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Following the Money and Guns: Hugo Chavez and FARC

04/11/2008 | by Greenberg, Michael D.  

Over the last year, President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela has repeatedly been linked to the Colombian terrorist organization known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Publicly, Chavez, an avid supporter of leftist Latin American political movements, has made several direct comments concerning the protracted guerilla war between the Colombian government and FARC. 


On March 1, 2008, the Colombian government announced that it had successfully raided a clandestine FARC camp on the Ecuadorian border that resulted in the assassination of a senior FARC leader and the seizure of files and laptops linking Chavez’s regime to FARC terrorists. What is the current status of this alleged alliance? What can we expect in the future now that FARC seems to be on the verge of defeat at the hands of President Alvaro Uribe’s security forces? 


Ecuadorian Raid and the Fallout 

The March 1st raid did not only accomplish its primary goal of capturing or killing FARC leader Raul Reyes, it also provided the Colombian government with solid evidence to back up claims that President Hugo Chavez was both supplying and arming the FARC insurgency that has been wreaking havoc on Colombia’s civilian and military infrastructure for the last 44 years. According to the Colombian government, the documents recovered at the camp record nearly $300 million in FARC funding from Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela regime that was ostensibly supposed to be used for the construction of a dirty bomb.[i] The revelation of the raid’s results came less than two months after Chavez demanded that the European Union remove FARC from its list of terrorist organizations.[ii] The raid also led to increased tensions in the region, as Ecuador and Venezuela cut diplomatic ties with the American-backed Colombian government over the legality of the raid. 


American Investigations and Accusations 

On March 10th, the Bush administration opened a formal inquiry into the incident.[iii] American officials even suggested that Venezuela might be placed on the United States’ list of state sponsors of terror. Then, on May 10th, American intelligence officials released a report accusing Venezuela of transferring weapons to FARC, citing clear evidence that, “Venezuelan officials have tried to facilitate the shipment of arms to the FARC.”[iv] The government of Venezuela denied the accusations vehemently. Two months later, in what was seen as a rare gesture of goodwill towards the United States, Chavez made public statements asking FARC to end its struggle.[v] 


Chavez and FARC: Broken Alliance or Temporary Lull? 

After Chavez’s rebuke of FARC in the world press, there is no direct evidence that points to the dissolution of Chavez’s ties to FARC. However, since Chavez’s June 8th comments, FARC has suffered a series of humiliating losses that include the recoveries of several high profile hostages. But on the other hand, there is great concern amongst intelligence officials and counter-terrorism advisors that while FARC is seemingly on the run, the renewal of American-Russian tensions could result in the re-arming of the stagnant FARC as Venezuela continues to buy new Russian-made weaponry.[vi] The concern is that the Venezuelan military’s old rifles will be transferred to FARC and other leftist Latin American insurgencies and terrorist groups upon the new Russian weaponry’s arrival in Venezuela. Fears of Venezuela’s rearming have recently been assuaged though by the downturn in world oil prices, which has severely hindered Chavez’s ability to pay his Russian allies. This will ultimately slow down the shipment of new weapons. 


Conclusion 

Will FARC finally be eradicated by Uribe’s military press, or will an influx of AK-47s and other small arms perpetuate FARC’s terrorism-fueled insurgency? Only time will tell as a new American administration comes to power and dictates policy shifts in Washington. If Hugo Chavez’s persistent anti-American rhetoric is any indicator as to how he wants to proceed in the future, the United States must continue to supply Colombian security forces with the tools it needs to win. The end of FARC is in sight but the United States must remain committed to its security pledges and current policies in Colombia.

Notes:

[i] BBC, "Top Farc leader killed by troops", 1 March 2008. 

[ii] CNN, “Chavez: Take FARC off terror list,” 11 January, 2008 

[iii] Tribune, "U.S. eyes terror listing for Venezuela over links to FARC", 10 March 2008 

[iv] The Washington Times, "Chavez agreed to arm rebels, files indicate", 10 May 2008. 

[v] CNN, “Chavez urges FARC to end struggle,” 8 June 2008. 

[vi] World Politics Review, “Concern Over Venezuela's Russian Arms Purchases Could Be Misplaced” 29 Oct 2008