Slain Colombian Insurgents Held Secret Talks with U.S. Diplomats
Declassified State Department Memo Describes Clandestine 1998 Meeting with Colombian Guerrillas Central to Current Saber-Rattling in Andean Region
March 4, 2008 - Two senior Colombian guerrilla leaders killed in Ecuador last weekend in a cross-border raid by Colombian forces held secret talks with U.S. diplomats ten years ago in Costa Rica, according to a declassified memorandum of conversation published on the Web today by the National Security Archive and cited in today's New York Times.
The slain insurgents, Raul Reyes and Olga Marin, met secretly in Costa Rica in December 1998 with a U.S. diplomatic mission led by Philip T. Chicola, then director of the State Department's Office of Andean Affairs. The meeting was particularly sensitive in that the guerrilla group represented by Reyes and Marín, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), was listed on the State Department's list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations. The FARC remains Colombia's oldest and largest rebel army.
Stressing "the absolute requirement for confidentiality," Chicola told Reyes and Marin that the U.S. wanted to "to develop a channel of communication" with the FARC to discuss U.S. counter narcotics programs, the Colombian peace process, and FARC attacks on U.S. interests in Colombia. Noting the "historic importance of the meeting," Reyes praised then-Colombian President Andres Pastrana's "commitment to a successful peace process" and "expressed satisfaction at the opportunity to talk directly" to the U.S. government.
Especially important for the U.S. was the 1993 kidnapping of three New Tribes Missionaries in Panama by FARC guerrillas. Chicola told the FARC emissaries that a "full accounting" of the missionary kidnappings "would greatly facilitate" future exchanges with the U.S. and that any future kidnappings or other attacks on U.S. interests in Colombia "would definitely preclude" further U.S.-FARC contact. The kidnapping and killing of three more Americans by FARC forces later that year likely ended whatever channels had been opened by the Costa Rica talks.
Reyes has for many years been the public face of the FARC in meetings with foreign governments and other officials. His killing and the military incursion into Ecuadorean territory that led to it have touched off an intense round of saber-rattling in the Andean region. Both Ecuador and Venezuela have expelled Colombian diplomats and massed military forces on the Colombian border, with Ecuador having severed diplomatic relations entirely. Colombian officials also claim to have recovered Reyes' laptop computer, which they say contains evidence that Venezuela has funneled some $300 million to the FARC.
Visit the Web site of the National Security Archive for more information about today's posting.