Venezuela Offered Aid to Colombian Rebels

By Juan Forero
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, May 15, 2008

CARACAS, Venezuela, May 14 -- High-ranking officials in Venezuela offered to help Colombian guerrillas obtain surface-to-air missiles meant to change the balance of power in their war with the Colombian government, according to internal rebel documents.

Venezuelan officials served as middlemen with Australian arms dealers and agreed to help the rebel commanders travel to the Middle East to receive missile training, according to files on computer hard drives seized by Colombian authorities and shown to The Washington Post. In interviews, Colombian officials said they have no evidence that the guerrillas obtained the antiaircraft missiles but added that Venezuelan authorities appear to have provided light arms, thousands of rounds of ammunition and rocket-propelled grenade launchers.

The disclosures have already started to reverberate in the Bush administration and among Latin America policymakers on Capitol Hill, where a small group of Republicans has proposed classifying Venezuela, a major oil exporter to the United States, as a state sponsor of terrorism. The United States and Europe long ago blacklisted the rebel organization, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, as a terrorist group.

At Colombia's request, Interpol, the international police agency, has completed an extensive forensic analysis on the hard drives, which were confiscated in an army raid on a rebel camp on March 1. On Thursday, Interpol is expected to announce that there is no evidence that anyone tampered with the hard drives after they were seized, though the agency cannot vouch for the veracity of the rebels' claims, according to an American official knowledgeable about the study.

The documents are the latest to be released among 16,000 files and photographs being reviewed by Colombian and U.S. officials that describe meetings between FARC commanders and Venezuelan officials, including Interior Minister Ramón Rodríguez Chacín; the military intelligence chief, Gen. Hugo Carvajal; other top generals such as Clíver Alcalá; and Amilkar Figueroa, who organizes Venezuela's civilian militias.

President Hugo Chávez, who has publicly lauded the FARC and characterized Colombia's government as illegitimate, ridiculed the latest batch of correspondence Sunday as "imbecilic documents." He cast Colombian President Álvaro Uribe as a "manipulator" linked to drug trafficking and charged that the Bush administration is using the documents as a pretext to invade Venezuela from Colombia.

Communications Minister Andrés Izarra, speaking to a group of American newspaper editors on Tuesday in Caracas, called the findings "laughable."

"It's part of the lies that are spread around every day against what we are doing," he said.

Colombian officials made dozens of documents available to reporters shortly after commandos recovered laptops and hard drives in a rebel camp just inside Ecuador's northern border. The documents belonged to Luis Edgar Devia, alias Raúl Reyes, a top commander killed in an airstrike on the camp.

But documents released more recently to the Wall Street Journal, El Pais of Madrid and The Post reveal that ties between Venezuela's government and the FARC included plans to procure a range of arms to help the guerrillas turn back Colombian government offensives.

"What they show is that the level of cooperation was much more than what we had earlier estimated," Colombian Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos said in an interview this week. "We knew there was a level of cooperation, but not as intense, not as close and not as effective as we're now seeing."

Former FARC guerrillas who operated in southern Colombia and along the Venezuelan border said in interviews that their units received Venezuelan munitions. Colombian intelligence officials also described the funneling of weaponry, with one official providing documents showing how Colombia's military has confiscated more than 210,000 rounds of Venezuelan-made ammunition in FARC camps since 2003.

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