Files link Colombian rebels to Chavez

‘DODGY DOSSIER’::An IISS analysis of FARC files points to a complex tie-up between FARC rebels, Hugo Chavez and Rafael Correa. Venezuela said the information is false

Reuters, BOGOTA

Thu, May 12, 2011 - Page 7

Colombian leftist guerrillas may have tried to assassinate rivals of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and trained his supporters in urban warfare, an analysis of thousands of seized rebel documents showed on Tuesday.

The study of the files seized during a 2008 raid on a rebel camp inside Ecuador also showed that the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) contributed about US$400,000 to Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa’s election campaign.

Venezuela’s embassy in London questioned the authenticity of the documents published by the British-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), calling them a “dodgy dossier” that could be exploited to sabotage warming ties between the ideologically opposed neighbors.

Correa dismissed the IISS findings as “absolutely false.”

Accusations have been swirling since Colombian authorities captured computer hard drives belonging to a FARC leader, Raul Reyes, after he and other rebels were killed in the air raid three years ago.

“A lot of this material has been traveling through the public domain one way or another over the last years, but the utility of this dossier is it provides authentic confirmation from the FARC perspective,” the IISS’ Nigel Inkster told reporters.

Colombia turned over the complete files to IISS, an independent think tank, for study after they were confirmed genuine by Interpol.

The 2008 attack triggered a diplomatic dispute between then-Colombian president Alvaro Uribe’s conservative government and both Ecuador and Venezuela, which escalated when Uribe confronted Chavez with what he said was evidence Venezuela harbored and supported rebels. Ties have improved dramatically since the election of Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos in August.

Venezuela has always disputed the alleged contents of the files seized in the raid, and on Tuesday its embassy in London said there was “serious doubt on the authenticity and validity of the information.”

“This could become part of an aggressive propaganda tool against Venezuela to undermine progress in the region, precisely at a time when relations between Venezuela and Colombia have reached a level of stable cooperation and friendly dialogue,” the embassy said in a statement.

According to the archives, the FARC responded to requests from Venezuela’s intelligence services to provide urban warfare training to pro-Chavez groups when the socialist leader was feeling vulnerable following a brief 2002 coup.

“The archive offers tantalizing, but ultimately unproven suggestions that FARC may have undertaken assassinations of Chavez’s political opponents,” Inkster said in a presentation.

The documents also show Correa receiving campaign cash from the leftist rebels, although this did not necessarily translate into government favors after he was elected. Correa adamantly denied receiving money from the guerrillas.

“I have never in my life met anyone from the FARC, and would never have accepted even 20 cents from an organization like that,” Correa told reporters on Tuesday.

Colombia’s government said it would not comment on the new study.

Relations with Venezuela “are very good and the position of the Santos government is to strengthen them even more,” Colombian Vice President Angelino Garzon told Colombian radio.

The files reveal a complex relationship between Chavez and the FARC, with the charismatic Venezuelan leader sometimes making promises to the group and then not following through.

According to the documents, Chavez also met in person several times with leading FARC members.

The FARC is at its weakest in decades following the deaths of top commanders and desertions prompted by a government crackdown aided by billions of dollars in US support.

References to the group’s links with local and international drug traffickers is peppered through the archive, Inkster said.