Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The FARC Files - redux

Reyes working on his laptop - his words may now be haunting his allies. 

In March 2008, the Colombian military bombed a FARC guerrilla camp located just across the border in Ecuador, killing a guerrilla leader and leading to the recovery of computer files. Today, consequences of that attack may bomb relations between Colombia and its neighbors. 

A London think tank just released a studying arguing that the Venezuelan government cooperated closely with Colombia's guerrillas, who are considered terrorists by Colombia, the United States and the European Union.

In the attack - which had certain similarities to the U.S.'s killing of Osama bin Laden - Colombia killed FARC 'foreign minister' Raul Reyes and other guerrillas and recovered a trove of computerized guerrilla communications. At that time, the attack and evidence released by Colombia of Venezuelan government collaboration with the guerrillas ruptured diplomatic ties between Colombia and its neighbors Ecuador and Venezuela - and even brought talk of war. Venezuela alleged that the computer files had been falsified - even tho international experts endorsed them as genuine.

In recent months, and with a new president in Bogotá, relations between Colombia and its neighbors have warmed.

However, after the attack on the camp, then-Pres. Alvaro Uribe had turned over the computer information to the London-based International Institute of Strategic Studies think tank. And today the IISS released its findings - which incriminate Venezuela and its leftist Pres. Hugo Chavez.

According to the IISS, as reported in El Tiempo, the Guardian and the New York Times, messages in the computers showed that the Chavez government had offered the FARC money to buy weapons, let the guerrillas use Venezuelan territory and warned the guerrillas about Venezuelan military manuevers to permit the guerrillas to move camp. In return, the FARC allegedly helped train Venezuelans in guerrilla fighting tactics and may even have provided assassins to kill Venezuelan government opponents in Venezuela.

The cooperation with the FARC was a Venezuelan "state policy," according to the IISS.

The IISS study also reports evidence that the FARC contributed to the campaign of Ecuador Pres. Rafael Correa, but that the relationship didn't become institutionalized.

I was struck by one internal message in which a guerrilla leader told another that the Venezuelans would wait for a loan to be paid back "when we achieve power" in Colombia. That's as clear an indication as any of the FARC's - and perhaps also the Venezuelan government's - detachment from reality.

Venezuela's embassies in London and Washington D.C. issued a statement calling into question the computer files' authenticity. They and the Ecuadoreans are, however, about the only ones who have questioned that authenticity, suggesting there's yet another worldwide conspiracy afoot against Hugo Chavez and his revolution.

The Santos administration has been trying hard to improve relationships with its leftist neighbors, and recently defied the U.S. by extraditing a Venezuelan narcotrafficker to Caracas, while Chavez angered his leftist allies by handing over the FARC's press officer in Europe to Colombia. To preserve relations, Santos isn't commenting on the IISS report. However, ex-Colombian Pres. Alvaro Uribe, who clashed constantly with Chavez and once even compared Chavez to Hitler and has criticized Santos' reproachment with Venezuela, must be grinning. This report was a grenade which Uribe tossed upwards years ago and which is finally landing, with the potential to blow up Colombia's relationship with its neighbors.

If the IISS report is accurate, however, the relationship may be doomed, anyway. The report says that the FARC-Venezuela relationship had become so institutionalized that it's not likely to end.

I can only suspect they are correct - at least in terms of the past. When I visited Venezuelan-Colombian border areas about seven years ago, people on both sides of the border described Venezuelan military sympathy and support for the Colombian guerrillas.

And it's worth recalling that the Raul Reyes file are only part of the evidence of Venezuelan support for Colombia's guerrillas. There are also the guerrilla camps in Venezuela, Venezuelan army weapons found in guerrilla hands and even statements by Venezuelan leaders.

None of which is surprising, considering Chavez's dogmatic ideology, which demonizes his critics and idolizes the enemies of his enemies. And his faith in dialectic, as opposed to real-life evidence.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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