Is Hugo Chavez Friends with FARC?
By Jens GlĂĽsing
A spectacular find may prove what many have long suspected. E-mails and other files found on a FARC laptop in the jungles of Ecuador show that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez may have close relations with the terror group.
When police stormed a house near San JosĂ©, the capital of Costa Rica, they knew exactly what they were looking for. Immediately, the officers headed for a backroom where they found an old safe packed with bundles of dollars -- wrapped like cocaine in plastic.
Many of the bills were stuck together; some were already so rotten that they could hardly be counted. But the police knew the sum anyway: $480,000 (â‚¬305,000). The cash had been mentioned by Raul Reyes -- the number-two man in the Colombian Marxist guerrilla organization known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) -- in an e-mail to Rodrigo Granda, known as the "chancellor" of the rebel group. Granda was to use the money to finance international activities. The address where the stash was to be found was also mentioned in the message.
The $480,000 e-mail was one of hundreds of documents found on Reyesâ€™ laptop. Colombian troops had killed the sleeping guerrilla leader in early March during a pre-dawn bombing raid on a FARC camp in Ecuador -- and secured the laptop. It was found together with three other computers and a number of compact discs in a suitcase that survived the attack.
30 Kilos of Uranium
Interpol specialists are currently analyzing the recovered data. Some of the information has been encrypted, but most of the files are easily accessible.
Reyes felt safe in his camp, less than two kilometers (1.25 miles) from the Colombian border. In roughly two weeks, Interpol Secretary General Ronald Noble plans to announce the results of the investigation. But one thing is already clear: the laptops contain a political bombshell. They hold detailed information on FARC's relations outside of Colombia, the group' finances, their smuggling routes and records for cocaine deliveries. There are also details of bomb attacks carried out be the group.
The seized files also allowed police to track down 30 kilos (66 pounds) of uranium, which had been hidden in a village near the Colombian capital BogotĂˇ and possibly belonged to the guerrillas. Although the material is not suitable for manufacturing bombs, it could be used to produce special ammunition capable of piercing armored vehicles.
Reyes also refers to negotiations with the French government on the possible release of former Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt. In an e-mail to the top rebel commander, he complains that the French-Colombian -- who has been held hostage by the FARC for over six years -- is stubborn and tries to take advantage of her intellectual superiority. Meanwhile, Betancourtâ€™s health has become so poor that Paris sent a plane to BogotĂˇ last Thursday equipped with medical supplies manned by doctors to give her emergency care in the event of her release.
But the most important man exposed by the files on the laptop is Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez -- the same man who threatened his Colombian counterpart Alvaro Uribe with war following the cross-border raid against Reyes. Now itâ€™s clear why: Chavez apparently does more than just sympathize with the guerrillas in his neighboring country -- he also supports them with money and arms.
Boon for the Guerrillas
Reyesâ€™ posthumous electronic correspondence reveals that Chavez had planned a meeting with legendary FARC leader Manual Marulanda, and he wanted to invite Nicaraguaâ€™s head of state Daniel Ortega and Bolivian President Evo Morales. Another e-mail refers to a â€śdossierâ€ť of over $300 million for the FARC. The government in the Venezuelan capital Caracas also apparently offered the rebels a share in the country's oil business and promised decommissioned arms from the countryâ€™s own army.
Chavez insists that he has never sent the rebels money or arms. After the saber rattling with Colombian leader Uribe, he is portraying himself as a man of peace. But former rebels and intelligence experts confirm the connection with the guerrillas.
Chavez discovered his sympathy for the Marxist rebels in the early 1990s. At the time, he was a member of a group of rebellious officers who drew their ideological inspiration from the Marxist insurgent movements of the 1960s and '70s in Colombia and Venezuela. Following an attempted coup against then President Carlos Andres Perez, Chavez landed in prison. A cash injection from the FARC allegedly helped him out of his financial squeeze at the time.
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