Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri, alias “Timochenko,” is only the third commander-in-chief in the FARC’s nearly 50-year history, and the 2016 peace agreement between the guerrilla group and the Colombian government also makes him the last. Of the three FARC leaders, Timochenko has the most mysterious past.
Some sources say Timochenko is a trained medical doctor, but there is no record of his studies. He hails from Quindío department in central Colombia’s coffee region, which saw some of the country’s worst political violence during a decades-long upheaval that began in the 1940s and ended just before groups like the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC) emerged in the mid-1960s.
Timochenko was trained in Cuba and Russia, and his nom de guerre was presumably chosen in honor of Semyon Timoshenko, a famous Soviet general during World War II. Before entering the guerrilla movement, Timochenko joined the Colombian Communist Party’s youth organization (Juventud Comunista Colombiana – JUCO). At the time, the JUCO opposed the administration of Alfonso López Michelsen. After taking up with the FARC, Timochenko rose through the ranks in some of the group’s most important strategic zones of influence. He is believed to have started his career with the FARC in the violence-torn province of Antioquia, before moving on to the Magdalena Medio region in central Colombia.
After the FARC’s Eighth Conference in 1993, Colombia saw the guerrillas face tremendous pressure from the military and from paramilitary groups. Suspected guerrilla sympathizers were massacred by right-wing paramilitaries of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia – AUC). Gripped by paranoia, some local FARC commanders carried out brutal purges within their own ranks, until Timochenko stepped in and took command. This tale fed his reputation as a radical hardliner within the FARC, especially compared to past leaders such as Manuel Marulanda and Guillermo León Sáenz Vargas, alias “Alfonso Cano.”
In 1986, Timochenko was named to the FARC Secretariat, the organization’s seven-member command unit, and one year later he was made head of the Eastern Bloc. However, Jorge Briceño, alias “Mono Jojoy,” overshadowed Timochenko in terms of military influence within the FARC following the assault on the Girasol military base on January 8, 1991 in the town of Mesetas, Meta department.
After the Eighth FARC Conference in 1994, Timochenko was named commander of the Magdalena Medio Bloc, which was thought to be one of the toughest guerrilla divisions to command. Following the November 2011 death of Alfonso Cano, the guerrillas’ previous commander, Timochenko assumed leadership of the FARC.
Timochenko was known in the guerrilla group for his military skills, and although he had some experience managing international contacts in Venezuela, he relied on Luciano Marín, alias “Iván Márquez,” for diplomatic and international relations, as the latter was head of the FARC’s International Front. Timochenko also reportedly gained experience heading up the rebels’ intelligence and counter-intelligence, which aids him in keeping an eye on his inner circle.
Under his command, the FARC decided to officially begin peace negotiations with the government of then-President Juan Manuel Santos in Cuba on September 4, 2012, which in reality was more of a continuation of efforts Alfonso Cano had been making before he was killed. After two years of exploration and four in negotiation, on November 24, 2016, the peace agreement was signed, sealing a pact for the rebel group’s demobilization and its transformation into a political party with the same acronym but a different name: Common Alternative Revolutionary Force (Fuerza Alternativa Revolucionaria del Común – FARC).
In September 2017, Timochenko was elected president of the new FARC political party, and shortly afterwards he announced his candidacy for president of Colombia. However, after he developed serious heart problems, the FARC withdrew its presidential bid asTimochenko recovered.
Interpol issued a red notice for Timochenko, and more than 100 warrants have been issued for his arrest. Some of the crimes for which he has been accused are related to the 2001 kidnapping of former Meta Governor Alan Jara, the takeover of Vichada department’s capital city of Mitú in 1998 and the 2003 Club El Nogal bombing in Bogotá. Before the peace accords were signed, the US State Department was offering a reward of up to $5 million for information leading to Timochenko’s arrest to answer for drug trafficking charges, although the FARC affirmed that its participation, as a group, in drug trafficking was limited to taxing coca farmers.
Once the peace agreement was signed, the United States lifted warrants for his arrest in Colombia.
When he was commander of the FARC’s Eastern Bloc, Timochenko wielded a great deal of influence in the Eastern Plains, Cundinamarca, Boyacá and several places in the Colombian Amazon. He later took the helm of the Magdalena Medio Bloc in central Colombia. After that, it is believed he moved to an area in the northeast corner of the country, covering the Serranía del Perijá mountain range and its border with Venezuela. The region grew in importance for the rebels over the last 15 years for two reasons: the growth of the FARC as a drug trafficking organization, and the emergence of elements in Venezuela that acted as partners in both criminal and insurgent activities.
Allies and Enemies
Historically, the main enemies of FARC leaders like Timochenko have included extreme right-wing elements of Colombia’s political elite, some of whom have had ties to paramilitary groups. However, the FARC has seen its share of infighting as well. A rift formed in its ruling body when Timochenko assumed leadership of the FARC because Iván Márquez was also a candidate for the guerrilla group’s top position. Although the FARC handover mechanism seemed to sufficiently address how the rebel group replaced its commanders, the succession of Alfonso Cano became a challenge.
In the wake of successful military operations against its commanders, the FARC increasingly depended on young leaders due to its need to continue with the chain of command. This meant that even though Iván Márquez was a strong contender for the top leadership position, Timochenko took the reins because he had more years of service in the Secretariat under his belt.
The division became most evident as the FARC transitioned into a political party. Márquez earned more votes than Timochenko in the new party’s elections for its national directorate after running on a more critical line regarding the implementation of the peace agreement. The political party’s decision-making process is now much more democratic, and this originally benefited his principle competitor for leadership within the movement: Márquez.
When Márquez took up arms again in August 2019, flanked by numerous leaders of the ex-FARC Mafia, Timochenko got rid of the most radical threat to his power inside the party. However, two men were arrested in January 2020 near Timochenko’s home, having reportedly been sent to assassinate him. While initially, the assassination was linked to Hernán Darío Velásquez Saldarriaga, alias “El Paisa,” there are now heavy doubts about who was behind it. Regardless, it shows that Timochenko and by extension the FARC party may be seen as a threat by some of his former allies.
After leading the most important guerrilla group on the continent, orchestrating multiple acts of violence, committing extortion and participating in the drug trade, Timochenko was the main architect of the peace accords that paved the way for the FARC’s participation in Colombian politics by turning it into a political party on November 1, 2017.
Timochenko is currently leading the new FARC political party and monitoring the implementation of the peace agreement. But it has been no easy task due to the party’s internal division and the many obstacles that have been put in the way of the peace process, such as the return to arms of former FARC leaders, Iván Marquez and Jesús Santrich.
A failed assassination attempt in January 2020 has shown that resentment toward Timochenko for accepting the peace deal still festers.
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