March 09. 2008
The seven-day war of words between Colombia and the Venezuela-Ecuador alliance ended in embraces, but both sides have emerged with fresh ammunition that could spark a new conflict at anytime -- and probably will.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and Ecuador's President Rafael Correa will be able to claim for years to come that Colombia violated international law when it launched its March 1 attack on a FARC guerrilla camp a mile inside Ecuador. There is no question that Colombia was at fault.
But Colombia, which has officially apologized for the incursion, holds a weapon it hasn't yet used to seek international sanctions against Venezuela and Ecuador: explosive documents found on three Toshiba laptop computers that were seized by Colombian forces in their attack on the FARC guerrilla camp in Ecuador. If proven authentic, as is likely, they could be the most damning evidence to date of Venezuela's active support for Colombia's FARC rebels.
The computer files found in the FARC camp refer among other things to a $300 million fund made available by Chávez to the FARC rebels, a more than $100,000 aid package given by the FARC to Chávez when he was in prison in 1992, and Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa's government protection of FARC camps along the border.
Most likely, it was the likelihood of an international team of experts' authentication of these documents that moved Chávez and Correa to suddenly scale back their war threats late last week, and seek a negotiated deal with their Colombian counterpart.
Hours before the three sides reached a compromise agreement at a regional summit in the Dominican Republic, Colombia's police chief Gen. Oscar Naranjo had told me in a long telephone interview from Bogotá that his country had invited a team of forensic computer experts from Interpol's headquarters in France -- the team includes investigators from Australia, South Korea and Singapore -- to examine the computers and issue a report. The Interpol team was scheduled to arrive in Colombia early this week.
''We will put the computers at their disposal, and at the disposal of any other multilateral, independent organization,'' Naranjo told me. ``We are 100 percent sure that the information contained in these computers was from the FARC.''
The computers contain more than 500 e-mails and word files that Colombia says were used by slain FARC leader Raúl Reyes to manage the political, economic and logistics affairs of the more than 10,000-strong FARC army.
In a separate interview, Colombia's Vice Minister of Defense Sergio Jaramillo told me that ``there are many more files than those that have been released.''
On Friday, as part of the negotiated deal to defuse the crisis, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe said he will not use the documents to accuse Chávez and Correa at the International Criminal Court of supporting terrorists.
But he did not say that he would abandon the process of getting international experts to authenticate the documents, or that he won't submit them to the United Nations at some stage.
If Colombia does so in the future, Venezuela and Ecuador have a problem.
They would have clearly violated United Nations Security Council resolution 1373, of 2001, which says that ``states shall refrain from providing any form of support, active or passive, to entities or persons involved in terrorist acts.''
The FARC is defined by the United States, Canada and the 29-member European Union as a ''terrorist'' group.
''Security Council resolutions, unlike General Assembly ones, are mandatory,'' says Diego Arria, a former Venezuelan ambassador to the United Nations who presided over the Security Council in the early 90s.
``The Security Council, if it found evidence of Venezuela's and Ecuador's wrongdoing, could conceivably impose sanctions such as freezing their assets abroad.''
My opinion: Colombia is just as guilty of violating Ecuador's territory as Venezuela and Ecuador are guilty of violating Colombia's territory by actively supporting Colombia's FARC terrorists.
This may have been a microphone war, but it has all the elements of a lasting conflict that could turn ugly.
Now, both sides have stronger evidence against each other than they had when this spat started.