Colombia’s biggest guerrilla group has enjoyed a long if convoluted collaboration with the Venezuelan government, to the extent of offering to assassinate domestic political opponents of president Hugo Chávez, and in return receiving Venezuelan sanctuary and funding, according to a study of the group’s internal communications.
The study by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, a think-tank, says Venezuela offered to provide the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) with $300m to buy weapons, enough to alter Colombia’s military balance; and the Farc may have contributed $400,000 to the electoral campaign of Rafael Correa, Ecuador’s president.
The 240-page analysis, “The Farc files: Venezuela, Ecuador and the secret archive of Raul Reyes”, is based on documents found on the laptop, hard drives and memory sticks of a senior Farc commander obtained after a 2008 Colombian army raid.
The publication of the documents is likely to embarrass Mr Chávez, who has long denied direct links with the Farc, which is funded by drug-running, extortion and kidnapping and is recognised as an international terrorist organisation by the US, Canada and the European Union.
In some of the e-mails, Mr Reyes purports to describe two secret meetings held with Mr Chávez in Caracas in 2000 during which he claims the Venezuelan president offered financial support and access to arms, perhaps via “Putin, the Russian president”.
Publication of the documents may also complicate the recent rapprochement between Colombia and Venezuela – both countries have recently deported wanted criminals to the other – even though the study suggests that Venezuela’s relationship with the Farc was more complex and duplicitous than many critics allow.
For one, the leftist Mr Chávez and the leftist Farc did not always see eye to eye ideologically.
“He has an enormous muddle in his head that nobody understands,” reads one e-mail written from Caracas by an exasperated Farc operative.
Mr Chávez also sided with Colombia when it suited his purposes. On one occasion, it is claimed, the Venezuelan army gave the Farc permission to move across the country, then ambushed the convoy, seized Farc soldiers, and delivered them to Colombia.
Mr Chávez subsequently told the Colombian president personally of the operation, the report says.
Mr Chávez, who at first may have lacked the means to expel this highly armed group from Venezuela, later came to view the Farc as his first line of defence, according to the study.
This was especially so after an attempted 2002 coup and at least one assassination plot, thought by Mr Chávez to have been instigated by the US and Colombia respectively.
Venezuela continues to deny the authenticity of the files, alleging they had been tampered with by Colombian officials, and has published a long collection of articles titled “The Lies of the Supercomputer.”
What the documents appear to highlight is one of South America’s great open secrets: that Mr Chávez’s government, while publicly proclaiming neutrality, allowed the Farc to use Venezuelan territory for refuge, cross-border operations and political activity.
Less clear cut is Mr Chávez’s personal degree of involvement, whether the funding he supposedly promised the Farc ever materialised, or whether the Farc e-mails that claim Mr Chávez’s government sought to kill two of his opponents were ever acted on.
Get alerts on Americas politics & policy when a new story is published