Chavez agreed to arm Colom­bian rebels, doc­u­ments in­di­cate

The Washington Times Weekly - - Front Page - By Sara A. Carter and Car­men Gen­tile

U.S. intelligence of­fi­cials said May 9 that mem­bers of the Venezue­lan gov­ern­ment have tried to “fa­cil­i­tate the shipment of arms” to Colom­bian rebels.

The charge fol­lows a pub­lished re­port that doc­u­ments from a cap­tured lap­top com­puter show Venezue­lan Pres­i­dent Hugo Chavez agreed to help arm the Revo­lu­tion­ary Armed Forces of Colom­bia (FARC). The doc­u­ments ap­pear to be au­then­tic, U.S. intelligence of­fi­cials said.

“One of the chief con­cerns is that the doc­u­ments re­veal closer links be­tween Chavez and the FARC than had been pre­vi­ously been known,” a U.S. intelligence of­fi­cial said, speak­ing on the con­di­tion of anonymity due to the sen­si­tiv­ity of the in­forma- tion. “It’s clear that cer­tain Venezue­lan of­fi­cials have tried to fa­cil­i­tate the shipment of arms to the FARC,” the of­fi­cial said.

Venezue­lan of­fi­cials main­tain that Bo­gota is ma­nip­u­lat­ing the truth.

“The whole thing is like a movie. Fiction is fiction, re­al­ity is re­al­ity,” Bernardo Al­varez Her­rera, Venezuela’s am­bas­sador to Wash­ing­ton, said May 9, ac­cord­ing to the As­so­ci­ated Press.

A re­port in the Wall Street Jour­nal about the ties be­tween Mr. Chavez and the FARC rocked oil mar­kets on May 9. Prices spiked on fears that the United States would re­spond by im­pos­ing sanc­tions on Venezuela, one of its big­gest oil sup­pli­ers.

Light, sweet crude for June de­liv­ery vaulted to a record $126.25 on the New York Mer­can­tile Ex­change be­fore re­treat­ing slightly to settle at a record $125.96

The news­pa­per said the files re- cov­ered from the com­puter in­di­cate Venezuela has of­fered to arm the rebels, pos­si­bly with rock­et­pro­pelled grenades and groundto-air mis­siles, and of­fered FARC the use of a port to re­ceive arms ship­ments.

The U.S. intelligence of­fi­cial said it was “en­tirely pos­si­ble” that the Venezue­lan gov­ern­ment has al­ready trans­ferred weapons to the rebels, who seek to over­throw the Colom­bian gov­ern­ment.

“The doc­u­ments also re­veal that the Venezue­lan gov­ern­ment has at­tempted to as­sist the FARC in ac­quir­ing arms and mu­ni­tions,” the of­fi­cial said. “The ex­tent of that flow of arms is un­clear at this time, but it’s en­tirely pos­si­ble some of those ship­ments have made their way to the FARC.”

The doc­u­ments re­veal that the con­nec­tion to FARC goes be­yond Mr. Chavez and that there has “been some se­ri­ous thought on the part of the Venezue­lan gov­ern­ment,” the U.S. intelligence of­fi­cial said. The of­fi­cial de­clined to iden­tify any other Venezue­lan of­fi­cials who might be in­volved.

The data was found on a com­puter be­long­ing to Raul Reyes, who was killed March 1 dur­ing a raid by Colom­bian forces on a FARC camp inside Ecuador. An­other top FARC com­man­der, Ivan Rios, was shot and killed by his se­cu­rity chief a few days later.

Colom­bian Pres­i­dent Al­varo Uribe, since as­sum­ing of­fice in 2002, has or­ches­trated a crack­down on FARC that has dec­i­mated its ranks. Though left­ist rebels have been fight­ing Colom­bian forces for more than 40 years, the Colom­bian mil­i­tary — backed by bil­lions of dol­lars in U.S. aid, have ar­rested or killed sev­eral high-rank­ing mem­bers in re­cent years.

But Colom­bia’s

progress against the FARC and other armed groups has not been with­out con­se­quence. The killing of Reyes one mile into Ecuado­rian terr itor y set off a po­lit­i­cal firestorm that prompted both Ecuador and Venezuela to sever re­la­tions with Colom­bia and send troops to their re­spec­tive borders with that coun­try.

Of­fi­cial re­la­tions were even­tu­ally re­stored but the diplo­matic fric­tion be­tween Quito and Bo­gota con­tin­ues.

On May 7, Pres­i­dent Bush re­ferred to Venezuela’s sus­pected back­ing of FARC in a speech, the As­so­ci­ated Press re­ported.

“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.

Mr. Chavez called that a lie in a speech on May 9, say­ing: “It’s good that comrade Bush is mess­ing with us, be­cause that means we’re do­ing well.”

Mean­while, weapons ex­perts and Colom­bia an­a­lysts con­tend that FARC could be pre­par­ing to re­tal­i­ate vi­o­lently for its re­cent losses of Reyes and Rios.

Nu­mer­ous sources and U.S. intelligence of­fi­cials said Colom­bian left­ist rebels are in­ter­ested in pur­chas­ing so­phis­ti­cated weaponry such as anti-air­craft guns, shoul­der-launched sur­faceto-air mis­siles and even larger weapons.

“This is some­thing we are look­ing at very closely at the mo­ment,” said Mark Joyce, Amer­i­cas ed­i­tor at the Lon­don-based Jane’s Coun­try Risk. “We can say with some con­fi­dence that the FARC has been try­ing to pro­cure [sur­face-to-air mis­siles] for some time.”

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