There are things which don’t depend on our will. We are convinced of the rightness of our cause and we will fight to the end. I used to say to President Chávez: They hit us, they killed Raúl Reyes, they murdered Mono Jojoy with tons of bombs, executed Alfonso, we lost Marulanda and yet we are alive. The enemy believed us to be near the end and that if they threw life jackets we would run and catch them.
Alfredo Molano Bravo, Havana, Cuba
Some media consider you a terrorist and nobody believes that a terrorist has a mother and a father. What is your story?
I was born in La Tebaida 20 days after the triumph of the Cuban Revolution. My parents were peasants of those who colonized Quindío. They lived in the period called The Violence. I learned to read with a Bible my mother gave to me. When I was 1,3 I left home after some disagreement with my father, a liberal turned communist. I was reading María Cano, Gaitán, Torres Giraldo and listened to Radio Havana Cuba. I got back to live with an aunt and end college and I joined the Communist Youth when I was very young.
How did you get to join the guerrilla?
Allende’s death marked me deeply: the democratic way appeared to be closed. I read Marulanda’s Cuadernos de Campaña and I decided to get in touch with the guerrilla. Mr Londoño, a political leader in Quindío, offered me the contact and I arrived to the FARC in Sumapaz when I was 17. A very serious man wrote down my personal data. Later I learned his name was Jacobo Arenas. I met Marulanda without knowing who he was and I have to admit I did not like him.
What was the toughest thing you had to suffer?
The cold of the highlands and the sores from the boots they gave me: they were size 42 and I wore size 38.
How did you choose such a strange pseudonymous?
You could not use somebody else’s pseudonymous. I tried several names, but all of them already belonged to somebody and then I met Martin Villa, who had just arrived from the Soviet Union and he suggested I could use the name Timobich Timochenko, his Marxism professor. It was a name nobody else could “own” already. Once “baptized” I went to El Pato, to a unit based in the Coreguaje River. The comandante was Joselo, Manuel’s comrade since Marquetalia. I also met other guerrillas there, like Abanico who always amazed me with his stories of fights in the south of Tolima. This whole jungle world, the highlands, the rivers, intrigued me. In one of our journeys, a comrade drowned in a river called Guayabero and since then I am scared of water.
Your first combat?
I don’t remember very well. I do remember though an assault to an army patrol which ended with 7 soldiers wounded and 13 who surrendered. It was a three hours clash and we fought very hard. We cured the wounded – I was nurse – and afterwards we set them free dressed in civilian clothes. They reached La Uribe, only wearing underwear and said we had freed them like that. Lies. They were afraid that their superiors would ask them for their rifles they surrendered. This led to the bombing of El Pato. A protest march was organized and the Neiva stadium taken.
I stayed for a time with Jacobo Arenas. They attacked us badly. The operation lasted various months. Jacobo showed us who he was; he carried a backpack like us, he used his machete to open paths in the jungle and he never lost his sense of humor. It was a cruel encircling maneuver they were carrying out against us, especially because of the lack of food. Without sweet, life is sour and without salt, death comes near. Jacobo ordered us not to touch the sugar cane of the peasants. But the need for sweet won, and we cut some green canes to calm our need. Jacobo knew about it and he ordered to repair the damage we had caused; we had to cultivate half a hectare of sugar cane to the peasant. This is how I learned what reparation is. This is our model of reparation.
Did you stay with Manuel?
Yes. For a long period. He was very busy preparing the VII Conference at the time of the peace process in La Uribe with Belisario Betancur.
What is the difference between these negotiations and the others?
Look: the negotiation of El Caguán was a hoax. The armed forces were weak. Remember that they said they had no money for ammunition or boots. The guerrilla was strong. We had hit hard, in Las Delicias, Patascoy, La Carpa, San Benito. Pastrana’s government needed time to rebuild the army. He himself said and wrote so. It was Plan Colombia, designed and funded by the US. We were not fools. Today it looks the Establishment wants to open the door to let new political forces enter the political arena. If this wasn’t true, Santos would not be where he is today. He had a different approach from the beginning. When the first message from the President arrived, its content and form seemed different to us. The context was different, too. There are world and regional forces aware of the fact the world was going into the abyss and that this way led to complete destruction. They said Santos negotiated power with us. It has nothing to do with this. He has his targets, we have ours. We don’t take the political credits away from his Project, but we will pursue ours: to reach peace with political strength.
When did you realize it was not possible to take power through arms?
We have never renounced to our aims: everything can change. History is a very complex thing. Who could have imagined the fall of the Soviet Union as it happened, without a bullet and overnight? There are things which don’t depend on our will. We are convinced of the rightness of our cause and we will fight to the end. I used to say to President Chávez: They hit us, they killed Raúl Reyes, they murdered Mono Jojoy with tons of bombs, executed Alfonso, we lost Marulanda and yet we are alive. The enemy believed us to be near the end and that if they threw life jackets we would run and catch them. We knew though that in the middle of the river they were going to deflate them. We have known them for so many years. We have been flexible in the same way the government was. We had the historical duty to leave the future generations a country without war. We would not be loyal to our people if we failed.
Which are the red lines of FARC?
Our red lines, like theirs, have been redefined many times. Somecomandante said once there was going to be no agreement without an agrarian reform. We reconsidered this and came to the conclusion that what is needed is to create conditions to make possible and guarantee a way to struggle for the integral agrarian reform without arms. The same is happening with the issue of justice. We had gone round in circles for almost a year without any concrete step. They told us: “Accept prison, it would be a special jail with no bars, comfortable. They even said we were to define who the main responsible were. We said this was not the issue. It was not about an agreement in which a party gets its revenge on the other. No! We’ll take our responsibility only in the context of an agreement which bounds everyone.
How do you consider the issue of pardon?
To whom and for what we would ask to be pardoned? Not to our enemies, but surely to the victims. Not to those who say that we raped women from 4 to 70 years old. What we most respect are women and the civil population. It’s in our rules. In the guerrilla you find many couples and we know conflicts within a relationship are not solved hitting each other. This is severely punished.
We are not going to say sorry to artificially created victims. We have worked for an agreement built by all of us. We are not going to court to accuse, we are not judges. The State has its attorney and he has the duty and right to exercise. The same duty and right belong to the victims. We are ready to take the responsibilities the court will find. Should comrades being found guilty then they will respect the verdict.
Do guerrilla fighters think the same way as their comandantes?
I want to transmit a message of hope. I got messages from the guerrillas welcoming the positive steps in the agreement. Let’s not spread unnecessary rumors. War makes a lot of noise; it is not necessary to add on it. Ourcomandantes have not conducted any operation to kill civilians and play football with their heads, as the paramilitaries did. Still we have to say we act in a dynamics of war, which is precisely what we are trying to end. We ideologically train the guerrillas not to be vindictive, not to be drawn by the rage they might feel for the murder of their families. We are not terrorists. I would never accept to be accused of being a terrorist. We never force anyone to follow us using terror. We preach respect for human life, and yet we are human. Going around with a gun in your hand and a FARC badge in the arm gives great power. Our daily struggle is to raise the level of political awareness, which is the only way to stop abuses of our force. Jacobo used to say that an armed man with nothing in his head is extremely dangerous. There have been mistakes, and we accepted them, but we have never waged a dirty war. They killed our families to bend us but they have not succeeded and they could not force us to act like them, either. Fidel Castaño said once: the best way to end war is to hit the families of the generals. We replied: No, this is their method, not ours.
What about kidnapping?
Economic retention is not included in the 23 September agreement. It is a difficult and complex issue and we don’t want to deal with it in the media. Jacobo believed that this economic policy had to be re-considered. It was a tool to move our political project forward. The legal framework has been created to discuss it.
Let’s talk about non repetition.
If we hadn’t worked on this important point, we wouldn’t have achieved anything. This is the aim we commit ourselves to. Non-repetition will not be achieved by putting the main responsible – or anyone- into prison. If we thought this to be the aim of the process, we wouldn’t have been here. We always thought we had to achieve non-repetition through a different path, not the punitive one.
How did you agree to set an actual date to the agreement?
I am conscious that setting a date is a danger. Everything could be derailed. We have accepted to do so because he [President Santos] proved to be consistent at very difficult moments. The 23rd of September, it seemed he had come to ask us to surrender our weapons, but then he realized that that would have allowed us to ask the same thing from him.
Perhaps we were all able to put ourselves in the shoes of the other one. It was difficult – more for the president than for us – when he told me: We have to set a date, otherwise why did I come here? If I go back without anything, this is going to collapse. We accepted because we believed and still believe in the political will of the government. If within six months there are still unsolved issues, we will talk through them. People will understand as long as they see us working. We need to build trust on both sides.
How to repair?
The court should define how to do it. We have rebuilt villages where we had to fight. We don’t feel humiliated nor punished or belittled while helping to rebuild what was destroyed by war. We did it without publicity.
What about freedom restriction?
What is this restriction? Not going to see your mum? Not being able to go for a beer? The most respected jurist in Italy said: “Jail has never solved anything”. If you are saying that paying with prison you fix a war which begun before I was even born, well then, I am ready to serve time. But still, how many empty seats will be left? This is not about getting one another to our knees. This is not peace. In this way, you will never come to an agreement. Let’s see how this war begun, without going too far back. How was the attack against Casa Verde in the ‘90s to prevent us from participating in the Constituent Assembly? What did it achieve? How many billions of dollars did it cost and how many lives? All because of this idea to end war in 18 months, promoted by the then minister of defense. We lost a historic opportunity and the deaths were many. You don’t come to an agreement this way. When they told the minister 18 months had passed, he replied: Yes, but I got them to sleep on the ground. That made us laugh: we have always slept on the ground, doctor Prado.
What about decomission of weapons?
We have the agreement on justice. This gives us some rest; we have to disarm the spirits, so to speak. If we manage that, arms will result useless, even if you keep them at hand. The Commission with the military works on this. Marulanda always asked for the military to sit down at the negotiation table. This is why it gave us a sense of security seeing general Mora at the Table. We know him and the power he has. His presence was a signal of the will of the State and we were satisfied with his acting. This subcommission has worked honorably. As to the ceasefire, we begun from very distant positions but we have been nearing them. Making this public will make this distance bigger. You hear all sort of silly talks, like destroying weapons, bury them… We have to wait. Can you imagine a nice announcement on Christmas Day or New Year though? When people are happy. I told the president this could be the happiest day for all of us.
Are you talking about a ceasefire to be announced on 24 December?
No, I spoke to the president about it. Let’s leave this issue for what it is right now.
The agreement on justice has already come out of the oven?
Doctor De la Calle signed it and wrote next to it “in development”. Does this mean that besides what the country witnessed on the 23 of September there are some blank spaces yet to be filled? Changing a single comma of what we signed would be like throwing a stone against a window. The president sent the agreement to Moreno Ocampo, a senior jurist and not a member of the FARC. What did this man, who was an attorney of the International Criminal Court, say? He said: this is a masterpiece.
There is a very important precedent. We had been talking about the issue of justice for a year and suddenly they came out again with the story of the prison. We thought: what is this? Did we lose a year? Then Enrique, the president’s brother, came over and we spoke to him. Twenty soldiers in Cauca had just died. We talked and came to a conclusion: why don’t we set up a commission of experts to find a solution? We agreed but under one condition: no vetoes. Enrique laughed and asked: Alvaro Leyva’s one? I replied: I was not thinking about names, but rather about time. We cannot go on for another year. Enrique left and after a while he came back to tell us that the President had agreed. We need to go forward. We need to solve things, not postpone them. We all have fears, but this cannot stop us. Here, where we sit today, I spoke with the president and I told him, looking straight into his eyes: We have no marked cards; we are ready to agree things, not to surrender. It was clear. From there we went to the public ceremony.
A great difficulty: the paramilitaries
At this same place I told the president: the most sensitive problem is that of the paramilitaries and I am not talking about the paramilitaries in Chocó; I mean the culture of paramilitarism we have in Colombian politics. We need will to address it and be ready to pay the price for it. There is a culture that promotes this phenomenon, this method of doing politics. The Colombian state has to review this way of doing politics. It is very important that the State take responsibility for the massacre of the Patriotic Union. This would be a message which would prompt us to move forward what we proposed. The president understands this issue. From now on we cannot go to the negotiation table and say different things. We need a spokesperson who tells the country what we have been doing. The government just says it sounds good…
What role would the US play in the dissolution of paramilitary groups?
We received the appointment of the US delegate with optimism, because his arrival makes clear that his government is an ally of the Colombian government. This means a commitment. If the US abandons once and for all the National Security doctrine, peace in the world will advance a lot. The guarantee to make this process succeed is in the hands of the Colombian people, but also of the international community, CELAC, UNASUR, UN, E.U.
How would the creation of the future party be?
We are not going to demobilize – as it is being said and as they want us to do – we are going to mobilize. I will tell you a secret: we are elaborating a new figure, Territories of Peace and Reconciliation. We told the president: we need a strong president who assures the agreements are implemented. We want to sign and develop the agreements with you. A president who guarantees the implementation of the agreements.
How to ratify the agreements?
It is an issue we haven’t discussed, we will work on it. Our position – or our illusion – is the agreements being ratified in a Constituent Assembly. We could think about a separate sub-commission to study this issue.
Is Uribe necessary for reconciliation?
We don’t exclude anybody.
Would you meet Uribe?
Why not? We don’t shut the door to anyone. As Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri, I tell him: Doctor Uribe, don’t miss this opportunity for reconciliation.
Timochenko as a candidate?
I took the command of our armed forces because the FARC gave me a mandate. If tomorrow they told me to become candidate, I will obey. If they told me to go to the Amazon to help Patarroyo in his investigation, I will go there. We are a collective body. They told me to give an interview and I did so, very scared, in front of many cameras.