May 09, 2008
BOGOTA, Colombia -- A newly disclosed set of documents that Colombia's government says were recovered from a slain rebel's computers indicate senior Venezuelan officials tried to help arm Colombia's main guerrilla army.
The electronic documents _ more than a dozen _ were shown to The Associated Press on Friday.
They detail alleged meetings between senior Venezuelan officials _ including that country's chief of military intelligence and interior minister _ and top leaders of the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. Some discuss the procurement of weapons, others rebel training for Venezuelan home defense forces.
Venezuelan officials maintain that Bogota is manipulating the truth.
"The whole thing is like a movie. Fiction is fiction, reality is reality," Bernardo Alvarez, Venezuela's ambassador to Washington, said Friday.
The documents shown to the AP are among 11,000 that Colombian officials say they found in laptops, external drives and memory sticks recovered in a March 1 cross-border raid in Ecuador that killed rebel leader Raul Reyes and 24 other people.
Some 2,000 of the documents had been erased but were recovered through computer forensics, a senior Colombian official told the AP.
Colombia released several dozen documents immediately after the raid, and since then has periodically shown more to reporters. A Washington intelligence official vouched for the documents' authenticity, saying they were delivered to U.S. intelligence agencies in March.
The U.S. and Colombian officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the matter's sensitivity.
The documents seen by the AP are all allegedly internal communications between FARC commanders, chiefly messages from Ivan Marquez, the rebels' main representative in Venezuela. Several discuss what Colombian officials interpret as an open-ended Venezuelan loan of at least US$200 million to obtain arms.
Venezuela's socialist president, Hugo Chavez, has expressed ideological sympathy for the FARC, but denies aiding the rebels militarily. He consistently refers to "the supposed computer of Raul Reyes."
The peasant-based FARC has been trying to overthrow successive Colombian governments for a half-century. But since taking office in 2002, current President Alvaro Uribe has used a U.S.-backed military buildup to throw the rebels off balance.
At Colombia's request, Interpol has examined the three laptops, two external drives and three memory sticks and is expected to issue a report on them next week.
On Friday, a front-page story in The Wall Street Journal about some of the new documents suggested their disclosure would put more pressure on the Bush administration to add Venezuela to a list of state sponsors of terrorist groups.
Analysts call that unlikely because such a designation would mean economic sanctions _ and the U.S. relies too much on Venezuelan oil.
"There is not even consensus among the Republicans that it would be helpful," said Adam Isacson of the Washington-based Center for International Policy. "Also, having to get a special license for all Venezuelan oil sales to the U.S. would throw the fuel market in a bit of turmoil."
The price of crude rose above US$126 a barrel for the first time Friday as investors questioned whether the Wall Street Journal report could lead to a confrontation between Washington and Venezuela.
On Wednesday, Bush referred to Venezuela's alleged backing of the FARC in a speech.
"Colombia faces a hostile and anti-American neighbor in Venezuela, where the regime has forged an alliance with Cuba, collaborated with FARC terrorists and provided sanctuary to FARC units," he said.
Chavez called that a lie in a speech Friday, saying: "It's good that Comrade Bush is messing with us, because that means we're doing well."