Colombia’s FARC Rebels Pick Hardline New Leader

By Dialogo
November 16, 2011

Colombia’s FARC guerrillas named Timoleón Jiménez, a hard-liner known as Timochenko, as their new leader after the Andean country’s armed forces killed his predecessor, a rebel statement said on November 15.

In one of the largest strikes against the guerrillas, Colombian forces killed FARC leader Alfonso Cano on November 4. But the insurgents vowed to fight on, dampening hopes that his death might bring the nation closer to peace.

Timochenko, who received military and political training in Cuba and Russia, is considered more rigid than other rival commanders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), according to Colombian intelligence services.

“We want to inform you that Comrade Timoleón Jiménez, with a unanimous vote by his companions in the secretariat, was designated on November 5 as the new commander of the FARC,” said the statement, published on a news website called the Bolivarian Press Agency that often carries rebel messages.

Timochenko, 52, has been a member of the seven-member ruling secretariat since the early 1990s and a fighter in the FARC since the 1970s. He is believed to operate in the Norte de Santander province on the border with Venezuela.

The FARC’s leadership choice could heat up the conflict on the northeastern provinces, where Timochenko and another secretariat member are believed to operate, if thousands of troops that were looking for Cano were moved to those areas.

Any worsening of the conflict along the borders coupled with possible uncomfortable questions of regional nations’ roles in the conflict arising from seized files of Cano could put more pressure on President Juan Manuel Santos, who has greatly improved ties with Venezuela and Ecuador since 2010.

Timochenko, who like his predecessor Cano sports a beard and glasses, is in charge of the Magdalena Medio Block, which has about 800 combatants, intelligence services say.

The rebels must still name a new member of the secretariat to replace the vacancy left by Cano’s death.

The FARC once had as many as 17,000 combatants who moved almost freely across great swathes of jungle and mountains. But it has been battered by more than a decade of U.S.-funded attacks that have depleted and demoralized its fighting force.

Experts said that the FARC’s strategy would not likely change under Timochenko.