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Colombian FARC guerrillas have new commander

The Americas Post - Meet the new boss.... Same as the old boss? Photo Credit: El Tiempo

Rodrigo Londoño, alias “Timoleón Jiménez” or “Timochenko,” has been promoted to the rank of commander for the FARC guerrilla movement, shortly after the Colombian military tracked down and killed its leader Alfonso Cano.

In a press release, the FARC Secretariat said Timochenko’s appointment was unanimous and that it remains committed to toppling the Colombian government.

The new leader of Colombia’s oldest rebel organization is said to be an sharp and experienced guerrilla, who leads the group’s intelligence operation and has strong connections in neighboring Venezuela.

Fighting since 1964, The FARC, or the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia, controlled large parts of the country in the 1980s and 1990s, but suffered dramatic setbacks in the last decade.  When Cano was killed on Nov. 4, President Juan Manuel Santos called it one of the most decisive blows in the group’s history.

He also called on FARC soldiers to put down their weapons and seek a negotiated settlement.

Analysts say that’s not about to happen. Timochenko has a reputation as a hardliner, though not as inflexible as his predecessor according to Antonio Lopez, the president of Colombian think tank Arco Iris.

“This does represent a sense of continuity in the FARC,” he said “We’re not going to see them give in and negotiate over Cano’s body.  At least not anytime soon.”

Now down to about 9,000 combatants, the FARC have changed tactics and rarely confront the military directly, Lopez said.  Now smaller groups use hit-and-run ambushes, sabotage public infrastructure and attack soft military targets.  That shift may be starting to pay off.  In the first half of 2011, the FARC staged 1,115 attacks – a 10 percent increase over last year.

Timochenko enlisted in 1982, and ascended rapidly to become a member of the Secretariat just seven years later.  His last turn on the media stage came in 2008 when he announced that FARC founder Manuel “Tirofijo” Marulanda had died and that Cano was stepping up. With graying beard and glasses, Timochenko punched his finger into the air as he shouted at the camera.

Colombian authorities think that video was shot in Venezuela. Emails recovered in 2008 from the laptop of FARC’s then No. 2, Raul Reyes, also hint that Timochenko was a liaison with the Venezuelan government, which denies supporting the group.  In those missives however, Timochenko describes FARC bases inside Venezuelan territory and frequent border crossings since 1997.

Timochenko has over 100 outstanding arrest warrants, including for terrorism, kidnapping and aggravated homicide.