On June 1st, the Bolivarian Armed Forces announced triumphantly that they rescued eight Venezuelan soldiers that had been kidnapped by dissident FARC-EP factions led by AKA Gentil Duarte. In truth, there was no military rescue: the soldiers were released after negotiations—handled by Cuba—with Duarte’s group.
As we have been reporting in recent weeks in the Political Risk Report (PRR), Cuba was negotiating with Duarte the release of the hostages through leaders of a different Colombian guerrilla group—the Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN)—who are currently based in Havana. The fact that the Venezuelan regime engaged in negotiations with Duarte became a source of discontent in the Armed Forces. The Venezuelan military High Command wanted to attempt to rescue their own in a military operation, but were told by Miraflores to stand down and wait. It was humiliating. The order from Miraflores was part of the strategy they adopted to deal with Duarte’s forces, and it’s an acknowledgement of a simple fact: the Venezuelan Armed Forces got their asses kicked in Apure.
The FANB had been preparing for decades for a fight along the Venezuela-Colombia border, and when one finally came, they proved to be wholly unprepared. FARC-EP 10th Front, which answers to Duarte and operates on both sides of the border along the Arauca river, manhandled FANB, killing at least 16 Venezuelan soldiers and capturing eight. The hostages were captured shortly after being dropped in the battlefield with no air support and cover, in a disastrous operation in which several Venezuelan soldiers lost their lives.
After assessing the results, Miraflores ordered the military to stop fighting, as they believed that by losing so badly, they were helping Duarte recruit other FARC-EP factions who now saw him as the strongest drug warlord in the region. The Venezuelan military had started fighting Duarte on behalf of another FARC-EP faction, which is fully supported by the regime: the Segunda Marquetalia, led by AKA Iván Márquez and AKA Jesús Santrich. The latter was killed two weeks ago in another region of Venezuela, in Zulia State, after he was attacked in his hideout. There are diverging reports of who killed Santrich—options include Duarte’s forces, the Colombian Army, and FANB—, but given the release of hostages, it’s no stretch to think he was “delivered” by the Venezuelan regime to Duarte in exchange for the release of the eight soldiers.
In short, the Venezuelan regime fought Duarte’s 10th Front to help out the Segunda Marquetalia in their internal FARC-EP squabble, and Duarte came out stronger, the Segunda Marquetalia was weakened, and the FANB were humiliated.
The final piece of the puzzle is the reasons behind that internal FARC-EP squabble: control over drug routes. The reformed FARC-EP has enjoyed the protection of the Venezuelan regime and FANB as they use the Venezuela territory to move drugs. At some point, the Segunda Marquetalia and Duarte fell out and started fighting each other, and the regime took the former’s side in the fight. Duarte went to war to maintain control over these drug routes, and won.
According to a PRR source, besides Duarte’s 10th Front there’s another group that’s happy with the result: the Mexican drug cartels, who are also beneficiaries of the product and the routes. The cartels want peace on the Venezuela-Colombia border; they don’t want any disruptions to affect their business. They will support the strongest warlord, the person who can guarantee drug routes run smoothly and on time; and at this moment, that person is AKA Gentil Duarte.
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