Venezuela Asked FARC to Kill Opposition Figures, Analysis Shows (NYT 10/5/11)
Colombia’s main rebel group has an intricate history of collaboration with Venezuelan officials, who have asked it to provide urban guerrilla training to pro-government cells here and to assassinate political opponents of Venezuela’s president, according to a new analysis of the group’s internal communications.
The analysis contends that the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, was asked to serve as a shadow militia for Venezuela’s intelligence apparatus, although there is no evidence that President Hugo Chávez was aware of the assassination requests or that they were ever carried out.
The documents, found in the computer files of a senior FARC commander who was killed in a 2008 raid, also show that the relationship between the leftist rebels and Venezuela’s leftist government, while often cooperative, has been rocky and at times duplicitous.
The documents are part of a 240-page book on the rebel group, “The FARC Files: Venezuela, Ecuador and the Secret Archive of Raúl Reyes,” to be published Tuesday by the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London. While some of the documents have been quoted and cited previously, the release of a CD accompanying the book will be the first time such a large number of the documents have been made public since they were first seized.
The book comes at a delicate stage in the FARC’s ties with Venezuela’s government. Mr. Chávez acknowledged last month for the first time that some of his political allies had collaborated with Colombian rebels, but insisted they “went behind all our backs.”
The book contradicts this assertion, pointing to a long history of collaboration by Mr. Chávez and his top confidants. Venezuela’s government viewed the FARC as “an ally that would keep U.S. and Colombian military strength in the region tied down in counterinsurgency, helping to reduce perceived threats against Venezuela,” the book said.
The archive describes a covert meeting in Venezuela in September 2000 between Mr. Chávez and Mr. Reyes, the FARC commander whose computers, hard drives and memory sticks were the source of the files. At the meeting, Mr. Chávez agreed to lend the FARC hard currency for weapons purchases.
A spokesman for Mr. Chávez did not respond to requests for comment.
Venezuela’s government has contended that the Reyes files were fabrications. In 2008, Interpol dismissed the possibility that the archive, which includes documents going back to the early 1980s, had been doctored.
Moreover, data from the archive has led to the recovery of caches of uranium in Colombia and American dollars in Costa Rica, and has been the basis of actions by governments including Canada, Spain and the United States. Such uses constitute “de facto recognition” that the archive is authentic, the institute said.
“We haven’t begun the dossier with the words ‘J’accuse,’ ” said Nigel Inkster, one of the book’s editors. “Instead we tried to produce a sober analysis of the FARC since the late 1990s, when Venezuela became a central element of their survival strategy.”
Recently, Venezuela seems to have cooled toward the FARC, conforming to a pattern described in the book of ups and downs between Mr. Chávez and the rebels. In April, his government took the unusual step of detaining Joaquín Pérez, a suspected senior operative for the FARC who had been living in Sweden, and deporting him to Colombia.
This move came amid a rapprochement between Mr. Chávez and Colombia’s president, Juan Manuel Santos, as a response by Mr. Chávez to Colombia’s claims that the FARC was operating from Venezuelan soil.
The archive, which opens a window into bouts of tension and even loathing between the FARC and Mr. Chávez’s emissaries, shows that Mr. Chávez has sided with the Colombian government on other occasions, especially when he stood to gain politically.
In November 2002, the book reports, before a meeting between Álvaro Uribe, then Colombia’s president, and Mr. Chávez, the FARC asked the Venezuelan Army for permission to transport uniforms on a mule train through Venezuelan territory. The Venezuelan Army granted permission, then ambushed the convoy, seized eight FARC operatives and delivered them to Colombia, allowing Mr. Chávez to inform Mr. Uribe of the operation in person.
Such betrayals, as well as unfulfilled promises of large sums of money, generated considerable tension among the rebels over their relationship with Mr. Chávez.
A member of the FARC’s secretariat, Víctor Suárez Rojas, who used the nom de guerre Mono Jojoy, once called Mr. Chávez a “deceitful and divisive president who lacked the resolve to organize himself politically and militarily.”
Still, periods of tension tended to be the exception in a relationship that has given the rebel group a broad degree of cross-border sanctuary.
In some of the most revealing descriptions of FARC activity in Venezuela, the book explains how Venezuela’s main intelligence agency, formerly known by the acronym Disip and now called the Bolivarian Intelligence Service, sought to enlist the FARC in training state security forces and conducting terrorist attacks, including bombings, in Caracas in 2002 and 2003.
A meeting described in the book shows that Mr. Chávez was almost certainly unaware of the Disip’s decision to involve the FARC in state terrorism, but that Venezuelan intelligence officials still carried out such contacts with a large amount of autonomy.
Drawing from the FARC’s archive, the book also describes how the group trained various pro-Chávez organizations in Venezuela, including the Bolivarian Liberation Forces, a shadowy paramilitary group operating along the border with Colombia.
FARC communications also discussed providing training in urban terrorism methods for representatives of the Venezuelan Communist Party and several radical cells from 23 de Enero, a Caracas slum that has long been a hive of pro-Chávez activity.
The book also cites requests by Mr. Chávez’s government for the guerrillas to assassinate at least two of his opponents.
The FARC discussed one such request in 2006 from a security adviser for Alí Rodríguez Araque, a top official here. According to the archive, the adviser, Julio Chirino, asked the FARC to kill Henry López Sisco, who led the Disip at the time of a 1986 massacre of unarmed members of a subversive group.
“They ask that if possible we give it to this guy in the head,” said Mr. Reyes, the former FARC commander.
The book says there was no evidence that the FARC acted on the request before Mr. López Sisco left Venezuela in November 2006.
Less is known about another assassination request cited in the book, including whom the target was or whether it took place.
But the book makes it clear that the Colombian rebels sometimes found their Venezuelan hosts unscrupulous and deceitful.
In one example, Mono Jojoy, who was killed in a bombing raid last year, had harsh words for Ramón Rodríguez Chacín, a former Venezuelan naval officer who has served as a top liaison between Mr. Chávez and the FARC, calling him “the worst kind of bandit.”