FARC Guerrillas Face Severe Setback After Two Leadership Cadres Killed in Separate Incidents
In early December 2021, news from Colombia made international headlines that the leading cadre, alias 'El Paisa' of the communist guerrilla FARC Segunda Marquetalia had fallen. Then, two days later, the headlines spilled over when local media announced that another commander, alias 'Romaña', was also killed.
Former participants in the peace treaty announced the rearmament of the FARC in 2019 and with it the Segunda Marquetalia. Coverage was dominated by reports that it was a group centered around top commanders Iván Márquez, El Paisa, Romaña, and Jesús Santrich. Of these four names, only Iván Márquez is still alive today.
The deaths of the two top commanders raise many questions. How can it be that no one wants to be responsible for the deaths of two of the most influential FARC guerrilleros, El Paisa and Romaña? Why is the Segunda Marquetalia silent about the death of its cadre leaders?
Life and death of El Paisa and Romaña
El Paisa and Romaña were senior commanders with lengthy resumes as FARC guerrilleros. They joined the guerrillas at a young age and gained experience in the armed struggle over several decades. The commanders made it to the highest levels of FARC leadership, took on considerable levels of responsibility, and led several guerrilla fronts under their command. During the peace process, El Paisa and Romaña were also part of the delegation. Their organization sent them to Havana, Cuba, to participate in the negotiations between the FARC and the Colombian state. However, in 2016, along with many other central leadership members, they abandoned the already-signed peace treaty to clandestinely organize the new armed FARC Segunda Marquetalia after feeling betrayed by the state.
On December 6, local media published the first reports that El Paisa was allegedly killed in Venezuela near the border of Apure State. The following day, on December 7, new reports made headlines that another cadre leader, Romaña, had been killed. But, again, factual information about the events surrounding his death was missing. Romaña died in Apure as well, close to his comrade El Paisa.
The lack of clarity about what exactly occurred has often been misused for headlines and exploited by the politicized media, such as Colombia's largest daily newspaper and pro-state press "El Tiempo." For example, El Tiempo spread the unsubstantiated claim that the comrades of El Paisa killed him. Another report praised the state and the president in high terms for an alleged operation against the guerrilla commandos. Adding to the noise, there is also conflicting reporting on exactly how the alleged ambushes took place
Militant Wire Investigation
For the conditions of anonymity, we spoke with an insider. Through the investigation, a picture emerges of the developments leading to the deaths of the two commanders.
Our insider claims the organization behind the attack is revalidating the FARC faction under the command of Gentil Duarte, to be precise, the 10th front. This was also reported in the Colombian radio network "Caracol Radio". Our insider continued by telling us the following: the attackers cooperated with Venezuelan paramilitaries and bounty hunters, armed men shot Romaña during a raid on his guerrilla camp, El Paisa died in an ambush near the border, and the two FARC commanders had three billion-peso (about $885,000) bounties on them. Furthermore, he stressed that the Colombian state had no connection to the operation this time.
Our source added a detail that was not previously reported: it is claimed that members of the communications team were also killed during the attack. The communications team usually manages the group’s social media accounts and press channels. However, the killing of these media specialists does not fully explain the unusual silence of the Segunda Marquetalia regarding their fallen commanders. On December 14, the Segunda Marquetalia shared new communiques on their social media and official website, which proves that they still have access to these platforms. They did not mention the dead commanders. On Facebook, statements have been posted by some fronts, such as the front in Cauca, asking for patience until an official document is published. The Segunda Marquetalia is therefore likely to comment.
As a result of the peace process, the FARC split into two separate armed structures that are enemies, the Segunda Marquetalia and the Western Coordination Command, led by Gentil Duarte.
For more background on the different FARC factions, read our analysis "FARC Returns to the Battlefield: At War in the Aftermath of the Failed Peace Deal" here:
If the source is correct, then it is quite significant that a rival FARC fraction is the party responsible for the deaths of at least two most-wanted Segunda Marquetalia cadres, and not the Colombian state itself.
In this scenario, it would seem that El Paisa and Romaña became targets of their rivals, which are also their former comrades, for participating in the peace process with the state in 2016.
There have been fierce cross-border clashes in the Apure State border region between the two FARC factions and the Venezuelan military in the past month. The area was historically considered a retreat for irregular armed groups, but it has become a war zone.
Is this the end of the Segunda Marquetalia?
With the two commanders El Paisa and Romaña killed and Jesús Santrich killed earlier, the supreme commander Iván Márquez is left with only a few confidants. Although the Segunda Marquetalia can probably replace the positions of their fallen commanders, the personalities and charisma of Santrich, El Paisa, and Romaña are eliminated. The Segunda Marquetalia's political and military clout and its project of building an insurgent movement are thus likely to have been immensely weakened. However, this is far from the end of the organization.
The Segunda Marquetalia's first communique included about 20 other party members around Ivan Marquez. The guerrillas have several military and political fronts throughout the country, a clandestine communist party, and new alliances with other major communist guerrilla organizations including the ELN and the smaller EPL. The Segunda Marquetalia project is far from having reached the end of its tether. Nevertheless, the loss of three cadre leaders is a challenge that the guerrillas will have to overcome in the future.