Venezuela disses “dodgy dossier” on FARC ties

A two-year study released last week by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) of a massive trove of data on the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) seized in a raid by the Colombian military two years ago accuses Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez of collaboration with the guerilla movement, winning sensational headlines across Latin America. The archive of electronic documents apparently included the personal files and correspondence of FARC commander RaĂşl Reyes, who was killed in the same raid. Entitled “The FARC Files: Venezuela, Ecuador and the Secret Archive of RaĂşl Reyes,” the report charges that Chávez allowed the FARC “to use Venezuelan territory for refuge, cross-border operations and political activity, and effectively assigned the group a role in Venezuelan civil society.” Chávez even subsidized a FARC office in Caracas, the study asserts.

The IISS also makes allegations about Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa—reiterating claims that have been raised before that the FARC and allied drug traffickers contributed up to $400,000 to his 2006 presidential campaign. IISS asserts that Ecuadoran bank records show Correa’s campaign received a $100,000 transfer about the same time FARC e-mail messages said such a contribution was being made.

The Colombian government gave the archive to the IISS for analysis after seizing it in “Operation FĂ©nix,” a controversial March 2008 Colombian military raid on a FARC camp in Ecuadoran territory. The raid led to the breaking of diplomatic ties between Colombia and Ecuador, and strained relations with Venezuela. Colombia is only now mending relations with the Chávez government, following a change of administration in Bogotá.

The IISS expresses skepticism that Chávez has cut off ties with the FARC. “Whenever he has judged it expedient, he has been ready to put the relationship on the back burner and even act against FARC interests,” the dossier says, while asserting that Venezuelan support for the FARC probably continues. However, the report’s main author, James Lockhart Smith, said Venezuela’s recent deportation of accused FARC commander JoaquĂ­n PĂ©rez Becerra to Colombia is highly significant, coming amid improving ties between the two nations. PĂ©rez, who has political asylum status in Sweden, was arrested by Venezuelan authorities last month at the Caracas airport. Swedish authorities reportedly protested the deportation.

Neither Chávez nor Correa have publicly responded to the IISS report. However, the Venezuelan embassy in London issued a statement dismissing it as a “dodgy dossier,” pointing out that the Colombian supreme court had dismissed the “evidence” from the seized computers as inadmissible in prosecutions. The statement protested the IISS dismissal of the possibility that the data had been doctored while in the possession of Colombian authorities, stating that Colombia’s handling of the documents had been found by INTERPOL to “not conform to internationally recognised principles for the ordinary handling of electronic evidence by law enforcement.” The embassy said the report could be “part of an aggressive propaganda tool against Venezuela” at a time when relations between Venezuela and Colombia had “reached a level of stable cooperation and friendly dialogue.”

Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos has not issued a statement, and his vice president Angelino GarzĂłn would say only that Bogotá-Caracas relations “are very good” and that “the position of President Santos is to strengthen Colombia’s relations with Venezuela, Ecuador and all countries.” Pressed for a reaction to the report, he said “we don’t have to respond to something we have not written.” (Foreign Policy’s Shadow Government blog, May 16; El Pais, Montevideo, May 16; EFE, May 13; Miami Herald, BBC News, May 10; VenezuelAnalysis, May 5; Press Unit of the Venezuelan Embassy in London, May 9)

See our last posts on Venezuela and Chávez, Ecuador and Correa, and Colombia and the FARC

Please leave a tip or answer the Exit Poll.

  1. FARC cyber-docs inadmissible in prosecutions?
    Latin America News Dispatch informs us May 20 that the Colombian supreme court had ruled on the 18th that the computer files were inadmissible as evidence against William Borja, a former congressman for the Polo Democrático party—”a move that could potentially undermine prosecutors in up to 15 cases against politicians accused of collaborating with the FARC.” This decision was nine days after the Venezuelan embassy in London cited a ruling to this effect in its statement. The court found the files could not be admitted because the documents in question were e-mails, but they were saved as text files and there was no evidence that the communications were ever sent or received.

    The Venezuelan embassy statement cites as a source an Oct. 4, 2010 story from Colombia Reports, which states that “Colombia’s Supreme Court earlier absolved Piedad Cordoba and other suspects of ‘FARC-politics’ after dismissing evidence coming from the Reyes computers.” We have noted before Piedad CĂłrdoba‘s alleged links to the FARC, the subject of much controversy in Colombia. However, Colombia Reports informs us May 23 that charges were dropped against all other politicians facing accusations of FARC connections after the May 18 ruling, with only CĂłrdoba’s case still pending. Since the ruling, she has been petitioning to be re-admitted to the Colombian senate, form which she was suspended on order of the Prosecutor General’s office in November 2010.

    1. Clarification on FARC cyber-docs and Piedad CĂłrdoba
      Adriaan Alsema of Colombia Reports writes in response to our query:

      What happened with Cordoba’s trial in October, if I understand it correctly, is that it was suspended, she was not acquitted nor were the charges dropped. As far as I know the trial is still on hold and I don’t think she will be acquitted, because apparently there is additional evidence against her. What the value of this evidence is, I don’t know.

      I think the Venezuelan embassy based their statements on earlier verdicts by the court that rejected the evidence without explicitly declaring the package of “Reyes files” inadmissable. Until that moment though, several cases against so-called FARC-politicians were dropped because of a lack of evidence. I think that in those cases whatever did come from those computers wasn’t enough to make a case.

      Mind you, all this is very confusing for us too, because everyone reports things differently and the authorities aren’t exactly helpful in providing information that is not part of some propaganda strategy.