BOGOTA, Colombia – It was a hostile homecoming for former guerrilla leader Rodrigo Londono as he campaigned for Colombia's presidency in the coffee-growing region he abandoned four decades ago to join the rebels.
Londono's trip to his hometown of La Tebaida on Saturday was touted by his supporters as a chance to canvass for votes with a message of hope and justice for the poor.
But it was nearly wrecked before even beginning when he was chased out of the nearby city of Armenia a day earlier.
A video circulating on social media showed the moment when Londono, wearing bulletproof vest, had to be hurried out of a building by his nervous bodyguards past a small group of hecklers waiting for him. Later, riot police had to be called in to control an angry mob that to shouts of "assassin" and "rapist" pelted his armored SUV with eggs and violently ripped off a plastic spoiler from the roof.
Londono, who is better known by his nom de guerre Timochenko, dismissed the incidents as the work of a small group of right-wing extremists bent on sabotaging implementation of the 2016 peace accord between the government and his Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.
"The smear campaign of the last 50 years produces these consequences," he said in a statement. "It's understandable that people have prejudices. But little by little we will get our message across and change those impressions."
While the former guerrillas have kept their promise to disarm, many Colombians are reluctant to turn a page on a conflict that left at least 250,000 dead, another 60,000 missing and more than 7 million displaced. Polls show support for Timochenko ahead of the presidential election in May hovering in the low single digits.
The nation's once-largest rebel group is now known as the Common Alternative Revolutionary Force, keeping its Spanish FARC acronym, and is guaranteed 10 seats in congress.
Timochenko secretly visited his birthplace once before since the peace agreement was signed. But his trip to La Tebaida Saturday was his first public visit to the town and his speech to a few dozen residents was peppered with references to the mistreatment of peasants he witnessed as the son of a communist shopkeeper growing up in a rural area engulfed by political violence.
"In this corner of the earth carved out by axes and machetes was where I perceived that things weren't going so well for the common people," he said in prepared remarks. "Here the inconformity of my elders laid deep roots and taught me that I must fight if I want to see change."