The rebel leader is just the third supreme commander of the FARC in its nearly 50-year history. Timochenko was “unanimously” chosen by the seven-man ruling body of the FARC known as the Secretariat to replace the deceased Guillermo Leon Saenz, alias “Alfonso Cano” in 2011. Known as a hardliner with over 30 years of military experience, Timochenko was selected over Luciano Marin Arango, alias “Ivan Marquez,” the more politically savvy candidate.
The FARC leader was born in Calarca, a municipality in the eastern part of Quindio in Colombia’s coffee region on January 22, 1959 just three hours away from Genova, the birthplace of FARC founder, Pedro Antonio Marin, alias “Manuel Marulanda Velez.” While a teenager, Timochenko joined the Young Communists League and later moved to Moscow during the height of the Cold War to study medicine and cardiology at Patrice Lumumba University. He received military training in Tito’s Yugoslavia and completed his studies in Cuba. Upon returning home to Colombia, those who knew him said he had become decidedly more radical. More versed and immersed in his ideology, Timochenko joined the FARC in 1982 after being introduced to the rebel group by Miller Chacon.
As part of the 9th Front in the department of Antioquia, Timochenko engaged in some of the most pronounced violence in the FARC’s history. The 1980s and 1990s saw right-wing paramilitaries massacre suspected rebels with the cooperation or the willful ignorance of security forces and engage in intensely violent struggles with FARC forces.
The increased paramilitary attacks intensified the FARC’s military campaign against the state and the country’s elite. In order to recover the losses the FARC incurred at the hands of paramilitaries, kidnapping became a prominent and viable source of income.
This bloody era gave Timochenko ample opportunity to utilize his Yugoslavian military training which specialized in strategy and counterintelligence. He was quickly promoted and in 1986, Timochenko received his nom de guerre and became the fifth member of what was to become the seven-man Secretariat.
Now a part of the high central command, Timochenko was put in charge of the complex and strategic Magdalena Medio Bloc in northeastern Colombia. It was here that Timochenko redirected military actions with an eye towards controlling defections and expanding the FARC’s influence into cities. He also set organizational policies that were responsible for the manufacture and distribution of hundreds of tons of cocaine.
Reclusive and obstinate, Timochenko rarely grants interviews and he refused to take part in the failed peace negotiations between FARC and the Colombian government during the 1980s and 1990s.
The unsuccessful peace talks amplified the FARC’s offensive. But in 1997 with the emergence of the AUC, Timochenko and FARC were forced into a strategy of resistance. This meant more guerrilla warfare – land mines, car bombings, etc. Timochenko planned these tactical adjustments from the North Santander department which borders Venezuela. It is rumored that Timochenko and Ivan Marquez, among other rebels, have received safe haven in the neighboring country, a point of contention between the Hugo Chavez regime and the administration of Alvaro Uribe.
Before becoming leader of the FARC, the only public sighting of Timochenko in recent memory was a 2008 video in which the bearded guerrilla confirmed the death of his longtime comrade and FARC founder, Manuel Marulanda.
After the 2011 elimination of Alfonso Cano and Timochenko’s subsequent promotion, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos insisted that the leadership of the FARC would “fall like a house of cards.” While Timochenko has proven to be quite elusive given his proclivity to freely travel into Venezuela, the FARC leadership may indeed become obsolete due to the ongoing peace talks between the Santos administration and the FARC guerrillas currently underway.
For his part, Timochenko was not in Oslo and likely will not be in Cuba for the November 15 negotiations. Yet despite his militant reputation, Timochenko expressed enthusiasm, even optimism, about this round of peace talks.
After the Oslo press conference however, the FARC leader’s optimism was quickly replaced with skepticism.
In an open letter to peace advocacy group Colombians for Peace, Timochenko said that “it is not possible to arrive at true peace without there being structural modifications to the unfair scaffolding on which the Colombian political regime stands.”