Maduro silent on fate of ex-FARC’s Iván Márquez

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Days after Venezuela’s intelligence authorities announced that FARC’s former chief negotiator, Luciano Marín Arango, known by his war alias as “Iván Márquez,” had died during an ambush of his camp inside Venezuela, reports have surfaced that the guerrilla commander who returned to arms in 2019 as a FARC dissident, is receiving treatment for his wounds in a Caracas hospital.

The series of events that began with news that the most visible spokesman and political representative of FARC – during the four-year-long peace talks in Havana, Cuba – may have been killed by rival FARC dissidents, was not immediately confirmed by Colombia’s Ministry of Defense, and in contrast to four other FARC dissident commanders who were killed by illegal armed groups operating along the Colombia- Venezuela border.

According to local sources, Iván Márquez was injured in combat, but was helivac’ed from Caicara del Orinoco, in the state of Bolívar, some 500km south of the Venezuelan capital. A week after the ambush, Iván Márquez is believed to be in an ICU ward, but his location is a regime-guarded secret.

Venezuelan news sources claim that at the time of the attack, Márquez has a security detail of 20 combatants and five guard dogs. Márquez had been living in Venezuela for over seven months and moved easily between the states of Bolívar, Amazonas, and Apure. Among the interesting details of the attack is the role of the ELN guerrilla in allegedly contacting the Venezuelan government of Nicolas Maduro to coordinate the arrival of ambulances and a military helicopter.

In just over a year,  FARC dissidents Seuxis Hernández Solarte, alias “Jesús Santrich,” Hernán Darío Velásquez, alias “El Paisa,” and Henry Castellanos Garzón, alias “Romaña” – of the rebranded Second Marquetalia – were killed in Venezuela, and under similar circumstances as Márquez’s rumored death. The difference between the deaths of the other FARC dissident commanders, including the killing less than two months ago of Miguel Botache Santillana, alias “Gentil Duarte,” is that Márquez was severely injured deep inside Venezuela, and wooded area where the Orinoco and Negro rivers merge.

In a recent Op-Ed by John Marulanda for Venezuela’s El Nacional newspaper, the Colombian Army Coronel claims that Márquez’s death was retaliation by Duarte’s successors after an alliance between the two criminal groups turned sour. A territorial dispute over drug trafficking routes and illegal gold mining is one theory presented in the Venezuelan media. Another theory is mercenaries. “Given the precarious security situation in the border states of Venezuela with Colombia, and the hefty rewards – COP$3,000 million for Márquez, Romaña, and El Paisa, as well as COP$4,000 million for Duarte – it is fair to speculate that ex-military commandos from both sides, worked together for the cash prize,” writes Marulanda.

“These “dogs of war” would have left from somewhere on the border, and the information would have been obtained from North American technical and intelligence sources,” adds the military expert. “The amounts offered for the leaders of these criminal gangs – including ELN guerrilla – are attractive enough for any bounty hunter.”

But Venezuela’s leading anti-government news outlets question the deaths of five FARC dissidents (including Márquez) “in such a short time (…), and this indicates that narco-FARC capos have been removed from circulation by the political bosses of Venezuela.” By “neutralizing” them – or “changing their identities” – the Marulanda believes “the regime can relocate them, and lower their profiles.” Márquez is wanted for extradition by U.S and Colombian authorities on drug trafficking charges.

“Much has been rumored about Jesús Santrich, who supposedly lives in an apartment in Caracas’ 23 de Enero neighborhood, with close protection from groups operating in the residential community. He is yet to be seen. Although recent statements by President Alejandro Giammattei of Guatemala seem to agree with this poisonous theory,” writes Marulanda.

Guatemala’s Giammattei is a close political ally of President Iván Duque.

Possible successors to Iván Márquez are José Vicente Lesmes, alias “Walter Mendoza,” a notorious child recruiter, and José Aldinever Sierra, alias “Zarco Aldinever.” While Nicolas Maduro remains silent on the fate of Iván Márquez, all fingers are pointing to Duarte’s second-in-command, alias “Iván Modisco,” as the mastermind behind Márquez’s alleged death, and dissident leader who is rapidly expanding the trans-national criminal organization, beyond the Colombia-Venezuela border.

Given the complete lack of intel sharing between the current government of President Iván Duque and his archenemy Maduro, “the fate of Iván Márquez, will only surface after August 7, when Gustavo Petro is sworn in as Colombia’s next President, and diplomatic relations between the two nations restart.