BOGOTA – Martin Villa, one of the founders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, guerrilla group, died from a heart attack several months ago in a jungle area near the Venezuelan border, the Bogota daily El Tiempo reported over the weekend, citing rebel deserters.
Villa was one of the peasants who joined the late Manuel “Sureshot” Marulanda in forming the FARC in the early 1960s.
“He had a heart attack several months ago and died in the jungle near the border with Venezuela, people close to the FARC confirmed,” El Tiempo said on Sunday.
Villa was wanted by U.S. authorities, who offered a $2.5 million reward for information leading to his arrest, on drug charges.
Two guerrillas who deserted from the FARC told El Tiempo that Villa had been in poor health since 2004, and his condition worsened due to the constant moves he had to make to avoid military units in southern and eastern Colombia.
“The last thing heard about him was that he was hiding in a house in the Venezuelan city of Maroa, on the Guainia River, where he had been taken for (medical) treatment,” the newspaper said.
The deserters said Villa returned to the southern Colombian province of Caqueta and met one last time with Marulanda in Yarumales, a town in Meta province.
The guerrilla leader went to a camp in Guainia, near the border with Venezuela, where he died of natural causes and had a funeral similar to that of Marulanda, who died of a heart attack last year.
Villa, whose given name was Marcelino Trujillo Bustos, was born on June 16, 1939, in Tolima province, where the FARC was founded.
The origin of Colombia’s civil strife dates back to 1948, when the assassination of popular politician Jorge Eliecer Gaitan spurred a 10-year-long civil war known as “La Violencia.”
About six years after that conflict ended with a power-sharing pact between Colombia’s two main parties, a government offensive against peasant self-defense groups led Marulanda, who was pursued by death squads during La Violencia, to form the FARC.
The FARC, Colombia’s oldest and largest leftist guerrilla group, was founded in 1964, has an estimated 8,000 to 17,000 fighters and operates across a large swath of this Andean nation. EFE