COLOMBIA (Conspiracy Talk News) – The former guerrilla leader Rodrigo Londono became one of the most wanted men in Colombia. Now he is a contender for the presidency.
The gray-haired man best known by the alias Timochenko, launched his candidacy on Saturday to lead the government that previously fought in the jungle, with a festive start to the campaign that included gigantic posters, confetti and even a sticky musical propaganda.
“I promise to lead this transitional government, which we will create the conditions for the birth of a new Colombia. A government that will finally represent the interests of the poor, “he said.
Breaking away with the traditional start of the campaign from a five-star hotel in Bogotá, Timochenko began his run for the presidency from one of the poorest neighbourhoods riddled by crime, in a clear gesture to the most disadvantaged class with whose votes the Ex-combatants hopes to win.
Hundreds of people gathered in the parking lot of a community centre decorated with posters that showed a smiling Timochenko with a carefully trimmed beard, thick glasses and even an impeccable blue shirt.
“President, we’re going for the people,” says the new song from his campaign that was heard from the outdoor speakers.
The campaign is another historic step to transform the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia into a political party after the signing of a peace agreement in 2016 that ended a conflict of more than half a century.
The country’s largest rebel group is now known as the Revolutionary Alternative Force of the Common, which maintains the acronym FARC, and presents a list of former guerrillas as candidates.
But even if the former guerrilla leaders changed military clothing for white shirts with the emblematic red rose of the party, there are recent memories that the road to peace is full of risks and dangers.
Two former combatants were shot dead recently while campaigning in northwest Colombia for a FARC candidate to Congress.
According to a recent government report, a total of 45 former members of the FARC or their families have been killed.
Many fear repeating the events of the 1980 s, when hundreds of leftist politicians affiliated with the Patriotic Union (UP) party died at the hands of different groups.
On the same day as the start of the FARC campaign, at least four policemen were killed and 42 others were injured when a homemade explosive exploded outside a police station in the city of Barranquilla, which highlighted the security challenges that remain despite the peace agreement.
“From now on it will be a huge test on whether the FARC’s bet was correct: That they can exercise politics without fear of dying,” explained Adam Isacson, an analyst at the Washington Office for Latin America.
Like Timochenko, other candidates are ex-guerrillas who have been convicted in Colombian courts for their roles in massacres and kidnappings and whose new roles as politicians have caused the anger of many in Colombia.
The US State Department has offered a reward of five million dollars for anyone who helps to capture Timochenko, whom they accuse of orchestrating the cocaine trafficking of the FARC and “the murder of hundreds of people.”
The politicians must still appear before a special peace tribunal, but as long as they fully confess their crimes they are unlikely to serve a prison sentence.
Created in the 1960 s and inspired by Marxist principles, the ex-combatants promised to end entrenched inequities in Colombia, although their initial proposals have not been as radical as many conservatives in the country warned.
In community meetings and announcements during the period prior to the starting of their campaigns, candidates have talked about the creation of an underground train in Bogota, and a monthly base income, an idea that is currently being debated throughout Europe.
“They are not proposals of a socialist, Soviet or Chavez model,” assured Iván Cepeda, a reliable conduit for both the FARC and the government, in reference to the Venezuelan socialist model promoted by the late Hugo Chavez.
The leader and candidate of FARC Griselda Lobo, aka Sandra Ramirez, described the party’s ideology as one based on “the principles of unity, solidarity, brotherhood, honesty”, instead of associating them with a particular political philosophy.
“That has characterised us as guerrillas and that is what we want to bring to society,” he added.
Former combatants have 10 seats in Congress secured as one of the conditions of the peace agreement, but could get more depending on the number of votes they receive.
While the presidential candidacy of Timochenko is considered by many unlikely to succeed, the former guerrilla enters politics at a time when polls show that Colombians are frustrated by corruption and gave the most established political parties lousy ratings and approval.
“That guild … of thieves … must be removed,” said a man to a contingent of FARC supporters who recently spoke in a poor neighbourhood of Bogota.
The arrival of the FARC to politics, has so far been emblematic of the challenges Colombia still faces in the implementation of the peace agreement.
One of the biggest concerns has been security, with an estimated 10,000 returning to civilian life. Some return with families and communities that despise the FARC.
Many Colombians are reluctant to quickly turn the page on a conflict that left at least 250,000 dead, another 60,000 missing and more than seven million displaced.
Cepeda stressed that there are key differences between the recent wave of killings and those that occurred when the politicians of the Patriotic Union party backed by the FARC in 1980. At that time, the armed forces of the government together with paramilitary groups and organisations of the drug traffickers were responsible for the violence, while at present the army plays a crucial role in the protection of the FARC.
“We are not in the same situation, but it is worrisome that a trend is beginning to appear,” Cepeda said.
The start of the campaign attracted retirees, housewives and construction workers who live in Ciudad Bolivar and who, despite the legacy of the FARC as a violent guerrilla group, said they were curious to hear his proposals and speech.
“They are human beings and every human being makes mistakes.Today they are reflecting and I think it’s great that the people listen to them,” said Marco Tulio, a 65-year-old former railroad worker.