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 Raúl Reyes, who was killed in the same raid. Entitled “The FARC Files: Venezuela, Ecuador and the Secret Archive of Raúl 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 Fénix,” 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 Joaquín Pérez Becerra to Colombia is highly significant, coming amid improving ties between the two nations. Pérez, 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 Garzón 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)