President Daniel Ortega’s controversial sponsorship of two alleged Colombian rebels, and allegations that he recently offered to provide the same guerrilla group with weapons, have raised concerns at home and abroad as to the true nature of his relationship with the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia (FARC), and what that might mean for Nicaragua.
A U.S. State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the United States is keeping close tabs on Ortega’s alleged support of FARC after Colombian intelligence allegedly discovered computer files linking Ortega to the rebels. According to a report published last week in the Spanish daily El Pais, a laptop computer salvaged from the wreckage of a FARC jungle camp bombed March 1 by the Colombian military revealed documents indicating that Ortega had offered FARC – via Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez – weapons from Nicaragua.
The computer allegedly belonged to the FARC’s No. 2 commander, Raul Reyes, who was one of more than 20 rebels who died in the attack on their camp near the Colombian border in Ecuador. Interpol last week verified the authenticity of the computer files, which reportedly provide evidence of strong links between Chávez and FARC – an allegation the Venezuelan president denies.
FARC is considered a terrorist group by both the United States and the European Union.
Last week, Ortega, who in the past has referred to Reyes and the FARC’s top commander, Manuel Marulanda, as “dear brothers,” paid an undisclosed amount of money to rent a Nicaraguan military transport plane to fly to Ecuador and pick up two sur-vivors of the bomb raid on the FARC camp, Doris Torres, 21, and Martha Pérez, 24. The two women were flown to Nicaragua, where they were given amnesty for “humanitarian” reasons and are allegedly being treated – at the government’s expense – to home, food and medical attention (NT,May 16).
Critics jumped on Ortega for prioritizing his efforts and government resources to helping two alleged FARC members while at the same time ignoring a nationwide transportation strike (see separate story, Page N4).
For many, even more worrisome than the president’s priorities, is the potential backlash of Ortega’s so-called “FARC-gate” scandal to Nicaragua’s international image.
Nicaragua’s Judicial Commission this week announced it will call Ortega before the National Assembly to testify on his involvement with FARC.
The U.S. State Department official told The Nica Times last week that the United States too is paying close attention to an investigation by Interpol, which announced May 15 that the information on the laptop appears authentic.
“(The police) have a lead and we’re very interested about what Interpol is going to do about this,” the state department official said.
“There’s a lot of information coming off those laptops. Some have compared it to one-third the holdings of the U.S. Library of Congress.”
The official didn’t want to comment on Ortega’s decision to give asylum to the two alleged FARC survivors and Mexican national Lucia Morett, who insists she is a student, not a rebel. Morett was the first to be granted asylum in Nicaragua more than a month ago (NT, April 25).
The state department official said the U.S. secretary of state can designate a country a state-sponsor of terrorism “if the government has repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism.”
“The decision to designate any country a state sponsor of terrorism is not undertaken lightly. Right now there is no (state-sponsored terrorism) determination with Venezuela, the same will go for Nicaragua,” the official said. “You can’t make a decision about something like this until you’ve assessed the information.”
Whitehouse spokesman Sean McCormack said last week that the information, which the Colombians are keeping under lock and key, includes “serious allegations about Venezuela supplying arms and support to a terrorist organization.”
McCormack did not mention any specific information pertaining to Nicaragua, but said that not all the information has come forward yet. When it does, he said, there would be “deep implications for the people of the region as well as states in the region.”
In Nicaragua, Francesca Mosca, head of the European Commission here, said it’s “too early” to comment on the case’s possible implications on EU aid for Nicaragua (see separate story, Page N1).
“That all needs to be examined,” she said.
Nicaraguan military consultant and historian Roberto Cajina said there’s a difference between authenticity and veracity. In other words, the laptop records might be real, but that doesn’t mean the information is true.
Cajina, a leading expert on Nicaraguan military matters, said he has his doubts about the veracity of reports that Ortega allegedly offered weapons to FARC – something the president hasn’t commented on.
Cajina said the Nicaraguan military keeps an “absolutely controlled inventory” of its weapons, which are kept in very careful climate controlled conditions. He said that inventory is known by the United States and that the Nicaraguan military would never risk its professional reputation by selling or providing arms to FARC.
So, he said, in the hypothetical situation that Ortega really did offer weapons to the FARC, it would have to be from a supply of hidden weapons left over from the 1980s. And even if there were still weapons hidden somewhere, Cajina said the chance those guns are still in working order after 20 years of heat and humidity and improper storage is very unlikely.
Though he acknowledged that it is possible that several of the more durable weapons, such as an AK-47 assault rifle, could maybe stand the test of time if buried in some secret cache, the chance that enough of them would survive to arm a rebel group would be unlikely, he said.
“It sounds like a bit of a fantasy,” Cajina told The Nica Times.
The analyst said he is more concerned with the Nicaraguan Air Force renting one of its planes to the government to go pick up the FARC survivors in Ecuador – a move that has already drawn sharp protest from Colombia, which claims Nicaragua lied about the flight and violated its airspace.
Although Cajina said the charter flight was strictly a “commercial relationship” between the Nicaraguan military and the Ortega administration, in his opinion the Air Force “shouldn’t have done it.”
By giving the two FARC survivors a ride to Nicaragua, the national military was indirectly getting involved in an international conflict among Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela, Cajina said.And for a small country such as Nicaragua, which has one of the poorest funded militaries in the region, that’s not a good idea, he said.