The Oliver Sinisterra Front, commanded by former FARC rebel leader El Guacho, is not the only armed drug organization operating in southern Colombia. According to Colombia’s Peace and Reconciliation Foundation, a non-profit organization that monitors the peace process between the government and former rebels, at least 12 drug trafficking groups are working in the region north of the Ecuadorian border.
According to Ariel Ávila, director of the Peace and Reconciliation Foundation, a veritable civil war is underway between various groups for control of the area. “The situation is an unintended consequence of the peace agreement between the Colombian government and the FARC,” he says. “The government thought it would be able to move in and reclaim the area but, instead, it become more dangerous than ever. The government saw the strength of the groups that refused to sign the peace agreement and decided to concede the territory.”
According to Ávila, who was interviewed Sunday on the EcuadorTV channel, there is more violence in southern Colombia than ever, even more than in the era of drug lord Pablo Escobar.
The most dangerous area of southern Colombia, Ávila says, is Nariño state, just north of Ecuador’s Emeraldas Province. “This is Guacho’s stronghold but he does not have complete control and it being challenged by smaller groups,” he says. “It is the state where more than 20 percent of the country’s coca is grown and processed, with more than 146,000 hectares currently under cultivation.”
He adds that more than 20,000 area residents are involved in growing, processing and shipping coca and cocaine products in Nariño.
“The armed criminal groups operating there refused to accept the terms of the peace agreement with the government and many have appropriated coca plantations, laboratories and routes for the exportation of the drug in region,” Ávila says. “Some of the groups are remnants of right-wing paramilitary organizations and drug operations that were never part of FARC. There is open warfare that shows no sign of ending any time soon.”
Tumaco, a city of more than 200,000, fifty miles north of the Ecuadorian border, is almost entirely under the control of the Sinisterra front, Ávila claims. “There are police and government offices there but everything is under the control of Sinisterra. Guacho is the law there. He builds roads, resolves conflicts and gives money to the poor.”
The other groups challenging Guacho’s authority in Nariño are the Steven González Front, remnants of the FARC Guerrillas Unidas del Pacifico, Los Negritos and Sicarial Organization of the Pacific.