THEY represent only one side of a story, and most of their claims have yet to be independently corroborated. But Interpol has now concluded that the huge cache of e-mails and other documents recovered from the computers of Raúl Reyes, a senior leader of the FARC guerrillas killed in a Colombian bombing raid on his camp in Ecuador on March 1st, are authentic and undoctored. The documents throw new light on the inner workings of the FARC. And they raise some very pointed questions about the ties between Venezuela’s leftist president, Hugo Chávez, and a group considered to be terrorists by the United States and the European Union (EU).
Batches of the documents have been seen by The Economist and several other publications. They appear to show that Mr Chávez offered the FARC up to $300m, and talked of allocating the guerrillas an oil ration which they could sell for profit. They also suggest that Venezuelan army officers helped the FARC to obtain small arms, such as rocket-propelled grenades, and to set up meetings with arms dealers.
The FARC are in some ways a throwback to a past era in Latin America. In other ways they are part of the new face of organised crime in the region. Old-fashioned Marxists unmoved by the collapse of the Soviet Union, they have flourished since then by drug-trafficking and kidnapping. Their war against Colombia’s elected government has almost no public support, especially since they showed no interest in making peace during three years of talks with the government from 1999 to 2002. Since then, a determined security build-up by Álvaro Uribe, Colombia’s popular president, has put the FARC on the defensive, driving it into remote jungles and savannahs-and towards the country’s borders.
Mr Chávez has long expressed sympathy for the FARC. But Colombian officials, backed by detailed testimony from guerrilla deserters, accuse Venezuela and Ecuador of more than rhetoric, saying they have turned a blind eye to guerrilla camps on their territory. The killing of Mr Reyes, a member of the FARC’s seven-man secretariat, underlined the point. The captured documents seem to confirm that FARC commanders have co-ordinated closely with Venezuelan army and intelligence officers on the border for several years, according to a Colombian official.
El País and Colombia’s SemanaWall Street Journal, Mr Chávez’s interior minister, Ramón Rodríguez Chacín, asked the FARC to train Venezuelan soldiers in guerrilla tactics for use if the United States were to invade.
The e-mails released so far represent only a fraction of the almost 40,000 written documents and 610 gigabytes of data on the computers. For all his bravado, Mr Chávez is clearly discomfited by all this. At a get-together of European and Latin American leaders in Lima on May 16th he was unusually conciliatory. Some Republicans in the United States have seized upon the computer cache as grounds for declaring Venezuela to be a state sponsor of terrorism. This could require the United States to impose trade sanctions on a country from which it buys some 10% of its imported oil-and so is unlikely to happen. And the e-mails are not a smoking gun implicating Mr Chávez unequivocally. It was Mr Márquez and other FARC commanders, not Mr Reyes, who handled relations with Venezuela. So there are no e-mails from Venezuelan officials on his computer.
Venezuela to the FARC. But the evidence from the laptops suggests that there is certainly a case to be answered-by something more than a blustering denial.