Security forces in Colombia have killed two top commanders of the FARC’s 6th Front, one of the guerrilla’s most militarily aggressive factions, which is heavily involved in the marijuana trade and vulnerable to criminalization if the rebels demobilize.
The front’s acting leader, Ciro Antonio Patiño, alias “El Burro” and its third-in-command and military chief,Arley Medina Prado, alias “Jaimito,” were killed in a joint operation by members of the Colombian army, police and air force on August 18, reported Semana
According to El Tiempo’s account, security forces were assisted by a member of El Burro’s own security ring, who was convinced to give exact coordinates of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) encampment in Toribio, a mountainous northern zone of the southwestern Cauca department that has long been a FARC stronghold and conflict hotspot.
The 6th Front of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia is led by Miguel Angel Pascuas Santos, alias “Sargento Pascuas,” one of the last surviving original FARC members. Sargento Pascuas joined peace negotiations in Havana, Cuba in fall 2012, leaving Patiño in charge.
The FARC’s 6th Front controls much of the area where marijuana is grown in the Cauca department, supplying it to domestic markets throughout Colombia and also exporting it abroad, mainly to Venezuela. The front has also been reported to engage in business deals with BACRIM group the Rastrojos, and is involved in illegal gold mining.
As noted in InSight Crime’s special investigation into the possibility of the FARC demobilizing, the 6th Front’s profitable criminal activities and reliance on the leadership of one man — Sargento Pascuas — mean it is particularly likely to criminalize if a successful peace agreement is reached in the ongoing talks in Cuba.
The deaths of the top two acting leaders of the 6th Front are a serious blow to the FARC, as it could significantly weaken an important unit, particularly as Sargento Pascuas sits at the negotiating table along with Jorge Torres Victoria, alias “Pablo Catatumbo,” – leader of the Joint Western Command, which maintains overall command of the front.
However, it could also increase the possibility of the front criminalizing, as the lack of a respected command structure with a tight grip on the front’s activities increases the possibility of fragmentation, with individual units taking advantage of the power vacuum to break away and pursue their own criminal profits.