May 18, 2008
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and his Ecuadorean counterpart Rafael Correa can scream and yell as loud as they want, but the fact is that they have been caught red-handed supporting a terrorist group that is trying to topple the democratically elected government of Colombia.
Last week, after Interpol -- the top international police body -- issued a much awaited report certifying the authenticity of 37,872 computer files from Colombia's FARC guerrillas containing hundreds of references to Venezuela's and Ecuador's active support for the armed rebel group, Chávez and Correa reacted -- as they always do -- with insults and accusations against the U.S. ``empire.''
Pretty much like he did a few months ago when a Venezuelan delegation was caught trying to smuggle $800,000 in cash into Argentina for his political allies in that country, Chávez claimed that the Interpol forensic investigation into the three laptop computers and two external hard drives seized by Colombia's armed forces in a March 1 raid into a FARC camp in Ecuador was ''a circus.'' Chavez called Interpol Secretary General Ronald Noble a ''mafioso'' and a ''vagabond.'' Correa's discharge was similarly virulent.
Except that this time, it will be harder even for the most gullible Chávez and Correa supporters to take their claims of innocence seriously. The investigation carried out by Interpol's headquarters in Lyon, France, involved 64 police officials from 15 countries, led by forensic computer experts from Singapore and Australia, who were picked independently by their countries' police authorities. Together, they spent 5,000 hours examining the computers.
And the final report by Interpol not only said that the laptops had not been tampered with by Colombian authorities, as Chávez and Correa had claimed, but also certified that they belonged to Raúl Reyes, the FARC's No. 2 leader before he was killed in the Colombian raid into the guerrilla camp.
The FARC laptops amount to one of the biggest -- if not the biggest -- intelligence treasures in the history of anti-guerrilla warfare in the region. The documents have already led to the seizure of $480,000 in FARC funds in Costa Rica and a cachet of 30 kilograms non-enriched FARC uranium outside Bogotá.
Among hundreds of other revelations, the files contain eight references to $300 million in assistance that Chávez had promised the FARC as part of a long relationship that may have started when the FARC gave $105,000 to Chávez when he was in prison after his 1992 coup attempt. Other documents refer to a $100,000 FARC contribution to Correa's 2006 presidential campaign.
The certification of the documents' authenticity raises many thorny questions.
Question No. 1: Will Latin American countries, which cited Organization of American States non-intervention treaties to rightfully reject Colombia's military incursion into Ecuador, now cite equally unambiguous OAS treaties prohibiting countries from aiding armed rebel groups abroad to condemn Venezuela and Ecuador? Or will they keep silent, fearful of losing the billions of dollars they get in Venezuelan oil and political aid?
Question No. 2: Will Chávez and Correa ask for forgiveness to their neighbors, like Colombian President Alvaro Uribe did at the March 18 OAS meeting where Colombia's incursion into Ecuador was debated?
Question No. 3: Will the OAS convene a general assembly under the group's 2002 Inter-American Convention Against Terrorism, which forbids member countries from giving safe haven or money to terrorist groups? And will the United Nations Security Council invoke its resolutions 1373 and 1566, which say the same, to condemn Chávez and Correa?
Question No. 4: Will Brazilian President Luis Inácio Lula da Silva take back his statement last week that Chávez is ''Venezuela's best president in 100 years''? Or does he think that supporting a guerrilla group that holds more than 700 hostages and killed 36 civilians attending a wedding party in 2003 at the El Nogal Club in Bogotá makes a good president?
My opinion: For the record, I don't support U.S. Republican legislators' proposal to add Venezuela to the U.S. list of terrorist nations and imposing sanctions on that country. That would only give Chávez new ammunition to claim he is a victim of U.S. aggression, boosting his popularity at home.
But the international community -- including those of us who criticize President Bush for bypassing the United Nations in his 2003 invasion of Iraq -- should react promptly.
Otherwise, there is no sense in maintaining the OAS, the United Nations and all those grand-sounding international conventions.