FARC rebel leader to run for Colom­bian pres­i­dent

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics - BY FRED­ERIC PUGLIE

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.

Lon­dono

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