The political party formed by Colombia's once-largest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) said Thursday it is pulling out of the country's presidential race after its candidate, 59-year-old ex-guerrilla leader Rodrigo "Timochenko" Londoño, suffered a heart attack.
Iván Márquez, a Senate candidate and senior member of the political party formed by the former FARC rebels, told reporters that party members decided not to field a candidate after Londoño underwent emergency open-heart surgery on Wednesday.
Since the peace deal struck with the government of outgoing President Juan Manuel Santos in 2016, the FARC gave up its half-century armed struggle and became a political party keeping the same acronym.
Colombia's presidential election is scheduled for May 27, with a possible runoff vote set for mid-June. Surveys showed that Londoño – candidate for the Common Alternative Revolutionary Force – had just one percent voter support.
Márquez however said his party is not dropping out of the key legislative elections set for Sunday. The peace agreement guarantees at least 10 seats for the FARC, but they must campaign for them.
"We continue to struggle for a great national unity," the group said in a statement encouraging its supporters to cast their votes and insisting it remains committed to ongoing dialogue toward "democratic peace" and "social justice."
The campaign has been rocky, despite the accord, FARC leaders said. It had halted its legislative and presidential campaigns due to security concerns when angry mobs hurled eggs and shouted "Murderer!" at Londoño. Leaders also said that hundreds of its members have been killed or jailed and the group has had to endure crippling financial restrictions.
Some Colombians have been reluctant to embrace the peace accord with the FARC following more than five decades of armed conflict that left at least 250,000 dead, another 60,000 missing and more than seven million people displaced.
Londoño, more commonly known by his nom-de-guerre Timochenko, suffered a heart attack last week at the end of his daily exercise routine. He has had serious health scares before: in 2015 he had a heart attack in Cuba while negotiating the peace deal, and in July 2017 he suffered a minor stroke.
A statement from Bogotá's Shaio Clinic early Thursday said Londoño is in "satisfactory" condition following Wednesday's coronary bypass surgery. The ex-rebel was also diagnosed with chronic lung disease and a clogged artery.