with the country. However, following disputes with the ELN, it is uncertain whether they still have control over territories in Apure and Zulia, Venezuelan states bordering the Colombina department of Norte de Santander.
The network responsible for managing the EMC became the primary organization of the ex-FARC Mafia in Colombia due to their swift growth, territorial dominance, and violent tactics, which also posed a security risk for Venezuela. Nevertheless, the EMC’s strength has waned after the passing of some of its leaders and the loss of control over their criminal activities and territories.
The EMC has entered into a bilateral ceasefire agreement with Gustavo Petro’s government as part of the Total Peace proposal. This decision is a relief for the dissident group, who have not engaged in conflicts with the Colombian Armed Forces since the ceasefire.
It is unclear what the EMC intends to achieve through the Total Peace proposal. Given their history with the 2016 Peace Accords, it is possible that some members of the network may not want to give up their weapons and remain hidden.