Renegade FARC commander turned drug kingpin Walter Patricio Arizala, aka ‘Guacho,’ was killed Friday in a firefight with Colombia troops north of the Ecuadorian border. Arizala had taken credit for the kidnapping and murder of three Quito journalists and a young Ecuadorian couple early this year. He was considered the “most wanted man” in both Ecuador and Colombia.
“As the result of a heroic joint operation today between the army and the police, we can confirm the death of Walter Patricio Arizala, alias ‘Guacho,'” Colombian President Ivan Duque announced at a Friday afternoon news conference. “He was one of the most horrendous criminals in the region and I have passed on the good news to our friends in Ecuador.” Duque said the operation was conducted in Nariño Department, near the city of Tumaco.
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.
The Sinisterra Front, its supporters and business contacts, were said to control much of Nariño Department as well as the government of Tumaco, a city of almost 200,000. The influence extended to parts of northwestern Esmeraldas Province as well.
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.
In April, a young Ecuadorian couple, Oscar Villacís, 24, and Katty Velasco, 20, went missing near Tumaco. Their bodies were found with stab wounds and other injuries.
Before the murders, Sinisterra had taken credit for bombing a police station in northern Esmeraldas Province, 15 kilometers from the Colombian border.
Following both kidnappings, Arizala had sent videos to news media in which the victims pleaded for their lives.
Colombia and Ecuador deployed more than 4,000 military and police personnel in a joint operation to capture or kill Arizala in the aftermath of the murders and Moreno promised that Arizala would be “brought to justice, dead or alive.”