The 1st Front dissidence is the most important of the criminal groups comprised of ex-members of the now demobilized Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC).
The dissident group formed in July 2016, when the First Front distanced itself from the FARC peace negotiations in Cuba. Currently estimated to have 400 members, the dissident group is led by ex-FARC commanders Néstor Gregorio Fernández, alias “Iván Mordisco,” Miguel Botache Santillana, alias “Gentil Duarte,” and Géner García Molina, alias “John 40.” The group’s activities are concentrated in Guaviare, Vaupés, Meta and Vichada, where it controls drug trafficking routes established in the jungle in Guaviare reaching the borders with Brazil and Venezuela. The dissidence has focused on achieving control over criminal revenues, especially those from drug trafficking, but its relationship with local communities has also become increasingly important.
Since peace negotiations began between the FARC and the Colombian Government in Cuba, there was talk that the 1st Front, also known as the “Armando Ríos” Front, might attempt to distance itself from the peace process. This was because the “Mother Front” had begun to show a lack of discipline, linked to the economic and military strength derived from its control over strategic drug trafficking routes and forced recruitment in Guaviare, Guainía and Vaupés.
In July 2016, the 1st Front informed negotiating parties in Havana, Cuba, that it would not demobilize along with the rest of the guerrilla group. From the negotiating table, the FARC leadership minimized the declaration, dismissing it as the actions of merely a few discontented members of the unit. The FARC Secretariat even ordered Gentil Duarte, a member of the FARC’s top leadership with more than 30 years of experience in the organization, to take command of the 1st Front and reestablish discipline. Instead, Gentil Duarte formed an alliance with Iván Mordisco, reinforcing the dissidence that, at the time, was made up of approximately 150 men.
After the Peace Agreement was signed, the FARC confirmed that the majority of the 1st Front were in fact dissident and that, while Iván Mordisco commanded the 1st Front dissidence, Gentil Duarte played an important role within its structure.
In April 2017, the dissidence formalized its criminal desertion with a public letter expressing “dissatisfaction,” “rejecting” the FARC Secretariat’s “betrayal,” and inviting “all combatants that refuse peace” to join its ranks. Nine dissident fronts, one mobile column and seven urban militias signed the letter.
Since then, the 1st Front dissidence has consolidated its status as the most important criminal actor in southern Colombia. The front has a presence in three departments and alliances with various illegal organizations. The group is so important that the national government ordered the bombing of its infrastructure in March 2017. Its growing strength has become the main security challenge in the region. At the same time, the group is attempting to show local communities it still upholds the guerrilla ideology. In its last communique, the group claimed to embody the “guerrilla fight” and professed itself the “true FARC,” labeling those who had signed the November 2016 peace agreement with the government as traitors, and promising the “rearmament and organization” of the guerrilla structure.
Since 2016, the dissidence has engaged in criminal activities with the aim of consolidating its power in the departments of Meta, Guaviare and Vaupés. The most common of these criminal activities have included harassing and attacking security forces with explosives, engaging in forced recruitment, and extorting and threatening the civilian population.
The dissidence controls the cultivation of coca in three of the municipalities of Guaviare: San José del Guaviare, Calamar and Miraflores. It also controls the laboratories where the coca paste is transformed into cocaine hydrochloride, and manages the two international cocaine trafficking routes. Finally, the group oversees some of the extortion of businesses and farmers in the department.
The 1st Front dissidence is comprised of at least 400 members, and has a horizontal leadership structure including Miguel Botache Santillana, alias “Gentil Duarte”; Néstor Gregorio Fernández, alias “Iván Mordisco”; Géner García Molina, alias “John 40”; Luis Alfonso Lizcano Gualdron, alias “Euclides Mora”; and Miguel Díaz Sanmarín, alias “Julian Chollo.”
Although the dissidence is highly mobile, its main operational base is in the village of Barranquillita in Miraflores.
Allies and Enemies
The 1st Front dissidence is the main organization within an alliance of FARC dissidents. The other dissident fronts with which it is allied are the 7th, 14th, 16th 17th, 27th, 40th, 42nd, 43rd and 44th Fronts. In Guaviare, this dissidence has established an alliance with the Urabeños, which handles minor criminal revenues such as those derived from the extortion of businesses and the purchase of cocaine paste.
The dissidence’s principle areas of influence are in Guaviare, Vaupés, Meta and Guainía. In Guaviare, the group has a presence in the municipalities of Calamar, Miraflores and El Retorno. In Vapués, it is concentrated in Cararurú and the municipalities that border Brazil, Pocoa and Taraira. In Meta, dissidents reportedly have a presence in Macarena, Vistahermosa, Uribe and Puerto Rico, while in Guainía dissidents are concentrated in Mapiripana, Morichan Nuevo and Pana Pana on the border with Brazil.
The 1st Front dissidence represents the new dynamic of criminal groups in the country: organizations that seek to control criminal economies and territories, and are willing to ally with different kinds of groups to achieve their aims. Moreover, these groups rarely confront the armed forces and the civilian population, and they use state weakness and corruption to hide their actions.
Accordingly, this dissidence can be expected to set the criminal agenda in the south of the country as it strengthens its control over coca cultivation and cocaine trafficking. The 1st Front dissidence will likely continue its transformation into an organization that increasingly resembles a drug trafficking organization, losing the political features it once possessed as part of the FARC. Furthermore, the group can be expected to strengthen its power base by reinforcing its alliances with other dissident groups in Meta and Caquetá.
InSight Crime field research. July 2017.
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