Chavez agreed to arm Colombian rebels, documents indicate
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.
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.”