A former FARC leader and veteran drug trafficker has sided with ex-commander Iván Márquez, a move that could prove crucial to the future of dissident FARC criminal groups in Colombia and Venezuela.

Géner García Molina, alias “John 40,” recently made an appearance alongside Luciano Marín Arango, better known as “Iván Márquez” and the longtime second-in-command of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC) until the guerrilla group’s demobilization nearly five years ago. Márquez now heads a dissident FARC force called the Segunda Marquetalia.

García Molina, who was part of an anniversary statement released by Márquez’s group and seen in a photo wearing the black cap of the Segunda Marquetalia, had previously been linked to a rival dissident faction led by Miguel Botache Santanilla, alias “Gentil Duarte.”

Both of these groups have been trying to cast themselves as the legitimate heirs to the FARC, the country’s largest guerrilla force, which led a half-century war until it demobilized after a 2016 peace agreement with the Colombian government.

García Molina is one of the wealthiest commanders among dissident FARC. His Acacio Medina Front has long had its base of operations in Venezuela’s Amazonas state, and it controls much of the drug trafficking at the Colombia-Venezuela border. His operations stretch even into Brazil.

SEE ALSO: Profile of Géner García Molina, alias “John 40″

Speculation on García Molina’s allegiances began in April when the Segunda Marquetalia posted a video in which he could be seen standing next to Márquez.

Despite his importance, García Molina had largely stayed out of the limelight. The last time he made headlines was December 2016 when he was expelled from the FARC peace process, alongside Gentil Duarte.

Since then, Colombian intelligence reports have placed him in Amazonas, where he amasses illicit profits from drug trafficking and illegal mining.

InSight Crime Analysis

García Molina’s declaration of loyalty comes at a crucial time. The Segunda Marquetalia and Gentil Duarte’s faction are both trying to cast themselves as the true heirs to the FARC’s legacy in an effort to unite disparate FARC dissident fronts into a united fighting force.

The pair have gone about it in different ways. Márquez has counted on his history as the FARC’s former second-in-command, and he has surrounded himself with recognizable, hardened commanders.

Márquez has also appeared to have links to the Venezuelan government, and the Segunda Marquetalia’s leaders have sought sanctuary in the country.

The group, though, suffered a blow recently. Longtime FARC commander and Márquez ally, Seuxis Pausías Hernández, alias “Jesús Santrich,” was killed in Venezuela in May.

Whereas Márquez has relied on name recognition, Gentil Duarte has employed military strategy and pragmatism to gather strength. The former FARC 10th Front, loyal to Duarte, recently battled with Venezuela’s armed forces, despite being outmanned and outgunned.

In the last two years, Duarte has sent emissaries to a number of top FARC dissidents, urging them to join with him. His influence currently stretches along Colombia’s borders with Venezuela and Brazil, especially in the southern departments of Guaviare, Vaupés and Guainía.

John 40 – a wealthy, powerful drug trafficker with plenty of men at his command – had been courted by Duarte and Márquez.

Unlike some FARC guerrillas whose reason for war was always linked to political aims, García Molina styled himself as a drug trafficker. He came up through the FARC’s 53rd Front in eastern Colombia. After the death of Tomás Medina Caracas, alias “El Negro Acacio,” in 2007, he assumed leadership of the Acacio Medina Front.

Medina Caracas was the FARC’s most prominent drug trafficker, and García Molina came under his tutelage. Over the years, García Molina negotiated the trafficking of hundreds of tons of drugs from Colombia into Brazil and Venezuela.

SEE ALSO: Ex-FARC Mafia: Colombia’s Criminal Army Settling Down in Venezuela

Since 2012, the Acacio Medina Front’s criminal empire has expanded, and the group now controls strategic border crossings, clandestine runways and illegal mines. These criminal activities often have the blessing of local authorities, Romel Guzamana, an Indigenous opposition representative in Venezuela’s National Assembly for the states of Amazonas and Apure, told InSight Crime.

Rebuffed by a number of criminal groups, Márquez was seen as losing ground to Duarte. Bringing García Molina into the fold of the Segunda Marquetalia could change this dynamic. His financial support and criminal history are likely assets to persuade dissident structures to follow suit, particularly those yet to pick a side.

While the motives for García Molina’s decision to join with Márquez are unknown, an incentive could have been Márquez’s close ties to Venezuelan authorities and the regime of Nicolás Maduro, which would serve García Molina, as his criminal enterprises grow in southern Venezuela.

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Source: Insight Crime