Interpol Probe Bolsters Claims of Chavez-FARC Links

By Patrick Goodenough | May 16, 2008 | 8:19 PM EDT

( - A meeting of Latin American and European leaders beginning Friday could be overshadowed by a dispute between Andean neighbors over Venezuela's alleged links to a Colombian terror group.

The summit in Lima, Peru, comes a day after Interpol announced its findings into an investigation of computer files seized from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Colombia says the files provide evidence of close links between the Marxist rebels and the government of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Colombian police say the material shows that Chavez offered FARC financial aid, while Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa allowed the group to operate in Ecuadorian territory.

Interpol said it found no evidence that the files had been tampered with by the Colombians, as alleged by Chavez and his leftist ally Correa.

The computer files were seized by Colombian forces during a cross-border raid on a FARC base inside neighboring Ecuador last March.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack Thursday described as "highly disturbing" claims contained in leaked media reports about Venezuela supplying some weaponry to FARC and trying to secure anti-aircraft missiles for the group.

"There are serious allegations about Venezuela supplying arms and support to a terrorist organization," he said.

Interpol said its probe did not include verifying the accuracy or source of the huge quantity of material contained on three laptop computers, three USB storage drives, and two external hard disks.

"At no stage has Interpol had any stake in the outcome of the findings except to determine and report on the truth," agency Secretary-General Ronald Noble said in a statement released in the Colombian capital, Bogota.

Later Thursday, Chavez dismissed the Interpol report as "ridiculous" and described Noble, an American law professor and law enforcement specialist, as a "typical aggressive gringo policeman."

Colombia says the FARC rebels are terrorists who recruit children, seize hostages and fund their operations with cocaine smuggling.

Among hundreds of hostages being held by the group are three American contract workers captured in early 2003 -- Keith Stansell, Thomas Howes and Marc Gonsalves; and a French-Colombian politician, Ingrid Betancourt, who has been in captivity for six years.

The March 1 cross-border raid, which left FARC commander Raul Reyes dead, sparked a diplomatic furor among the three Andean countries. Chavez, an outspoken critic of the U.S., regards conservative Colombian President Alvaro Uribe as a lackey of Washington.

Chavez, Correa and Uribe are all scheduled to participate in Friday's summit, which will bring together dozens of leaders and officials from Latin America, the Caribbean and the European Union.

Apart from the Andean rift, it's also the first such meeting since the E.U. early this year reaffirmed that it would keep FARC on its terrorism list, despite Chavez' calls for both the E.U. and U.S. to change their approach toward the group.

The Venezuelan leader is not known for his diplomacy at international gatherings.

At the U.N. General Assembly in 2006, Chavez called President Bush "the devil," and at an Ibero-American summit in Chile last November, he repeatedly described conservative former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar as a "fascist," prompting Spain's King Juan Carlos to urge him to "shut up."

This time around, German Chancellor Angela Merkel could find herself a target. After she recently questioned Chavez' claim to regional leadership, he responded by saying the German political right that backs her also supported Hitler and fascism.

On the agenda at Friday's summit are rising food prices, the fight against poverty and climate change.

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow