The death of Walter Arízala, alias “Guacho”, head of the Oliver Sinisterra Front of FARC dissidents, dealt a hard blow to the rebels, and proved the strong hand of the Colombian state when it comes to battling those individuals who did not accept the peace process.
Although one of the most bloodthirsty FARC dissidents has now been neutralized, analysts and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) warn that the violence will continue and that the vacuum left by Guacho will soon be filled.
The Tumaco region, in Colombia’s southwestern Narino state, is the second largest port in the Colombian Pacific. Colombia now has the dubious distinction of being the largest coca grower in the world, with 19,000 hectares under cultivation, according to the latest UN report. This has made the FARC’s dissidence territorial control in the area of key importance, and Guacho was a powerful player in the region.
A recent report published by the Institute of Studies for Development and Peace (Indepaz) indicates that at least 7,750 people are linked to organized crime in Colombia, participating in armed groups.
Despite the best efforts of the Colombian government, and state security forces, the armed dissidence appears to be gaining momentum.
The paramilitary groups are composed of 3,000 people; the dissidence of the FARC is estimated at 2,500 members; while the Marxist ELN guerrilla group has 2,000 men; and the EPL, or Popular Liberation Army, also known as “Los Pelusos”, has about 250 members.
The Indepaz organization points out that the study’s estimates are subject to fluctuations within the context of the conflict itself, but it shows the continuity of the violence perpetrated by these groups, which operate and earn via illicit income derived from black market commodities.
The violence seen after the signing of peace agreement only intensified the actions of these illegal forces and called into question their true ideological character. The demobilization of the FARC showed that until the last moment they still clung to an ideological facade, a situation that has now changed with the remaining groups that are part of the conflict.
“The armed groups have been transformed,” explains the study. And they add that they are commanded by “middle managers and young people who, for the most part, do not act under any political conviction or ideals, a condition that has exacerbated the forms of violence in the territories.”
Among the figures most likely to inherit the criminal legacy of Guacho is Carlos Arturo Landázuri Cortés, alias “Comandante Gringo”, a 24-year-old individual who is the head of his own dissident group.
The Colombian conflict, with the decimation of the FARC as an armed guerrilla movement, is now facing new criminal elements eager to assume control of the production and sale of drugs. Among them, are transnational drug cartels that make non-aggression pacts with armed groups to carry out this type of criminal transactions.
Guacho, 27 years old and of Ecuadorian origin, was a leader of the Daniel Aldana Mobile Column of the FARC and later led the dissidence of the Oliver Sinisterra Front, sowing terror on the border between Colombia and Ecuador. In addition, he was responsible for the kidnapping and murder of two journalists and a driver for the Ecuadorian newspaper El Comercio. He was also responsible for the kidnapping and death of a young Ecuadorian couple.
“Guacho was not that powerful”
According to Kyle Johnson, an analyst with the Crisis Group organization, Guacho was not as powerful as the media and government made him out to be. Despite his recent death, he contends that the violence will continue as is, or even get worse.
“The problem is not Guacho, it’s the conditions of Tumaco. It is more effective in the long term to improve those conditions. His death legitimizes Duque’s security policy (independent of the quality of that policy, which is lacking), and also the new military leadership. General Mejía, for example, could not kill Guacho, despite numerous attempts.”
He added that the existence of organized violence in a territory, requires certain political, social, economic conditions and people who know how to take advantage of them.
“With the death of Guacho, the idea that killing high-value targets is the most important thing is even more reinforced, because we are all contributing to that vision by speaking (more) about Guacho now that he is dead, and because killing these people continues to generate political capital,” he concluded.