A noted local academic and his wife have been caught up in an international political storm after police found $480,000 allegedly belonging to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in a safe in their Barva de Heredia home.
The couple had opened their home about 11 years ago to a guerrilla leader, who turned out to be Raúl Reyes, the top FARC commander killed March 1 in a Colombian government raid on Ecuadorian territory that led leftist governments in the region to briefly break relations with Colombia (TT, March 7).
According to Colombian authorities, a laptop computer seized by Colombian forces in the raid on the FARC camp contained an email that led local police to the couple’s home on March 14.
Francisco Gutiérrez, 79, a former principal of Liceo de Costa Rica high school and a founder of the NationalUniversity in Heredia, and Cruz Prado, 52, an academic and former labor union activist, said they hosted FARC leaders out of a desire to contribute to peace talks in Colombia. One of them brought a safe.
The Spanish-born Gutiérrez, a naturalized Costa Rican, is also director of an international doctoral program headquartered at San José’s Universidad La Salle. Its graduates include several prominent Costa Ricans, including National Liberation Party leader Rolando Araya.
The program, which operates in 12 countries, offers a Ph.D. in alternative thought granting a “Doctorate in Education with Emphasis in Pedagogical Meditation” (TT, April 13, 2007).
Politicos Tied to FARC?
Information contained in the FARC computer brought to the forefront what Minister of Public Security Fernando Berrocal said is “systematic penetration” of the FARC in Costa Rica, including links of the group identified by the U.S. government as narcoterrorists to “political sectors” here.
This week, lawmakers from all political parties called on Berrocal to reveal the names of the FARC’s alleged political supporters in Costa Rica. Berrocal is scheduled to visit the Legislative Assembly on Monday afternoon to tell what he knows.
The cash found in the Heredia couple’s home, mostly bundles of $100 bills so brittle police were unable to count it precisely, was found packed in plastic bags in a rusted-out safe found in a library not connected to the main house in the rustic outskirts of the mountain town of Barva, north of San José.
Gutiérrez and Prado maintain they had no idea the safe contained money. They said they had been told it contained documents from FARC’s negotiations with the U.S. State Department.
‘No Crime To Have Rotting $’
Upon their return from Guatemala the weekend after the raid, Gutiérrez and Prado went to authorities to answer questions about the safe and recover their computers, which police had seized along with the money. But the couple found the Public Ministry closed for Easter Holy Week.
Prado said Gutiérrez eventually contacted a prosecutor, who told them authorities are not interested in talking to the couple.
“It is not a crime to have rotting money,” she said.
Sandra Castro of the Chief Prosecutor’s Office said no charges will be filed against the couple.
Press reports from Colombia indicate that Colombian prosecutors want to put the couple on trial, but local authorities said Costa Rican citizens cannot be extradited.
Prado said the couple’s computers seized by police contain information on the doctoral program, which she said will not be affected by the raid.
“They (the police) are going to come out experts in education and molecular biology,” she said.
The police also found Prado’s mother, son and a maid at the house, none of whom was detained.
The couple held a press conference at their home on March 18 to explain their connection with the FARC leaders and the safe.
“We have nothing to hide,” said Prado.
Recalling the events of more than a decade ago, Prado said she and Gutiérrez had been approached by Costa Rican labor leader Alvaro Montero Vega, who asked them to host for several days a member of the FARC who would be in Costa Rica to negotiate with the State Department.
At the time, the couple knew their guest only by the name “Darío.”
During Darío’s stay, a second guerrilla, “Ricardo,” arrived with the safe.
The couple later learned from watching TV news that Darío was Raúl Reyes and that “Ricardo” was Rodrigo Granda, the FARC’s so-called canciller, or foreign minister, who currently lives in Cuba.
An e-mail from Granda to Reyes, found by Colombian authorities on computers seized from the March 1 raid in Ecuador, contained information that led police to the couple’s home.
Once they learned the identity of their houseguest and the bearer of the mysterious safe, the couple said they didn’t go to police because they were afraid of repercussions from FARC.
The couple said they did not find it strange that Ricardo would leave the safe with them.
“We thought that they were going to return for it,” Prado said.
The couple’s home was often open to politically oriented guests, such as members of the Sandinista Front for National Liberation during the Nicaraguan war, and Guatemalan guerrilla leader Rodrigo Asturias, who was a guest at the house when he was in Costa Rica to speak to Costa Rican President Oscar Arias during the Esquipulas peace negotiations that brought an end to Central America’s civil wars in the 1980s.
Friends of FARC No More
Prado does not hide her political leanings. “Everybody knows I am on the left,” she said.
But the FARC’s more recent ventures into drug-trafficking and kidnappings have soured the couple on the guerrillas, who have been placed on a State Department list of terrorist groups.
“We want to make a total rejection of the FARC,” said Prado. “We are totally against acts that violate human rights.”
But Gutiérrez said that because the visit of his houseguests more than a decade ago was part of an effort to bring peace to Colombia, he wouldn’t change things. “I would do the same thing all over again,” he said.
At the time, Granda also granted Prado power of attorney for the purpose of selling a house and a car belonging to him. Prado is mistakenly listed as Granda’s wife on the document, which Prado said she didn’t sign.
She did sign over the car when it was bought several years ago.
Prado said she did not know why Darío stayed with the couple if the FARC had a house in Costa Rica.
“I imagine it was because they wanted to be accompanied to be safer,” she said. The daily La Nación published an e-mail from Granda to Reyes that allegedly came from Reyes’ computer. The e-mail states that Gutiérrez knew the contents of the safe, and it describes the couple as star-struck over their houseguest.
“Francisco sends many greetings to Raúl and feels proud to see him constantly on television. He remembers when he saw him reading and writing in his house,” said the email.
Prado said this week that the e-mail must be mistaken, insisting that the couple believed the safe contained documents.
Prado said she believes the government of Colombia’s President Alvaro Uribe is using the couple in his ongoing political squabble with Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.
“He wants to prove that the information contained in Raúl Reyes’ computer is true,” said Prado.
Other information found in the computers reportedly suggests that Chávez was financing FARC.
The March 1 raid in Ecuador that took Reyes’ life caused Chávez, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa and Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega to briefly break relations with Colombia.
Chávez even sent additional troops to the Colombia border.
The leaders partially patched up their differences at a Grupo de Río meeting in the Dominican Republic on March 7 and diplomatic relations were resumed, but the relationship between Uribe, a staunch U.S. ally, and the trio of leftist leaders remains strained.
As news of the FARC computer was breaking in Costa Rica, Berrocal gave a speech at a public event in Heredia saying that authorities under past administrations had let around 2,000 members of FARC into the country as refugees.
Berrocal said FARC had been engaged in a “slow, systematic and permanent” penetration of Costa Rica.
“From what the computers say, many things are going to come out. The relations (with FARC) don’t only go with the mafia organized to distribute drugs, but with some political sectors of this country that have lost a sense of reality,” said Berrocal. “This is going to have enormous repercussions in the circles of judicial authorities here.”
Along with the Legislative Assembly, Chief Prosecutor Francisco Dall’Anese called on Berrocal to make public the names of politicians connected to FARC, and the daily La Nación editorialized that by retaining the names, Berrocal runs the risk of appearing to politicize the issue.
Ferreting Out FARC
Berrocal said that when the Arias administration took power in May 2006, he was so alarmed by the penetration of Colombian drug gangs into the country that he asked Arias’ permission to travel to Colombia to consult with authorities there.
Colombian military officials told Berrocal that following the death of drug kingpin Pablo Escobar some 10 years ago, around 50 other groups, including FARC, had moved to fill the vacuum, he said.
In August 2006, Costa Rican police arrested Hugo Orlando Martínez, a purported high-ranking FARC member who Berrocal said organized Costa Rican fishermen to run drugs for FARC. Martínez was also identified as a chief of FARC drugs-for arms operations in Central America.
The pressure to name names led Berrocal to write a letter to Minister of the Presidency Rodrigo Arias this week, clarifying that the FARC computer did not contain a list of names per se. But he stood by his assertion that the computer pointed to “political sectors” in the country. He did not elaborate.