Rodrigo Londoño Echeverry, alias "Timochenko," is only the third commander-in-chief in the FARC's nearly 50-year history. Of the three, Timochenko has the most mysterious past. Some sources say he is a trained medical doctor, but there is no record of his studies. Most say he hails from Quindio, a coffee-growing province in central Colombia which saw some of the country's worst political violence during a decades-long upheaval that began in the 1940s and ended just before groups like the FARC emerged in the mid-1960s.
Timochenko was trained in Cuba and Russia, and his nom de guerre was presumably chosen in honor of Semyon Timoshenko, a famous Soviet general during World War II. Timochenko's rise through the ranks took place in some of the group's most important strategic zones of influence. He is believed to have started his career with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in the violence-torn province of Antioquia, before moving on to the Magdalena Medio region in central Colombia.
Both these areas of Colombia saw the guerrillas face tremendous pressure from the military and paramilitary groups in the 1980s. Suspected guerrilla sympathizers were massacred by right-wing paramilitaries of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) and, gripped by paranoia, some local FARC commanders carried out brutal purges within their own ranks, until Timochenko stepped in and took command. This tale fed his reputation as a radical hardliner within the FARC.
By 1993, Timochenko was the head of the FARC's Magdalena Medio Bloc, which was thought to be one of the toughest guerrilla divisions to command. Soon after, he was named to the Secretariat, the seven-man commanding unit of the organization.
Timochenko has since operated mostly in the northeast corner of Colombia, along the border with Venezuela. This region has grown in importance for the rebels over the last 15 years for two reasons: the growth of the FARC as a drug trafficking organization, and the emergence of elements in Venezuela as partners in criminal and insurgent activities.
In this context, it was fitting that the two candidates for the FARC's leadership following the November 2011 death of the guerrillas' previous commander, alias "Alfonso Cano," have a strong presence along the Venezuela-Colombia border. The other man widely expected to get the job, Luciano Marin, alias "Ivan Marquez," also spends a significant amount of time in the neighboring country.
While Marquez is known for his political prowess, Timochenko is known more for his military skills. He has some experience managing international contacts in Venezuela, but he relies on Marquez for the diplomatic and international side, as the latter is head of the FARC's International Front.
Timochenko also reportedly has experience as the rebel head of intelligence and counter-intelligence, something he needs in order to keep an eye on his inner circle. The new FARC commander has a $5 million bounty on his head from the United States, which wants him on drug trafficking charges.