At this point in the ongoing Colombia-Ecuador-Venezuela crisis, a central issue requiring clarification is the nature of Venezuelan support for the FARC. Has Hugo ChÃ¡vez’s government merely been engaging in political and hostage-exchange dialogues with the guerrillas, or has he begun providing them with material support?
The Colombian government, obviously, thinks that Caracas has begun to fund the FARC, and is saying so publicly for the first time. President Ãlvaro Uribe’s representatives have approached the International Criminal Court, the UN Security Council and the OAS with charges that President ChÃ¡vez arranged to provide the FARC with money, perhaps $300 million. The Venezuelan support, they say, might have been in the form of oil or some other goods that would be sold, the profits laundered through front companies.
These charges are based on files found on laptop computers recovered at the site in Ecuador where the Colombian military killed top-ranking FARC leader RaÃºl Reyes early Saturday. The evidence, according to Colombian Police Chief Gen. Ã“scar Naranjo, “not only implies closeness, but an armed alliance between the FARC and the Venezuelan government.”
But what do those files say about Venezuela financially supporting the FARC?
The files do make it appear that some sort of scheme was underway. But it is extraordinarily serious to charge that Venezuela has begun to finance the violent overthrow of a neighboring state. One had better be extra certain before making it; the world now knows that acting on faulty intelligence can have highly tragic results.
Several points need to be clarified:
- Whether President ChÃ¡vez or top Venezuelan officials approved of any payments. The intercepted communications talk of contacts with a Venezuelan “boss” who is code-named “Ãngel.” He is apparently someone important, but is “Ãngel” Hugo ChÃ¡vez? The Colombian government thinks so, but the documents made available are far from clear.
- Whether any payments were delivered. The last communication, from mid-February, indicates that they were not, that discussions about how to deliver the goods were ongoing with the code-named individuals.
- How serious Venezuela was about this offer. We are reading the accounts of FARC leaders who are eager to make the deal happen. We do not have a sense of the real level of enthusiasm on the part of “Ãngel” and the Venezuelans.
- Why this would be a good deal for Venezuela. If Hugo ChÃ¡vez’s goal is to spread leftist “Bolivarian” politics in Latin America and Colombia, why would he believe that the FARC would be the right vehicle? Why lavish $300 million on a force that is widely despised in Colombia, and which has seen its military capabilities reduced from a late-1990s peak? It simply doesn’t make sense.
Here are translations of relevant excerpts from 36 pages of FARC communications that Colombia’s main newspaper, El Tiempo, posted to its website today (PDF). Draw your own conclusions.
- December 23, 2007 – from FARC Secretariat member IvÃ¡n MÃ¡rquez, who met publicly in Caracas with ChÃ¡vez in November when ChÃ¡vez was an official peace facilitator, to the rest of the Secretariat:
For two days we met with RodrÃguez [most likely Venezuelan Interior Minister RamÃ³n RodrÃguez ChacÃn]. … With relation to the 300, which from now on we will call “dossier,” efforts are now going forward at the instructions of the boss to the cojo [slang term for a handicapped or feeble person, similar to "cripple"], which I will explain in a separate note. Let’s call the boss Ãngel, and the cojo Ernesto. [El Tiempo claims that the "boss" is ChÃ¡vez and the "cojo" is a former Venezuelan foreign minister serving as a go-between.]
- January 14, 2008 – From someone identifying himself as “Jorge,” to the FARC Secretariat:
The “dossier” is under collective, delicate, hard-headed, able and responsible direction.
1. Who, where, when and how will we receive and guard the dollars?
2. [We must] Determine what materiel we need, the quantity, prices, transportation, routes, loading and unloading sites, sellers, buyers, and ways and techniques of doing the business.
3. If they donate to us merchandise that is useful and appropriate to an irregular guerrilla war, we can clarify what it is, to give them our opinion, always insisting on what is promised.
- February 8, 2008 – From IvÃ¡n MÃ¡rquez and Ricardo Granda, the so-called “FARC foreign minister” released from a Colombian jail last June, to the FARC Secretariat:
1. We had our meeting with Ãngel on [encoded or redacted]. He personally received the letter from comrade Manuel [Marulanda], which he read aloud. He seemed very content. He will write to the comrade.
2. He has the first 50 ready, and has a timetable for completing 200 over the course of the year.
3. The friend from [encoded or redacted] suggested that the package go through the black market to avoid problems. The 17th of this month a high-ranking delegate of this friend will come to [encoded or redacted] to finalize the list. Ãngel has asked us to be there so that we can arrange it personally with this delegate. This is key.
4. He offered us the possibility of a deal in which we receive a share of petroleum to sell internationally, which would leave us a juicy profit.
Another offer: to sell gasoline in Colombia or Venezuela. Taking from the “dossier,” the creation of a profitable investment company in Venezuela. The possibility to win some government contracts. The manager of [encoded or redacted] participated in everything related to this issue. For this, Ãngel designated Ernesto to coordinate with us.
- February 14, 2008 – From IvÃ¡n MÃ¡rquez and Ricardo Granda, to the FARC Secretariat:
2. With regard to the “dossier” we see as of determining importance the conversation suggested by Ãngel himself this [encoded or redacted] with the [encoded or redacted], sent by the [encoded or redacted] to deal with the issue of the [encoded or redacted]. We understand that Ãngel will pay with [encoded or redacted] and later will discount the agreed amount. They guarantee the deal. [encoded or redacted] is to cover the operation. That is why we think it is important that Comrade Manuel [Marulanda] authorizes attending this invitation, which is coming soon.
3. For the financial deal, they offer us three possibilities:
A. Sale of [encoded or redacted], leaving the profit for us. We haven’t specified whether they will do the operation with their infrastructure, or whether we must do it ourselves through a friendly company, which would get a percentage.
B. Sale of [encoded or redacted] to sell in Colombia or in Venezuela. For this a company would also be required.
C. Assignation through [encoded or redacted] of diverse projects, for which we have an experienced, trustworthy partner and comrade who works with us. We have another friendly company, with which we could work to explore possibilities.
4. The meeting of [encoded or redacted] will help specify these three points and whether or not we should commit resources.