FARC Commission Throws Berrocal Under Bus
An investigative commission of the Legislative Assembly absolved itself and fellow lawmakers of any links to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
But in a final report released this week, legislators conceded they weren’t able to conduct much of an investigation because certain witnesses refused to testify, and some police agencies refused to provide requested documents.
The FARC Commission, created in late March after then-Public Security Minister Fernando Berrocal alleged certain “political sectors” were linked to the guerrilla organization, took five months and a mere 40 hours of questioning to arrive at their conclusions. Berrocal was fired two weeks after making the controversial statement and has since announced he wants to run for president.
“Even Berrocal acknowledged (the FARC connection) was a working hypothesis and that he didn’t have proof,” states the commission’s majority report, prepared by National Liberation Party (PLN) lawmakers Mayi Antillón, Francisco Marín and Jorge Méndez.
“Berrocal’s information was inexact and mistaken,” states the commission’s minority report, prepared by Citizen Action Party (PAC) legislators Olivier Peréz and Marvin Rojas. “He alleged a campaign of defamation against him motivated by political drumbeating for the 2010 election, but instead it was he who was beating the drums.”
FARC’s Costa Rican Ties
However, the PAC legislators conceded one of Berrocal’s central allegations that the nation’s fishing fleet had been penetrated by drug traffickers. They also concluded FARC was active in Costa Rica from 2000 to 2002 but greatly decreased its role here from 2003 to today because of declining support here.
Some commission witnesses also stated that on at least two occasions, the United Nations Refugee Agency program had been penetrated by FARC operatives – Hernando Vanegas, who was relocated by the U.N. to Sweden after intelligence officials interviewed him about his FARC connections, and Jorge Meneses, a Colombian refugee who practices law in Costa Rica (TT, May 30).
This was another of Berrocal’s central allegations. He called Immigration the “petty cash of corruption” and alleged roughly 2,000 Colombian criminals had exploited the system to gain status in Costa Rica.
Immigration Director Mario Zamora acknowledged the Costa Rican consulate in Colombia and the former Refugee Department of Immigration had been penetrated by criminal elements. But he said he couldn’t refer to the cases in detail because they hadn’t been successfully prosecuted yet.
The commission was born as a result of Berrocal’s statements and the controversy that erupted soon afterward, when President Oscar Arias fired him a day before he was scheduled to testify to the Legislative Assembly about the FARC-friendly sectors.
Berrocal’s termination also occurred the day after a private meeting between Arias and former Public Security Minister Rogelio Ramos, who later testified to the commission that he told the president they needed to get control of Berrocal or face legal action. Berrocal had been publicly condemning Ramos, calling him corrupt, incompetent and complicit with drug traffickers and criminals who were ravaging the
“There is simply no evidence (to support Berrocal’s assertions),” Arias said at the time.
Berrocal begged to differ. The former minister first made the controversial “sectors” statement after a police found $480,000 in alleged FARC cash in a safe in the home of a couple of well-known Tico academics in Santa Barbara de Heredía, north of San José (TT, March 28). Francisco Gutiérrez and Cruz Prado, the couple in question, are leftists who have been active in union and academic circles for decades and have hosted various guerrilla leaders in their home.
Police said they were led to the couple’s home by e-mails taken from computers of FARC’s No. 2 commander, Raúl Reyes, who was killed in a Colombian military raid on a FARC camp in Ecuador on March 1.
Prado refused to testify before the commission for fear of prosecution by Colombia, and Gutiérrez produced a doctor’s note saying he was incapable of attending, according to the majority report. Legislators conceded their investigation was negatively affected by the couple’s decision not to participate.
In his testimony to the commission, Intelligence and Security Department (DIS) Director Roberto Solórzano called the couple part of FARC’s logistics network, but Chief Prosecutor Francisco Dall’Anese in March decided not to prosecute Prado and Gutiérrez, saying the country has no law against terrorism. Berrocal called Dall’Anese’s decision “ridiculous.”
A 387-page document Berrocal prepared with help from Solórzano named current Broad Front legislator José Merino as an associate of FARC. Berrocal later defended Merino’s relations with FARC as being related to a peace process that collapsed in 2001.
Merino, who sat on the FARC Commission and took a leading role in the investigation, has disavowed any continuing relationship with FARC representatives.
FARC is classified as a terrorist group by the United States, European Union and Organization of American States (OAS).
Legislators called Berrocal, Ramos, Solórzano, Zamora, Chief Prosecutor Francisco Dall’Anese and a handful of other officials, including some from the U.N. Refugee Agency, to testify.
The proceedings quickly disintegrated as many of the highest officials in the land gave contradictory statements, blamed other agencies for failures and passed the buck on jurisdiction.
Dall’Anese blamed DIS for failing to inform the Prosecutor’s Office of FARC’s presence in the country and said there should be no DIS in Costa Rica, calling it a “political police.” DIS is Costa Rica’s equivalent of the U.S. CIA and reports directly to the president. Solórzano testified he actually reports to the president’s brother, Presidency Minister Rodrigo Arias.
During his testimony, Dall’Anese gave an account of a FARC operative in Costa Rica with plans to kidnap the wife of a French diplomat in Colombia whom DIS allowed to escape. But all of the other officials interviewed by the commission said they had no idea what Dall’Anese was referring to.
Berrocal also said certain DIS agents are involved in drug trafficking, but Solórzano said he is unaware of this.
Dall’Anese said Berrocal never provided him any evidence about FARC activities in the country even though he was asked to.
‘Covering Up Reality’
Ramos spent two days rebutting pointby-point all of Berrocal’s testimony, calling him “irresponsible.”
During questioning, legislators were most aggressive with Solórzano, who was one of the few called before the commission that generally corroborated Berrocal’s assertions about links here.
Asked if any politicians were linked to FARC, he was indirect, at best, in his admissions, but still hinted at the possibility.
“When one speaks of involved politicians, it depends on the level,” he said. “At the level of legislators … there is nothing that we know of … with FARC or drug trafficking. But one needs to define politician. Does it include a militant person with a certain party or someone with a significant position or a midlevel position?”
Legislators didn’t push him further on this point, and he went on to say: “Of course, if so many drugs have been found here, and there has been so much drug trafficking here, there have to be people here who are helping them. They can’t do this all alone.”
Berrocal could not be reached for comment, but in the daily La Nación, he said the commission’s final report is “totally politicized.” But Berrocal was not the only one less than satisfied with the commission’s lack of significance. At one point during testimony, PAC legislator Rojas became so frustrated he vented at the commission.
“What this commission has given me so far is great dissatisfaction and displeasure because people (in this commission) are trying to give the impression that everything is going well in this country, but the reality is just the opposite,” he said. “Personalities from the political world have come to this commission, and what they are trying to do is cover up … the reality of things.”
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