BOGOTA — Government forces have succeeded in closing down clandestine FARC-run hospitals in the Colombian capital, and dismantling a section of the guerrilla’s support network otherwise referred to as Redes de Apoyo al Terrorismo (RAT).
Two nondescript brick houses, in Bogota’s working-class district of Usme were put under surveillance by the National Police’s Criminal Investigation and Interpol Directorate (DIJIN) in the weeks leading up to the operation, known as “Republica 130.” DIJIN officers observed injured combatants being brought for treatment and recuperation to the house, which was run by FARC nurses known by the aliases of Tatiana and Viviana.
“These women used their knowledge, working in a building that was conditioned not only as a depot for medications but also as a clinic to attend to injured guerrillas and for their rehabilitation,” said DIGIN’s director, Gen. Carlos Ramiro Mena.
The raid followed an announcement Feb. 26 that the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia would no longer kidnap civilians for ransom. But Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has insisted that the FARC stop the practice of kidnapping and all other acts of terrorism before the group begins peace talks with his government.
Last November, government troops killed Guillermo Leon Saenz Vargas, also known as Alfonso Cano. FARC’s supreme commander, who was 63, died in a shootout in the mountains of Cauca department, in southwestern Colombia. Shortly after, President Juan Manuel Santos called Cano’s death “the most devastating blow this group has suffered in its history.”
Under the command of Henry Castellanos Garzon, known as Romana, guerrillas wounded in action in the department of Meta — located south of Bogota with access to vast Sumapaz National Park — would be brought to Usme. There, the rebels, affiliated with FARC’s Ariari Front, would be nursed back to health.
In early March, 12 members of the RAT support network were captured, and a small factory that produced military uniforms identical to those used by government troops was seized. These uniforms are said to have then been shipped south into conflict zones, where FARC militants — disguised as government troops — would set up false roadblocks near military installations for kidnapping and extortion purposes.
While these raids in Usme and Meta have yielded significant successes, the information gathered in the operation serves to remind civilians and the government how close the FARC is to Bogota and the ease with which their rebels can reach the city.
The district of Usme has long been problematic for Bogota's police, as it backs onto a large, open high-altitude steppe just 19 miles from the capital. With altitudes ranging from 4,920 to 14,300 feet above sea level, and with entry points that descend from the Andean cordillera into lowland jungles of the departments of Meta and Huila, this is a tricky region to patrol — a fact not lost on Romana and FARC Secretariat member Mauricio Jaramillo, alias El Medico.
Romana, who still eludes security forces, was right-hand man to Jorge Briceno Suarez, alias Mono Jojoy, the FARC’s former military commander. Mono Jojoy was killed in a September 2010 attack in Meta. Romana now oversees the same area as his former boss, and in turn is highly active in coordinating the so-called “urban militias” of the rebel group as well as supervising the transport of weapons, munitions and explosives into Bogota.
While Romana remains at large in Meta, DIJIN forces did manage to capture a guerrilla subversive by the name of Jaider Henao Naranjo, alias Diego Guapuchon.
In a press statement, DIJIN’s Mena said this subversive was “directly in charge of coordinating the trafficking of weapons, munitions and explosives for this organization into Bogota, most of which were negotiated through the sale of coca in various outlying areas of the town of Mesetas [in the department of Meta].”
In a twist that shows the importance of the police and military operation, Naranjo — captured alongside his brother, Alexis Henao Naranjo — has direct links to Mauricio “El Medico” Jaramillo, the FARC secretariat member in charge of mobile guerrilla units.
With the capture of these urban militias of the FARC, police say they have closed an investigation that has run since November 2011, when a grenade was detonated in northern Bogot·, given that Mono Jojoy, Romana and Guapuchon were among top FARC leaders with expertise in explosives.