24 U.S. groups call for a response to the recent threats The “Peace Without Borders” concert
Mar 282008

Just a few this week.

  • Colombian President Álvaro Uribe has just signaled a willingness to release many – perhaps hundreds – of FARC guerrillas in Colombian prisons immediately if the guerrillas release Íngrid Betancourt (who is reportedly very ill) and other high-profile “exchangeable” hostages.

With this offer, Uribe appears to be yielding on two of his stated “immovable” conditions in a hostage-for-prisoner exchange: a requirement that freed guerrillas not be able to re-join the FARC, and a requirement that guerrilla prisoners charged with crimes against humanity not be included in a swap.

Will the FARC respond positively to this gesture? My guess is no: the guerrillas have given every indication that they are wedded by what appears to be their chief demand: the demilitarization of two counties east of Cali as a venue for “humanitarian exchange” talks.

This at least was the FARC’s position when “Raúl Reyes,” the group’s principal spokesman on such issues, was alive. Will the post-Reyes FARC leadership take a different approach? Again, my guess is no.

If the FARC do say no, of course, Álvaro Uribe once again comes out way ahead politically, as he can tell the world that he made another audacious gesture and was once again spurned.

  • Colombian authorities have found 30 kilos of what appears to be depleted uranium buried near a highway south of Bogotá. The barely radioactive metal is believed to belong to the FARC.

It may be the uranium mentioned in a paragraph of one of the communications between guerrilla leaders found on a laptop computer recovered at the site where FARC leader Raúl Reyes was killed on March 1. “It’s exactly the same material listed on Reyes’ computer,” said Colombia’s armed-forces chief, Gen. Freddy Padilla.

That paragraph discussed a possible purchase of uranium for $2.5 million a kilo. If this is the same uranium, the FARC were ripped off terribly. The uranium found Wednesday can be bought for less than $100 a kilo.

Colombian officials, and much recent press, have speculated that the FARC may have sought to craft a radioactive “dirty bomb” out of the uranium. That would not be possible with the uranium that was just found, which has a very low radioactivity. Charles Ferguson, a nuclear affairs analyst at the Federation of American Scientist, explained it this way to Bloomberg News:

“You could stand next to this material for days and nothing would happen to you, unless you dropped it on your foot.”

International Atomic Energy Agency officials are to visit Colombia next week to investigate the find; we will know more then. In the meantime, expect a few days of WMD hysteria.

My guess, based on the partial information made available so far, is that the FARC knew exactly what it was buying: depleted uranium.

Depleted uranium is not useful for building dirty bombs or carrying out other spectacular mega-terrorist schemes. But it is useful for piercing armor, which is why the United States frequently uses munitions coated with depleted uranium.

Perhaps the FARC wanted the super-dense metal in order to take down more of the helicopters that have done them so much damage on the battlefield. Or perhaps they sought the depleted uranium to help penetrate armored cars, as Cesar Restrepo of Bogotá’s Security and Democracy Foundation told Bloomberg:

“The FARC may have wanted this material to build a stronger rocket that destroys the president or a minister’s armored car, not create a weapon of mass destruction.”

This is not as scary as a dirty bomb, perhaps. But it is alarming enough on its own.

  • Arrest warrants have been issued for 15 soldiers in relation to the horrific February 2005 machete massacre of eight men, women and children in the “peace community” of San José de Apartadó in northwestern Colombia. Prosecutors have built a case using evidence from a former paramilitary informant, who claims that the massacre was the product of joint military-paramilitary collaboration.

Let us remember, with some bitterness, the words of President Uribe and other Colombian officials in the days after the massacre, who denied that troops were in the area, sought to blame the deed on the guerrillas and made statements linking the community’s members to the FARC.

6 Responses to “Friday links”

  1. o-lu Says:

    Que el uranio no era de las Farc dicen los medios internacionales (http://www.eluniversal.com.mx/notas/493134.html). Los medios nacionales, callados…

  2. Mauricio Says:

    La noticia en El Universal de Mexico dice en sus primeros 3 parrafos:

    “Los 30 kilos de uranio empobrecido hallados hoy a las afueras de Bogotá no pertenecían a la guerrilla de las FARC, aclaró el jefe de las Fuerzas Militares de Colombia, el general Freddy Padilla de León.
    Sin embargo, el alto oficial dijo que “las FARC estaban tratando de conseguir desde 2005″ este metal, como lo muestra un archivo de uno de los computadores decomisados a comienzos de mes al abatido segundo al mando de este grupo rebelde, “Raúl Reyes”.

    “Padilla de León precisó en una conferencia con la prensa que los dos informantes que facilitaron el hallazgo están relacionados con “Belisario”, alias del “contacto encargado de conseguir al grupo terrorista el material radiactivo”.

    “El contacto está identificado con este sobrenombre en el documento informático que desvela el interés de las Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) de obtener uranio para “un negocio con un Gobierno”, con fines de lucro económico.”

  3. Camilla Says:

    The only way to get hold of depleted uranium is to be in touch with someone who enriches uranium. FARC may have had a stash of dud uranium in some hole but this does not rule out the fact that they’d like to get some good stuff and have been busily making contacts to get that, making friends, influencing people. I’d like to hear more about the Raul Reyes’ Romania trip that MI-6 observed, according to El Espectador. Meanwhile, here’s this:

    http://counterterrorismblog.org/2008/03/farc_uranium_may_be_depleted_b.php

  4. Sergio Méndez Says:

    Camilla:

    I know you don´t read spanish, but let me translate the idea of the two comments before yours;:

    THE URANIUM THEY FOUND DOES NOT BELONG TO THE FARC

  5. Camilla Says:

    Actually, you don’t know that, Sergio. But feel free to think what you like.

  6. Sergio Méndez Says:

    Camilla:

    I don´t know what? That you don´t read spanish or that the Uranium does not belong to the FARC?

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