Venezuela’s dismissal of a report on ties between Caracas and Colombian rebel group FARC is “completely invalid,” said the head researcher of the IISS report who insists the links between Chavez and the guerrillas are proven.
James Lockhart Smith led a team at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), a political-military think-tank, in a comprehensive study of the “Raul Reyes” files that were seized in a Colombian raid into Ecuador on March 1, 2008, that ultimately killed the FARC leader in question.
The report, named “The FARC Files: Venezuela, Ecuador and the Secret Archive of ‘Raul Reyes’,” was released Tuesday in London and immediately received a rebuttal from the Venezuelan Embassy, who dismissed it as “unreliable” and containing “basic inaccuracies.”
The basis for the Venezuelan riposte centered around the controversial computer files used as the primary source material for the dossier. The Venezuelans cited the Interpol report by their computer forensic analysis experts, which stated that Colombian authorities did not “conform to internationally recognized principles for handling electronic evidence.”
Lockhart Smith moved to clear up the controversy over the veracity of the files themselves, saying that the Venezuelan argument is “completely, in every sense, invalid. It just doesn’t have any mileage at all on it,” he told Colombia Reports Thursday.
The supposed fallibility of the evidence, so it has been argued, is because Colombian authorities accessed the files up until March 3, 2008, and left traces on the machine’s system files.
Interpol’s actual 2008 report on their forensic analysis, however, unequivocally states that “Interpol found no evidence that user files were created, modified or deleted on any of the eight seized FARC computer exhibits following their seizure on March 1, 2008,” taking into account the post-seizure period.
In other words, the question of legal admissibility in Colombian courts, following the break in the chain of custody, is different from that regarding their veracity. “We were not needing to think about admissibility in court, the question for us was ‘Is the data authentic?’,” explained Lockhart Smith.
“On a technical level the answer is absolutely, unequivocally, ‘Yes,’ and that conclusion is supported 100% by Interpol,” he stated.
The files themselves were handed over to the IISS in 2008, in order to provide an independent analysis of the files, although Lockhart Smith concedes that by now there will be little that the Colombians themselves do not already know.
Accordingly, he is not surprised by the announcements made by all three government’s Wednesday that they would refuse to let any of the revelations undo the progress made in their recently-restored relations since President Juan Manuel Santos assumed power.
Ecuador, whose President Rafael Correa is heavily linked in the dossier of having known about the FARC funding his 2006 campaign, only thawed the frozen relations with Colombia in November 2010 after breaking off ties in March 2008 because of the unauthorized raid that delivered the FARC files.
Lockhart Smith believes that Colombia’s reaction to the release of the documents is “understandable and predictable,” with the “rapprochement between Santos, Chavez and Correa having set a new tone in relations” and that consequently “different strategic calculations are being made.”
In dropping the confrontational stances prevalent during the Uribe administration, the nations can broaden their regional diplomatic stability and stimulate positive bilateral relations while “avoiding the suffering of pretty heavy costs…caused by further breaks in relations,” he continued.
Against the backdrop of the dossier’s extensive account of the turbulent yet symbiotic relationship between the Hugo Chavez and the FARC, Lockhart Smith notes Venezuela’s recent deportation of the “indispensable” Joaquin Perez Becerra, the so-called “FARC ambassador,” as being “qualitatively different from anything one sees in the previous decade.”
Similar gestures in the past would invariably be symbolic and only involving the arrest of low-level guerrillas. This marked difference could eventually culminate in a crossroads for Chavez, according to Lockhart Smith, who noted how criticism from leftist Venezuelan groups, combined with internal government pressure to distance themselves from FARC ties, has left Chavez’s “options narrowing a little.”
It is this shifting dynamic that leads Lockhart Smith to conclude that Colombia and Santos are giving Chavez another chance with which to build more stable relations for the future, despite his previous actions of funding and providing shelter to the FARC, as well as using the FARC to train Venezuela’s urban militia and requesting them to assassinate political opponents.