The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) had a presence in Costa Rica from at least 1996 to 2005.
That much is agreed, according to officials, intelligence documents, news media reports and recent testimony before the FARC Commission in the Legislative Assembly.
What happened with FARC here after 2005 is the issue. Various public officials – former Public Security Minister Fernando Berrocal, former Public Security Minister Rogelio Ramos and Chief Prosecutor Francisco Dall’Anese, to name a few – give varying and sometimes contradictory assessments.
According to a 2000 La Nación interview with Raúl Reyes, FARC’s now deceased international spokesman, then-President José Figueres first opened the country’s doors to the guerrilla group in 1996.
Al Día later reported on meetings that year that formalized the agreement between Reyes, Olga Marín (Reyes’ wife and guerrilla chief Manuel Marulanda’s daughter), FARC member Ovidio Salinas (also known as Juan Antonio), and Guido Sibaja from the Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE) as “special delegate from the president.”
During the La Nación interview, Reyes thanked former Foreign Minister Fernando Naranjo, ex-lawmaker Alicia Fournier and Sibaja for the political opening. He also disclosed that he lived here for five months in 1998 with the permission of the Figueres administration.
Naranjo, Fournier and Sibaja could not be reached for comment. Sibaja no longer works for ICE.
The revolutionaries took advantage of their opening by keeping Colombian delegates and allies such as former Colombian Energy Minister and presidential candidate Alvaro Leyva (aka The Professor), Ovidio Salinas and Miguel Castañeda (aka Miguel Pachi) here to develop relationships with students, union members and leftist politicians.
Some of the Ticos mentioned in intelligence documents include Public Employees Union (ANEP) Secretary Albino Vargas, ANEP lawyer Saul Umaña, former President Rodrigo Carazo, former University of Costa Rica student union president Maximiliano Moreira, current Broad Front legislator José Merino and former lawmakers Humberto Vargas, Rodrigo Gutiérrez and José Jurado (since deceased).
Merino said he doesn’t know why he’s mentioned in three of the 37 Reyes e-mails, which refer to him as an intermediary to get a meeting with former president Rodrigo Carazo. Merino said he met with just two FARC members on one occasion, either in 1998 or 2000, and that he hasn’t heard from or seen them since, even though e-mails refer to him as recently as 2004.
“Maybe it’s that they wanted to renew old contacts,” he said. “But I was never an intermediary, and they never contacted me to arrange a meeting. And the meeting was never realized. All the meetings I had were open and part of a process requested by (former) Colombian presidents Ernesto Samper and Andrés Pastrana.”
Carazo said his only involvement with FARC was during a successful 1997 negotiation for the liberation of 70 Colombian soldiers who had been kidnapped by FARC. He said he hasn’t heard from FARC since.
“Merino never contacted me and a meeting was never realized,” he said.
Carazo said he’s not a fan of FARC, even though Reyes’ e-mails say the guerrillas thought otherwise.
“The point of my meetings with them was to secure the release of the hostages,” Carazo told The Tico Times. “So of course I didn’t insult them or fight with them. To get the prisoners released, you can’t be belligerent. But I can tell you … I don’t accept any movement that kidnaps people.”
Gutiérrez, Moreira, Umaña and Humberto Vargas could not be reached for comment but Gutiérrez told Al Día he couldn’t remember any FARC meetings, and Moreira told La Nación he had rejected any links to violent groups.
Albino Vargas told The Tico Times he and his union had no relations with FARC. Leyva lived here for years as a refugee and coordinated numerous FARC meetings (TT, Oct. 16, 1998), including with U.S. State Department representative Phil Chicola in 1998 and with then-Public Security Minister Rogelio Ramos in 2001. At the time of the Chicola meeting, FARC was on the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations.
It remains on the list today. Chicola declined to comment on the 1998 meeting.
But reports compiled by Chicola have since been declassified and indicate the meeting was focused on trying to find out what happened to three New Tribes missionaries from the U.S. kidnapped in Colombia in 1993.
According to intelligence documents, Leyva’s asylum application was allegedly facilitated by two attorneys: Jorge Urbina, now Costa Rica’s ambassador to the United Nations, and Ricardo Castro. Castro could not be reached for comment and Urbina did not return a phone call requesting comment.
Before Leyva’s asylum was granted in 1998, President Oscar Arias and his Foundation for Peace vouched for the Colombian when he arrived on a tourist visa in Costa Rica in August of that same year (TT, Aug. 7, 1998).
FARC Foreign Minister Rodrigo Granda (aka Ricardo) met with Ramos in 2001 to request permission for FARC to open a branch office here after their Mexico City office was closed and their representatives expelled.
E-mails from Reyes’s computer seem to indicate the request was approved (see box on e-mail chronology). But in testimony before Costa Rica’s FARC Commission, Ramos said their request was denied and he never heard from or saw Granda again.
Another Colombian refugee, Hernando Vanegas, aka Salvador, took over as FARC’s front man here in 1999 but fled to Sweden in 2005 after intelligence officials began questioning him.
Vanegas is a doctor who worked for the Social Security System, also known as la Caja, at the San Juan de Dios Hospital.
Intelligence documents allege he helped create the Association and Cultural Integration Center Costa Rica-Colombia (ACCINCO), a FARC front, and was possibly working on a plan to create a hospital here to take care of wounded FARC members.
Vanegas was allegedly aided in his asylum request by Ana Cecilia Jímenez, the vicepresident of the Commission for Defense of Human Rights in Central America (CODEHUCA). She also administered his estate after he fled, according to intelligence documents.
Jímenez could not be reached for comment and no one answered this week at a phone number listed for CODEHUCA.
Other members of ACCINCO included Carlos Arturo Meneses, a Colombian lawyer and refugee here, and Oscar Monge, a Tico and member of various unions. Intelligence documents state Meneses is a FARC member with nicknames Adriano and Plutarco.
Monge and Meneses could not be reached for comment.
But Al Día published a statement from Meneses, who said he is not a guerrilla.
After Merino and Carazo, the most mentioned names in Reyes’s e-mails are Cruz Prado, and Francisco Gutierrez, well known academics in Costa Rica.
Gutiérrez and Prado are the couple whose home in Santa Barbara de Heredia, north of San José, was raided in March by Costa Rican police, who seized $480,000 in FARC cash from a safe. Authorities say the e-mails led them directly to the safe, though none of the e-mails made public is that specific.
The couple claim they believed the safe contained documents and say it was left by a Ricardo in 1997, though intelligence documents indicate it was left there in 2001.
The couple also claim they didn’t know the people who left the safe were from FARC and that they only found out later by watching TV that Ricardo is FARC Foreign Minister Rodrigo Granda.
The e-mails, however, refer to Prado as a “great friend,” say the couple was on the list to receive official FARC communications, and state Gutiérrez knew about the money.
Granda had also previously granted Prado power-of-attorney to administer his real estate here that included a house in Tuetal, Alajuela province. That house was transferred to Hernando Vanegas in 2002, according to the intelligence documents.
Prado told La Nación and Al Día that she signed the power-of-attorney papers without knowing what they were.
Prado recently attacked the authenticity of the Reyes’ emails in La Nación. But Interpol conducted a forensic analysis of the documents and stated Colombian police accessed them but did not tamper with them.
Costa Rican Drug Institute Director Mauricio Boraschi has stated the couple owes the country further explanation for their behavior.
Prado and Gutiérrez were out of town this week and unavailable for comment, but in a letter to The Tico Times last month, they wrote, “Even though we haven’t committed any crime and we haven’t been charged with anything, there are some people full of hate with bad intentions that think they can damage us. But they’re mistaken.”
2005 to Present
Berrocal blames FARC for “every gram” of drugs that enters the country. He claims the arrest of alleged FARC member Héctor Martínez in 2006 proves the guerrillas’ active presence here.
Berrocal says Martínez, who was extradited to Colombia for his alleged involvement in a massacre there, had successfully converted Costa Rica’s Pacific fishing fleetinto an arms-for-drugs shipment network.
“His mission was to penetrate the fishing fleet and he achieved that,” Berrocal testified before the FARC Commission.
However, former Public Security Minister Rogelio Ramos, Berrocal’s predecessor, said there is no evidence that Martínez was involved in any crime here and accused Berrocal of exaggeration.
In commission testimony, Ramos cited Judicial Investigation Police Deputy Director Francisco Segura and Drug Control Police Chief Alain Solano as stating they have never found any evidence in any of the drug cases they have investigated that turned up any connection to Martínez.
Segura and Solano have not returned repeated phone calls requesting comment.
Berrocal also says the since-murdered González brothers (Huber and Dagoberto) from the Buenaventura cartel in Colombia that tried to have Berrocal and Presidency Minister Rodrigo Arias assassinated in 2007 did so at the behest of FARC.
But other officials, including Boraschi, have pooh-poohed that notion.
Dall’Anese, during his one day of testimony, said there are four examples of FARC presence in the country since 2005: the arrest of Martínez; the 2006 arrest of former Colombian leftist guerrilla Libardo Parra in Escazú; the presence of an unnamed FARC member planning to kidnap a French embassy official’s wife in Colombia; and the $480,000 found in the Gutiérrez-Prado home.
Dall’Anese said Colombian authorities report that Parra was also affiliated with FARC. He also said the unnamed FARC member with the kidnapping plan escaped Tico intelligence authorities.
Dall’Anese blames the Intelligence and Security Department (DIS), the country’s equivalent to the CIA, for dropping the ball on numerous opportunities to investigateFARC’s presence.
The controversy won’t end soon.Next up to testify before the FARC Commission are Drug Control Police Chief Alain Solano, DIS Director Roberto Solorzano and Immigration Director Mario Zamora.
The commission is scheduled to issue its final report by the end of July but may ask for an extension.
Costa Rica and FARC: The E-mail Trail
May 30, 2000, Reyes to “Sara.” Mentions a Juan Antonio and a Hermes working on the Central America project, which includes Costa Rica. Also mentions a Salvador.
Sept. 3, 2000, Reyes to Marulanda. Mentions a Sept. 18 meeting with the Costa Rican government, civil society, nongovernmental organizations. States Augusto Ramírez, Colombian foreign minister under then-President Andrés Pastrana, is the organizer.
March 1, 2001, Reyes to Andrés Paris. States they need to restore their previous relations here. Mentions the Mora family, who are related to Costa Rican legislator José Merino. States, “Don’t forget to look for (former president) Rodrigo Carazo, whom you can get in touch with through Merino.”
April 4, 2001, Marín to Granda and Reyes. States the professor (Alvaro Leyva) called, saying the then-Public Security Minister (Rogelio Ramos) asked to look for Granda to confirm that the government accepts FARC presence and residence in Costa Rica.
April 15, 2001, Granda to Reyes and Marín. Discusses trying to install a transmitter here and establish some kind of a visa-processing business.
June 12, 2001, Hernán to Granda. Mentions conversation with Jorge Arguedas, of the Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE) union, and states Arguedas promised to help economically with the publication of FARC’s newspaper.
July 19, 2001, Marín to Granda. Talks about locating Granda here as a refugee. States, “Here is the house but remember it’s in your name and it could complicate the situation and make it easier to locate you.”
July 20, 2001, Marín to Granda and Reyes. States Marín and Granda realized they were being trailed by police in Costa Rica because the “Spaniard” told them he was interrogated by Colombian intelligence asking, “What’s going on, because there are two FARC in San José and they were with Leyva?”
Aug. 8, 2001, Hernán to Marín. Mentions some items to bring to FARC’s support group here that could be left with “Saul,” a lawyer who works full-time for the National Association of Public Employees (ANEP), a union.
Aug. 17, 2001, Marcos Urbano to Reyes. States, “It’s not easy in Costa Rica because there are many Colombians and a rear guard of paramilitaries and drug traffickers.”
Sept. 6, 2001, Urbano to Reyes. Mentions the University of Costa Rica (UCR) and a sympathizer named Maximiliano, who was at the time the president of a federation of students. States that maybe university radio could be used to broadcast FARC propaganda, and a group of youth sympathizers could be created.
Sept. 20, 2001, Granda to Reyes and Marín. States, “The situation here favors us because of the relation we have with the minister (Ramos) and the help that we have here.”
Sept. 23, 2001, Reyes to Alfonso Cano. Mentions the professor (Alvaro Leyva) is upset about assassination of Jairo Rojas, a Colombian legislator present at secret meetings between Reyes and U.S. State Department official Phil Chicola in 1998. Also mentions a representative of paramilitary leader Carlos Castaño visited Leyva, asking for mediation among them, Pastrana and FARC, which Leyva categorically refused. States Leyva continues dreaming of running for president with FARC’s help.
Dec. 25, 2001, Granda to Reyes. States, “In Costa Rica, we have the house in Tuetal, Alajuela, and there are two communication radios.”
Jan. 5, 2002, Reyes to Granda. Mentions the country as a potential place for Marín and “Anita” to set up a communications center.
Feb. 11, 2002, Reyes to Granda. Mentions former President Rodrigo Carazo, Merino and the Communist Party, expressing desire to meet with Carazo again. States his position toward FARC has always been good.
March 13, 2002, Marín and Urbano to Reyes and Granda. States the work in Costa Rica is managed by Leyva and Marín. Mentions Leyva’s proposal to send Marín here to conduct communications and analysis.
March 18, 2002, Marín and Urbano to Reyes and Granda. States it’s getting harder to find places to operate, and the plan needs to be reworked. Asks whether FARC base proposal should be revisited with Ramos or if it would be better to look for visas via palancas (friends or allies that work in the government).
June 9, 2002, Reyes to Granda, Marín and Urbano. Talks about installing radios and communications in Venezuela, Ecuador, Costa Rica and Mexico.
Nov. 19, 2002, Reyes to “Cielo.” Asks about seeking a conversation with Carazo, who has good connections with the left. States they already talked with him two or three times, including in his home and invited him to be part of a ceremony celebrating a prisoner swap between the Colombian government and FARC.
March 14, 2003, Unknown person to Reyes. States FARC should deploy Lucas Iguaran and “Alicia” with alternative documentation here. “They have good documentation and Lucas has serious security problems in Venezuela.”
Feb. 3, 2004, Leyva to Reyes. Mentions meeting with Chicola and Jim Jones in Costa Rica.
Sept. 2, 2004, Reyes to Hermes Sandoval. Mentions money in Costa Rica and real estate they need to check up on.
Oct. 17, 2004, Paisita to Reyes. Mentions an Alfonso Pardo, a journalist with the Voz radio program in Costa Rica, with friends here who want to help.
Dec. 12, 2004, Reyes to Granda and Hermes. Mentions trip to Costa Rica would be a good idea to meet with Salvador and two or three others who are helping them there. Mentions Costa Ricans Cruz Prado and Merino and taking advantage of the trip to check the money ($480,000 in FARC cash) they have.
Dec. 29, 2004, Reyes to “Sara.” Mentions Cruz Prado and the great friend she and her husband, Francisco Gutiérrez, are to FARC and that all public documents should continue to be sent to them.
Dec. 30, 2004, Paisita to Granda. Mentions Salvador, with refugee status, as the FARC front man in Costa Rica. Mentions Ana Cecilia Jiménez of the Human Rights Commission, who helped him attain his refugee status.
June 4, 2005, Reyes to José Luis. Suggests putting property in Costa Rica Into names of friends. Mentions a Doña Tereza and a Brujilda, who could appear as the owners and rent them to third persons. States the house in Costa Rica was in Granda’s name, and they had to transfer it to someone else’s name about four to five years ago through Cruz Prado, Granda’s power of attorney.
June 14, 2005, Reyes to Granda. Mentions Vanegas leaving Costa Rica quickly and states things are in the hands of Communist Party comrades but doesn’t name them.
Nov. 18, 2005, Reyes to Alberto Martínez. Mentions Lucas, a son of Granda, and the house again, saying, “I didn’t have any idea of the sale of the house in (Costa Rica), on credit and cheap…”
June 5, 2006, Reyes to Alberto Martínez. Mentions money problem and recommends seeing if the money left there can be sent to the doctor, Salvador, now in Europe.
June 28, 2007, Ana María to Reyes. Mentions “USA OJO Foundation” created by Leyva, the Third Millenium Foundation with Ricardo Castro, Federico Gaviria, Jim Jones, Francesco Vicenti, Alex Vernot, Carlos Lozano, Alvaro Leyva, and the Arias Peace Foundation, naming Luis Alberto Cordero in San José.
Oct. 14, 2007, Jim Jones to Reyes. Mentions December 1998 meeting in Costa Rica and plan for Gringos to meet clandestinely with FARC representatives, using what happened to some missing missionaries from the U.S. as a pretext to talk about other issues.
Oct. 18, 2007, Reyes to José Luis and Alberto. States he doesn’t know if due diligence has been conducted about the money ($480,000) in Costa Rica.
Nov. 5, 2007, Reyes to José Luis. Discusses a desperate need to get in touch with Cruz Prado. States they could also get help from Doña Teresa and other friendships.
Nov. 20, 2007, Granda to Reyes (taken from documents submitted by former Public Security Minister Fernando Berrocal to the Legislative Assembly). States the presence of the $480,000 in the safe in Santa Barbara de Heredia was well known by “El Hormigo,” the nickname for Francisco Gutiérrez but not directly by his wife, Cruz Prado. States, “The proposal is to get a specialist, a friend of Francisco, to open it without taking it out of the house in the presence of our envoy.”
Editor’s note: All of these e-mails, with one exception as noted, were taken from Reyes’ computer and were entered into the public record of the Legislative Assembly. The e-mails, which have since been authenticated by Interpol as having come from Reyes’ computers, were provided along with summaries by Colombian authorities. It is not known whether the e-mails made public represent all of the e-mails found on Reyes’ computers.