Posted by: Paula Delgado-Kling | October 11, 2013

Former members of EPL went on to control drug trade.

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.


The FARC, the Peace Process and the Potential Criminalisation of the Guerrillas. By InSight Crime.


  1. Hello.

    There is no reason to believe that this you describe here will not happen with FARC. It is far too optimistic to imagine that people who have known nothing else but fightting and drug trafficking will give it up for demobilization, which actually will mean a lesser income and some academic preparation.

    In that sense, the strategy to face this upcoming threat needs to be redefined. Traditional military tactics will not keep up with the new criminal shapes that will take hold after any demobilization process following the peace negotiations.

    Thanks for this post.

    • Hi:

      Thank you for reading. Did you see this? —

      The Colombian Agency for Reintegration (ACR) is ready to receive up to 40,000 ex-combatants given its experience gained over the past 10 years rehabilitating 56,000 former right-wing paramilitaries and left-wing guerrillas.

      But about 20 to 25 percent of those who have gone through the ACR program return to a life of illegality — the lure of the profits of the drug trade is too great. And 10 percent of those who have gone through the program have been tried and convicted of crimes committed after they demobilized, according to ACR figures.


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