FARC rebel leader to run for Colombian president
BUENOS AIRES | Rising through the ranks of Colombia’s feared guerrilla rebels, Rodrigo Londono Echeverri repeatedly insisted that the leftist terrorist movement was the only option against “Washington and the oligarchy.”
But not even a year after he turned in his Kalashnikov, he wants to replace it with a presidential sash. Mr. Londono’s bid to run in next year’s elections, announced last week, marks a major milestone in the political integration of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which terrorized the country for more than a half-century as the implacable force behind the Western Hemisphere’s longest-running civil war.
It also marks a remarkable personal transformation for the man known by his nom de guerre “Timochenko,” a 58-year-old rebel commander who, after training in Cuba, Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union, spent decades dodging bullets from government forces in some of Colombia’s most remote regions. During four decades in the jungle, Mr. Londono accumulated 178 years of combined prison sentences. To this day, the U.S. government offers a $5 million reward for his capture.
The quick pace of the FARC’s political rehabilitation and Mr. Londono’s presidential bid have infuriated representatives of victims of the guerrilla group’s reign of terror, which produced an estimated civilian death toll of more than 177,000.
“It’s a direct affront [Mr. Londono] makes to us FARC victims, whose families they have killed, whose children they have killed, whose properties they have taken away,” said Fernando Vargas, who leads the Committee for Victims of the Guerrillas and who lost his grandfather in the conflict.
But ever since Mr. Londono and President Juan Manuel Santos signed a peace deal last year to end Colombia’s civil war, the ex-guerrilla has shown himself to be a shrewd political operator. He quickly transformed the FARC organization into a political party and rebranded it as the “Common Alternative Revolutionary Force” — thus managing to preserve the storied Spanish acronym.