The Acacio Medina Front is a dissident group that emerged from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC), also known as the ex-FARC mafia, following the 2016 peace process between the now-defunct guerrilla and the Colombian government. Unlike other dissident structures that joined the demobilization process, the fighters of Acacio Medina never surrendered their weapons and continued their criminal activities uninterrupted.
Operating out of Amazonas state in southern Venezuela, the dissident structure has gained transnational influence. It controls drug trafficking and illegal mining and has the backing of the influential state, local and national institutions.
The Acacio Medina Front was established between 2007 and 2009 during the Ninth Conference of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The purpose of the Front was to strengthen FARC’s business operations on the Colombian-Venezuelan and Colombian-Brazilian border and to provide a haven from state persecution in Colombia.
This structure’s name pays homage to Tomás Medina Caracas, better known as ‘Negro Acacio,’ remembered for commanding the Sixteenth Front and being one of the major drug traffickers of the now-defunct FARC.
Local communities around the San Miguel River in the municipality of Maroa, in the state of Amazonas, began to notice the group’s presence in 2012, denouncing several camps and clandestine trails. A year later, the FARC sent a communication to the indigenous communities living near the Sipapo River in the Autana municipality, notifying them of their presence in the area and inviting them to a meeting.
As the Front grew in its territorial control and number of members, it aimed to expand its influence in mining areas. It then took control of the deposits of Cerro Yapacana National Park, located in the municipality of Atabapo, in the state of Amazonas. With its gradual advances in Amazonas, it eventually became one of the most influential criminal elements in the mines of southern Venezuela.
Before the FARC signed the peace agreement with the Colombian government at the end of 2016, the commander of this Front, Géner García Molina, alias ‘John 40’, persuaded members of the guerrilla group to remain hidden and carry on their criminal activities in both Venezuela and Colombia.
This is how the Acacio Medina Front merged with the First and Seventh Fronts of the FARC, led by Néstor Gregorio Vera, alias “Iván Mordisco,” and Miguel Botache Santillana, alias “Gentil Duarte.” However, in December 2016, these three leaders were expelled from the ranks of the FARC.
However, the Acacio Medina Front has shown its ability to switch sides. Its signature on different statements and banners have connected it to the Second Marquetalia, sworn enemies of the First and Seventh Fronts. John 40 has also appeared in videos alongside Iván Márquez, leader of the Second Marquetalia.
After breaking away from the peace process, the Acacio Medina Front focused on expanding its control on the southern border between Colombia and Venezuela. Initially starting as a small incursion, it eventually became a criminal enterprise that enabled them to take over the most profitable criminal activities in southern Venezuela.
The criminal knowledge and contacts that John 40 inherited from Negro Acacio formed the basis of this dissidence and one of the main reasons that fighters from the Acacio Medina Front did not participate in the peace process.
Their primary source of income comes from illegal mining. In Venezuela, this Front is present in important mining sites such as the Yapacana National Park or the Alto Orinoco Casiquiare Biosphere Reserve (Reserva de Biosfera Alto Orinoco Casiquiare – RBAOC). They not only extract and sell gold and coltan, but also extort money from miners and merchants who operate in mining communities.
On the other hand, the group controls several river and land routes in the southern border area. It has created a drug trafficking highway that receives and dispatches cargo on secret passages, supplying Mexican cartels and Brazilian criminal groups.
The leader of this faction of the ex-FARC mafia is Miguel Díaz Sanmartín, also known as “Julián Chollo,” “JJ,” or “Jota.” He was expelled by the Secretariat of the now-extinct FARC in 2016 and controlled mining operations in the Orinoco region in eastern Colombia. Julián Chollo has played a crucial role in consolidating and expanding the presence of the guerrilla in mining areas in southern Venezuela.
Initially, John 40 was considered the primary leader of the Acacio Medina Front, according to organizational charts released by Colombian security forces. However, sources interviewed by InSight Crime in both Colombia and Venezuela, including high-ranking regional police commanders in Colombia, have stated that his current role is more akin to that of a financier and intermediary in the drug trafficking and gold trade rather than that of a guerrilla commander.
Upon declaring themselves as dissidents, this group retained control over the mobility corridors between Colombia and Venezuela along the margins of the Orinoco River, on the border that divides the two countries. They also focused their efforts on consolidating their authority in the state of Amazonas in Venezuela.
Amazonas has proven to be a safe haven and a favorable environment for the criminal activities of the Acacio Medina Front. Specifically, the mining region surrounding the Cerro Yapacana National Park, in the municipality of San Fernando de Atabapo, is considered the central hub of their operations.
On the Colombian side, the dissidence led by Julián Chollo controls trafficking routes in the municipalities of Barranco Mina, San Felipe, and Puerto Inírida, in the department of Guainía. From these locations, they control cross-border movements, as reported by local media and sources interviewed on the ground.
Allies and Enemies
In its early days, the Acacio Medina Front maintained an alliance with the dissident bloc led by Gentil Duarte and Iván Mordisco. Through this criminal coalition, they ensured control over a border strip used to transport drug shipments.
But with the death of Duarte and rumored death of Mordisco, later disproved, the Acacio Medina Front may have switched sides. Its name appeared on various statements and banners belonging to the Second Marquetalia, bitter rivals to Duarte and Mordisco.
Furthermore, the Acacio Medina Front has not taken part and maintained neutrality in clashes between ex-FARC mafia groups in Apure.
On the other hand, the Acacio Medina Front shares territory with the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional – ELN) in the state of Amazonas. In this border region, both structures maintain a non-interference agreement which translates into the division of criminal economies and territories.
The Acacio Medina Front has had a fluctuating relationship with various state sectors in Venezuela. There have been hostile episodes, such as a 2017 attack on the Fluvial Command Post of the Bolivarian National Guard (Guardia Nacional Bolivariana – GNB) in the “El Suspiro” border region of Amazonas. However, the dissidence led by Julián Chollo today has become a financially advantageous ally to both military and political actors in southern Venezuela.
The Acacio Medina Front may be the strongest ex-FARC mafia faction in Venezuela. This status is due to its broad control of river and land routes between Colombia and Venezuela, its dominance of mining sites in the Amazon, and its close ties with elements within the Venezuelan state.
But despite the Acacio Medina Front having so far avoided persecution from Maduro’s regime, it is important to note that its relationship with Venezuela’s political and military circles is mainly motivated by economics rather than politics. Should business dealings cease and profits stop, the relationship could fracture, and the group may face the same fate as their guerrilla cousins in Apure.
One of the factors that could affect its stability is the expansion of the ELN. Although the Acacio Medina Front appears to have a pact of non-aggression with the Colombian guerrillas, such deals are volatile.
Another is the Colombian government’s quest for Total Peace. John 40 appeared in a video released by the Second Marquetalia shows the Front might be willing to at least negotiate.