Colombian President Iván Duque announced on June 23 that authorities captured the leader of a dissident group of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC, in Spanish), who withdrew from the peace process and is involved in the killing of indigenous people in the country’s southwest.
The president congratulated the Military Forces and the police via Twitter for arresting Fernando Israel Méndez, alias el Indio, the leader of the so-called Dagoberto Ramos column, which operates and profits from narcotrafficking in the Cauca department.
“We continue to deal blows to organized crime that engages in narcotrafficking and the assassination of social leaders,” the president added.
In addition to Méndez, authorities arrested four other men from his organization in Caloto municipality, the military leadership said in a statement.
The Army press office told AFP that the guerilla leader is accused of being the “actual perpetrator” of the killing of five Nasa natives in an attack in Cauca, in October 2019.
The massacre took place in the midst of an operation by the so-called dissidents to free three rebels that the indigenous guard had captured.
One of the victims was the leader Cristina Bautista, whose assassination was condemned by the international community.
Cauca, with an indigenous population of 24.8 percent, is the center of turf wars between gangs connected to Mexican cartels, the National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrillas, and groups that walked away from the accord that disbanded the FARC in 2016.
The groups are fighting for rent profits derived from the 17,355 hectares of drug crops that the United Nations registered last year in the department, as well as for a route to ship the drug to the United States via the Pacific Ocean.
Violence in the region has affected social leaders in particular, as well as human rights advocates of indigenous communities.
According to the nongovernmental organization Somos Defensores (We are Defenders), 77.7 percent of the 32 indigenous leaders who were murdered last year in the country — the highest number in a decade — were from Cauca.