What the FARC Papers Show

First, a clarification. The documents taken from the laptop of FARC senior commander Raul Reyes when Reyes was killed had nothing to do with the arrest of arms merchant Viktor Bout in Thailand.

My sources involved in the operation said the operation was underway months before, and documents were not analyzed by DEA in relation to the Bout sting.

But the 36 pages of documents now made public by the Colombian government do provide a fascinating window into how the FARC, the oldest insurgency in the hemisphere, thinks, operates and views the world.

They show a rebel group that moves millions of dollars across the border for safe-keeping and sets up businesses, but is constantly under pressure from the Colombian military, making communications among the different commanders difficult. It shows they have problems with desertions and morale, and are desperate to change their international image.

The FARC is clearly (and rightly) counting on Chavez in Venezuela, Evo Morales in Bolivia, Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua and Correa in Ecuador, to bring new legitimacy to its 43-year struggle.

Among the highlights:

The FARC is desperate to become recognized as a legitimate armed actor in the Colombian conflict and is smarting greatly from its reputation (well-earned) as a criminal enterprise. The priority in their relationship with Venezuelan Hugo Chavez is have him push the recognition of the FARC as a “belligerent force” with a certain status, rather than a terrorist group. Chavez has done this.

The explicitly-stated idea is to establish a process similar to the Central American peace process, known as the Contadora process, where different regional heads of state met with Central American state and non-state groups to work toward a solution.

The plan hinges on the acceptance by the FARC and the Colombian government of handing over prisoners from both sides to Chavez for safe keeping in Venezuelan territory. As the FARC notes, since it is their idea, they will accept, and if Colombian president Uribe does not, they feel they can make him pay politically on a regional level.

While it is not news now, there is constant and direct communication between the FARC high command and Chavez and a few of his trusted aides. It is interesting to note that the Cubans, also allies of Chavez, feel left out in the process and are not kept in the loop on many issues.

Ecuadoran president Correa wanted to get in on the regional action, and is a key player in pushing the “Contadora option” because it requires numerous heads of state to move the process forward.

According to one missive from Reyes to other members of the high command (Jan. 18, 2008), Correa is willing to change the Ecuadoran police and military commanders on the border who are considered hostile to the FARC. This is not a minor concession in any government.

The FARC is attempting to go into business, whose nature is encrypted, through various front companies outside Colombia. Part of the business (Feb. 8, 2008 letter to the high command), was to “receive a shipment of oil to sell on the market, which would earn us a great deal of money.”

Another option, the letter said, would be to “sell gasoline in Colombia or Venezuela after creating an investment company in Venezuela.”

Finally, it is clear that the case of Ingrid Bentancourt, the Colombian senator held for 6 years now despite a continual international outcry, is wearing on the FARC.

There are numerous references to her, how she should be treated, if she would be sent to Venezuela with prisoners in case of an agreement. They acknowledge that the pressure to get her free is “a black mark against the FARC.”

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