Colombia’s EPL Bitterly Divided Between Political, Drug Trafficking Factions

Latin America

A top EPL guerrilla commander in Colombia was killed on order of its high command for treason – an act likely to further inflame infighting among the group’s increasingly desperate factions.

The Popular Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Popular — EPL), also known as Los Pelusos, announced the execution of Jesús Serrano Clavijo, alias “Grillo,” in a May 14 letter, W Radio reported. According to the letter, the group’s high command sentenced Serrano Clavijo to death after a “revolutionary war council” reportedly held in Sardinata, a town in Norte de Santander department.

The list of violations that Serrano Clavijo had committed included acts of treason, disobeying orders, insubordination and collaborating with the enemy, the letter stated.

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The trial of Serrano Clavijo came after the group’s high command said in a May 2019 communique that it no longer backed the actions of several EPL leaders, including Grillo, after they refused to return to the group’s base in the Catatumbo region of northeast Colombia.

Serrano Clavijo’s killing also follows the impactful death of another EPL leader, Luis Antonio Quiceno Sanjuan, alias “Pácora,” who was killed during a raid by Colombian armed forces in September 2019.

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Internal conflict among EPL’s leaders has left it without a clear chain of command at a time when it can least afford it, as it teeters on the edge of extinction.

Fractures within the EPL’s leadership began after the 2015 death of the group’s last undisputed commander, Víctor Ramón Navarro Serrano, alias “Megateo,” a local government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity for security reasons, told InSight Crime.

One faction, led by Pácora, continued in the group’s stronghold of Catatumbo, home to vast coca crops. Four municipalities in which the EPL has a presence — Ocaña, Abrego, Sardinata and Hacarí — together held more than 6,000 hectares of coca in 2018, according to the Colombian Drug Observatory (Observatorio de Drogas de Colombia – ODC).

SEE ALSO: Colombia’s EPL Faces Bleak Prospects After Death of Pácora

Meanwhile, from remote areas around the border city of Cucutá and the town of Puerto Santander, Grillo’s faction took control of routes for moving drugs to Venezuela and contraband gasoline to Colombia. The division allowed each faction to control distinct illicit trades but also provided fuel for open conflict between the two.

The internecine warfare comes amid the severe weakening of the EPL as it has waged a losing battle in Catatumbo against its former guerrilla allies in the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional — ELN).

According to the local government official, the ELN was better prepared and trained for the conflict than the EPL. The fighting began in 2017 and quickly ousted the EPL from its coca growing and drug trafficking hotspots.

The EPL may have worsened its situation by attempting to expand into areas outside its Catatumbo stronghold. That decision also exacerbated infighting and deepened divisions among the group’s leaders.

Grillo’s death only adds to the questions about the EPL’s command structure as it is unclear who exactly was behind his killing.

In the Catatumbo region, an EPL commander known as alias “Condor” may have inherited Pácora’s faction, according to the local analyst. Meanwhile Nelfer Carrascal, alias “Vallenato,” was described by authorities as the new head of the EPL in April 20, according to El Tiempo, but no other details were given.

No longer able to control territory, take on rivals or even remain united under one banner as they were under Megateo, the EPL runs the risk of disappearing altogether.

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