Colombia's FARC guerrilla group said it has named Timoleón Jiménez, alias "Timochenko," as the successor to former rebel chief Alfonso Cano, who was killed in a military operation earlier this month.
A communique confirming the designation and signed by the guerrilla group's secretariat, or high command, was published Tuesday by the Bolivarian Press Agency web site, which often carries Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, statements.
"We wish to inform you that comrade 'Timoleón Jiménez' (the rebel's nom de guerre), by unanimous vote of his fellow members of the secretariat, was named new commander of the FARC on Nov. 5," the communique, datelined from the "mountains of Colombia," read.
The move "guarantees the continuity of the strategic plan for seizing power on behalf of the people. The cohesiveness of its leaders and combatants, as (rebel founder) 'Manuel Marulanda Vélez' said, remains one of the FARC's most important achievements."
The communique dismissed analysts' speculation that Canó's death in southwestern Colombia on Nov. 4 would weaken the leftist rebel group and hasten its demise.
"These lousy analysts and mediocre politicians, toadies of power, who are now talking about the FARC's collapse in the wake of the commander's death, are so ignorant they don't even deserve a display of our contempt," the communique read.
The rebels also indicated that an end to the armed conflict would be more elusive after Canó's death, describing the late rebel commander as the "most fervent proponent of a political solution and peace."
The 52-year-old Jiménez, who was born Rodrigo Londoño Echeverry in the western coffee-growing province of Quindío, becomes the third top commander of the FARC, which Marulanda headed for more than 40 years until his death of a heart attack in March 2008.
Now we know the government's objective: capture Timochenko. If he's the new FARC commander, that guerrilla group has given us our next goal to achieve.
- Germán Vargas Lleras, Colombia's Interior Minister
Analysts consulted by Efe said Jiménez, due to the combat training he received in the former Yugoslavia, has a more military profile than the intellectual Canó, who was buried Tuesday by his family outside Bogotá.
He also is considered responsible for the FARC's intelligence and counter-intelligence activities.
The new FARC commander takes the helm of a group whose numbers have fallen by more than half from the estimated 20,000 combatants it had at its peak in the 1990s.
In addition to the loss of Marulanda and Canó, Latin America's oldest guerrilla insurgency was also hit hard by the death of military chief Jorge Briceño Suárez, alias "Mono Jojoy," in a military operation last year.
The group also lost leverage when several high-profile captives, including former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt and three U.S. defense contractors, were rescued in an elaborate military operation in 2008.
Under the U.S.-backed administrations of former President Alvaro Uribe and current head of state Juan Manuel Santos, the FARC has lost territory and been pushed back to remote mountain and jungle areas.
Little is known of Jiménez except that he joined the FARC in 1982 after studying medicine in Moscow and Cuba and received military training in the former Yugoslavia.
He also is known to have planned the FARC's military resistance in the 1990s and the early part of the last decade, when far-right paramilitary groups - which were subsequently demobilized - were making big territorial gains.
According to Colombian authorities, the new FARC top commander is hiding out near the border with Venezuela, a mountainous region that offers him and the more than 200 guerrillas accompanying him ample escape routes.
For its part, the Colombian government said Jiménez is now its new target.
"Now we know the government's objective: capture Timochenko. If he's the new FARC commander, that guerrilla group has given us our next goal to achieve," Interior Minister Germán Vargas Lleras said.