By Nicole M. Ferrand.*
Raul Rayes: Farc's Second in Command.
Evidence Found – The Obama Link
Colombian police chief, General Oscar Naranjo, said that the FARC leader’s computers revealed the following: conversations with American emissaries who assured them that “Obama will be the next U.S. president” and they are glad of this outcome because he rejects both the Bush administration’s free trade agreement with Colombia and the current military aid program, “Plan Colombia.” In a December 11 message to the FARC’s secretariat, Ivan Marquez, the insurgents’ apparent go-between with Chavez, reads: “If you are in agreement, I can receive “Jim” and “Tucker” to hear the proposal of the gringos (Yankees).” Writing two days before his death, Reyes tells his comrades that “the gringos,” working through Ecuador’s government, are interested “in talking to us on various issues.” Reyes writes that his response to the Americans was that the United States would have to publicly express these positions.
The Chavez Connection
The captured computers provide details of long-term financial connections between Mr. Chavez and the FARC leadership revealing the latter’s desire to undermine Colombia’s U.S.-allied government. In a December 23 message signed by Marquez (believed to live in Venezuela), he writes about a $300 million gift from Chavez to the rebels,” referred to as the “dossier.” In a January 14 missive, Jorge Briceno, their much-feared field marshal discusses what to do with the “dossier.” “Who, where, when and how will we receive the dollars and store them?” he asks fellow members of the FARC’s seven-man ruling secretariat.
Farc’s goal of destroying Uribe
Uribe has worked as no other Colombian president to defeat the FARC. So it’s no surprise that in the January 14 message, Briceno discusses a desire to undermine Uribe by making him cede a safe haven to the FARC for talks on a prisoner swap. “Uribe will become more isolated, together with his boss from the North,” the text says—a clear reference to President Bush, whose government provides Colombia with some $600 million a year in military aid. In a document dated February 9, Marquez passes along Chavez’s thanks for a $150,000 gift when he was imprisoned from 1992-94 for leading a failed coup—and indicates Chavez’s desire to smear Uribe. In it, Marquez says Venezuela wants documentation of damage by Colombia’s military to “the civilian population, also images of bombardments in the jungle and its devastation—to use as a denunciation before the world.” In a February 8 letter, Marquez discusses Chavez’s plan to try to persuade leading Latin American nations to help get the FARC removed from lists of international terror groups. Also, at least three of the documents express Chavez’s deep desire to meet with Marulanda (the leader of the FARC), hopefully on Venezuelan soil. Marulanda has reportedly never left Colombia.
Marquez also says Chavez is prepared to offer Venezuelan territory for the FARC’s desired prisoner swap, which would be a huge embarrassment for Uribe. The FARC has proposed exchanging some 40 hostages, including three U.S. military contractors, for hundreds of rebels currently in Colombia’s jails. The FARC captured the three when their surveillance plane crashed in February 2003. In a February 9 letter, Marquez also relays Chavez’s concern about the 60-year U.S. prison sentence given to FARC commander, Ricardo Palmera aka “Simon Trinidad” for conspiring to hold the three Americans hostage. He writes that Chavez “was disposed to hire paid lawyers,” presumably for Palmera. The message indicates that Chavez believes his rebel sympathies may have hurt him politically. One communication said Chavez told a rebel contact that this public support may have contributed to his losing the Referendum that would have consolidated his power.
Colombian former Presidential Candidate, Ingrid Betancourt, has become a celebrity in France. French contacts with Reyes are mentioned in several documents, including a request that the French envoy, identified only as “Noe,” be granted a meeting with Marulanda.
Correa’s Links with the FARC
The documents indicate that Chavez’s ally, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, was similarly engaged with the rebels. Before Saturday’s raid, Correa’s official position was that he wouldn’t take sides. But in a January 18 message, Reyes says he received Ecuadorian Internal Security Minister, Gustavo Larrea, and another envoy who expressed Correa’s interest “in making official, relations with the FARC’s leadership.” Correa’s government was willing “to change officers in the security forces who have been hostile to communities and civilians” in the border area where the FARC has camps, Reyes said. Ecuador even offered to “give documentation and protection to one of ours,” he wrote. Larrea has acknowledged the meeting but said it was only to press for the hostages’ release.
There is a reference in the documents to the FARC acquiring 50 kilograms (110 pounds) of uranium. In addition, insiders reveal that there is proof of FARC connections with Ecuadorian President, Rafael Correa, as well as records of $300 million offerings from Hugo Chavez. Also mentioned were thank you notes from the Venezuelan leader, dating back to 1992; directions on how to make a Dirty Bomb; information on Russian illegal arms dealer, Viktor Bout, who was captured this week; and the FARC funding Correa’s campaign. Other documents and photographs found taken from the FARC camp just inside Ecuador showed contacts between Reyes and Ecuadorian Interior Minister Gustavo Larrea. “This indicates collusion, a sort of association between the government of Ecuador and the FARC,” charged Colombian Defense Minister, Juan Manuel Santos. Another letter is addressed to Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi asking for $100 million to buy surface-to-air missiles.
US Democrats, the FARC and Bill Clinton
A mediation role for Garcia Marquez on behalf of U.S. Democrats is detailed in a letter dated Aug. 23 to members of the secretariat from the FARC’s chief ideologue, Alfonso Cano. “Garcia Marquez is in charge of this mediation with the FARC on behalf of the USA, and these people want Panama to be the country through which talks with the FARC occur.” The letter says “Clinton told Garcia Marquez in Cartagena, ‘I want to have a personal effort. I want to help Colombia. An agreement with the FARC should be sought.’
Bogotá said they would present computer records to the United Nations and the Organization of American States (OAS). Colombian President, Alvaro Uribe, recently issued a statement saying “the revelations on the accords between the FARC terrorist group and the governments of Ecuador and Venezuela will be made known” to the OAS and the UN. Meanwhile, both Venezuela and Ecuador have strongly denied having ties to the FARC even though the documents reflect their complicity. This is potentially very damaging as the FARC has been designated a “terrorist organization” by Colombia, the United States and the European Union because of its tactics of extortion, kidnappings, money laundering and drug trafficking.
Escalation to Military Conflict
After some evidence was revealed, Chavez and Correa knew how damaging this could be for them and so in a desperate attempt to distract the public, they ordered troops to mass near their borders with Colombia, triggering fears of a conflict between two leftist governments and the United States’ main southern ally. Quito and Caracas said the ordered deployments were defensive, to “avoid” any further incursions by Bogota. Curiously, Venezuelan troops were not sent to the most populated parts of the border with Colombia; they were sent to the most remote parts of the thick jungles along the border. It is likely that the purpose of the Venezuelan troop movement was designed to protect the FARC forces from further attacks from the Uribe government.
In an unexpected move that many Colombians feel was calculated to discredit their military, Ecuador claimed it was on the verge of negotiating the release of twelve hostages, including the seriously ill former Colombian presidential candidate, Ingrid Betancourt, when Colombia attacked. According to Mr. Correa, the death of the FARC’s Mr. Reyes has critically derailed the release process.
Colombia, for its part, insisted Sunday that it did not violate Ecuador’s sovereignty, because its military operations were taken for “legitimate defense.” In a statement from its foreign ministry, Bogota added that it would issue a formal response to Correa’s complaint. “Terrorists, including Raul Reyes, customarily have carried out assassinations in Colombia, and then flee to neighboring countries for refuge,” the response from Bogota read. In addition, since Chavez and Correa have said previously that they shared a common border with the FARC and not with Colombia, the attack that killed Reyes and his comrades did not violate Ecuador’s sovereign territory, but rather it took place in a sanctuary that the FARC leader had established in Ecuador.
Reyes, 59, whose real name was Luis Edgar Devia, was a union leader working for Swiss food giant, Nestle in the southern department of Caquetá when he joined the FARC in the 1970s. Reyes had been viewed as a possible successor to the group’s 77-year-old and sick boss, Manuel Marulanda, a.k.a “Tirofijo.” Reyes’ killing was a major success for Uribe, who has taken a tough stance against the FARC, South America’s biggest and longest lasting insurgency group. Reyes’s death came three days after the FARC unilaterally released four former lawmakers who had been held hostage for years, handing them over to the Venezuelan government and the Red Cross in a snub to Uribe.
The Correa-Chavez Joint Front
It is thought by many analysts that Chavez’s bellicose stance towards the Uribe government was a response based on attempts to distract Venezuelans from the food shortages, high prices and soaring crime at home, while Ecuador’s, Rafael Correa wanted to distract public opinion from the basic question: Why did he allow Colombian terrorists to take refuge inside his country?
The core problem is that Colombia’s success in combating the FARC and drug trafficking has angered several leftist governments in the region: Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Nicaragua, while Colombia’s Uribe is a conservative who has received about five billion dollars in U.S. aid since 2000 to fight drugs and leftist rebels. So what was originally seen as a major victory for Colombia against the FARC has become the stick that Ecuador and Venezuela are using to beat Mr. Uribe over Colombia’s relationship with the United States.
The Rio Summit - Has the Crisis Really Ended?
After six days of tension which led some to fear inter-state armed conflict in the Andes, the conflict was suddenly declared “overcome” by Presidents Uribe, Correa, Chávez, and Ortega on Friday afternoon (March 7, 2008) at the Rio Summit in the Dominican Republic; but it is too early to claim that the conflict has really ended. Even though Nicaragua re-established relations with Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela have not done so. Correa said he would first consult with Chávez, and Chávez stated that he is analyzing the situation. Even once relations are re-established, tensions will likely continue for years to come. This week has left a lot of open wounds, including the allegations by the Colombian government against both Ecuador and Venezuela of cooperating with the FARC. Even though the Colombian government initially invited the OAS to review the incriminating laptop computers, the Interpol is already inspecting them. What may come of these investigations, only time will tell.
The real goal behind the “Rio Summit” was to obtain “belligerent status” for the FARC. If this happens, the terrorist group could run for elections and that would be the end for Colombia. Diplomats at the UN and the Organization of American States who have criticized the Uribe government in Bogotá for last week’s raid into Ecuador ought to carefully weigh the evidence before granting moral equivalence to a raid against a terror group and the overthrow of a democratically elected government. During the summit, it was clear that Uribe stood mostly alone, being attacked by Correa, Kirchner, Ortega, Morales and Chavez who vehemently defended the FARC saying that it was a “belligerent group” and should be recognized as such.
So when the Colombian leader gave glimpses of concrete facts that were found in the computers, the other leaders became enraged and kept insulting Uribe, trying to squeeze him. Then Chavez, trying to distract the audience from the incriminating evidence, talked endlessly about insignificant innuendos and stole the show by inviting Chavista Colombian congresswoman, Piedad Cordoba and the mother of Ingrid Betancourt into the assembly, even showing a video of a FARC prisoner to the audience.
Many observers became puzzled by the abrupt change of mood in the summit when Uribe stood up, and began shaking hands with the leftist leaders with whom he had exchanged strong words but Uribe is a great politician and knew he was in unfriendly territory: most of the attendees, with the exception of Peru and Brazil, owe everything to Chavez and would never go against him. Uribe is aware of the evidence and is wise to understand that it is better for an unbiased organization to reveal the complete contents of Reyes’ computers so it has greater impact around the globe.
Until recently, many doubted Chavez’s and Correa’s close relationship with the FARC. However, Reyes’ laptops have now provided proof that this link exists and that the FARC guerillas are given sanctuary inside Venezuela and Ecuador with the knowledge of both Chávez and Correa.
As a Venezuelan opposition leader, Alejandro Peña Esclusa correctly states: “The overreaction of Chávez, breaking diplomatic relations with Colombia, using as an excuse the defense of the sovereignty is –in addition to being false– also hypocritical. False, because it is not up to him to defend the Ecuadorian territory; and hypocritical, because if there is someone who has violated the sovereignty of other nations it is precisely Chávez, for having openly and shamelessly supported his political allies in other countries, something which has cost him numerous denunciations, some of them recorded in the OAS. In short, the disproportionate reaction of Chávez is due first of all, to the fact that his close friend and political comrade (Raúl Reyes) died; and secondly, because he would like to cover up his responsibility regarding his ties to a terrorist and drug trafficking organization which –paradoxically– commits serious crimes not only in Colombia, but also in Venezuela.”
Without doubt, Alvaro Uribe has emerged as the winner. In a tumultuous week, Colombia’s most wanted FARC leader was killed, the Venezuelan president’s most important contact has been eliminated, Uribe has invaluable information from FARC laptops and on top of it all resolved a regional crisis. Faced with a calm and collected Uribe, Chávez could do little else but to stop cursing and shake the hand offered to him, and Correa and Ortega followed their mentor and did the same.
To end an excellent week for the Colombian President, on March 7th, another top commander of the FARC was killed by one of his own men. Ivan Rios, the youngest person on the seven-member secretariat of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, was shot dead in the country’s northwestern coffee-producing region this week. Defense Minister, Juan Manuel Santos, later told reporters Rios was assassinated by one of his own fighters. The chief bodyguard to Rios who later told reporters that morale in the group is at an all-time low, took credit for the killing and turned over the right hand of his late boss as proof, Santos said. Rios, a protégé of aging FARC supreme leader, Manuel Marulanda, was in charge of reorganizing operations that had been hit hard by the government’s US-backed military offensive. “This is a severe blow to morale of the FARC, which never lost a top leader before Reyes was killed last weekend,” said Pablo Casas at the Bogota think-tank Security & Democracy. “If the government keeps up the pressure and the FARC keeps losing people like this, it is going to be left brainless.”
*Nicole M. Ferrand is a research analyst and editor of “The Americas Report” of the Menges Hemispheric Security Project at the Center for Security Policy in Washington DC. (www.centerforsecuritypolicy.org). She is a graduate of Columbia University in Economics and Political Science with a background in Law from Peruvian University, UNIFE and in Corporate Finance from Georgetown University.
 New Docs Detail Colombian Rebel Ties. March 10, 2008. Federal News Radio.
 Open letter to Alvaro Uribe: Hugo Chávez is –indeed– closely tied to terrorism. March 9, 2008. Diario de America.