22 May 2008 Edition
BY DARA MacNEILL
IN THE EARLY hours of 1 March, the Colombian Air Force launched a surprise attack on a small, makeshift camp situated one mile inside neighbouring Ecuador. The attack killed two senior commanders in the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and 24 other people - guerrillas and Mexican nationals.
But there were other casualties of the raid: diplomatic relations between Colombia and Ecuador ceased while a hostage release process that had seen four Colombian politicians freed by FARC just days beforehand was now dead in the water. It had been widely expected that three US ‘defence contractors’ and high-profile hostage Ingrid Betancourt would be the next to benefit from the process.
One of the FARC commanders killed in the attack was Raúl Reyes, the group’s international spokesman and the key rebel intermediary in the delicate and intricate hostage release programme that had been orchestrated by Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez.
It is now believed that killing off the release process was precisely the intent of Colombia’s President Álvaro Uribe when he ordered the attack, given that it had garnered international accolades for Chávez and, by contrast, shown up the utter stupidity of Uribe’s blanket refusal to engage with Latin America’s longest-standing guerrilla army. It is also true that an ailing and sickly Betancourt is worth more to Uribe in FARC captivity than alive and free.
In the immediate aftermath of the attack, Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa said the Colombian military had used advanced technology “with the collaboration of foreign powers”. In Bogota, Uribe characterised it as a major blow against FARC and claimed that captured lap-tops and hard drives proved that Venezuela had paid some $300 million to the guerrilla organisation.
It was a sensational claim and on Thursday, 15 May, headlines flashed across screens worldwide revealing that Interpol had “verified” the Colombian allegation. But long after the headlines had done their damage and disappeared, it became clear that Interpol had said absolutely nothing of the sort.
Recognising that its own credibility had limited currency, Uribe’s government asked Interpol to examine the material allegedly discovered in the FARC camp.
And upon examination Interpol duly reported that no element of the 600-plus gigabytes of data it examined had been “created, added, modified or deleted” between the dates of 3 March and 10 March, the date on which Colombia had handed the material over.
But the Interpol report made very clear that its investigation “did not include analysis of the content” of any of the material. In fact, the investigation team assigned to the task was chosen for its lack of Spanish-language skills precisely to ensure there would be no attempts to ‘interpret’ the data.
Equally, what the headlines neglected to mention was that Colombian authorities had conceded to Interpol that an officer of its anti-terrorist unit had “accessed” the data in the crucial 48-hour period between its capture in Ecuador on 1 March and being locked away two days later, on 3 March.
Thus the headlines managed to miss the most damning conclusion reached by Interpol, which stated that Colombia’s handling of the data in that crucial 48-hour window “may complicate validating this evidence for the purposes of its introduction in a judicial proceeding”.
In short: it won’t stand up and Interpol will not stand over it if asked. So don’t.
And the $300 million that Chávez reportedly paid to FARC? Apparently it’s lost down the back of a presidential sofa because it has not been mentioned since the Interpol report was published.
Indeed, the incriminating passage from those captured files reads as follows:
“With relation to the 300, which from now on we will call ‘dossier’, efforts are now going forward at the instructions of the boss to the cojo (cripple), which I will explain in a separate note. Let’s call the boss Angel and the cripple Ernesto.”
Clearly, this is composed in the same sort of fiendish code that satanic rock groups once used to dupe their unsuspecting fans - messages to do evil that only became clear when the music was played backwards. And if you hold this message upside down, you’ll see it clearly reads: “ur $300m on way - u need cash r chk? c u soon lol, hc.”
Ironically, for decades we have been told - usually by way of the same headlines - that the FARC controlled Colombia’s entire drug trade and its armed rebellion was no more than a sideline, a hobby of sorts. It was therefore the world’s wealthiest insurgency with bulging coffers and unlimited financial capacity.
In the context of a global trade worth billions, $300 million seems somewhat paltry. Maybe it was their ‘walkabout money’.
Of course, the truth is that the drug trade in Colombia is almost entirely controlled by an unholy alliance involving the cartels, the paramilitary groups they finance, the military and, of course, many within the corrupted political class.
Interesting that, in the aftermath of the 1 March raid, Venezuela’s Chávez referred to Colombia’s President Uribe as a “mob boss”.
Interesting because, before he came to power, that is very much how the US Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) referred to him, in a previously confidential report dating from 1991.
Documenting the activities of the Colombian drug cartels and the then notorious head of the Medellin Cartel, Pablo Escobar, the DIA described the role of one Álvaro Uribe as “a Colombian politician and senator linked to collaboration with the Medellin Cartel at high government levels. Uribe was linked to a business involved in narcotics activities in the US. His father was murdered in Colombia for his connection with the narcotics traffickers.”
The report also said of the current Colombian president that he “has worked for the Medellin Cartel and is a close friend of Pablo Escobar”.
It is not believed that Interpol has been asked to follow up on this report.