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12/05/2011 | FARC files show ties with Venezuela's Chavez and Ecuador's Correa

Jim Wyss

FARC files show ties with Venezuela's Chavez and Ecuador's Correa.


Colombia’s FARC rebels financed the presidential campaign of Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa and had such deep ties with Venezuela’s government that they may have carried out political assassinations on its behalf, according to a two-year analysis of thousands of the guerrilla group’s archives.

On Tuesday, London’s International Institute for Strategic Studies launched “The FARC Files: Venezuela, Ecuador and the Secret Archive of ‘Raul Reyes.’” The 240-page study is a peek into the thousands of documents that were retrieved from the hard drives of Reyes — the FARC’s second in command — after Colombian authorities raided his Ecuadorean camp in 2008.

Much of the information is not new, but it does provide a deeper look into the workings of one of the region’s oldest and most resilient guerrilla groups.

The revelations come at a time when relations between Colombia and its neighbors have improved dramatically. But the fresh allegations about how Venezuela and Ecuador worked to undermine Colombia’s fight against the FARC could prove incendiary.

Venezuela’s Ministry of Communications and Ecuador’s presidency did not immediately comment on the story. But the news was making headlines throughout the region.

The IISS said it was given the files by Colombia’s previous administration. The documents, which were on eight hard drives, were authenticated by Interpol before being turned over to the London-based think-tank for analysis.

IISS Director of Transnational Threats and Political Risk Nigel Inkster said the documents paint a picture of longstanding ties between Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez and the revolutionary group.

While Chávez publicly espoused neutrality and offered himself as an honest broker, he allowed the FARC “to use Venezuelan territory for refuge, cross-border operations and political activity, and effectively assigned the group a role in Venezuelan civil society,” according to a transcript of Inkster’s speech when the study was unveiled in London. “The Venezuelan government funded FARC’s office in Caracas.”

The documents show that Reyes met with Chávez shortly after he took office in 1999 and offered military and monetary assistance designed to “change the military balance of power in Colombia,” Inkster said.

The Colombian government has said that Chávez offered the Marxist guerrillas group $300 million, but ultimately failed to provide the money.

Following a 2002 coup that briefly ousted Chávez from power, FARC operations in Venezuela increased. The FARC provided training in guerrilla and urban warfare to various militias that were formed to defend the Chávez administration from a second coup or a U.S. invasion, Inkster said.

In September 2002, the FARC’s representative in Venezuela, Rodrigo Granda, sent a message saying that “Amin,” his contact in Venezuela’s National Intelligence Directorate, or Disip, needed experts in small arms and explosives “to get rid of counter-revolutionaries,” Inkster said.

During protests and marches later that year, opposition members were shot and bombs were planted.

Still, the evidence is inconclusive.

“We don’t know if the FARC itself did conduct assassinations,” Inkster said in a telephone interview. “We know they were asked to but we don’t know if they did.”

The IISS was never able to determine who “Amin” was.

However, according to Inkster, two of Chávez’s principal intermediaries with the FARC were Ramón Rodríguez Chacín, the number two at the Disip, and Freddy Bernal, the former mayor of the municipality of Libertador.

Chávez has long denied supporting the FARC, but earlier this month said some of his allies had met with the guerrilla group behind his back.

“Between 2000 and 2006, there is no evidence that Chávez had contact with senior FARC leaders,” Inkster said.

The files also detail the sporadic trouble between the guerrilla group and its Venezuelan protectors. After the FARC ambushed a Venezuelan army patrol in 2004 and sought to embarrass Chávez by publicizing that Granda had been in Caracas with the government’s knowledge, Chávez “put FARC right in the deep freeze,” Inkster said.

“Chávez has always been calculating in his dealings with the FARC,” he said. “He understood that they needed him much more than he needed them, and he was more than willing to sacrifice their interests.”

Colombian Vice President Angelino Garzon said the government had no reason to comment on the files and said the administration’s priority was improving relations with its neighbors.

In the past, Chávez has said the files were fakes designed as a propaganda campaign against his government.

Inkster said the Interpol had vouched for the files. In addition, authorities said information from the computers led to cash and depleted uranium, which the FARC mistakenly believed could be used as a radiological weapon.

“A number of things took place which support the contention that the information is broadly accurate,” Inkster said.

The documents also show that the FARC had a much more tenuous relationship with the government of Ecuador.

Although Reyes had been living in the Ecuadorean jungle since about 2003, the group failed to win broad state support.

The documents show that the FARC contributed $400,000 to Correa’s 2006 presidential bid.

“Correa almost certainly approved the use of these funds in his campaign, but this did not translate into a policy of state support for the insurgents during the brief period between Correa’s inauguration and Reyes’ death,” Inkster said at the launch.

According to the documents, Correa wanted to emulate Chávez by playing a role in the FARC’s liberation of hostages — or what the group calls “humanitarian exchanges.”

When Colombia killed Reyes during the raid, it “interrupted FARC’s burgeoning relationship with Quito,” Inkster said. “There is no evidence that the relationship has since prospered.”

The raid took place when Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos was the nation’s Minister of Defense. That attack — followed by the bold and bloodless rescue of some of the most high-profile FARC hostages — helped cement his candidacy in 2010.

Since then, the government has continued to make serious inroads against the FARC and has won the cooperation of Chávez. Last month, Venezuela arrested and extradited Joaquin Perez, who is thought to be the FARC’s top ambassador in Europe.

Last year, the Colombian government killed Jorge Briceño Suárez, known as “Mono Jojoy,” who was the FARC’s second-in-command. That operation also produced a treasure trove of documents and data. So far, the IISS has not been offered the chance to look at those files.

Miami Herald (Estados Unidos)


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