For the first time since Colombia’s peace talks began, FARC leader “Timochenko” talked to press, explaining how he went from being a child to the country’s most-feared guerrilla chief.
Timochenko was not always the leader of Colombian FARC guerilla group. Born Rodrigo Londoño, he was raised by his mother and communist father and had a childhood, albeit a short one.
“I was born in La Tebaida, 20 days after the  triumph of the Cuban Revolution … I learned to read from a Bible that my mother gave me. At 13 I left home to figure out my life,” described Timochenko to El Espectador in an interview.
In 1973, Salvador Allende, Chile’s first socialist leader and Latin America’s first Marxist president, was killed. The death of the Chilean leader made a major impression on the 14-year-old Londoño, who concluded at the time that “the democratic road was closed.”
After finishing high school, Londoño said he immediately joined the Communist Youth, evolving his anti-establishment and political consciousness early in his adolescence.
This is when he began reading the Campaign Journals of Manuel Marulanda, the man who founded the FARC in 1964.
At 17, Londoño arrived at FARC quarters in the rural area south of Bogota where he met Marulanda in person, along with Jacobo Arenas, another founder of the guerrilla movement.
The FARC leaders’ fervent revolutionary rhetoric set the stage for the young communist’s participation in the FARC. In his new life at the organization’s center, Londoño transformed his identity into the notoriously known “Timochenko” persona, adopting a pseudonym as was custom for members.
Shortly thereafter, Timochenko’s active involvement in FARC political and military activity began.
On one of his first missions as a guerrilla fighter, he left for El Pato, a village in south-central Colombia, to a command near the Coreguaje river. There, he became enchanted by the world of jungles and rivers, and the stories of combat from the south of Tolima told by the guerrilla fighters who had witnessed the foundation of their guerrilla group.
And then Timochenko grew to be a guerrilla fighter himself, to have his own stories of combat.
“[One of the first combats] that stuck with me was the assault on an Army Patrol which left 7 soldiers wounded and forced 13 to surrender. It was a fight of three hours in which all fought very hard. We cured the injured – I was sick – and after, dressed in civilian clothing, we let them free,” he described.
The conditions of the guerrilla movement were difficult with minimal supplies and no luxuries in the diverse landscape of Colombia. Timochenko was continually influenced by his superior, Arenas.
“Arenas showed us who he was, he carried a backpack like us, he swung the knife to clear the trail and never lost his humor. It was a cruel time, more than anything for the lack of food. With nothing sweet, life is bitter, and without salt, death lurks,” told Timochenko.
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.
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 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.
The unsuccessful peace talks of the 1980s and 1990s amplified the FARC’s offensive. But with the 1997 emergence of the AUC, Timochenko and the FARC were forced into a strategy of resistance. This meant more guerrilla warfare – land mines, car bombings, etc.
Finally, Timochenko assumed leadership of the FARC in November 2011, replacing the deceased Guillermo Leon Saenz, alias “Alfonso Cano”.
Timochenko is only the third commander-in-chief in the FARC’s nearly 50-year history. Of the three, Timochenko is considered to have the most mysterious past.
In November 2012, one year into Timochenko’s command, peace negotiations began in Havana, Cuba between the FARC and the President Juan Manuel Santos administration, to end five decades of death, displacement and war.
Timochenko did not formally join the table of negotiations until late September and announced, together with President Juan Manuel Santos, that the FARC and the government would reach peace within six months.