SEMANA, April 25, 2020
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
The recently created Coordinated Western Command, which consists of three mobile columns and three fronts of FARC dissidents, is fighting fiercely with the ELN for control of the coca in the Micay canyon.
The Micay canyon contains the third largest number of hectares of illegal plants in Colombia, after Putumayo and Tumaco. Besides that, it’s a strategic route to get the drugs to the Pacific waters.
While Colombia experiments with a historic period of social isolation, in the mountains of Cauca the noise of the rifles once again tells the story: two mobile columns and one front of FARC dissidents are fighting to the death against the José María Becerra organization of the ELN for control of the drug trafficking routes in the southern part of the country.
The dispute is focused on Micay Canyon, a subregion in the southern part of the province, made up of the rural parts of Argelia and El Tambo Municipalities. It’s the key route for land passage toward Guapi, Timbiquí, and other areas in the Cauca Pacific.
There, ever since 2015, is where the ELN operates, following the exit of the Jacobo Arenas Column of the FARC. But in recent months the Carlos Patiño Dissident Front moved in, and today the Dagoberto Ramos and Jaime Martínez mobile columns from northern Cauca support it. Jhoany Noscué, alias Mayimbú, heads this last one. He is accused of the massacre in which the Liberal Party candidate Karina García and six more people were killed in Suárez.
These dissidents got together with a unification plan from the old FARC organizations in Cauca, under the recently created Coordinated Western Command. It’s made up of three mobile organizations: Jaime Martínez, Dagoberto Ramos, and Franco Benavides, and three fronts: Carlos Patiño, Ismael Ruiz, and Rafael Aguilera.
That criminal organization now controls the illegal business in Caloto, Miranda, Santander de Quilichao, Toribío, and Corinto with the presence of the Dagoberto Ramos Column , and on the other side, Suárez, Buenos Aires, Timba, as well as the high rural area of Jamundí, in Valle, with the Jaime Martínez mobile column.
In those municipalities they plant and produce “creepy” marijuana that they send to the Pacific through Naya, a region in the northwest part of Cauca that has narrow trails and is difficult to get through. That’s why Micay Canyon is important; it facilitates the transport of narcotics to the sea, so they can later be sold to representatives of the Mexican cartels that have moved into those areas.
The Carlos Patiño Front comes from the south. Its operation—according to military intelligence—was limited until a few months ago to the Nariño subregion of La Cordillera, made up of the Policarpa, Cumbitara, El Rosario, Leiva, and Taminango municipalities. They went to Cauca by way of Balboa to confront the ELN, which controls the production and trafficking of coca. The grand alliance of dissidents wants to take over the whole business in that province; the marijuana in the north and the coca in the south.
In spite of the high number of guerrilla fighters both in the north and in the south, the dissidents have suffered the hardest hits. On April 15, the Army killed eight dissidents from the Dagoberto Ramos Front in the rural part of Argelia. They had traveled from Toribío to join the ranks of the ex-FARC in Micay Canyon.
Alias Beto, a much-feared guerrilla fighter who controlled a good part of Toribío, was killed in the attack. He was responsible for the massacre of the indigenous Governor Cristina Bautista and five other members of her community in the District (corregimiento) of Tacueyó.
In order to bury Beto, the dissidents paralyzed the roads and, up in the mountains, they fired on the main plazas where National Army soldiers were encamped. Later on, in the cemetery at Tacueyó, they fired shots in the air and showed off their authority, including showing off the presence of children in their ranks. It was a horror show that was recorded in a video to which SEMANA has had access.
In fact, two children were among the dead in the attack in Argelia. One of them was recognized by her family. She was 14 years old, and they recruited her by force a few days before they had to march to the southern part of the province. “She was a little girl. She didn’t have reasoning or understanding that it was wrong to take up a weapon. Her parents are very poor and that illegal armed group took advantage of that to take her away by force,” explained the relative.
After that April 15, the combats between the ELN and the Army in Argelia and El Tambo don’t stop for even one day. The Public Defender’s Office believes that there are more dead, but in a lot of cases, their own comrades bury the bodies.
The territory in the Micay Canyon is now divided up: the dissidents took possession of the districts (corregimientos) of Betania, Honduras, and other towns (veredas) in El Tambo. The ELN holds out in part of San Juan del Micay and Argelia, the last municipality of the massíf before you reach the Pacific.
Jonathan Patiño, Mayor of Argelia, says that the combat started at the beginning of March. That’s when 700 displaced people arrived in the urban part of the municipality. With the threat of coronavirus, there were days of truce, but after the killing of the eight dissidents, the number of people banished from their homes grew again and many people were afraid that there would be entire communities confined in remote rural areas.
The community is still in the midst of the gunfire. On April 18, dissidents from the Carlos Patiño Column announced a raid where they planned to kill ten social leaders of the community councils and campesino organizations in the Micay Canyon.
That afternoon in Betania they murdered Teodomiro Sotelo, a recognized campesino leader of the organization African Renewal and a leader in activities of substitution of illegal crops. They killed him in his own living room. Minutes later, they murdered Andrés Caicimance, a merchant. Pistoleros searched his house looking for his wife, also a social leader, so when they didn’t find her, they shot him in his patio.
That night they arrived at the Districts of Honduras and San Juan in the Micay to kill the remaining rights leaders, but they were able to escape toward the summit through a thick forest in Micay Canyon. They spent two days there until the Public Defender’s Office arranged with the Army for a humanitarian mission to get them out by helicopter. They couldn’t do that by land, because the Carlos Patiño Column had blocked all of the routes.
On April 22, the leaders of the Guardia Cimarrona met in San Juan del Micay to analyze the violent situation. But dissidents stopped the meeting. They came in, intimidated the people at the meeting, and killed Jesús Albeiro Riascos and Andrés Sabino.
They blamed the murdered leaders for the attack on April 15. According to the dissidents, they had given information to the “enemy” and that had ended up with the death of seven guerrilla fighters and of the much-feared alias Beto. The order is clear now in El Tambo: nobody can leave their house without the permission of the Carlos Patiño Column. They also warned that the troops would be needing to use their cattle, their farms, and other crops as supplies for them to carry out their war with the ELN.
“In the Micay Canyon there are huge plantings of coca and that’s why it’s a strategic territory and attractive to these criminal organizations,” says Jair Muñoz, Public Defender in the Pueblo region of Cauca. “We requested an urgent military and social intervention,” he adds.
The Coordinated Western Command grew out of the Jacobo Arenas Column of the FARC, one of the groups most resistant to the Havana, Cuba peace process. Not a single one of the heads of these organizations took part in the negotiations.
Beginning in 2013, they split off and by 2016 they had reorganized in small organizations. At first they had an internal dispute. Up until last year the FARC dissidents fought among themselves to take over the coca growing territory. At the beginning of 2020 they signed a pact and they created the Coordinated Western Command to re-create a chain of command similar to the Secretariat of the former guerrilla forces.
The Western Command does not share the ideals of the self-proclaimed Second Marquetalia Organization, commanded by Iván Márquez, Jesús Santrich, and alias El Paisa, whom they consider to be traitors.
A source who belongs to this nascent guerrilla fighter bloc told SEMANA that, once they have taken over Cauca completely, they will seek to transfer their operation to Putumayo and Guaviare to take down Gentil Duarte and push their way to being the biggest and most powerful criminal group in Colombia. The conflict and the tensions are increasing.