Slain Colombian Insurgent Held Secret Talks with U.S. Diplomats


Richard Moore

For Immediate Release:
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 

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 

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

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