Venezuela’s arrest of a Colombian national suspected of running a pro-FARC news agency in Europe raises the question of how important the guerrilla group’s links to foreign groups are now, at a time when the FARC is facing intense pressure at home.
Joaquin Perez was detained in Venezuela on April 23, and has since been extradited to Colombia. He is accused of running Anncol, a pro-FARC agency based in Sweden, which is said to be the guerrillas’ mouthpiece in Europe.
This latest arrest comes soon after the capture of Victor Ramon Vargas Salazar, alias “Chato,” a high-level FARC logistics operative. He is accused of meeting in Spain with representatives of the ETA (Euskadi Ta Askatasuna – Basque Homeland and Freedom), to plan an attack against former Colombian Presidents Alvaro Uribe and Andres Pastrana.
Evidence of the FARC’s foreign connections has been emerging for many years. A Spanish court document seen by Semana magazine showed that these links dated back further than had been realized, and have existed for almost thirty years. The document said that in 1993 French authorities, after capturing a number of ETA members, found documents on their computer archives in which a high-level ETA member described his meetings in Cuba with FARC heads. In recent years there have been reports that ETA provided training to the Colombian rebels in handling arms and explosives, and that members of the two groups trained alongside one another in Venezuelan territory. In interviews with Colombian media FARC members have said that ETA members came to Colombia to provide instruction and training.
Further evidence of this collaboration between the two groups was found on computer disks seized from the camp of FARC commander alias “Raul Reyes” in 2008.
The FARC have also received training from the Irish Republican Army (IRA). In August 2001 three Irish men were arrested in Bogota. They were traveling on false passports, and had traces of explosives on their belongings. The trio were later charged with training the FARC in the use of explosives, and at least one was found to be a representative of the IRA’s political arm. Authorities believed that they had initiated contact with FARC through the Spanish terrorist group ETA some five years previously.
These relationships with foreign groups involve business as well as the exchange of expertise. The ETA have, by some accounts, been involved in the drug trade since the 1980s, and there are reports that that on several occasions the Colombian groups have paid ETA with drugs in exchange for their training. This kind of deal would make sense, as Spain is the main entry of drugs from Latin American into Europe and so ETA is in a good position to get the guerrillas’ drugs to market.
The two recent arrests raise the question of what the future holds for the guerrilla group’s international connections. In the past the FARC has energetically pursued such links, not only with organizations and individuals in neighboring Venezuela and Ecuador, as well as various other guerrilla groups in Latin America, but with organizations in Europe. The question is whether, with the rebel army under increasing pressure from Colombian security forces, and with a dramatically decreased military capacity, the FARC will still have the resources to maintain these links.