Note: as this is being written, a developing story indicates that JoaquÃn GÃ³mez, 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 GÃ³mez 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 JoaquÃn GÃ³mez.
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 RaÃºl 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 LondoÃ±o Echeverri, alias “TimoleÃ³n JimÃ©nez,” to the rest of the Secretariat details increasing FARC ties to the organization of top former paramilitary leader Carlos Mario JimÃ©nez, “Macaco.”
The contacts, or messages left, with Macaco’s people have been maintained in Bajo Cauca and Southern BolÃvar [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 SimitÃ and in the urban centers of San Pablo and Santa Rosa [southern BolÃvar 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 BolÃvar 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 BolÃvar 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 ItagÃ¼Ã prison, south of MedellÃn, 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 ChÃ¡vez 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, RaÃºl Reyes passes to Manuel Marulanda a note from IvÃ¡n MÃ¡rquez 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 [ChÃ¡vez] to clarify things and to discuss the issue of relations. … If ChÃ¡vez 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 ChÃ¡vez in early October 2007, after President Uribe authorized ChÃ¡vez 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 RaÃºl 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 CÃ³rdoba, never took place.)
On October 18 and 19 of this month I was listening to comments from Senator Piedad CÃ³rdoba regarding a video sent by Comrade RaÃºl to President ChÃ¡vez, 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.