Colombian President Iván Duque scored a major victory recently when the Colombian military killed Mesías Salgado Aragón, alias “Rodrigo Cadete”, a key leader of FARC dissidents who refused to participate in the peace process, and are continuing their armed struggle against the government. As Duque pointed out, this dissident leader of the FARC took refuge in Venezuela and has used the friendly government of Maduro as a base to expand the organization’s criminal activities in the southeastern states of Meta, Guaviare, Caquetá, and Putumayo.
According to the Colombian leader, “Cadete” was a target of high military value and represented a threat to national security, whose activities were aided and abetted by the Communist dictatorship of Nicolas Maduro.
“This result is vital for national security because for more than a year, alias ‘Rodrigo Cadete’ had been creating organized criminal structures that were being supported by some elements close to the dictatorship of Venezuela,” he said.
Venezuela’s interim president Juan Guaidó confirmed that the FARC dissidence had presence in that country with the approval of the authorities.
Cadete, who was followed by an intelligence team of the military forces from the border to his refuge in the region of Caquetá, was trekking through the jungle with the aim of advancing and expanding territorial control and the management of illicit income streams.
General Luis Fernando Navarro, general commander of the Armed Forces, issues a report on the military operation: “There are 26 neutralized bandits, 15 were killed during the operation, 7 were captured, and 4 children were recovered. In addition, we recovered documents that will help us understand what the ambitions of these groups are, and how to better articulate our strategy and our operations,” he said.
In the wake of the operation, the military is continuing a search for alias “Cachorro”, lieutenant of Cadete, who is presumed to have escaped the battle, and retreated into the jungle.
Military pressure against FARC dissidence
Although the FARC dissidence does not have a hierarchical command or a secretariat, the intention of these organizations to unify and become more powerful has become clear.
The strength and accuracy of the military’s blow against Cadete in Caquetá is likely to make other dissident leaders like Néstor Gregorio Vera Fernández, alias “Iván Mordisco”, and Miguel Botache Santillana, alias “Gentil Duarte” pursue new strategies in Colombia’s expansive southeastern jungles, as they seek to avoid military escalation, and ensure the control of strategic corridors, cocaine production laboratories, and both land and river transportation routes.
Cadete was 52 years old, and allegedly spend 39 of those years linked to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. He was instrumental in rounding up the bulk of the FARC dissidence that did not accept the peace agreement signed with the government of Juan Manuel Santos in November 2016.
Cadete originally accepted the agreement, but a year later he defected. He took refuge in the thick jungle, abandoning the security scheme granted by the National Protection Unit (UNP) that accompanied him.
During his time as a guerrilla militant, José Antonio Páez, Hernando González Acosta, Joaquín Ballén, and Isaías Pardo Leal headed the fronts in which he served; all groups that operated in southern Colombia.
Caqueta and Putumayo have long been noted guerrilla strongholds. Their poverty and isolation also make them fertile recruiting grounds, while their porous border with nearby Ecuador has long made them attractive terrain for groups at the margin of the law.
Ecuador’s former president Rafael Correa was long suspected of harboring FARC elements along the Colombo-Ecuadorian border, but new president Lenin Moreno has pledged to cooperate fully with the Colombian government in the fight against the FARC dissidence and other armed groups.