From the archive, originally posted by: [ spectre ]



AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to the three American military contractors
freed from the Colombian jungle, speaking out against their former
captors, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC—Marc
Gonsalves, Thomas Howes and Keith Stansell, among the fifteen
hostages, including the French Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt,
who was rescued in an elaborate military operation last week. The
Colombian government says it managed to infiltrate FARC command and
fool the rebels into thinking they were transferring the hostages to
another location.

On Monday, the three Americans spoke publicly for the first time since
their release. Marc Gonsalves called his former FARC captors
“terrorists” and urged them to release hundreds of remaining hostages.

The freed Americans are employees of the military firm Northrop
Grumman. They have been captured—they were captured in 2003 after
their surveillance plane crashed in the Colombian jungle.

The rescue operation was widely seen as a major blow to the FARC. The
fifteen freed prisoners were the most high-profile of hundreds the
FARC had held in hopes of securing the release of captured rebels and
achieving other political demands. The group has already been depleted
by the deaths of three senior leaders this year and a series of

Criticism of FARC has come from all sides. Indigenous, peasant and
human rights groups have denounced FARC’s kidnappings and armed
operations and said they also deflect attention from government

I’m joined now by three guests. Here in the firehouse, Mario Murillo,
professor of communications at Hofstra University, a producer at
Pacifica radio station WBAI here in New York, author of the book
Colombia and the United States: War, Terrorism and Destabilization,
currently finishing another book on the indigenous movement in
Colombia and its popular use of the media in community organizing.
Also, in Washington, D.C., I’m joined by Michael Evans, director of
the Colombia Documentation Project at the National Security Archive.
And on the line from New Brunswick, Canada, Manuel Rozental. He’s a
Colombian physician, human rights activist and member of the
Association of Indigenous Councils of Northern Cauca in Colombia. He
fled to Canada in 2005 following several threats on his life.

Mario, you have been writing about what happened, and now there’s
serious questions, Swiss reports of whether in fact this was staged,
whether $20 million wasn’t paid in ransom for these prisoners by the
Colombian government.

MARIO MURILLO: Right. There’s a lot of questions, actually, because
there’s three different versions. Unfortunately, the official version
is the one that’s getting the most play, and obviously Alvaro Uribe is
getting a lot of political mileage out of it. And that’s, of course,
this dramatic rescue operation that you described in the introduction.

There’s two other reports. The one that you just alluded to from the
French—Swiss radio—public radio service, that—based on high sources
that the reporters had, saying that one of the wives of one of the
guards, one of the FARC rebels who was involved in securing and
maintaining security around the hostages, was in constant contact and
made this arrangement for a $20 million ransom pay. And that’s from
one report.

Another report, which probably is a lot more feasible if this—you
know, I haven’t gotten deeper in that one, but the other report is
that the Colombian government actually took advantage of a diplomatic
effort that was already underway for a long time by the former French
consul in Bogota, as well as a leading Swiss diplomat who was in
Colombia, and they were making arrangements, and they even got the
green light from the Colombian government. It was in the Spanish
daily, El Pais, when the president, Colombian president, actually
announced that, yeah, this interchange, this dialogue, was actually
proceeding. And it turns out, apparently, according to this report,
that the Colombian government intercepted the helicopters that were on
their way, so it wasn’t really a high infiltration operation that was
in the highest levels of the FARC commanders. The FARC were actually
turning the folks over to specifically this delegation led by these
two diplomats, and apparently the Colombian government kind of took,
you know, a right turn and got a lot of political mileage as a result.

A lot of questions are still around what happened, but unfortunately,
as I said, the official story is the one that’s getting out the most.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn now to the freed American military
contractors. On Monday, they spoke out for the first time since their
rescue. Marc Gonsalves was the most vocal of the three in criticizing
FARC. This is some of what he had to say.

MARC GONSALVES: There was a time that when I slept, I would
dream that I was free. That time was only a few days ago. It feels so
good to be free here now with all of you.

I want to tell you about the FARC, a guerrilla group who claim
to be revolutionaries fighting for the poor people of Colombia. They
say that they want equality. They say that they just want to make
Colombia a better place. But that’s all a lie. It’s a cover story, and
they hide behind it, and they use it to justify their criminal

The FARC are not a revolutionary group. They are not a
revolutionary group. They are terrorists. Terrorists with a capital T.
Bad people. Their interests lie in drug trafficking, extortion,
kidnapping. They refuse to acknowledge all human rights. And they
reject democracy.

I’ve seen them hold a newborn baby in captivity, a baby that
needed medical help, that was sick. They kept him there in the jungle.

I, myself, and my friends, Tom and Keith, we’ve also been victim
of their hate, of their abuse and other torture. And I have seen how
even their own guerrillas commit suicide in a desperate attempt to
escape the slavery that the FARC have condemned them to.

The majority of the FARC’s forces are children and young adults.
They come from extreme poverty and have very little or no education.
Many of them, they can’t even read. So they’re easily tricked into
joining the FARC, and they’re brainwashed into believing that their
cause is a just cause. But once they join, they can never leave,
because if they try, they will be killed.

There are people who right now in this very moment, they’re
still there in the jungle being held hostage. In this exact moment,
right now, they’re being punished, because we got rescued
successfully. I want you guys to imagine that. Right now, right now,
they’re wearing chains around their necks. They’re going to get up
early tomorrow morning, and they’re going to put a heavy backpack on
their backs, and they’re going to be forced to march with that chain
on their neck, while a guerrilla with an automatic weapon is holding
the other end of his chain like a dog.

Those are innocent people. Those are people that were fighting
or working for the country. And all they want is what we wanted and
what God had the grace to give us: our freedom.

I want to send a message to the FARC. FARC, you guys are
terrorists. You deny that you are. You say with words that you’re not
terrorists, but your words don’t have any value. Don’t tell us that
you’re not terrorists; show us that you’re not terrorists. Let those
other hostages come home. Agree to President Uribe’s proposal of an
encounter zone. Anywhere and any time you want, he proposed an
encounter zone. Then make the humanitarian agreement and let the
others come home. Then after that, a peace process, because otherwise
this downward spiral that the FARC are on now will continue, and the
Colombian military is going to dismantle the entire organization.


AMY GOODMAN: That is the quote of the man, the American contractor,
who was captured, Gonsalves, speaking yesterday—Marc Gonsalves—in San
Antonio. Let’s begin with you, Mario. Your thoughts?

MARIO MURILLO: Well, first of all, he said a lot of things, so we can
comment on a lot of things, obviously. One of the things being the
fact of the terrible conditions in which these hostages are held is
something that obviously nobody could really argue about. It’s unjust,
and everybody from Fidel Castro to Hugo Chavez to many other people
around the world have been demanding the FARC turn these folks over.

But he also says a lot of things that kind of whitewash the situation.
First of all, I think it’s very important, one of the tragedies of
this whole thing is that we will never get to the bottom of what
Gonsalves and his so-called contractors were doing in Colombia. We
have to recall that he was—first of all, the fact that his plane went
down—the official record says it was an accident and they went down in
the jungles, although the FARC had claimed initially that they shot it

We also have to point out that to use the term “hostages” in their case
—not to justify that they were held for five years, by no stretch of
the imagination—but to use the term “hostages” is very problematic in
the context in which they were operating in southern Colombia. They
were there in 2003, two years—a year and a half after President Bush
already authorized US servicemen and contractors to conduct
counterinsurgency, not counter-drug operations. That was in the heart
of where the FARC were operating, in Caqueta and in the southern part
of the country. So we will never get to the bottom of what exactly
these folks were doing down there—again, not to justify, but I think
that’s one of the many questions that are left unsaid.

And then, finally, his last comments there about what Uribe’s
proposals are really are optimistic, if not completely naive. He
doesn’t seem to understand that Uribe’s strategy is not to dialogue
with the FARC. His intention is to totally dismantle them. He does not
recognize them as a belligerent force. And the argument that they’re
terrorists, which Gonsalves here is arguing, is something that Uribe
has embraced to the detriment of any possibility of dialogue for long-
lasting peace in Colombia.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me turn to Manuel Rozental. Your response right now,
as a man who has fled Colombia, a physician, a human rights activist,
now living in Canada, hearing the description of the FARC and also
talking about the Uribe government? It’s interesting that Ingrid
Betancourt, perhaps the most well-known hostage, who has now returned
to France—said she may run for president again, in fact ran against
Uribe—said Colombian President Alvaro Uribe should soften his tone
when dealing with FARC guerrillas. She urged Uribe to break with the
language of hatred. Manuel?

MANUEL ROZENTAL: Yes. Hi, Amy. Indeed, it’s very interesting. I, first
of all, have to say, like I think almost every Colombian, that we were
absolutely elated by the liberation of Ingrid and that her condition
is good, and one cannot downplay that. Regardless of how it was
achieved, it was fantastic that she was released unharmed and that all
the other ones were, as well.

Also, what Mario was saying, they were really fourteen prisoners of
war and one hostage released. The fourteen prisoners of war,
mistreated, abused, and I’m also glad, as everybody, that they’re

And in fact, I would say, knowing Ingrid before she was kidnapped, and
precisely two or three days before she was kidnapped by FARC, she
actually met with FARC commanders, including Raul Reyes, and said
directly that she demanded a gesture of goodwill from FARC in order
for peace to be achieved in Colombia. And her almost exact words were
“Your gesture of goodwill has to be no more kidnapping in Colombia,
and then, otherwise, if you don’t do that gesture, if you don’t carry
it out, then Colombia will explode into a spiral of disaster, and you
will lose all credibility.” So I think that background is essential,
because just a couple of days after she says that, she’s kidnapped by
the very people she demands that gesture from.

But I think it’s very important to put the whole thing into context.
First, the Uribe government has peaked in popularity but also has
reached a bottom in terms of illegitimacy. It was condemned just a few
days before this operation of liberation was carried out because of
buying out votes from congress to achieve re-election in a fraudulent
way. Uribe’s administration is also linked to death squads, and so are
the members of a coalition that led him to win the elections twice and
high officials in government, including the secret police. So we’re
talking about the regime with the worst human rights record in the
continent and the army with the worst human rights record in the
continent with the greatest US support, including the contractors or
mercenaries that Mario was talking about. So the fact that this regime
was involved in this liberation does not and should not and cannot
cover up the fact that it is a horrendous regime.

So, the main point I’d like to make here beyond the discussion as to
whether FARC or the government, which one is worse or which one is
legitimate, the main point here is an SOS for the popular movements
and organizations and the people of Colombia who right now, with the
validation of Uribe’s regime, are at the greatest risk of continuing
to be or even worsening the human rights records and abuses.

And to put this into perspective, there is a major plan in progress
within Colombia and from Colombia with US support and for corporate
interests to take over resources and wealth in territories in Colombia
and, from there, to launch a war or a major conflict in the Andean
region. That agenda is going to advance even further, after—if Uribe
gets away with the legitimization of his regime after the liberation
of Ingrid.

So, to go back to where I started, if Ingrid was the same Ingrid that
was kidnapped by FARC, the one that denounced corruption of the
government and launched a presidential campaign, she would be saying
what I’m saying now. You cannot legitimate a corrupt regime for profit
because you have liberated somebody. In fact, the person they’ve
liberated fought against that corruption, and we hope she’ll do it

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to bring Michael Evans into this discussion,
director of the Colombia Documentation Project at the National
Security Archive. Inter Press Service wrote an interesting piece
called “Colombia: The General Ingrid Hugged,” and they’re talking
about General Mario Montoya—General Mario Montoya Uribe and Ingrid
Betancourt. For our radio listeners, we’re showing the image. You can
go to our website at Tell us about this general.

MICHAEL EVANS: Sure. Thanks for having me on the show. General Mario
Montoya is the commander of the Colombian army, and he has a sort of
spotted history with respect to human rights.

And it’s important to—for the listeners of this show to realize that
there’s another side to the coin with the FARC. Few people have
illusions that the FARC are well-intentioned liberals, but the other
side of it are the right-wing paramilitary groups that have operated
virtually unhindered in Colombia for decades.

Mario Montoya, the general that Ingrid hugged—and I haven’t seen the
Inter Press story, but I can imagine where it goes—just last year was
the subject of a CIA report leaked to the Los Angeles Times that
implicated him in a joint operation with paramilitary forces in the
city of Medellin just a few years ago, when he was a commander of an
army brigade there. And Montoya, throughout his career, has been
dogged by these kinds of allegations. A unit that he was a member of
in the late 1970s, when he was a young intelligence officer, had
actually formed a supposedly independent spontaneous paramilitary
group known as the Triple A, the American Anticommunist Alliance, that
was responsible for bombings and other kinds of threats and
intimidation, sort of black ops type operations in Colombia. The unit
that he was associated with created it as a completely clandestine
project. So General Montoya has a lot to answer for, as does President
Uribe. You know, many of his political allies have been implicated in
the parapolitical scandal, a scandal touched off by the discovery of a
paramilitary laptop a couple of years ago.

So there’s another side to this that I think is lost in this and is in
danger of sort of being consumed or buried under this sort of all this
wave of adoration for, you know, what is, I think, rightly considered
a very successful military operation. Of course, everybody is happy
that the hostages have been released, and it’s a huge victory for them
and their families, but you have to also see this as a huge victory
for Uribe and for—really as something that’s going to help him to get
through and sort of avoid addressing some of these larger problems
that he faces.

AMY GOODMAN: The Triple A, what is it, Michael Evans?

MICHAEL EVANS: Yeah, the Triple A was a group, again, that in the late
1970s and early 1980s operated as a clandestine unit of a Colombian
military intelligence unit. Essentially, they were formed completely
covertly, behind the scenes, without any attribution to the Colombian
army. They were responsible for bombing the Communist Party
headquarters and some other acts of intimidation around that time.
It’s really the first documented evidence that I’ve seen, at least in
US government documents, declassified documents, where a Colombian
army unit is directly tied to a clandestine paramilitary group or

AMY GOODMAN: And its relation to the United States?

MICHAEL EVANS: Well, its relation to the United States, as far as I
know, ends where—in a cable reported from the US ambassador, Diego
Asencio, in 1979, where he knows of this project and says—kind of
downplays it and says, well, it’s not a big deal; you know, these are
kind of dirty tricks being carried out by a desperate military facing
this—excuse me, this guerrilla threat from the—what then was the M-19
guerrillas. But the US certainly knew about that project, and if they
had done a little digging, would have known that Mario Montoya was a
part of it, the man, of course, who is now the senior Colombian army
official that is considered a great ally of the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: Manuel Rozental, can you return to Colombia today?

MANUEL ROZENTAL: Yeah, actually, I have been returning to Colombia,
and my situation is not unusual, in that many of the people under
threat actually go back to Colombia and have to be very careful and
keep looking for mechanisms to work with social movements. In fact, my
working with the Association of Indigenous Councils is at a moment
when more indigenous peoples, through this regime of Alvaro Uribe,
have been threatened, killed, disappeared or attacked than in any
other previous regimes, which has a lot to say about what’s going on.

But, Amy, I wanted to point out something. Maybe you saw this, or the
people listening to us. There was a 60 Minutes special on the Chiquita
Brands scandal. The Chiquita is, of course, a banana company. And the
documentary actually interviewed the CEO of Chiquita that had pleaded
guilty of funding the paramilitary forces. But the argument he
presented was that he was forced to fund the paramilitaries in order
to survive, because he was threatened by them.

The main point here is that the person doing the interview managed to
get through to Mancuso, the paramilitary commander and a close friend
of Uribe’s, and Mancuso stated clearly in the program that many people
saw in the US that there was never a threat, and it was out of
consideration that there would be any tense relationship or threat
between three companies—Dole, Chiquita, and Del Monte—in Colombia,
because they were actually allies. He actually said clearly, “They
funded us. They armed us. They trained us,” which is very important.

In fact, just a few days after this came out to the US public, Mancuso
and another fourteen paramilitaries were taken, extradited into the
US, so that they would be charged for drug trade and all the crimes
against humanity and all the names he said he was going to name—
Mancuso said he was going to denounce the direct links between the
multinational US corporations, the US government, the Colombian
government and the paramilitaries to the State Department and
Department of Justice. And just after he says that, he is thrown into
jail into darkness in the US, so that all these criminal activities
and the architecture of power in Colombia could not be exposed. All
this stuff is covered up.

And then, the links between corporate interest, paramilitary death
squads, the Uribe and the Bush administration have been hidden,
covered up completely. And then, the real problem in Colombia, which
is an experiment from transnational corporations through the Uribe
administration with the support of the Bush and the US government, can
be hidden, and further hidden with what just happened.

As was being explained before, the whole paramilitary and death squad
machinery in Colombia has been in existence for a long time with clear
US support, with direct involvement of military and paramilitary
forces in Colombia, and the Uribe regime is directly linked to all

AMY GOODMAN: It seems that the FARC has served the president of
Colombia very well—Uribe. The US has given billions of dollars to
Colombia. Mario Murillo, let’s end there.

MARIO MURILLO: Yeah. Well, I would make the argument that the FARC
continue to be a kind of crutch for Uribe, and it’s all couched in the
war against narcotrafficking and the war against terror. The United
States is looking at this as the prime éxito or success story, and
they’re pumping tens of millions of—billions of dollars into Colombia.
And McCain was down there just last week, touting it—

AMY GOODMAN: Was there the day of the release.

MARIO MURILLO: Was there the day of the rescue, and he’s touting it as
a success story, without pointing out what already has been said, as
well as the—it’s not only a thing of the past, it’s a thing of the
present. Amnesty International and the Fellowship of Reconciliation
came out with a scathing report in May—late April, early May this
year, documenting how the regiments, the army units that the Colombian
army is receiving the most money of Colombian—of US support are
directly involved in extrajudicial executions, a story that has been
reported in the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post but that,
unfortunately, as you know, doesn’t get the drumbeat that this
dramatic rescue would get.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you all for being with us. Mario Murillo
is a WBAI producer, professor at Hofstra University, author of the
book Colombia and the United States: War, Terrorism and
Destabilization. Michael Evans in D.C., director of the Colombia
Documentation Project at the National Security Archive. We’ll link to
that. And Manuel Rozental, physician, human rights activist, member of
the Hemispheric Social Alliance and Association of Indigenous Councils
of Northern Cauca in Colombia. I wish we could be speaking to him in
Colombia, but he fled to Canada in 2005 following several threats
against his life.

Michael Evans
email : mevans [at] gwu [dot] edu

“Michael L. Evans is director of the Colombia Documentation Project
and serves concurrently as the Archive’s Webmaster. He is the author
of several Archive Electronic Briefing Books on U.S.-Colombia
relations, international counternarcotics policy, the 1975 invasion of
East Timor by Indonesian forces and U.S.-China relations. He also
writes a monthly column for, the online publication of
Colombia’s leading news magazine. His work has been recognized by The
New York Times, USA Today, Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post and
other publications. He has appeared on television and radio broadcasts
in the U.S. and Colombia, including the BBC World Service, Fairness
and Accuracy in Reporting’s “Counterspin,” Pacifica Radio’s “Democracy
Now!” and RCN Television in Colombia. He joined the Archive in 1996
and worked as a Research Associate on several Archive publications,
including Death Squads, Guerrilla War, Covert Operations, and
Genocide: Guatemala and the United States, 1954-1999, Presidential
Directives on National Security, Part 2: From Harry Truman to George
W. Bush, China and the United States: From Hostility to Engagement;
and U.S. Espionage and Intelligence: Organization, Operations, and
Management, 1947-1996. He is a graduate of Miami University and did
his graduate work in international affairs at The George Washington


Colombia rejects intelligence report  /  March 26, 2007

Colombia on Sunday rejected a Los Angeles Times report that the CIA
had intelligence alleging that the country’s army chief collaborated
with right-wing militias accused of atrocities, drug trafficking and
massacres. The report, published Sunday, cited a CIA document about
Colombia’s army commander, Gen. Mario Montoya, and a paramilitary
group jointly planning and conducting an operation in 2002 to wipe out
Marxist guerrillas from poor areas around Medellin.

The report came as the White House is asking Congress to approve
extending approximately $700 million a year in mostly military aid to
help Colombia’s government fight rebels and the illicit drug trade.
Montoya has a close association with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe
and would be the highest-ranking Colombian officer implicated in a
scandal over links between the outlawed militias and some of Uribe’s
political allies.

In a brief statement, Colombia’s government called for any charges
with proof to be presented before judicial authorities. “Colombia’s
government rejects accusations made by foreign intelligence agencies
against army commander Gen. Mario Montoya, that have been filtered
through the press, without evidence being presented to Colombian
justice and the government,” it said.

Most of Colombia’s paramilitaries have demobilized under a deal with
Uribe, but revelations are surfacing about ties to the political
elite. Rights groups have long charged that some military officers
have cooperated with the militias in a brutal counterinsurgency
campaign. Eight pro-Uribe lawmakers and a state governor have been
arrested on criminal charges involving alleged collusion with
paramilitary commands, which were set up in the 1980s to help fight
Marxist rebels. U.S. officials brand the militias as drug-trafficking


/  May 11, 2008

“For American corporations, the rewards of doing business abroad are
enormous, but so are the risks. And over the past 25 years no place
has been more perilous than Colombia, a country that is just beginning
to emerge from the throes of civil war and narco-terrorism. Chiquita
Brands International of Cincinnati, Ohio, found out the hard way. It
made millions growing bananas there, only to emerge with its
reputation splattered in blood after acknowledging it had paid nearly
$2 million in protection money to a murderous paramilitary group that
has killed or massacred thousands of people.

As correspondent Steve Kroft reports, the Colombian government is now
talking about extraditing Chiquita executives to Colombia, and
investigators in Bogota and on Capitol Hill are looking at other U.S.
companies that may have done the same thing. From the air, the plains
of the Uraba region are carpeted with lush foliage of banana
plantations, which have long provided a livelihood for the people of
northern Colombia. And for the better part of century, its best known
product has been the Chiquita banana.

But since the 1980’s, the business of bananas there has been
punctuated with gunfire. First, the area was taken over by Marxist
guerillas called the “FARC,” whose ruthlessness at killing and
kidnapping was exceeded only by the private paramilitary army that
rose up to fight them. Chiquita found itself trying to grow bananas in
the middle of a war, in which the Colombian government and its army
were of no help. “These lands were lands where there was no law. It
was impossible for the government to protect employees,” says Fernando
Aguirre, who became Chiquita’s CEO long after all this happened.

Aguirre says the company was forced to pay taxes to the guerillas when
they controlled the territory in the late 1980s and early 90s. When
the paramilitaries, known as the “AUC,” moved in in 1997 they demanded
the same thing. “Did the paramilitaries state, specifically to you,
that if you didn’t make the payments, your people would be killed?”
Kroft asks. “There was a very, very strong signal that if the company
would not make payments, that things would happen. And since they had
already killed at least 50 people, employees of the company, it was
clear to everyone there that these guys meant business,” Aguirre says.

Chiquita only had a couple of options and none of them were
particularly good. It could refuse to pay the paramilitaries and run
the risk that its employees could be killed or kidnapped, it could
pack up and leave the country all together and abandon its most
profitable enterprise, or it could stay and pay protection, and in the
process, help finance the atrocities that were being committed all
across the countryside. “These were extortion payments,” Aguirre says.
“Either you pay or your people get killed.”

“And you decided to pay,” Kroft remarks. “And the company decided to
pay, absolutely,” Aguirre says. There was no doubt in the company’s
mind that the paramilitaries were very bad people, Aguirre says.

Just how bad was already becoming evident. The paramilitaries, who
were funded initially by large landowners, and later by the cocaine
trade, not only drove the Marxist guerillas from the area, they tried
to eliminate anyone who might have leftist sympathies, from labor
leaders to school teachers. Sometimes entire villages were wiped out
in the most grisly fashion. Gloria Cuartes was the mayor of Apartado,
and witnessed much of it with her own eyes. “I was a mayor whose job
was just to gather the dead,” Cuartes says.

In 1996 she went to a school to talk to the children about the
violence that surrounded them. While she was there, the paramilitaries
arrived and murdered a 12-year-old boy, whose only crime had been to
announce their presence. “They cut off his head, and they threw the
head at us,” Cuartes remembers. “I went into a state of panic. They
were there for four hours, with their weapons, firing shots toward the
ceiling. One hundred girls and boys were with me. The children did not
scream. They were in shock.”

Asked if they said anything to her, Cuartes says, “No. Their language
was death. Their message was that if they could do this to children,
they could do it to me.” As the atrocities piled up all across the
country, Chiquita continued to make the payments to the
paramilitaries, viewing itself as a victim of the violence, not a

But all of that changed in 2001, when the U.S. government designated
the paramilitaries a terrorist organization, making any kind of
financial assistance to the group, coerced or otherwise, a felony. Yet
Chiquita continued to make the payments for another two years,
claiming it missed the government’s announcement. “It was in the
newspapers. It was in the Cincinnati Enquirer, which is where your
company headquarters is. It was in the New York Times,” Kroft points
out. “I mean, this is a big part of your business, doing business in
Colombia. I mean, how did you miss it?”

“Well, again, I don’t know what happened during that time frame,
frankly. What I know is, all the data shows that the company, the
moment it learned that these payments were illegal in the United
States, that’s when they decided to self-disclose to the Department of
Justice,” Aguirre says.

By “self-disclose,” he means Chiquita, on the advice of its attorneys,
turned itself in to the Justice Department. One of the first things
Aguirre did when he became CEO was to stop the payments and sell the
company’s Colombian subsidiary. Last year the company pled guilty to a
felony and agreed to pay a $25 million fine, but that wasn’t the end
of its legal problems. “This company has blood on its hands,” says
attorney Terry Collingsworth, who has filed one of four separate
lawsuits against Chiquita, seeking money for the families of
Colombians killed by the paramilitaries.

Collingsworth says the money Chiquita paid for seven years may have
kept its employees safe, but it also helped buy weapons and ammunition
that were killing other people. “Are you saying that Chiquita was
complicit in these massacres that took place down there?” Kroft asks.
“Absolutely. If you provide knowing substantial assistance to someone
who then goes out and kills someone, or terrorizes, or tortures
someone, you’re also guilty,” Collingsworth says.

Asked if he believes that Chiquita knew this money was being used to
go into the villages and massacre people, Collingsworth says, “If they
didn’t, they would be the only ones in the whole country of Colombia
who didn’t think that.” “You’re not saying that Chiquita wanted these
people to be killed?” Kroft asks. “No, they were indifferent to it,”
Collingsworth says. “…they were willing to accept that those people
would be dead, in order to keep their banana operation running
profitably, and making all the money that they did in Colombia.”

Collingsworth says he thinks the company should have just picked up
and left. “It’s easy for a lawyer to give that type of advice, after
the fact,” Aguirre argues. “When you have more than 3,500 workers,
their lives depend on you. When you’ve been making payments to save
their lives, you just can’t pick up and go.”

“What did the company think this money was gonna be used for?” Kroft
asks. “Well, clearly to save lives,” Aguirre says. “The lives of your
employees?” Kroft asks. “Absolutely,” Aguirre says.

“It was also being used to kill other people,” Kroft says. “Well,
these groups were funded with hundreds of millions of dollars. They
had the guns,” Aguirre says. “They had the bullets. So I don’t know
who in their right mind would say, ‘Well, if Chiquita would have
stopped, these killers would have stopped.’ I just don’t see that

“Do you feel that the company has any responsibility to compensate the
victims of the paramilitaries in Colombia?” Kroft asks. “The
responsibility of any murders are the responsibility of the people
that made the killings, of the people who pulled the trigger,” Aguirre

The Justice Department decided not to prosecute any corporate officers
at Chiquita, which included prominent businessmen such as former CEO
Cyrus Freidheim Jr., now head of Sun-Times Media Group, and board
member Roderick Hills, a former chairman of the Securities and
Exchange Commission. The decision created a furor in Colombia. The
country’s prosecutor general said he would begin his own
investigation, and has threatened to extradite some of Chiquita’s
executives to stand trial in Colombia.

There’s also a Congressional investigation, led by Representative
William Delahunt of Massachusetts, who chairs a House Foreign Affairs
subcommittee. Rep. Delahunt has been quoted as saying that Chiquita is
the tip of the iceberg. Asked what he means by that, Delahunt tells
Kroft, “Well, I think that there are other American companies that
have conducted themselves the same way that Chiquita has, except they
haven’t been caught.” How many companies? “Well, there are several,”
Delahunt says. Delahunt says he doesn’t want to share more information
“because I want to give those companies an opportunity to come before
the committee.”

60 Minutes did find one person who was willing to name names inside a
maximum security prison outside Medellin: Salvatore Mancuso was once
the leader of the paramilitaries. “Chiquita says the reason they paid
the money was because your people would kill them if they didn’t. Is
that true?” Kroft asks. “No it is not true,” Mancuso says. “They paid
taxes because we were like a state in the area, and because we were
providing them with protection which enabled them to continue making
investments and a financial profit.”

“What would have happened to Chiquita and its employees if they had
not paid you?” Kroft asks. “The truth is, we never thought about what
would happen because they did so willingly,” Mancuso says. Asked if
the company had a choice, Mancuso says, “Yes, they had a choice. They
could go to the local police or army for protection from the
guerillas, but the army and police at that time were barely able to
protect themselves.”

Mancuso helped negotiate a deal with the Colombian government that
allowed more than 30,000 paramilitaries to give up their arms and
demobilize in return for reduced prison sentences. As part of the
deal, the paramilitaries must truthfully confess to all crimes, or
face much harsher penalties.

Update: Mancuso, along with 13 other paramilitary warlords, was
extradited on May 13, 2008 to the United States for failing to comply
with the peace pact.  “Was Chiquita the only American company that
paid you?” Kroft asks Mancuso. “All companies in the banana region
paid. For instance, there was Dole and Del Monte, which I believe are
U.S. companies,” Mancuso claims.

Both Dole Food Company and Fresh Del Monte Produce, which is not
affiliated with Del Monte Foods, have issued statements strongly
denying that they made payments to the paramilitaries. Fresh Del Monte
Produce said its Colombian operation is “limited to a sales office
which purchases bananas from independent growers.”

“Dole and Del Monte say they never paid you any money,” Kroft tells
Mancuso. “Chiquita has been honest by acknowledging the reality of the
conflict and the payments that it made; the others also made payments,
not only international companies, but also the national companies in
the region,” Mancuso says. “So you’re saying Dole and Del Monte are
lying?” Kroft asks. “I’m saying they all paid,” Mancuso says.

Mancuso has been indicted in the U.S. for smuggling 17 tons of cocaine
into the country. He says he’s more than willing to tell U.S
prosecutors anything they want to know.

“Has anyone come down here from the United States to talk to you about
Dole, or to talk to you about Del Monte or any other companies?” Kroft

“No one has come from the Department of Justice of the United States
to talk to us,” Mancuso says. “I am taking the opportunity to invite
the Department of State and the Department of Justice, so that they
can come and so I can tell them all that they want to know from us.”
“And you would name names?” Kroft asks. “Certainly, I would do so,”
Mancuso says.

So far, the only company that’s been charged with paying money to
terrorists in Colombia is the one that turned itself in. “Do you think
if you hadn’t gone to the Justice Department and disclosed the
situation, that anything would’ve happened to you?” Kroft asks. “Well,
Mr. Kroft, if we hadn’t gone to the Justice Department, we probably
would not be here talking about this whole issue. No one would know
about this,” Aguirre says.

The General Ingrid Hugged  /  July 6 2008

General Mario Montoya Uribe, the national commander of the Colombian
army, whom Ingrid Betancourt thanked on Wednesday for rescuing her
from captivity, has a controversial service record. Montoya, whom
Betancourt embraced soon after her rescue from over six years as a
hostage of the insurgent Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia
(FARC), was born on Apr. 29, 1949 in the western department (province)
of Valle del Cauca.

Throughout his army career he has received more than 20 decorations,
including a U.S. Army medal. He has been in command positions in many
regions of his country, and holds a postgraduate degree in higher
management from the University of the Andes, according to his résumé
posted on the army Internet site. He followed courses of study at the
National War College, an advanced course on armoured vehicles at Fort
Knox, Kentucky, and was a military attaché at the Colombian embassy in

A cable despatched in 1979 by the U.S. embassy in Bogotá, declassified
at the request of the non-governmental National Security Archive
(NSA), a U.S. research institute, “reveals that a Colombian army
intelligence battalion linked to Montoya secretly created and staffed
a clandestine terror unit in 1978-1979,” researcher Michael Evans said
in an article published in July 2007 in the Colombian weekly Semana.

“Under the guise of the American Anti-communist Alliance (AAA or
Triple-A), the group was responsible for a number of bombings,
kidnappings and assassinations against leftist targets during that
period,” he wrote.

Evans, the head of NSA’s Colombia Documentation Project, also referred
to a mass grave discovered in the department of Putumayo in March 2007
containing the remains of more than 100 victims “killed over the same
two-year period that Montoya led the Joint Task Force South, the U.S.-
funded unit charged with coordinating counternarcotics and
counterguerrilla operations in that region from 1999-2001.”

“Declassified documents also detail State Department concern that one
of the units under Montoya’s command at the Task Force, the 24th
Brigade, had ties with paramilitaries based in (the town of) La
Hormiga, the location of the gravesite,” he said. Montoya was the
commander of the Fourth Brigade of the army, with jurisdiction over
the municipality of Bojayá in the western department of Chocó, when
119 civilians were massacred in the urban centre of Bellavista on May
2, 2002. In spite of three warnings delivered days in advance about
the imminent danger to the civilian population, the army did not enter
the area or take action to protect residents.

On Apr. 21, 2002, at least seven motorboats brought some 250
paramilitaries belonging to the ultra-rightwing United Self-Defence
Forces of Colombia (AUC) to Bellavista and the nearby town of Vigía
del Fuerte, through three separate checkpoints manned by the navy, the
police, and the army, the latter in Riosucio, 157 kilometres north of
Bellavista. The paramilitaries took up positions in both towns,
observed from the surrounding rural areas by the FARC.

On Apr. 23, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for
Human Rights expressed its “concern” about the paramilitary incursion
to the Colombian government and urged it to take action to protect
civilians. On Apr. 24 and 26, the Attorney General’s Office and the
Ombudsman added their voices to the warning. On May 1 the battle
between the FARC and the AUC started. More than 300 people sought
sanctuary in the Bellavista church and the AUC took cover behind and
around it. The following day the guerrillas launched gas cylinder
bombs at the paramilitary positions, one of which fell through the
church roof and exploded, killing 119 people including 44 children,
and leaving over 100 injured or mutilated.

The army showed up five days later. Survivors of the tragedy told IPS
last year about General Montoya’s arrival on the scene, and how he
wept for the dead children in front of television cameras, holding up
a little shoe of an expensive brand that local children had never seen
before. In May this year, an administrative tribunal issued two
verdicts, blaming the state for not having protected the population,
and ordering it to pay an indemnity of 1.5 billion pesos (870,000
dollars) to the victims’ families. Fourteen other civil lawsuits are
still pending.

The military justice system and the Attorney General’s Office
investigated army officers implicated in the events for dereliction of
duty. But Montoya’s career was not interrupted and he was promoted,
although soon afterwards, in October 2002, he was involved in another
controversial situation. An intelligence report produced by the U.S.
Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was leaked to the Los Angeles Times,
which published it in March 2007. It indicated that Montoya and a
paramilitary group known as Bloque Cacique Nutibara “jointly planned
and conducted a military operation in 2002 to eliminate Marxist
guerrillas from poor areas around Medellin, a city in northwestern
Colombia that has been a centre of the drug trade.”

What is known as Operation Orion began at 2:00 a.m. on Oct. 15, 2002
in Medellín’s 13th district. At least 14 people were killed, and
residents and human rights organisations testified that about 50 more
“disappeared” in the following weeks. On Oct. 21 that year the
presidential web site featured a statement by Montoya saying that “we
will continue, and what we are doing in the 13th district is a message
to the violent, telling them: desist, we will go everywhere in the
country because urban guerrilla warfare has no place in Colombia.”
Bloque Cacique Nutibara’s actions in the 13th district went on for two
months and, according to demobilised paramilitaries, were coordinated
with the authorities.

The CIA intelligence report included information from other Western
intelligence services and indicated that U.S. officials have received
similar information from a “proven” source, according to journalists
Greg Miller and Paul Richter, the authors of the Los Angeles Times
article. The report was leaked to the newspaper by a source who would
only identify himself as a U.S. government employee. The CIA would
neither deny nor confirm the information, but asked the newspaper not
to publish certain details.

In addition to his close collaboration with U.S. officials on Plan
Colombia, a strategy financed by Washinton to combat drug trafficking
and insurgency, Montoya was an instructor at the former School of the
Americas, renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security
Cooperation in 2001.

On Wednesday night, when the government showed on television how the
operation to rescue Betancourt and the other 14 hostages was planned
and executed, President Álvaro Uribe announced that Montoya had
commanded the successful rescue mission, and praised the 2002
Operation Orion in Medellín, without further comment. Uribe mentioned
that the same day he had received messages from members of the
military, complaining that they were “unjustly” imprisoned and asking
him to “intercede” for them.

In Colombia there is freedom of opinion, Uribe said, and he asked
human rights organisations to “believe in Colombia, in this
government; the respect shown for human rights in this operation is no
accident.” The president “respectfully” asked judges to review the
cases of the imprisoned members of the army and “if an error appears,
to correct it”.



Improbable Database Of A Farc Commander
BY Maurice Lemoine  /  July 07, 2008
Source: Le Monde diplomatique

Media attention following Ingrid Betancourt’s dramatic release from
captivity should not obscure a surprising revelation: laptop computers
implausibly retrieved from an obliterating air raid on a Farc base in
Colombia are being used to sour the country’s relations with Ecuador
and smear the Venezuelan president, Hugo Chávez, in western and Latin-
American media.

The first of 10 smart bombs guided by GPS hit its target at 00.25 on 1
March 2008, less than two kilometres from the Ecuador-Colombia border,
along the Putomayo river. Four Blackhawk OH-60 helicopters appeared
out of the darkness with 44 special commandos from Colombia’s rapid
deployment force on board. But there was no fighting: the temporary
camp of the Farc (the Marxist-inspired Revolutionary Armed Forces of
Colombia) had been destroyed by the explosions and 23 people killed in
their sleep (1). Among them was Raúl Reyes, the Farc’s second-in-
command and the group’s “foreign minister”. His remains were taken
back to Colombia by ground troops as a trophy.

Early that morning the Colombian president Alvaro Uribe contacted his
Ecuadorian counterpart, Rafael Correa, to brief him on the raid: the
Colombian airborne unit had been attacked from within Ecuador and had
pursued the rebels in legitimate self-defence. But, he assured Correa,
their return of fire came from Colombian territory and didn’t violate
Ecuador’s airspace. Colombia’s defence minister, Juan Manuel Santos,
gave the same assurance later.

Initially Correa took Uribe at his word. Until this incident they had
been on good terms and spoke on the phone every day. Two weeks before,
Correa had said in private to one of the close advisers of the
Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez: “Tell Chávez that I get on very well
with Uribe and that if he wants I can help smooth things out between
them.” Correa felt betrayed, a feeling compounded when Ecuadorian
military personnel arrived at the bombed camp: not only had the
Colombians violated Ecuadorian territory, they had also, as Correa put
it in a press conference on 2 March, conducted “a massacre”.

Reyes’ death sparked a crisis. Ecuador severed diplomatic relations
with Colombia and deployed 11,000 men along its border. Venezuela also
sent 10 battalions to its border. “We don’t want war,” Chávez warned,
“but we won’t allow the [North American] empire, nor its little dog
[Colombia], to weaken us.” Nor were they willing to allow it to act
with impunity on its neighbours’ territory.

Unanimously rejected

The word “condemnation” was avoided, but South American governments
unanimously “rejected” Colombia’s incursion. The United States
supported Bogotá in the name of the “war on terror”. Craig Kelly,
principal deputy assistant secretary at the Bureau of Western
Hemisphere Affairs, explained: “What we have said is firstly that a
state must defend itself against the threat of terrorism and that when
you talk about a border, you have to consider the general context,
which [in this case] is a continual violation of the borders by the
Farc.” An interviewer asked: “Does that mean that, for example, if
Mexico pursued drug traffickers _into the US, the US wouldn’t have any
objection to Mexican forces entering its territory?” Kelly replied:
“I’m not going to get into a theoretical discussion” (2).

There has been speculation about the planes used on 1 March. Five
Brazilian-made Supertucanos EMB314s and three US-manufactured A-37
attack aircraft have been mentioned, but the bombs couldn’t have been
released from either of those planes. One thing is certain: weapons of
the same sophisticated kind did a lot of damage during the US invasion
of Iraq.

The long arm of Washington was also discernible when Correa made other
discoveries, notably that his military command had lied to him.
Tension peaked when General Jorge Gabela, the Ecuadorian air force
commander, revealed that the radar nearest to Santa Rosa, the zone
where the Farc camp was located, had been down for maintenance for
several days. Correa sacked the head of the army’s intelligence
services, Colonel Mario Pazmiño, and announced in a broadcast to the
nation that “the CIA has totally infiltrated some of Ecuador’s
military intelligence bodies”. He also replaced defence minister
Wellington Sandoval with loyalist Javier Ponce. Correa’s reassertion
of his authority also led to the resignations of the joint chief of
staff and the heads of the army, navy and air force.

Correa soon began to see the consequences of his actions. He had
announced in his election campaign that he would close the US base at
Manta. The lease on this “foreign operating location” granted to the
US in 1999 expires in 2009. On 28 February the assembly set up to
“refound the country” adopted an article which asserts that “Ecuador
is a land of peace; foreign military bases or foreign installations
with military purpose will not be allowed.” With its state-of-the-art
technology, Manta plays a key role in US military support for
Colombia. During the operation on 1 March it would have controlled the
air space the mystery planes overflew.

Opening salvo

The Colombian government announced that during the raid its army had
seized a laptop (later increased to three laptops) belonging to Reyes,
which revealed that both Chávez and Correa have close links to the

In the absence of hard evidence, questions arise. Reyes’ main camp is
known to be in Colombia near the border. In that region the Farc have
many hiding places, secret shelters and secondary camps. Yet the
guerrilla leader had apparently gone to Ecuador with three laptops,
two hard drives and three USB drives – everything but the kitchen
sink. According to the Ecuadorian army, the 10 missiles made craters
2.4m wide and 1.8m deep and destroyed the vegetation all around, yet
the computers emerged without a scratch.

What a tale those laptops told. The Spanish daily El País, which is
the spearhead of a campaign against the progressive governments of
Latin America, didn’t stop to question the authenticity of the
revelations. On 12 March its readers learned in an article, “Farc
finds refuge in Ecuador”, that “guerrillas drive around the north of
Ecuador in vans, as a member of the OEA (Organisation of American
States) attested. He privately expressed astonishment at encountering
fully equipped guerrillas in restaurants in border country.”

What readers didn’t see was a letter sent to the editor of El País on
15 March by the OEA’s secretary general, José Miguel Insulza, in which
he expressed his “astonishment and indignation”: “I can assure you
that this claim is absolutely false. The OEA does not have special
missions, nor does it have representatives at any level deployed on
Ecuador’s northern border, therefore it is impossible that any member
of the organisation could have made such a statement” (3).

Reyes and his guerrillas were in Ecuador. Reyes had for months been
the key contact for the representatives from France, Spain, Venezuela
and Ecuador negotiating hostage releases, including that of the French-
Colombian Ingrid Betancourt. The Farc have long been intransigent over
their demand for direct dialogue with the Colombian government. They
insisted on “humanitarian exchange” – hostages for guerrillas – or
nothing. Their aim is political: to achieve the status of legitimate
combatants by gaining recognition from the Colombian government. The
Farc have been on the list of terrorist organisations since 2002 but
have never accepted that they are terrorists. Uribe wanted to avoid
giving them recognition at all costs.

Chávez mediates

The mediation which Chávez set in motion on 31 August 2007 broke a
stalemate that had lasted since 2002. The guerrillas freed seven
hostages unconditionally, leading Caracas to say: “The Farc are using
a more political logic, which is a positive sign for how things could
develop.” But hostages warmly thanking members of the Venezuelan
government dressed in red must have been a great source of irritation
to the Colombian president.

Open dialogue had been ongoing in Caracas through the intermediary of
Farc leaders Iván Marquez and Rodrigo Granda, and sometimes even with
Reyes at the camp in Ecuador. The French and Ecuador governments knew
this. A troubling detail is that a week before the 1 March raid,
French representatives met Colombia’s High Commissioner for Peace,
Luis Carlos Restrepo, in Panama. Restrepo told them they should stay
in contact with Reyes. “He’s the one who can help you. He’s your man.
He can help you get Ingrid freed.” This explains Correa’s fury: “Look
how low Alvaro Uribe has sunk! He knew that in March 12 hostages were
going to be freed, including Ingrid Betancourt. He knew that, and
still he used his contacts to spring this trap.” Kill the negotiator
and you kill the negotiation.

But the hostage aspect of this crisis took second place to the
revelations at a news conference on 3 March by the director general of
the Colombian police, General Oscar Naranjo. He revealed that, based
on computer equipment found near Reyes’ body, there was an “armed
alliance” between the Farc and the Venezuelan government, as well as
political and economic links between Correa and the guerrillas from
the time of his election campaign.

Media revelation

The media went to town with these “explosive documents” from the
seized computers, which the Colombian intelligence services had
helpfully filtered. Prominent were the Spanish El País (4) and the
Colombian daily El Tiempo, which is owned by the Santos family, to
which both the vice-president and the defence minister belong. On 4
March El País ran with “Bogotá unmasks the Farc’s support”. On 10 May,
in the first of a series of articles by Maite Rico, “The Farc papers
point the finger at Chávez”, readers learnt that “without raising an
eyebrow Chávez approved a request for $300m” from the guerrillas. On
12 May the article condemned by the secretary general of OEA appeared.
The day before Rico had written of “groups linked to Chávism which
regularly train in Farc camps in Venezuela”. There were even claims of
waiting lists to take part in their courses.

When The Economist wrote about Chávez’s generosity in providing $300m
to the Farc on 24 May, it mentioned as its source a message from Raúl
Reyes reproduced in El País and the Colombian weekly Semana. It also
quoted from a document obtained by the Wall Street Journal: “The
Venezuelan interior minister, Ramón Rodríguez Chacín, asked the Farc
to train Venezuelan soldiers in guerrilla tactics.” It’s unclear
whether the Wall Street Journal copied the Miami Herald, which printed
the same claim.

The improbable was followed by the bizarre: between 2000 and 2002, the
Farc and ETA allegedly planned an attack in Madrid on prominent
Colombian figures – the current vice-president Francisco Santos
Calderón, the former head of state, Andrés Pastrana, and the former
ambassador in Spain Noemi Sanín (El Tiempo, 2 June). BBC Mundo
reported on 5 March that the Farc had tried to get hold of uranium to
make a dirty bomb.

According to the Reyes documents, Chávez’s friendship with the
Colombian rebels dated back at least as far as 1992. When he was
imprisoned for a failed coup attempt in February that year, he
received $150,000 from the Farc (Le Figaro, 5 March and Wall Street
Journal, 11 March). He must have spent it all in the prison canteen,
because when he was released in 1994, he had no money and had to stay
in a small apartment in central Caracas belonging to his future
minister of the interior, Luis Miquilena, who also lent him a car.

Though it was more cautious, Le Monde ran a piece on 12 March about a
Farc deserter: “According to the deserter, the Farc leader Iván
Marquez and its commander-in-chief Manuel Marulanda are staying in
Venezuela”. That will stick in the reader’s mind, as will the Figaro
heading “Dangerous liaisons between the Farc and Chávez” (15 May).

In Venezuela, the dailies El Nacional and El Universal, along with the
private channels Radio Caracas Télévisión (RCTV) and Globovisión, are
having a field day. They are only too happy to broadcast the views of
the governor of Zulia state or the former presidential candidate
Manuel Rosales, accusing president Chávez of betraying the country.

One of the many editorials in the Washington Post about Venezuela sums
up this media firestorm: “If managed correctly, the laptop scandal
will surely deepen the domestic political hole into which the would-be
`Bolivarian’ revolutionary is sinking.”

Verified by Interpol

Throughout, Bogotá and the media have relied on a seemingly
unimpeachable line of defence: the validity of seized documents has
been verified by Interpol. And yet, closer examination yields
interesting results.

General Naranjo requested Interpol’s independent opinion of the eight
key “exhibits” (the computer equipment) on 4 March. Interpol’s report
was presented in Bogotá on 15 May by its secretary general, the
American Ronald Noble. He paid extensive tribute at his press
conference to General Naranjo, who was seated beside him, and to the
Department of State Security (DAS), the political police (5). Naranjo,
the former head of the Colombian anti-drug police, had to stand down
after his brother, Juan David, was arrested in Germany in March 2007
for drug trafficking. He was implicated by the Venezuelan interior
minister for his links with the “narco” Wilmer Varela (assassinated on
29 February). As for the DAS, its former director, Jorge Noguera, was
arrested on 22 February 2007 for allowing paramilitaries to use its

According to Noble’s report (6) and statements, Interpol’s role was
limited to “(a) determining the actual data contained in the eight
seized Farc computer exhibits, (b) verifying whether the user files
had been modified in any way on or after 1 March 2008, and (c)
determining whether Colombian law enforcement authorities had handled
and examined the eight seized Farc computer exhibits in conformity
with internationally recognised principles for handling electronic
evidence by law enforcement.” But “the remit of the IRT and Interpol’s
subsequent assistance to Colombia’s investigation did not include the
analysis of the content of documents, folders or other material on the
eight seized Farc computer exhibits. The accuracy and source of the
user files contained in the eight seized Farc computer exhibits are
and always have been outside the scope of Interpol’s computer forensic

Interpol’s team of experts, who came from Singapore and Australia and
didn’t speak Spanish, didn’t examine the contents of the files.
Perhaps this is understandable: in the 609.6 gigabytes in the eight
“exhibits” there were 37,873 text documents, 452 spreadsheets, 210,888
images, 22,481 web pages, 7,989 email addresses (no reference to
emails, though they were widely quoted in the media), and 983
encrypted files. “In non-technical terms, such a volume of data would
correspond to 39.5 million full pages in Microsoft Word format
and . . . would take more than a thousand years to go through it all
at a rate of a hundred pages per day.”

That’s a lot of data for one man to produce. Especially Raúl Reyes,
constantly on the move in the jungle, living the dangerous life of a
guerrilla. But it wasn’t too much data for the Colombian government,
which within a few hours had begun releasing a continuous stream of
revelations from the files. Nor was it too much for journalists who
wove the documents (authenticated by Interpol) into their own stories.

A troubling lack of rigour

The Interpol report shows a troubling lack of rigour. It says Reyes
and Guillermo Enrique Torres, alias Julián Conrado, a Farc commander,
were killed in the operation (page 10). But Bogotá, which had
announced the death of Conrado on _1 March, had to retract that after
a DNA examination of the only body (apart from Reyes) brought back by
their forces. Similarly, the statement “Farc has been designated a
terrorist organisation by Colombia, other governments and
Interpol” (page 10) requires qualification. The designation has only
been adopted by the US, Colombia, Peru, the EU, and Israel (31
countries in all), or 17% of the 186 countries that are Interpol

More significantly, the statement: “the eight seized Farc computer
exhibits belonged to Raúl Reyes” or: “the eight seized Farc computer
exhibits” (both page 10) should more properly have been: “the eight
exhibits given to Interpol by the Colombian authorities”. Interpol has
accepted the Colombian version of events, though there was no witness
present to verify that the equipment was actually found near the body
of the Farc leader. This provoked Correa to say on 13 May when he
visited Paris: “Who can show that the computers were indeed found in
the Farc camp?”

In the first fax Naranjo sent on 4 March to request Interpol help, he
mentioned “three computers and three USB devices” (Appendix 2 of the
report). In his reply of 5 March, Noble agrees on behalf of his
organisation to examine “three computers and three USB keys” (Appendix
3). But on 6 March, in a letter to Interpol from the director of DAS,
Maria del Pilar Hurtado, the equipment has become “three laptop
computers, the three USB keys and [for the first time] two hard-disc
drives” (Appendix 4). Where did these hard drives come from? Had no
one noticed them before?

The overall conclusion of the report is that “no data were created,
added, modified or deleted on any of the these exhibits between 3
March 2008 at 11.45 am [the date and time when they were entrusted to
the computer forensic specialists of the Colombian Judicial Police]
and 10 March 2008 when the exhibits were handed over to Interpol’s
experts to make their image discs” (page 29). It also states that
“access to the data . . . [during the same period] conformed to
internationally recognised principles for handling electronic evidence
by law enforcement” (page 28).

But what happened between 1 March and 3 March? An officer of
Colombia’s anti-terrorist unit “directly accessed the eight seized
Farc computer exhibits under exigent and time-sensitive
circumstances” (page 30) and they were all connected to a computer
“without prior imaging of their contents and without the use of write-
blocking hardware” (page 31). As a result of this, during those three
days, “access to data . . . did not conform to internationally
recognised principles for handling electronic evidence by law
enforcement” (page 8). This is not insignificant, as Interpol
discovered that a total of 48,055 files “had either been created,
accessed, modified or deleted as a result of the direct access to the
eight seized exhibits by Colombian authorities between the time of
their seizure on 1 March 2008 and 3 March 2008 at 11.45am” (page 33).

No court of law anywhere could rely on the results of such a report to
pass judgment on anyone. But that doesn’t stop the rumours or the
headlines. The rumour mills are now turning in Ecuador and Venezuela.
Even if today the conditions are not yet right for Venezuela to be
classed as a terrorist or rogue state, this campaign is creating the
right conditions in public opinion. According to Maximilien Arvelaiz,
an adviser to President Chávez: “George Bush wants to leave behind a
time bomb so that, whatever the outcome of the election in November,
it will be very difficult to soften US policy on Venezuela.”

But an unforeseen turn of events can never be ruled out — as has been
shown by the spectacular, surprise release by Colombian troops of the
French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt and 14 other hostages,
held for years by Farc guerrillas in jungle captivity.

(1) Among the dead were an Ecuadorian, four Mexican students and a
Colombian soldier killed, not in combat, as Bogotá claimed when it
accorded him a state funeral, but by a falling tree.
(2) BBC Mundo, London, 7 March 2008.
(4) The centre-left El País belongs to the multinational Prisa group,
which controls more than 1,000 radio stations in Spain, the US,
Mexico, Panama, Costa Rica, Colombia, Argentina and Chile with a total
audience of 30 million listeners.
(6) The full public report in English can be downloaded here:
Translated by George Miller

By Greg Palast  /  6 March

“Do you believe this? In early March Colombia invaded Ecuador, killed
a guerrilla chief in the jungle, opened his laptop – and what did the
Colombians find? A message to Hugo Chavez that he sent the FARC
guerrillas $300 million – which they’re using to obtain uranium to
make a dirty bomb! That’s what George Bush tells us. And he got that
from his buddy, the strange right-wing President of Colombia, Alvaro

So: After the fact, Colombia justifies its attempt to provoke a border
war as a way to stop the threat of WMDs! Uh, where have we heard that
before? The US press snorted up this line about Chavez’ $300 million
to “terrorists” quicker than the young Bush inhaling Colombia’s
powdered export. What the US press did not do is look at the evidence,
the email in the magic laptop. (Presumably, the FARC leader’s last
words were, “Listen, my password is ….”)

I read them. (You can read them too.) While you can read it all in
español, here is, in translation, the one and only mention of the
alleged $300 million from Chavez: “… With relation to the 300, which
from now on we will call “dossier,” efforts are now going forward at
the instructions of the boss to the cojo [slang term for ‘cripple’],
which I will explain in a separate note. Let’s call the boss Ángel,
and the cripple Ernesto.”

Got that? Where is Hugo? Where’s 300 million? And 300 what? Indeed, in
context, the note is all about the hostage exchange with the FARC that
Chavez was working on at the time (December 23, 2007) at the request
of the Colombian government. Indeed, the entire remainder of the email
is all about the mechanism of the hostage exchange.

Here’s the next line: “To receive the three freed ones, Chavez
proposes three options: Plan A. Do it to via of a ‘humanitarian
caravan’; one that will involve Venezuela, France, the Vatican[?],
Switzerland, European Union, democrats [civil society], Argentina, Red
Cross, etc.” As to the 300, I must note that the FARC’s previous
prisoner exchange involved 300 prisoners. Is that what the ‘300’
refers to? ¿Quien sabe? Unlike Uribe, Bush and the US press, I won’t
guess or make up a phastasmogoric story about Chavez mailing checks to
the jungle.

To bolster their case, the Colombians claim, with no evidence
whatsoever, that the mysterious “Angel” is the code name for Chavez.
But in the memo, Chavez goes by the code name … Chavez. Well, so what?
This is what . . . .

Colombia’s invasion into Ecuador is a rank violation of international
law, condemned by every single Latin member of the Organization of
American States. But George Bush just loved it. He called Uribe to
back Colombia, against, “the continuing assault by narco-terrorists as
well as the provocative maneuvers by the regime in Venezuela.”

Well, our President may have gotten the facts ass-backward, but Bush
knows what he’s doing: shoring up his last, faltering ally in South
America, Uribe, a desperate man in deep political trouble. Uribe
claims he is going to bring charges against Chavez before the
International Criminal Court. If Uribe goes there in person, I suggest
he take a toothbrush: it was just discovered that right-wing death
squads held murder-planning sessions at Uribe’s ranch. Uribe’s
associates have been called before the nation’s Supreme Court and may
face prison.

In other words, it’s a good time for a desperate Uribe to use that old
politico’s wheeze, the threat of war, to drown out accusations of his
own criminality. Furthermore, Uribe’s attack literally killed
negotiations with FARC by killing FARC’s negotiator, Raul Reyes. Reyes
was in talks with both Ecuador and Chavez about another prisoner
exchange. Uribe authorized the negotiations. However, Uribe knew,
should those talks have succeeded in obtaining the release of those
kidnapped by the FARC, credit would have been heaped on Ecuador and
Chavez, and discredit heaped on Uribe.”

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