Shock waves from the bombs Colombia dropped on Ecuador two months ago are still being felt in
The Colombian government’s attack on a camp of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) has led to the investigation of a Tico couple holding nearly $480,000 in FARC cash in their home and the firing of Public Security Minister Fernando Berrocal a day before he was to speak to the Legislative Assembly about possible FARC ties to Costa Rican “political sectors.”
Legislators, many angered by the firing, have since formed a special FARC Commission to investigate the guerrilla group’s penetration into Costa Rica.
The commission is wondering what to make of evidence that a former president and a former minister of public security had contact with FARC as recently as 2002 and 2001, respectively.
It must also deal with revelations that one of its own members, lawmaker José Merino, was mentioned as recently as 2004 in e-mails found on a FARC computer recovered from the camp in Ecuador.
And it recently expanded its scope to include investigating the presence here of Colombian paramilitary groups that battle FARC.
Whether more heads than Berrocal’s will roll is anybody’s guess.
The drama began March 1, when Colombian warplanes bombed a FARC camp just over the border in Ecuador, killing the guerrilla group’s No. 2 leader, Raúl Reyes, and 16 others.
But Reyes’ laptop computer survived, bringing with it no small gigabyte of political, and possibly criminal, intrigue.
The computer led authorities to raid the home of Francisco Gutierrez and Cruz Prado in Santo Domingo de Heredia, north of San José (TT, March 28). Police discovered $479,900 in a safe left there by FARC’s foreign minister, Rodrigo Granda, allegedly in 2001, according to intelligence documents included in a report prepared by Berrocal.
The couple claims that Granda left the money in 1997.
Shortly after the raid, Berrocal publicly stated that “political sectors” in this country were linked to FARC, citing the contents of Reyes’ hard drive apparently leaked by Colombian authorities to Berrocal, among others.
Reyes’ computer, Berrocal said, has references “not just to the mafia that organized here to distribute drugs, but also of some political sectors” in Costa Rica.
“There’s no room for alliances of political sectors with these criminals of the FARC and drug traffickers,” he told reporters on March 15.
The comments unleashed a political firestorm. Lawmakers called on him to clarify his “political sectors” comment and provide more information about FARC in Costa Rica.
But on March 30, 24 hours before Berrocal was scheduled to testify before the Legislative Assembly, Arias removed him from office.
Some lawmakers considered the president’s action an affront to the assembly.
Before he was fired, Berrocal had compiled a 387-page document to present to the assembly. That document, after passing through the hands of the president and Assembly President Francisco Pacheco, became public in April.
The document, referred to by several lawmakers as “incoherent” and “poorly organized,” includes names, including that of Merino.
However, most of its contents have little to do with FARC. Many pages are labeled “reserved” or “confidential” and, because they lack dates and signatures, are hard to interpret.
According to Berrocal’s document, Rogelio Ramos, public security minister in 2001, met with FARC’s Granda in 2001 about opening a FARC branch office in Costa Rica because of problems it was having with an office in Mexico City.
Ramos met with Arias and his brother, Presidency Minister Rodrigo Arias, the day before Berrocal was sacked.
Ramos did not return a Tico Times phone call requesting comment.
Berrocal has consistently insisted there is no list of current politicians linked to FARC and that his comments were taken out of context and used against him by people, including journalists, whom he has yet to identify. He has said he plans to sue for defamation.
Berrocal later said that by “political sectors,” he meant militant political organizations, such as certain groups that organized against the Central American Free-Trade Agreement with the United States last year, and the Continental Bolivarian Coordinating Committee, a leftist political group founded in Caracas in 2004 by the governments of Venezuela and Cuba. One of the goals of the latter two, as well as that of the Ecuadorian government, is to get FARC removed from official lists of terrorist organizations and reclassified as a “belligerent force,” giving the FARC more legitimacy under international law.
According to Berrocal’s document, the Bolivarian committee met in San José as recently as Oct. 23. He cited Reyes as once saying: “(FARC’s work) advances on the right track in spite of the rightwing (Costa Rican) government.”
Testifying before the Legislative Assembly’s FARC Commission, Berrocal said, “So just six months ago, the highest FARC official says that the FARC’s workadvances on the right track here. The Continental Bolivarian Coordinating Committee is the central axis of FARC’s work in 17 countries, including Costa Rica.”
Shortly after he fired Berrocal, President Arias obtained a letter from Colombian President Álvaro Uribe stating there are no Tico politicians known to be linked to FARC. Though Uribe’s letter was widely disseminated in the press, in mid-April Arias dispatched Vice President Laura Chinchilla, Foreign Minister Bruno Stagno and Chief Prosecutor Francisco Dall’Anese to Colombia to talk to law enforcement officials there about possible Tico political ties to FARC.
After that meeting, Chinchilla told the press that the Colombians assured them there are no Costa Rican politicians linked to FARC.
“We are anxious that the nation does not begin a witch hunt,” Chinchilla said to the assembly after her visit to Colombia. She also said Costa Rica has much more pressing security issues to deal with than FARC.
But on May 7, in testimony before the FARC Commission, Dall’Anese said the Colombian authorities shared with Stagno and Chinchilla contents of Reyes’ hard drives, which mention Costa Rica 36 times.
Some of those mentions include Merino and former president Rodrigo Carazo (1978-1982).
None of the high-level Costa Rican authorities who went to Colombia in mid-April passed that information on to the press at the time.
“They (Colombian authorities) mentioned that what they had analyzed from Reyes’ computer … they had (e-mails) in which they said Costa Rica was mentioned 36 times,” Dall’Anese told the FARC Commission. “The document wasn’t given to me … and the Colombian authorities did not authorize Costa Rica to use the documents for investigations, nor for the assembly, nor to be divulged to the press.”
Dall’Anese said he didn’t look at the emails because he thought it would create a conflict under the international Palermo Convention, to which Costa Rica is a signatory.
Dall’Anese said the e-mails were passed on to Public Security Vice Minister José Torres, who recently took the post after one of Berrocal’s vice ministers, Rafael Angel Gutiérrez, abruptly retired after Berrocal was sacked.
In an interview with The Tico Times, Torres repeatedly stated he couldn’t comment on the 36 mentions of Costa Rica in the e-mails because Colombian authorities asked him not to. He also cited the Palermo Convention as a reason but then said he didn’t know what the convention actually allows.
But he begrudgingly acknowledged that Dall’Anese’s testimony about the 36 mentions was accurate.
Berrocal called on Torres and the president to make the e-mails public. They were recently entered into the assembly’s official record, making them public.
The controversy doesn’t end there. Dall’Anese decided not to prosecute Gutierrez and Prado, citing lack of proof required in 1997, when the couple claims Granada stashed the money, that the $479,900 in FARC money indeed came from drug trafficking. Numerous nations, including Colombia and the United States, protested in response. They alleged Costa Rica was not complying with its obligations under the United Nations International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorism Financing.
Berrocal, who demanded the couple be prosecuted, said Dall’Anese’s position is “ridiculous.”
“We might as well publish an article on the front page of the New York Times, declaring, ‘Welcome, Al-Qaeda,’” he told independent Tica journalist Amelia Rueda three days before he was fired.
Drug Institute Director Mauricio Boraschi said the assembly, which has had nine years to pass an anti-terrorism law to bring the country into compliance with its international obligations, is directly responsible for the failure to prosecute the couple.
“The problem is we don’t have a law against terrorist financing,” he said. “It saves (the couple) that we don’t have this law. But I believe the couple owes a response to the country. None of us are sitting here … naïve enough to believe what (the couple) said, that they were just doing (FARC) a little favor, that they didn’t know who (Granda and Reyes) were and that they were just watching $479,000 for many years.”
Dall’Anese, during his assembly testimony, also fired a shot across the bow of the Intelligence and Security Department (DIS), the country’s equivalent to the CIA, saying they failed to do their job investigating the guerrilla presence in the country and informing the proper law-enforcement entities.
Dall’Anese’ allegation is one of numerous controversies currently dogging that agency. “Here, I want to stress a weakness we have in our DIS authorities,” he said, referring to the 2006 arrest and extradition of Héctor Martínez in Puntarenas.
Martínez, arguably the highest-ranking FARC official caught here so far, allegedly was focused on penetrating the country’s fishing fleet and turning them into part of drugs-for-arms shipment network. He was wanted in Colombia for his role in the 2002 Bojaya massacre that left 119 civilians dead during armed conflict between FARC and the United Self-Defense Forces (AUC) paramilitary group.
“(DIS officials) never investigated his links, friendships, his network in the country, and when they proceeded to detain and extradite him … the opportunity to really know what he was doing was lost,” Dall’Anese said.
Dall’Anese asserted the same thing happened when authorities arrested Libardo Parra, a member of the now-disbanded Colombian guerrilla group M-19, that same year in the western San José suburb of Escazú.
After stating a DIS agent tried to impersonate a Costa Rican prosecutor in an effort to stage a meeting with a prosecutor in Panama, Dall’Anese said the intelligence agency should be disbanded.
“My personal opinion, with all due respect to DIS, is that a country such as Costa Rica should not have any kind of intelligence or national security police in a democratic state,” he said.
According to Berrocal’s testimony, Dall’Anese said he (Dall’Anese) was under DIS surveillance in 2006.
The Legislative Assembly’s FARC Commission so far has shot down a motion to call DIS Director Roberto Solorzano to publicly testify but left open the possibility to bring him in for a closed session.
The Tico Times has tried unsuccessfully over the last month to interview DIS about the presence of FARC in the country. A DIS official, who declined to be identified, said he could not arrange the interview because of the current controversy and because of a verbal order from Torres that no one talk to the media about FARC.
Torres denied he ever issued such a gag order.