A fairy tale from a guerrilla laptop Another paramilitary witness comes forward
Mar 112008

Note: as this is being written, a developing story indicates that Joaquín Gómez, the newest member of the FARC Secretariat, may have been shot in combat and taken to Venezuela to receive medical care. If this is true, and if Gómez survives in Venezuelan custody, we had best brace ourselves for a major new crisis.

Update as of 8:00 PM EST: El Tiempo is now reporting that the wounded guerrilla is not Joaquín Gómez.

This blog has already expressed skepticism about the accuracy of some of the information culled from laptop computers found at the site where, on March 1, the Colombian military killed FARC leader Raúl Reyes. These messages are highly unlikely to be forgeries, but they do tell only a partial story, one that is filtered through the isolated guerrilla leadership’s understanding of events.

With that caveat in mind, there are some details in the documents that deserve to be pointed out, because they do not fit into the dominant narrative of Colombia’s conflict.

1. The Colombian security forces’ continued cooperation with new, “emerging” paramilitary units.

A January 25, 2008 note from FARC Secretariat member Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri, alias “Timoleón Jiménez,” to the rest of the Secretariat details increasing FARC ties to the organization of top former paramilitary leader Carlos Mario Jiménez, “Macaco.”

The contacts, or messages left, with Macaco’s people have been maintained in Bajo Cauca and Southern Bolívar [north-central Colombia]. Beyond the “tax” [presumably, funds from taxing the drug trade], they have brought some munitions. They have a war with those from Aguachica who are called “Black Eagles,” who in Vichada had a war with “Cuchillo” [Pedro Oliveiro Guerrero, longtime paramilitary chieftain in Guaviare, Meta and Vichada departments] who, united with the army, annihilated them. In the area of Simití and in the urban centers of San Pablo and Santa Rosa [southern Bolívar department], the army has killed a few of them, but they maintain relations with the police and some military commanders. The paramilitaries’ bodyguards offer themselves for money to carry out logistical military activities, they are complete mercenaries.

They say that their national-level orientation is to negotiate with the FARC everything that has to do with narcotics. Now they appear in Catatumbo [a coca-producing region in northeastern Colombia, near Venezuela] proposing an official meeting with the FARC.

The FARC leader’s offhanded comments about military and police cooperation with “new” paramilitary groups in southern Bolívar and the eastern plains are troubling. If true, it would be ironic – even by Colombian standards – that Macaco could be working with both the FARC and the National Police (plus some military personnel) in southern Bolívar department.

Last August, Macaco was ejected from the prison cell block he was sharing with other paramilitary leaders, accused of continuing to plot killings and drug deals and threatened with losing his right to a reduced jail sentence under the “Justice and Peace” law. (However, for reasons I have not been able to clarify, Macaco was quietly returned to the Itagüí prison, south of Medellín, in late February.) If this communication is accurate, Macaco may still have been commanding people carrying out illegal acts as late as January of this year.

2. The absence of “NGO allies.”

For years, we have heard critics on Colombia’s right wing, including President Uribe himself, seeking to link the country’s non-governmental human rights defenders to the FARC. By criticizing military violations and initiating legal cases against abusive officers, the argument goes, human-rights activists have been serving the guerrilla cause by slandering the security forces and tying the hands of the most effective commanders. While these critics almost never have proof to cite, they even have a term to describe the NGOs’ service as the guerrillas’ legal arm: “Judicial Warfare.”

It is very much worth noting, then, that none of the documents that the Colombian security forces have released make any mention of FARC contacts with non-governmental human rights defenders. The guerrillas’ supposed “judicial warriors” are nowhere to be found. The NGOs’ absence speaks volumes – but it also confirms what they have always told us: that their relations with the FARC are either poor, very distant, or simply nonexistent.

Also notable is the FARC’s interest in, but apparent lack of knowledge about, Colombia’s main leftist political party, the Democratic Pole. Writes Marulanda on September 22:

I listened [on the radio] to commentaries about the debate carried out in the Polo, behind closed doors. I don’t know about its conclusions but we can imagine that when the mules fight the mule-driver loses, because in the name of unity all that there has been, and is to be, will be against the FARC.

3. Relations with Venezuela were not terribly close until last fall. When considered in chronological order, the guerrilla communications regarding Hugo Chávez and Venezuela appear to reveal a relationship that was cordial but distant until the fall of 2007. There were contacts, but these were irregular and not entirely trustful.

On March 25, 2005, Raúl Reyes passes to Manuel Marulanda a note from Iván Márquez about a meeting with a Venezuelan police intelligence official named “Cheo.” The meeting occurred shortly after Colombian security forces arranged for the abduction to Colombia of Rodrigo Granda, the FARC’s so-called “foreign minister,” who had been in Caracas.

[Cheo] tells me to tell you that he comes as an official representative, sent by the president [Chávez] to clarify things and to discuss the issue of relations. … If Chávez sends Cheo to represent him to re-establish relations with the FARC, this means that we are synchronized together [sintonizados].

This distance is reflected in Manuel Marulanda’s communications to Chávez in early October 2007, after President Uribe authorized Chávez to be a facilitator for hostage-for-prisoner exchange talks with the FARC. These communications take a very formal tone, with vague language indicating a desire to deepen the relationship.

In one surprising September 22, 2007 communication (PDF), Marulanda gently chides Raúl Reyes for agreeing to send a FARC member to Caracas on October 8 to talk about the “humanitarian accord.” (This meeting, proposed in a video conversation with authorized facilitator Piedad Córdoba, never took place.)

On October 18 and 19 of this month I was listening to comments from Senator Piedad Córdoba regarding a video sent by Comrade Raúl to President Chávez, where he commits to a meeting on October 8 in Caracas with FARC representatives to discuss the Humanitarian Exchange. At a time when all of the Secretariat has not given its opinions about holding the meeting in Caracas. Under these conditions I have the impression that false expectations are being generated in public opinion.

29 Responses to “About those FARC documents…”

  1. Kyle Says:

    We may Adam face a new crisis by Gomez’s treatment in Venevuela, but it will have to do with Venezuela’s actions post-healing. For example, in Ecuador right now there are injured FARC guerrillas in hospitals from the bombing of Reyes’ camp. Surely, Colombia is not mad at that.
    So say he heals in Venezuela. Colombia may not be pissed off if Venezuela is willing to extradite him to Colombia. If not, then Colombia will bring up the circumstances of Gomez’s survival.

  2. Kyle Says:

    To add, Colombia though will begin to question Venezuela on how many times this has happened in the past, if at all. That’s when sparks will fly. But Colombia will only push this to the brink if Gomez is not returned to Colombia after healing.

  3. Adam Isacson Says:

    That’s what I mean. Colombia won’t demand the return of a severely wounded individual.

    But if Gómez recovers, will Venezuela turn a Secretariat member over to Colombian authorities, thus jeopardizing any future relations with the FARC?

    Or will Venezuela release Gómez into FARC custody, perhaps in exchange for a high-profile hostage, thus taking tensions with Colombia to unheard-of new levels?

    Sounds like a pretty good movie screenplay.

  4. Nick Says:

    Mr. Isacson, any movie about Colombia that does any measure of justice to reality would bring up very unpopular, at least in north American audiences, truths.
    If you’re interested in a true story which chronicles, in a melancholic and poetic way, the story of a man who at 10 years old joined a ship crew to support his sick mother and little brother and became the Aristotle Onassis of Colombia and then was later destroyed by the same wide array of forces that destroyed of Colombia.
    This man was knighted by the Queen of Denmark for saving a Danish citizen, and his sailboat, from the clutches of corrupt Colombian National Police and their drug dealing accomplices.
    This man provided logistics, safe houses, intelligence and protection to dozens of under cover federal agents in Colombia which led to tons of cocaine being captured. This man was tortured, physically by drug dealers whose cocaine he had ordered thrown into the sea, and virtually for his simple belief that the war on drugs was a just cause.

  5. Jaime Bustos Says:

    I have to agree with the entry’s conclusions. However I can’t still see why “These messages are highly unlikely to be forgeries”.

    On the contrary what is mentioned here make me be even more skeptic about the talking computers.

    Maybe the content of the messages might not be completely false, but it does not mean that it can probably be a campaign by the Colombia Government to set people’s emotions aflame against the “terrorists” (including neighboring countries), or that it comes from any computer or burnt out hard-drive.

    Not all forgeries are performed by blockheads. Good forgeries leave some contradictory clues to obfuscate the analysis. Pro con artists are well into this business and know how to manipulate ordinary people that hardly have time to think, what with their daily fight to earn a living, and whose opinion is shaped by what they can listen on TV read in newspapers or what father figures ventilate.

  6. Camilla Says:

    That little chavista toad Eric Wingerter of Borat-, I mean, BorRev.net is snickering about you, Adam, claiming you are upset about being named in the FARC computer due to the FARC mispelling your name. (Not that he can spell it – that would be too much to ask.) The whole thing makes me think you must be closer to the center of the spectrum, give what’s out there. There is no lower form of life than a pathetic Chavista shill. If such lowlife heap abuse on you, you can’t be all bad.

  7. Kyle Says:

    Adam, exactly it…except it appears the injured man in the hospital in Venezuela is not Gomez.

    http://www.eltiempo.com/conflicto/noticias/ARTICULO-WEB-NOTA_INTERIOR-3998405.html

  8. Kyle Says:

    Now the good movie screenplay would be to still act as if this man were Joaquin Gomez and see how it plays out.

  9. Will Says:

    Camilla,

    Borev isn’t attacking Adam, he is simply having a little fun, btw he is generally pretty funny.

  10. Jaime Bustos Says:

    The only shill here is Mr Milla. Talks like a shill, acts like a shill and sputters like a shill. What can it be? ;)

  11. Camilla Says:

    No, he’s being obnoxious, Will. Always is. The only irony he can’t see is in his slavish devotion to his red-shirted Payaso fearless leader.

  12. Jaime Bustos Says:

    The only Payaso here is Mr Milla. juggles like a payaso, clowns around like a payaso and acts crazy like a payaso. What can it be? ;)

  13. Kyle Says:

    Total change in topic but did anyone read the UN Report on the situation of human rights in Colombia in 2007. While it was a little shorter, and a had a little more focus on economic rights than in the past, one thing stuck out to me, paragraph 39 discussing the demobilization process:

    “39. After the formal end of the collective demobilization, the Casanare Rural Self-Defense Group is the only remaining paramilitary group recognized during the negotiation process that is still operating. As per the information directly collected by the office in Colombia, there is still
    concern that there are new illegal armed groups operating in the Departments of Meta, Vichada and Guaviare, and there have been actions in Nariño attributed to the self-styled Nueva Generación (“New Generation”), as was already mentioned in the High Commissioner’s report of 2006 (E/CN.4/2006/9). These groups are heavily armed, have a military organization and responsible leaders, and have the capacity to control territory and to conduct military operations against other armed actors. They represent an active factor in intensifying the armed conflict, with direct and serious consequences for the civilian population. There has been information suggesting that certain members of the armed forces have links with actions attributed to these groups, or take an acquiescent or tolerant attitude to them.”

    The bold section says that the UN’s office in Colombia has come to an important conclusion: International law applies to the new “emerging groups.” While much discussion has tended to focus on their goals, means, numbers, upper echelons of control, we seem to have forgotten this important aspect; the UN did not though. This could be quite important for some clear reasons.

  14. LFM Says:

    Oh, c’mon Kyle. What have you been smoking? Don’t you know that the State Department issued yesterday its human rights report card and gave Colombia an A+ with happy face? If they say so, it must be that everything is fine now.

  15. lfm Says:

    Ah, by the way, Camilla, thanks for the tip about BoRev.net. I didn’t know about it. It’s kin’a zany but a cool read.

  16. Chris Says:

    I have worked with all branches of the Colombian Armed Forces and the National Police at different levels. There is no mandate, no hidden agenda to go around committing human rights practices.

    I know it has happened/happens/and will happen in the future (individuals or groups take matters into their own hands and do stupid often cruel things), but I sometimes get the feeling in these posts that the Colombian government is some kind of evil entity out to kill innocent people or do whatever…

  17. Kyle Says:

    Haha, LFM, I did read that report. I forgot everything was OK. My bad. (but that also wasn’t really the point of me posting that).

    Chris, don’t know if you are responding to what i posted, but that again missed the point. If it is in response to #1 on the post for today, I am not sure that is being insinuated, at least by Adam, probably by the FARC. And in your second sentence you want to change the word “practices” to “violations.” Because, well, you essentially wrote that there is no strategy to respect human rights, when I think you meant to violate human rights.
    I don’t think the GOC is like that, though it tends to look the other way when it does happen, or downplay it. Despite of what recent events tell us, Uribe’s knowledge of current international law (old and new developments) is, well, leaves a lot to be desired. That is reflected in his downplaying and comments on the falsos positivos.

  18. Adam Isacson Says:

    Chris – that’s a common misperception that we probably don’t do enough to dispel. In fact, I’ve met plenty of officers in Colombia’s military and police who appear to be strongly motivated by a genuine interest in protecting their fellow citizens.

    All armed forces have members who will commit cruel acts and human-rights abuses from time to time. I’m sure even the Canadian or Danish militaries, under conditions of civil conflict, would generate scandals from time to time.

    The question is, what happens after the abuse takes place.

    - Is the violation swiftly and transparently punished? Or do the perpetrators – and especially the commanders who abetted or even ordered it – routinely get away with it, setting a terrible example for the rest?

    - When serious accusations arise, does the military institution take immediate steps to clean house? Or does the officer corps – including too many of the otherwise “good” officers like those I’ve met – circle the wagons, drag its feet, and treat outside investigators as enemies?

    “What happens after” has been a huge problem in Colombia. In a climate of impunity, the problem grows until it goes beyond a few “bad apples” to encompass units and commanders – not all of them, but far too many – all over the country.

    Human-rights abuses are awful, but they only become a systemic problem when they go uninvestigated, unprosecuted and unpunished. The Jamundí case had a good final outcome. Not so for El Aro, Chengue, Mapiripán, and hundreds of recent “extrajudicial executions.”

  19. Jaime Bustos Says:

    After the violation(s) takes place nothing happens, not if you are a member of the Good Guys Club.

  20. Randy Paul Says:

    There is no lower form of life than a pathetic Chavista shill.

    I could certainly think of a few: child molesters, torturers, animal abusers.

  21. Paul Says:

    “Relations with Venezuela were not terribly close until last fall. ”

    They were close enough with Chavez to give him $50,000 while he was in prison in the ’90’s. And keep in mind not all the info has been revealed yet.

  22. Artuto Rosales Says:

    Interesting how some of the posters here are willing to believe the laptop story without even questioning it.

    Let’s be honest – both Colombia and the US have practised state terrorism for decades. Colombia at home and the US globally. We all know about the US but Colombia wiped out the Patriotiuc Union in the late 1980’s early 1990’s and since 1999 has had an internal policy of displacing peasants from their lands.

    These are historically corroborated facts and it is more than amazing that hardly any mention is made about this sort of terrorism against civilians.

    No one is condoning the FARC, ELN or any irregula group with this comment but some people should look at the facts of what massacres have been caried out and take the spotlight created by the media off Chavez and Venezuela. In this respect Eric of BoRev is absolutely correct.

  23. jcg Says:

    Artuto Rosale: The story of the UP, while evidently bloody, is considerably more complex than that, and so is displacement. But if you want to stop there and go no further, it’s your choice. I respectfully disagree.

    However…what does that have to do with the laptops and whether their content is real, incomplete, altered or false? Little to nothing.

    Just because other massacres and other crimes don’t come up at the same time the laptops are being discussed doesn’t mean they are being ignored. Each subject has its proper time.

    It’s like saying that because guerrilla crimes weren’t mentioned during the March 6th protests, then they were being ignored.

    When Chavez and Venezuela deserve to have the spotlight, there is no reason to remove it just because there are other crimes which also deserve it…at other moments.

    Lo uno no quita lo otro.

    As for BoRev…I can’t take it seriously, to put things lightly.

  24. jcg Says:

    “It’s like saying that because guerrilla crimes weren’t mentioned during the March 6th protests, then they were being ignored.”

    For the most part, I mean.

    There are, of course, exceptional mentions…but they were never the main theme of that protest.

  25. Chris Says:

    Adam,

    I agree….

  26. Artuto Rosales Says:

    jcg – the truth is that supporting either the Colombian government or the irregular groups operating in Colombia means that everyone is on a hiding to nothing. All were or still are involved in drug trafficking and murder. Look at the Colomian senators from Uribe’s own party awaiting trial for being in cahoots with the paracos.

    This is where the spotlight should be even though the stage lights should arguably be on Chavez until this “mystery” about the laptops is cleared up.

    If Venezuela is declared a “sponsor of terrorism” based on a few emails then Colombia should be delared a “terroist state” as should the US and Israel. This would keep these matters in proportion.

    However, since all the information on the laptops (and assuming this information is not manufactured, which we do not know yet) is being divulged drop by drop by the corporate media, which is controlled by US corporations and Colombian interests such as RCN and Caracol, it’s obvious that the media will try to accuse, judge and condemn Chavez to blacken his image internationally.

    About the UP massacres being “complex” – I honestly think that the result of 3500 – 4000 assassinations speaks for itself and is crystal clear rather than complex. It’s not complex to blow someone’s brains out.

    I do not think that you should go down the road of using the word “complex” to mitigate what the paramilitaries did with auhtorization and impunity with the blessing of the Colombian state terrorist apparatus. That would say something extremely negative about your humanity and humanitarian instincts.

  27. jcg Says:

    Artuto Rosales:

    “This is where the spotlight should be even though the stage lights should arguably be on Chavez until this “mystery” about the laptops is cleared up.”

    At least you can somewhat admit that, I suppose.

    “If Venezuela is declared a “sponsor of terrorism” based on a few emails then Colombia should be delared a “terroist state” as should the US and Israel. This would keep these matters in proportion.”

    I’m hardly arguing that should be the case, if you’ve noticed.

    “However, since all the information on the laptops (and assuming this information is not manufactured, which we do not know yet) is being divulged drop by drop by the corporate media, which is controlled by US corporations and Colombian interests such as RCN and Caracol, it’s obvious that the media will try to accuse, judge and condemn Chavez to blacken his image internationally.”

    That may be the result…however, Interpol currently has access to the PCs, which is something that may help give their content more transparency, to say the least. Ecuador and Venezuela may also have access to them at some point.

    “About the UP massacres being “complex” – I honestly think that the result of 3500 – 4000 assassinations speaks for itself and is crystal clear rather than complex. It’s not complex to blow someone’s brains out. ”

    That’s not what I meant. It’s easy enough to say that. But what is complex is this: trying to actually understand the context that surrounded them and everything else that was going on at the same time, beyond the deaths themselves.

    That didn’t happen out of the blue, in the middle of outer space or “just because” the state and the paramilitaries are “evil”.

    It’s not a matter of justifying those deaths, but of understanding Colombian history from a more comprehensive perspective, not just following a single ideological or party line which only remembers those deaths, condemns them and stops right there. I don’t think saying that is disrespectful to the dead.

    Still, once again, you’re free to disagree…

    “I do not think that you should go down the road of using the word “complex” to mitigate what the paramilitaries did with auhtorization and impunity with the blessing of the Colombian state terrorist apparatus. That would say something extremely negative about your humanity and humanitarian instincts”

    It is not a matter of “mitigating” but of trying to reach an understanding of reality from a wider perspective.

    The paramilitaries and the state, for example, are made up of human beings and specific groups with varied interests, not part of one large monolith with a single permanent thought: “kill the opposition, kill the leftists”.

    Evidently, there have been alliances between those individuals and groups with those very ends, but that’s not the entire picture.

    Whether you think that reflects poorly on my humanity is up to you…I think that the dead, if they can somehow listen to us, will be able appreciate a search for a more comprehensive truth…not just an emotional lament or rhetorical call to action.

  28. news.nacla.org » Archive » Letter to the Media: Laptop Does Not Prove Venezuela Ties to Rebels Says:

    [...] See “About those FARC Documents,” Adam Isacson, Center for International Policy and “A Fairy Tale from a Guerilla Laptop,” Adam [...]

  29. Daniel Finnity Says:

    I’ve looked over the Interpol report, and I think it is a deliberate snow job. (A red herring). I contacted NPR regarding their coverage, which is very misleading.

    (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=90507001)

    1. Noble (Sec’y General of Interpol) is directly
    quoted early in the story as saying the laptops were
    not tampered with:

    Secretary General RONALD NOBLE (Interpol): (Through
    translator) No one can ever question whether or not
    the Colombian government tampered with the seized FARC
    computers.

    Item 91 of the Interpol report states “Using their forensic tools, they
    found a total of 48,055 files for which the timestamps
    indicated that they had either been created, accessed,
    modified or deleted as a result of the direct access
    to the eight seized exhibits by Colombian authorities
    between the time of their seizure on 1 March 2008 and
    3 March 2008 at 11:45 a.m.”

    2. In the NPR show the claim is made that the Interpol report
    proves the documents were not forgeries.

    The Interpol report emphatically states that it does
    not have any bearing on authenticity. It ONLY states
    that the “user” files were not altered while the
    laptops were in Colombian hands (but 48,000+ other files
    WERE altered).

    From the report, top of page 9:

    “The verification of the eight seized FARC computer
    exhibits by INTERPOL does not imply the validation of
    the accuracy of the user files, the validation of any
    country’s interpretation of the user files or the
    validation of the source of the user files.”

    And again, page 7:

    “The remit of the IRT and INTERPOL’s subsequent
    assistance to Colombia’s investigation did not include
    the analysis of the content of documents, folders or
    other material on the eight seized FARC computer
    exhibits. The accuracy and source of the user files
    contained in the eight seized FARC computer exhibits
    are and always have been outside the scope of
    INTERPOL’s computer forensic examination.”

    This forensic report makes a VERY NARROW (and I suspect carefully crafted)
    statement – no user files were altered. The impression is given of a weighty
    pronouncement of authenticity – that is specifically denied in the report.

    SNOW JOB! :)

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