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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

COLOMBIA'S FARC terrorist movement has been reeling from a series of devastating blows in the last several months, ranging from the death of its legendary leader to the killing of its second in command in a government air attack and the capture of his laptops. Now it has suffered another bolt from the blue: Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, the FARC's most valuable ally in recent years, has abruptly reversed his public support.

"The guerrilla war is history," Mr. Chávez said Sunday in televised remarks directed at a group that has ravaged the Colombian countryside for four decades. "At this moment in Latin America, an armed guerrilla movement is out of place."

Mr. Chávez's words were stunning. Just five months ago, the self-styled "Bolivarian revolutionary" gave an address to his national assembly calling the FARC and a smaller group "genuine armies" and asking Western and Latin American governments to recognize the FARC as a legitimate belligerent force. He worked feverishly on a plan by which the FARC would concentrate hundreds of hostages it is holding in a protected territory and exchange them for militants convicted of crimes and imprisoned in Colombia and the United States. Yet on Sunday, he suggested to the FARC's new leader that "the time has come to free all the prisoners you have . . . in exchange for nothing."

The obvious explanation for this sudden somersault lies in those laptops recovered from a FARC camp in March, for which Mr. Chávez and his supporters have offered no coherent answer. Their thousands of digital files contain powerful evidence that Mr. Chávez and Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa accepted aid from the FARC while rising to power and later provided or promised the group money, weapons or safe harbor. On Saturday, the day before Mr. Chávez spoke, a Venezuelan national guard officer was caught inside Colombia with 40,000 rifle cartridges he was trying to deliver to the FARC.

Mr. Chávez clearly hopes to avoid the consequences of supporting a terrorist group against a democratic government, which could include the addition of Venezuela or some of its senior officials to the State Department's list of terrorism sponsors. "You have become an excuse for the empire to threaten all of us," the president complained to the FARC. Perhaps, too, Mr. Chávez hoped to take credit for what some Colombian sources say may be an imminent move by the FARC to free hostages. Either way, his discrediting of armed revolutionary movements in a region where the myth of Che Guevara still has some traction can only be welcomed. If he matches his words with a full suspension of Venezuela's material support for the FARC, the guerrillas may feel compelled to take his advice.


© 2008 The Washington Post Company

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