The Popular Liberation Army, el Ejercito Popular de Liberación or EPL, formed three years after the FARC, in 1967. The EPL was based on Maoist ideology. It signed a peace treaty on February 26, 1991 — but about half of their combatants defected during the peace negotiations or did not turn themselves in and took their weapons with them. The EPL grew into splinter groups.
An analysis by InSight Crime highlighted that twenty years after the EPL signed the peace treaty, former members of the EPL who did not demobilize went on to control Colombia’s drug trade. Is this what will become of the FARC?
One EPL force morphed into the “Libardo Mora Toro” Front, which now operates in Norte de Santander department and controls drugs running through Catatumbo region. It is now led by Victor Ramon Navarro, alias “Megateo.” Megateo was part of the EPL’s urban militias in his hometown, San Calixto in Norte de Santander. He was 15 years old and barely literate when the EPL officially demobilized. He gained power in the late 90s and early 2000s, when paramilitary incursions and coca fumigations forced regional coca growers to relocate to the Ocaña area near San Calixto. When new cocaine trafficking routes sprouted, Megateo’s group gained control of a portion of the trade. Megateo is still at large though there’s a US $1 million price on his head from the Colombian government, and is wanted by U.S. authorities on international drug trafficking charges.
Another former EPL combatant, Javier Calle Serna, alias “Comba,” refused to demobilize in 1991 and went on to lead the Rastrojos, a neo-paramilitary gang. After 1991, Comba moved to Cali and worked as a hired killer for several different drug traffickers. He became an assistant to Wilber Varela, then a leader of the Norte del Valle Cartel whom Comba later had killed. By 2011, Rastrojos was the most powerful drug trafficking organization in Colombia. Though Comba surrendered to the Drug Enforcement Administration on May 8, 2012, the Rastrojos still control much drug trafficking along the Colombia-Venezuela border as well as routes leading out of Ecuador.
Also by 2011, former EPL fighters commanded the Rastrojos’ bitter rivals, the Urabeños, another neo-paramilitary gang.
The successor of Pablo Escobar, Diego Fernando Murillo, alias “Don Berna,” was also another former EPL member who did not demobilize. Don Berna had control over Medellin’s street gangs, forcing them to hand over a percentage of their profits in exchange for being allowed to extort, rob and sell drugs. Interestingly, Don Berna’s control over Medellin’s gangs caused homicides in Medellin to plummet. He was extradited to the U.S. in 2008.
The FARC have already shown they are not in it for ideology. The FARC’s 44th Front has publicly said it will refuse to demobilize in any peace agreements. It is likely former members of the FARC will move on to other drug gangs.