The Colombian government is calling social media reports that former FARC commander Walter Arrizala, alias Guacho, is still alive “conspiracy theory hysteria.”
Colombian President Ivan Duque announced Friday that Arrizala and his top lieutenant had been killed in a firefight with army troops in Nariño Department, near the city of Tumaco. The government said it had confirmed the identity of the dead men through fingerprint records and “various intelligence resources.”
Within hours of the announcement, social media posts began appearing in Colombia and Ecuador claiming that Colombia had gotten the wrong man and that Arrizala was still on the loose.
The posts showed a photo released by the government of what it claimed was the dead Arrizala beside a photo of the FARC commander allegedly taken in 2015. According to the posts, the images are not of the same man. In particular, they point out that a facial mole in the 2015 photo is not visible in the photo of the corpse.
Some social media posters also claimed that the Colombian government has a history of “lying” about its efforts to capture and kill Arrizala and other former guerrillas-turned-drug-kingpins. In particular, they say that an October government report that it had “mortally wounded” Arrizala turned out to be false.
A spokesman for Duque responded that that claims that Arrizala is still alive were “typical social media conspiracy theory hysteria.” The spokesman said that the government had positive identification from fingerprint records and confirmation from associates of Arrizala. He also said it had intelligence photos not available to the public.
“The photos that appear on social media as a comparison to the corpse were taken by Guacho’s friends, not by the news media or the government,” the spokesman said. “He was known to use ‘doubles’ of himself and it is impossible to determine the authenticity of the unofficial photos.”
The Inter-American Press Association is siding with the government but says the government needs to provide more information to the public about Arrizala’s death. “We understand that the identification was based on confidential sources and evidence, as well as official records, but we encourage the government to release as much information as it can.”
Born in Ecuador’s Esmeraldas Province, Arizala, 29, was one of hundreds of former FARC rebel leaders who refused to sign a peace deal with the Colombian government in 2016. He founded the Oliver Sinisterra Front, a group estimated to number 100 to 120 former rebels that operated in a large area in southwest Colombia and northwest Ecuador. According to authorities, the front was an illegal drug production and transporting operation that worked with Mexican drug cartels.
Arizala and the Sinisterra Front is best known for kidnapping two Ecuadorian journalists, 32-year-old reporter Javier Ortega and 45-year-old photographer Paúl Rivas along with their 60-year-old driver, Efraín Segarra in March. Two weeks later, Arizala announced that the three had been killed and threatened Ecuador President Lenin Moreno that more murders were to come in retaliation for Ecuador’s capture and imprisonment of dozens of Sinisterra members and followers.