Colombian Rebels' Ties to Chávez Come Into Focus

By Juan Forero
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, March 7, 2008

BOGOTA, Colombia, March 6 -- A trove of correspondence recovered during a raid on a guerrilla camp is providing a rare window into how Colombia's largest rebel group has drawn closer to Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez in an effort to acquire money, arms and the political recognition the organization craves.

If authentic, the documents would make clear for the first time that Chávez's affinity for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, has translated into more than rhetoric on its behalf.

The documents were discovered Saturday on three laptop computers and two hard drives after Colombian forces bombed a rebel camp 2,000 feet inside Ecuador, killing 24 guerrillas, including Luis Edgar Devia, a member of the FARC's ruling secretariat who used the name Raúl Reyes.

The correspondence appears to show that Venezuelan officials are eager to work with rebel commanders to isolate Colombian President Álvaro Uribe, an ally of the Bush administration. The documents also include letters to Chávez from FARC leader Manuel Marulanda.

There are no missives from Chávez, however, and on Wednesday the Venezuelan president called Colombia's characterization of his ties to the FARC a lie.

"I deny it. I have to deny it as absolutely false," he said.

The e-mails and letters that form the brunt of the correspondence recount meetings with Chávez, top Venezuelan intelligence officials and other emissaries sent by the government in Caracas to convene secretly with FARC commanders. Colombia's National Police released 15 documents culled from the computers and hard drives this week. Another 30 documents, provided on two CDs to The Washington Post by senior government officials, paint a fuller picture of the rebels' ties with Chávez.

"What's important is for your government and the FARC to have ample relations as friends and good neighbors for the future of our two people," Marulanda said in a letter dated Sept. 22.

Full of Colombian slang and revolutionary lingo, the documents appear to be briefing papers that analyze the FARC's relationship with Chávez and discuss options available to the guerrilla group. They suggest that commanders see a clear benefit to building a relationship with the Venezuelan leader. Many letters are signed by Devia, who was the group's public face.

The chief of Colombia's National Police, Brig. Gen. Óscar Naranjo, said the government has asked a team from Interpol to examine the laptops and hard drives to confirm that they belonged to FARC commanders. That multinational team is to work in Bogota on Tuesday.

"We have nothing to hide," Naranjo said by phone Thursday afternoon. "We're entirely open to any technical review."

The raid on the camp has triggered a regional crisis, with Ecuador, Venezuela and now Nicaragua -- a close ally of Chávez's government -- breaking off relations with Colombia. The Colombian government has responded with an aggressive diplomatic offensive in Latin America and Europe to highlight what officials often have said privately but are now saying publicly -- that Chávez supports a terrorist group that has killed thousands of Colombians.

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