Friday links About those FARC documents…
Mar 102008

Yesterday, the Colombian newsmagazine Semana published a series of guerrilla communications, apparently recovered from computers found at the site where FARC leader “Raúl Reyes” was killed on March 1.

They include this tantalizing passage, in an August 23, 2007 communication from FARC Secretariat member Alfonso Cano to the other six secretariat commanders.

The Democrats of the USA, in Colombia, who were in Venezuela before, say they have a clear position about a political negotiation with the FARC. [Colombian Nobel Laureate author Gabriel] García Márquez is in charge of this intermediation with the FARC on behalf of the USA, and they want Panama to be the country through which to talk to the FARC. For this, García Márquez has already transferred that request to [Panamanian President Martín] Torrijos, and he accepted. Clinton told García Márquez in Cartagena, “I want to have a personal task. I want to help Colombia. An accord with the FARC must be sought.” Senator McGovern [almost definitely Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Massachusetts)] told García Márquez that: Bush wants to make Colombia play the role that West Germany played against socialist Europe, and this must be stopped. He also said that the Democrats’ political analyst specialized in Colombia is Adam Isackson [sic.].

I was pretty surprised to see my name there, however misspelled. But since it is, perhaps I’m in a position to clear up some of this.

  • I don’t know of Bill Clinton expressing any recent desire to be involved in talks with the FARC. That would be surprising, since he has had to dedicate so much time to his wife’s presidential campaign.
  • The involvement of Gabriel García Márquez and Martín Torrijos is also something I had never heard before. If true, it would be encouraging, because both have sufficient credibility with both sides to be useful interlocutors.
  • The “Senator McGovern” in question is definitely not former Senator and presidential candidate George McGovern (D-South Dakota), who has not been to Colombia anytime recently.
  • This leaves Rep. Jim McGovern, who has been to Colombia twice in the past year. But Rep. McGovern has never set foot in Venezuela. In fact, very few congressional Democrats have paid visits to Venezuela since Chávez made his “sulfur” speech at the UN in September 2006.
  • Neither has Rep. McGovern ever met Gabriel García Márquez.
  • Rep. McGovern denies making any bizarre comments about West Germany. (And of course, defenders of U.S. policy could easily point out that West Germany emerged from the Cold War as a stable democracy and an economic powerhouse.)
  • Though more of a legal detail than anything else, I should make clear that I have no formal ties to the Democratic Party. It just so happens that many more Democrats than Republicans agree with CIP’s critiques of, and recommendations for, U.S. policy toward Colombia and Latin America. Getting those recommendations enacted, in fact, requires the support of at least a fair number of Republicans.

With so many glaring inaccuracies, it’s apparent that this FARC communication is either a blatant fabrication or the result of a series of miscommunications fed in part by the guerrillas’ own wishful thinking. It could be that, like the old game of “telephone,” messages get more and more garbled as they are passed along to the top of the guerrilla command.

Knowledge that this particular communication is so inaccurate leads me to two conclusions about the “revelations” from Raúl Reyes’s computers.

  1. They cannot be taken at face value. While what has been recovered so far reveals much about the guerrillas’ thinking, their own understanding of their dealings with the outside world is apparently quite distorted. For me, knowing how badly the guerrillas got things wrong about the “Democrats” calls into question the accuracy of other tidbits recovered from the FARC computers, including Venezuela’s alleged payments or the guerrillas’ apparent efforts to buy uranium.
  2. They underscore the need for trusted interlocutors. The recovered communiqués show how badly information gets garbled and distorted as it passes, slowly, to the guerrilla commanders in their jungle hideouts. If talks with the guerrillas are to go ahead about anything, but especially about freeing their hostages, then both sides need a trusted go-between who can ensure that communications pass efficiently, accurately and in something close to real time. These necessary conversations just can’t happen otherwise. We repeat our call for the appointment of a neutral facilitator, or group of facilitators, that is acceptable to all sides.

34 Responses to “A fairy tale from a guerrilla laptop”

  1. boz Says:

    I compared it on my blog to hearing one side of a telephone conversation. So far, only letters from the FARC have been released. It would be incredibly useful to see (if there are any) communications from anyone the FARC claim to be communicating with.

  2. o-lu Says:

    Todo esto me recuerda la época de los narco-cassettes. No se sabia como ni de donde, pero cada cierto tiempo aparecian grabaciones que involucraban al partido de Samper & cias en oscuros episodios de narcotrafico. Les he escuchado decir a los samperistas que esos cassettes aparecieron cuando éste iniciaba movimientos para empezar un proceso de paz.

  3. Jaime Bustos Says:

    I had overlooked that article in Semana, maybe because my credence to a bunch of creeps, that now govern Colombia is in an all time low.

    If someone takes the time to browse through Colombian news sites, he will only see but pro government propaganda and the associated disgusting parlance and upstart superstars that go with it.

  4. Kyle Says:

    Bustos, you actually are right in many regards. EL Tiempo, in my mind, takes what the authorities say and just publishes it in many instances. But when they send guys out deep in to the campo, they tend to have good reporting. Semana, I’ve found though, is probably the most objective news outlet in Colombia… and by far.
    We should remember that Semana broke the para-politico scandal with the revelations of Jorge 40’s laptop, for example.
    What I think may have happened is that the documents were taken, somewhat, at face value because one could not do anything else. Pretend that you find yourself in the newsroom and you get these documents, what do you do? You can’t not write about them; there’s no way to confirm them though. You have to write about them, so you write about what they say. As far as you know, the government is using the same documents and in some big forums (like the OAS). So they’re probably right, and you write about them.
    This document puts a lot of doubt in many others, though I would tend to say those used at the OAS have more credibility. What should happen is an investigation, by the press, about this and other documents. Maybe something can be cleared up. El Tiempo apparently watches this blog, so may be after seeing that document, someone will wonder over here.

  5. Henry Gomez Says:

    Sounds like damage control to me.

  6. Henry Gomez Says:

    How can you categorically say that McGovern has never met Garcia Marquez? Perhaps on one of his trips to Havana?

  7. Adam Isacson Says:

    I asked his office and they said no.

  8. Jaime Bustos Says:

    Adam: wanted to draw your attention to this occurrence: Hackers Block Access to WordPress Blogs

    Yes? Maybe? Maybe not? :?

  9. lfm Says:

    Busy with no end in sight. But when hell freezes over, one has to react. So here I go. Turns out that there is one point in which I agree with Camilla! I believe the FARC has a political, ideological core to it, perhaps surrounded by several layers that are in it only for the money. But I’ve been saying for a long while that it is a mistake to forget their raison d’etre. Yeah, that’s weird: it’s a rather lonely position but usually the only ones I’ve seen stating it with this clarity are in the far-right. It creeped me out at first, but over time I’ve learned to live with it.

  10. Adam Isacson Says:

    Jaime B: This blog runs on WordPress software, but isn’t hosted by, so we were happily unaffected. – Adam

  11. Jaime Bustos Says:

    Thanks, Adam. But remember , even paranoids get followed around now and then! :P

  12. Paul Says:

    I don’t see the “glaring inaccuracies.” I can see Reyes maybe mixing up who said what to whom. I can see Bill Clinton(expecting in fall of 07 Hillary would zip through the primaries) getting some of that limelight he craves, and perhaps that Nobel Prize he’s spent decades chasing. I can see the “USA Democrats” doing their usual thwarting of Bush’s policies. Also, perhaps McGovern hasnt visited Venezuela, but other Democrats like Rep Delahunt(also from Mass) have. Reyes only mentions “USA Democrats” in that passage.

  13. Boli-Nica Says:

    If this was a forgery, I want to meet the author. Forget that, I want to be his/her agent.

    This is some really fascinating stuff, the debates within the central committee of a Marxist-Leninist army. What these guys end up agreeing on – the official position on any topic – is the iron-clad law for their followers.

    As a prior poster noted, you need to look at where these people are coming from. 50 years in the bush, with a long background in Colombian backwoods political/family feuds is enough to draw you into lunacy. Then throw in Marxist-Leninist ideology, and you know they had an absolutely warped conception of reality to start with. Now their peasant Marxism has meshed nicely with the Bolivarian nonesense with its paranoid view of the “hegemonic” empire attacking not only these “progressives” in Colombia but also Venezuela. In reality, a variation of the nutty conspiratorial stuff many Latin Americans believe anyways.

    Fools tend to believe foolish things. A foolish -overenthused – misreading of what x or y person says is to be expected by these folks. The problem is, this information forms the basis of how they act.

  14. Adam Isacson Says:

    Henry G: Why “damage control”? Other than that odd West Germany comment, there’s nothing damaging there. It would in fact be wonderful to see Clinton and García Márquez playing the George Mitchell role as facilitators or mediators, with Panama offering a potential venue. But sadly, I’ve never heard anything about it and if the idea ever came up, it doesn’t seem to have gone anywhere.

  15. Chris Says:

    I would venture to say that the FARCs idelogical core exists more within the ranks of its followers in Colombia and abroad (non-militant), who vehemently support the cause, but are blind to the criminal acts commited by the militant organization.

    If the FARCs leaders had any ideals, they lost them a long time ago.

    But who really knows…its not like we can read their minds.

  16. Camilla Says:

    I may be absolutely mistaken on this, Adam, but if I recall correctly, an earlier version of this I saw somewhere had the date at 2000, not 2007. If Semana is mistaken and has the date wrong, that would change the whole picture. 2000 was the era of appeasement and Bill Clinton might have been right in the middle of wanting to be a part of that. I can’t see him getting involved in 2007, what with Hillary in the middle of a presidential campaign and Colombia being reviled by Democrats, wouldn’t happen. Wasn’t 2000 the year you got to meet the FARCs as well? I am wondering if Semana erred on the year – I could be wrong, but I will go see if I can find the original reference.

  17. Kyle Says:

    I may be absolutely mistaken on this, Adam, but if I recall correctly, an earlier version of this I saw somewhere had the date at 2000, not 2007. If Semana is mistaken and has the date wrong, that would change the whole picture. 2000 was the era of appeasement and Bill Clinton might have been right in the middle of wanting to be a part of that. I can’t see him getting involved in 2007, what with Hillary in the middle of a presidential campaign and Colombia being reviled by Democrats, wouldn’t happen. Wasn’t 2000 the year you got to meet the FARCs as well? I am wondering if Semana erred on the year – I could be wrong, but I will go see if I can find the original reference.

  18. Kyle Says:

    My bad, with my Mac I had to copy it to the comments submit box to read it in total; hit the wrong button.

    But to comment: “2000 was the era of appeasement and Bill Clinton might have been right in the middle of wanting to be a part of that.”

    Two words: Plan Colombia.

  19. Camilla Says:

    Three more words: Andres “Switzerland” Pastrana.

    Look how soggy and soft the origins of Plan Colombia were at the early stages. Appeasement was a way of life in that era. Plan Colombia eventually did turn it around but only after Bush and Uribe got in there and got down to business:

  20. Chris Says:

    Kyle is Camilla, Camilla is Kyle???

  21. Kyle Says:

    HAha, camilla, did you actually site wikipedia? I know who Andres Pastrana is, and the refernce of Switzerland; but the main thing is that you argued that Bill Clinton wanted to be part of the alleged period of appeasement. Yet he upped military levels to Colombia, kept aid going during the period of decertification and then signed Plan Colombia. How does that say appeasement? Pastrana did cede to the FARC the switzerland-sized bit of land, but at the same time, he did nothing to stop the paramilitaries. It was a huge give and some take.
    It is also up for much debate if Plan Colombia did turn anything around (which almost surely you will misinterpret).
    But if you want to argue that a man who 1.6 billion dollars of aid, the biggest aid (mostly military) package Colombia has ever seen by far, was trying to get in on the appeasement scene, you have to be trying to ignore such glaring pieces of evidence, or you are, well, just really not bright (to put it nicely). Also, while US analysts thought that the conflict could not be solved militarily, policy almost wholeheartedly focused on military approaches, which would be the exact opposite of appeasement. Or maybe we need to remember the push in southern Colombia, the list goes on and I needn’t continue it for someone who picks and chooses evidence.
    I am going to source something legitimate:

    Arnson, Cynthia J. “The Peace Process In Colombia and U.S. Policy.” in Gallon, Gustavo and Welna, Christopher, eds. Peace, Democracy, and Human Rights in Colombia. Notre Dame, Indiana: Notre Dame University Press.

  22. lfm Says:

    Kyle: I admire your faith in human kind. You think that Camilla will accept as legitimate a book edited by Gustavo Gallon? I do. But brace yourself for a new outpour of bile, which I’m sure you’re already used to.

  23. Chris Says:

    News is reporting that Ivan Marquez might have been injured in combat and is being treated and safeguarded by Venezuela.

  24. Adam Isacson Says:

    What I’m seeing is it could be Joaquín Gómez.

  25. Chris Says:

    Copy that…Joaquin Gomez is the one…

  26. Purple Library Guy Says:

    All this assumes something that to me seems far from obvious, to wit that while the Colombian government and military have no scruples about death squads they would never, ever stoop to making anything up.
    To what extent can we say we know that any of this has a shred of reality in the first place? Some incredibly untrustworthy people say they found this laptop (rather than planting it) and found certain files on it (rather than planting them). Who knows? It’s not like a bunch of civil society witnesses were in on the assassination.

  27. Adam Isacson Says:

    I doubt, by the way, that the document could have come from August 2000. At that moment, Bill Clinton had just signed “Plan Colombia” into law only a month earlier; his initial desire to support the peace negotiations (expressed to Pastrana in 1998) had long since faded. Martín Torrijos was not president of Panama. And Jim McGovern did not visit Colombia for the first time until 2001.

  28. Mary Says:

    The Colombian security forces are working with some experts at cooking intelligence–expert enough, in any case, to write a plausible ‘news’ narrative for slaughtering 1.2 million innocent Iraqis, to get their oil. Knowing this–WHO is funding the Colombian military, to the tune of $5 billion, and WHAT their interest is (the oil in Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador, and the gas and oil, and potential for a rightwing separatist split-up of the country, in Bolivia; not to mention their being pissed off at the loss of the World Bank/IMF portfolio in South America)–I have exactly zero trust in any FARC writings that Uribe claims that they found at their bomb site. It’s all just too convenient–with hostages getting released, and peace talk in the air.

  29. Casper Says:

    Adam, such superficial analysis. . Recall how wet behind the ears you w here the first time you went to Vzla under chavez… always looking for someone to blame.

    Quito Ecuador… embassy personnel … also loojk at congressmane who travelled to Quito

  30. Casper Says:

    yes farc delusional about the world
    too much cocaine , alcohol and groupthinkk!

  31. Casper Says:

    adam, you gonna sink your repuration omn the notebooks from heaven.

  32. Dublin Opinion » Blog Archive » Their Man in Berlin Trying to Get that Man in Caracas Says:

    [...] happy to suggest that the case was very close to being proven and decided not to mention all the doubts, queries and challenges to the ‘evidence’ found in the miracle laptop that have been appearing [...]

  33. Sam Says:

    I am concerned about the lack of support from the Democrats to our biggest ally in South America. One only needs to speak to Colombian police or military members to see how much they admire our Country and how grateful they are of our help in their fight against the FARC. Those in our Congress who listen to the likes of Colombian Senator Pietro (a former M19 terrorist) who advocates for his country not to receive any assistance should be ashamed.

    Colombia need the FTA approved in order to grow their economy and not only be ale to pay for their fight against the FARC, but grow in a way that will allow them to offer better economic opportunities to their population. The argument that Colombian labor leaders need more protection has merit, and a fair analysis of how far Colombia has moved on that front would show progress. But asking for absolute protection is something even we cannot offer our citizenship in our large cities, why should it be different in a country like Colombia? Uribe has been in power for only six years and incredible progress has been achieved, but he needs the tools to grow his economy not excuses and pandering to American big labor and the enemies of Colombian democracy asking for their country to be abandoned. One only needs to stand anywhere in Bogota and look at the mountains surrounding the city to sense some of the dread the locals must have felt only less than ten years ago when the FARC still moved freely in those mountains (or simply drive to the area in those mountains, now full of food stands and kiosks, where family members used to drop off the ransom demanded from the FARC for the return of their family members – the line on the road is still there; and for those who do not know, the FARC execute over 50 kidnap victims last year because their families could not pay up).

    The FARCs use of children as cannon fodder in the front lines and the sexual exploitation of girls (many 17 year-old girls are four or five year veterans of the conflict and learn rather quickly that the best way to avoid some of the most tiring chores, like gathering firewood, is to become the “girlfriend” of someone high in the chain of command) are inexcusable. It would be political suicide and extremely shameful for any U.S. politician to speak about a truce with Al-Qaeda (and although we condemn them for the recruiting of children as suicide bombers in some places, I have never seen any report of systemic pedophilia such as it is practiced by the FARC)…it should be just as shameful for any U.S. politician not to support the Colombian government or to speak of supporting the FARC.

  34. Plan Colombia and Beyond » Say what you mean, and mean what you say Says:

    [...] response. However, the Reyes files are not sufficient evidence on their own. They contain some inaccuracies and wild fabrications, and often appear to be the words of far-flung guerrilla leaders relying on secondhand information [...]

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