March 4, 2008
Slain Colombian Insurgent Held Secret Talks with U.S. Diplomats
Declassified State Department Memo Describes Clandestine 1998 Meetings with Colombian Guerrillas Central to Current Saber-Rattling in Andean Region
For more information contact:
Michael Evans - 202/994-7029
Washington, D.C., March 4, 2008 - A senior Colombian guerrilla leader killed in Ecuador last weekend in a cross-border raid by Colombian forces held secret talks with U.S. diplomats ten years ago in Costa Rica, according to a declassified memorandum of conversation published on the Web today by the National Security Archive and cited in today's New York Times.
The slain insurgent, Raúl Reyes, met secretly in Costa Rica in December 1998 with a U.S. diplomatic mission led by Philip T. Chicola, then director of the State Department's Office of Andean Affairs. The meeting was particularly sensitive in that the guerrilla group represented by Reyes, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), was listed on the State Department's list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations. The FARC remains Colombia's oldest and largest rebel army.
Stressing "the absolute requirement for confidentiality," Chicola told Reyes that the U.S. wanted to "to develop a channel of communication" with the FARC:
I told the FARC representatives that while the [United States government] had no preconceived agenda or structure as to how the discussions might proceed, we wanted to use the meeting to describe our views on counternarcotics, the peace process, the [kidnapping of] New Tribes Missionaries (NTM), and the practice of kidnapping and attacks on U.S. interests in Colombia. Beyond that, we were open to discuss, or at least listen to, any topics the FARC wished to raise.
Reyes replied by noting the "historic importance he attached to the meeting," adding that "changing world and domestic circumstances" had brought the parties to the table.
He praised President [Andrés] Pastrana and his apparent commitment to a successful peace process. He also reflected on the "illegitimacy of the [Ernesto] Samper regime and its rampant corruption by narcotraffickers. Reyes expressed satisfaction at the opportunity to talk directly to the [United States government] and claimed that information that reached US about the FARC via the press and other sources was invariably untrue and distorted by anti-FARC interests.
Especially important for the U.S. was the 1993 kidnapping of three New Tribes Missionaries in Panama by FARC guerrillas. Chicola told the FARC emissaries that a "full accounting" of the missionary kidnappings "would greatly facilitate" future exchanges with the U.S. and that any future kidnappings or other attacks on U.S. interests in Colombia "would definitely preclude" further U.S.-FARC contact. The kidnapping and killing of three more Americans by FARC forces later that year likely ended whatever channels had been opened by the Costa Rica talks.
At the time, the U.S. was in the process of dramatically augmenting its counternarcotics programs in Colombia, a goal that at times seemed to clash with then-Colombian President Andrés Pastrana's commitment to reaching a comprehensive peace agreement with the FARC, which derived a substantial amount of its income from the drug trade. Chicola told the FARC representatives that "regardless of this meeting or any other positive peace process developments" that the U.S. would "continue its eradication and other counternarcotics programs" in Colombia.
Reyes has for many years been the public face of the FARC in meetings with foreign governments and other officials. His killing and the military incursion into Ecuadorean territory that led to it have touched off an intense round of saber-rattling in the Andean region. Both Ecuador and Venezuela have expelled Colombian diplomats and massed military forces on the Colombian border, with Ecuador having severed diplomatic relations entirely. Colombian officials also claim to have recovered Reyes' laptop computer, which they say contains evidence that Venezuela has funneled some $300 million to the FARC.
A second FARC representative at the 1998 meeting, Olga Marín, believed to be the daughter of FARC founder Manuel Marulanda, was reportedly present and may have been wounded in the Colombian military raid last weekend.
Read the Document
January 8, 1999
Memorandum of Conversation Between USG Representatives and Representatives of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC)
U.S. State Department cable, Secret, 9pp.
Source: State Department Appeals Review Panel declassification release under the Freedom of Information Act