The Andean standoff The U.S. view of the standoff
Mar 042008

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 Chávez’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 Álvaro Uribe’s representatives have approached the International Criminal Court, the UN Security Council and the OAS with charges that President Chávez 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 Raúl Reyes early Saturday. The evidence, according to Colombian Police Chief Gen. Óscar 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 Chávez or top Venezuelan officials approved of any payments. The intercepted communications talk of contacts with a Venezuelan “boss” who is code-named “Ángel.” He is apparently someone important, but is “Ángel” Hugo Chávez? 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 “Ángel” and the Venezuelans.
  • Why this would be a good deal for Venezuela. If Hugo Chávez’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 Iván Márquez, who met publicly in Caracas with Chávez in November when Chávez was an official peace facilitator, to the rest of the Secretariat:

    For two days we met with Rodríguez [most likely Venezuelan Interior Minister Ramón Rodríguez Chacín]. … 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 Ángel, and the cojo Ernesto. [El Tiempo claims that the "boss" is Chávez 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 Iván Márquez 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 Ángel 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. Ángel 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, Ángel designated Ernesto to coordinate with us.

  • February 14, 2008 – From Iván Márquez and Ricardo Granda, to the FARC Secretariat:

    2. With regard to the “dossier” we see as of determining importance the conversation suggested by Ángel 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 Ángel 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.

21 Responses to ““Ángel” and the “dossier””

  1. LFM Says:

    Spot on, Adam. I’ve been wondering about this myself and in Colombia nobody seems to be asking these questions.

  2. jcg Says:

    I’ve read the entire set of e-mails or documents once, and I agree that a lot depends on what those code names and encoded sections of the text actually mean.

    That being the case, I’m not entirely willing to accept the Colombian government’s accusations at face value.

    But even so, other parts of the text which openly or implicitly refer to Chávez indicate at the very least a worrying political alliance between the parties and some of their future plans to pressure the Colombian government nationally and internationally.

    At least for some of the FARC members involved, there are also clear commitments to war and their ultimate revolutionary victory beyond the result of the ongoing humanitarian discussions.

    And still…there might be more incriminating documents that have not been revealed so far.

    Of course, this is all assuming that the documents are real, which is far from clear and should definitely be verified by other entities.

  3. Jaime Bustos Says:

    To talk about The Colombian State Intelligence would be an oxymoron. But US intelligence is another matter. Recently a bill was discussed in the US senate to declare Venezuela to be a Terrorist State, well before the SA crisis started.

    The alleged documents found in Reyes’ computer seem to strongly evidence this point of view, what must not be taken as another coincidence, what with the Exxon Mobil standoff and all.

    Whether Chavez is involved in financing guerrillas or not is beyond my ken.

    One thing’s for certain, there are more political and economical interests in this game than the average citizen could anticipate.

  4. Chris Says:

    The evidence to date, which not only includes what the Colombian government has presented thus far, but also reactions and comments made by the Venezuelan government in the past and in particular these last couple of days, leads me to believe that Chavez (Venezuela) is supporting the FARC. To what extent thus far, I can’t say. If the evidence from Raul Reyes’ computer is somewhat verified, then it would seem that there was some very serious aide being provided to the FARC by Chavez.

    It will be difficult to prove without a doubt that Chavez and company were aiding the FARC; however, the preponderance of the evidence will lead to an obvious conclusion. For me, we’re reaching that point with what I have seen to date.

    Jaime…I don’t know if this particular incident is wrought with various political and economic interests, but I would agree that the whole situation down there is/has been on several levels.

  5. Chris Says:

    Let me take one thing back…I can see where the events in these past days have more to do with other interests at play, rather than all of this being the direct result of the death of one man.

  6. Camilla Says:

    Why would Chavez give $300 million to a group as detested as the FARC? Simple, Adam – because he likes them. And money is his formula.

    Chavez himself is despised by all thinking people in Venezuela, which pretty much anyone with an education or a desire to be productive. With everyone else, he knows that the ‘popularity’ he holds is solely derived from money, the pork-barrel spending he uses to buy votes and loyalty. If Chavez had no money, do you think he’d be popular with the poor and those who for whatever reason do not think? Chavez knows his only appeal is money and without it, he is nothing.

    So, same deal with the FARC. If the FARC has lots of money to pay off collaborators and cronies, it too will be popular with a certain segment of voters. Some people always gravitate to where the money is, in Chavez’s calculation.

    The other thing is, the $300 million is probably seed capital for continuing the criminal enterprise. Chavez wanted FARC to be self-sufficient from his oil money and oil contracts through an enterprise. If they had that cash cow going, they’d be able to continue their terrorism indefinitely. Remember: With Uribe beating the hell out of FARC, their main strategy is to wait him out for three years until they can elect their own Chavista. $300 million is a lot of campaign cash to get that Chavista elected on their behalf. Cash works better than guns to achieve this aim.

  7. Camilla Says:

    Adam – from what I could tell in those documents, the FARC seemed to be saying they got the first $50 million in hand and Chavez’s schedule was for 200 that year. Based on that, I suspect at least some of the Chavista cash was delivered to FARC.

    By the way, did you see the little El Tiempo youtube showing that the Colombian armed forces found $39,000 cash in dollars at the Reyes guerrilla camp. How does one get hold of $39,000 in dollars in the Colombian jungle, why does one need that much and what does one do with it once one has it?

  8. Camilla Says:

    I left one thing out on my Post 6: Chavez and Correa seek to transform FARC into a transnational military force and that takes $300 million or more. Chavez has already been trying to get recognition for FARC as a normal fighting force with the same stature as the Colombian army. He’d like nothing better than to modernize FARC to act as his proxy to eventually topple the Colombian government – which he repeated stated as his aim.


  9. tim Says:

    despite all your uribe apologetics, i’m sure you’re smart enough to suppose why the farc would have bundles of cash sitting around. why would escobar have had bundles of cash? what would he have done with it (other than buy exotic wild animals)? the conflict in colombia is ongoing because american youth won’t stop snorting coke, and that market sure doesn’t function in pesos….

  10. rainer cale Says:

    It is beyond obvious that “Venezuela” has been assisting the FARC for years, in offering asylum, in materiel, and other logistical support. This is not new. What is new at this point is that Uribe is finally cashing in on the political capital implicit in this obvious fact.

    The question is at what levels the assistance has taken place (Adam’s point 1). I.e., is it a matter of opportunistic coronels and generals turning a quick profit under the table, or is it part of Chavez’ political agenda?

    The term “Venezuela” needs to be carefully dissected.

  11. Jaime Bustos Says:

    lcg, LFM – and others – This interesting article, might support my thesis about the Colombian government being only but a stooge: The Gaza Bombshell

  12. jcg Says:

    Indirectly, yes.

    It at least shows that the U.S. government is capable of engaging in relatively similar shadowy activities in another country.

    Directly, not at all.

    What matters is not only extrapolation from general capabilities or willpower, but something concrete regarding the current Andean crisis.

    Enough said.

  13. Colombia: “Uribe Ignores His Wise Men” « The New Market Machines Says:

    [...] Center for International Policy takes a look at the excerpts already published, in a post called “Ángel and the [...]

  14. Tambopaxi Says:

    Adam, to your question on why Chavez would consider passing $300m to the FARC, I’d posit a couple of possibilities (in no particular order):

    1. Logistical/admin support to the FARC for weapons, clothing, equipment, provisions, etc., plus simple ops support for troops in the field.

    2. Support for agitprop/public commo/diplomacy efforts.

    3. Joint commercial ventures between VZ and the FARC of licit (front companies or simply legitimate enterprises) and illicit nature (dope and… was this uranium thing really real?).

    4. Impulse support; Chavez is simply impulsive, expansive guy who’s quite capable of simply dashing off a check for million(s) kind of like you and I might buy a drink or lunch for a friend. I know this might boggle some minds, but the guy seems to be quite the impulse spender…

    Camilla, I saw the same video of the $39K count. That kind of cash would be for buying provisions in Ecuador or southern Colombia, buying off local authorities, covering FARC payrolls in the neighborhood and occasional good guy, neighborhood support gestures like covering med expenses of campesinos or their kids, etc… I note in the photos of the attack site that there were some nice gasoline generators and other equipment which I’d imagine was bought in Ecuador…

  15. Camilla Says:

    Thanks, Tambopaxi. I also agree with the rest of your post.

  16. Maximón Says:

    “Remember: With Uribe beating the hell out of FARC, their main strategy is to wait him out for three years until they can elect their own Chavista. $300 million is a lot of campaign cash to get that Chavista elected on their behalf. Cash works better than guns to achieve this aim.”

    Are you sure? Political assassination has worked well for Uribe and friends. If FARC did receive money, maybe it could be used to buy some of Uribe’s friends back?

    Colombia is a mess with violence, foreign money and interests. I would be very disappointed if this actually was real and not made up in the imaginations of Colombian political elite, but even if it was true Chavez would be appearing very late on the stage of foreign political manipulation in Colombia.

    One clear piece was that Chavez and others were making progress on getting hostages released – pisos pequeños. Uribe did not like it and did not want it to continue. Uribe wants and needs the FARC to be a “terrorist” to justify extralegal action and maintain a grip on power. If we want to talk about Chavez buying off the poor (…if only they had an education they would know better right?), we should also talk about Uribe manipulating peoples fear while working towards an unending conflict where Uribe is continually beating back the FARC. I have an idea of which one is worse, and not based on condescending superiority of the wealth’s education.

  17. Boli-NIca Says:

    From reading through this, I would venture an educated guess: There is a scam that Chavez and the rest of the petro-kleptocracy have perfected, and it is beautifully simple and fool-proof: The Gov. of Venezuela gives you – normally through a front company- a contract to “commercialize” x amount of barrels of crude. Placed on the market, it sells you get a juicy commission, and per the contract it gets placed in bank of your choice. Venezuela gets the oil revenue, if it bothers to, it claims x, y or z reason why sold at discounted rate. DEA, Interpol can’t say a thing, the money is clean, contract between oil rich country, private company for oil accounted for. El Nuevo Herald picked up on this a couple of years ago, and it involved opposition figures. Chavez was buying them off.

    So basically, the FARC would get the rights to commercialize $300 M bucks worth of crude, under a front company. Sold discounted, or at rate, it could net them a lot of money.

  18. Mike Says:

    Why can’t Chavez give foreign aid to FARC if the U.S. could give foreign aid to the Contras? (and continues to threaten to, even as recently as the last election) Even if you accept that the U.S. has the right to dictate who is terrorist to the Venezuelans… do you really think the U.S. has never paid off a terrorist organization to get some hostages released, or more nefarious ends? Remember how the Republicans promised the Iranians to give arms for hostages in Iran, but not until after Carter was defeated! (Not much different from how they undercut the peace negotiations in Vietnam promising a better deal in 1968 – the Republicans are traitors to core soul and essence, though the NVA are usually exempted from the terrorist label) I bet they’re paying Osama bin Laden right now, or why no more attacks?

  19. Plan Colombia and Beyond » About those FARC documents... Says:

    [...] blog has already expressed skepticism about the accuracy of some of the information culled from laptop computers [...]

  20. Mary Says:

    Why is Chavez “buying” the support of the poor worse than Bush buying the support of the super-rich with super-big tax cuts , vast deregulation, and hand-over-fist war profiteer theft?

    That’s ALWAYS been the propaganda of the rich toward populist leaders. They’re “buying” the poor–with good jobs, with decent wages, with health care, with unemployment insurance, with Social Security, etc., etc. Isn’t this just POLITICS? Isn’t this DEMOCRACY–for the MAJORITY to ELECT leaders who BENEFIT the MAJORITY? Why is this bad–and the many ways that the rich secure advantage for their class, often by dirty, underhanded, illegal, bribing means–okay?

    Chavez is using the country’s main resource–oil–to build schools, medical clinics and much needed infrastructure, for land reform, for low cost housing, for stimulating small business (10% growth rate, with the biggest growth in the PRIVATE sector)–and, in general, to bootstrap the poor. Is this not the best use of Venezuela’s money? Would it be better used for second yachts and third homes for Exxon Mobil execs? For two jaguars for Venezuela’s oil elite–an elite that failed its own people, in every conceivable way, including wretched land policy (resulting in Venezuela losing food security)? (The Chavez government has created the FIRST food self-sufficiency project in Venezuela’s history–and a very good one, that that.)

    And so, if you think the poor are stupid–after they elected and reelected a leader who benefits THEM–and you frame benefiting the poor as merely “buying” their support (what about FDR, hm?)–why should I trust your framing of the Uribe drug cartel’s framing of Chavez as a “terrorist supporter”? And why should I trust Bush’s bus boy Uribe’s alleged FARC computer contents? Do I smell WMDs in Iraq? Al Qaeda in Iraq? Or is that smell…naw, it’s not the fishy small of baldfaced lies and cooked intelligence. It’s the sweet smell of crude!

  21. Not a dumb fascist Says:

    It’s hilarious how people aver that “obviously Chavez is supporting the FARC”, and even more hilarious why those same people won’t answer the obvious question “Even if Chavez does support FARC, why shouldn’t he in the context of a world where lots of other governments are allowed to provide support to supposed terrorists?”

    Because the doctrine of American Exceptionalism prevents us from having an answer to why it is only the US who can decide which terrorist groups are allowed to be supported, we are stuck talking past one another about the simple fact of who is supporting whom.

    Blog commentaries such as this are but another venue for escualidos and other fascist Latinos to flood the web with their illogical bullsh*t about the “threat” posed by the LatAm left. The Bacardi family will never get its hacienda back. Deal with it, you whiny losers!

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