A series of photos allegedly found on
the laptops of Raúl Reyes, the FARC leader killed when the Colombian
government bombed and raided a FARC encampment across the Ecuadoran
border, appear to have actually been taken by Colombian intelligence
agents—or by allied police or intelligence agents—in Quito, Ecuador.
The photos were supplied to the Bogota daily El Tiempo by an anonymous Colombian intelligence source on Monday March 3, just two days after the raid on the encampment.
Credible doubts about the provenance of the photos are potentially
explosive, as they suggest that a piece of evidence that the Colombian
government claimed originated from the FARC laptops actually came from
another source, and also because they indicate the presence of
Colombian intelligence in Quito. In the attack’s aftermath, Ecuadoran
president Rafael Correa initiated a major shakeup of the country’s
armed forces following allegations of significant CIA and other
The photos, taken down about a week after they were uploaded,
briefly formed part of a broad and systematic media campaign on the
part of the Colombian government to link the Ecuadoran and Venezuelan
governments to the FARC. The campaign has been waged through a
combination of public denunciations and anonymous leaks to news outlets
in Colombia, the United States, and Spain.
The photos were taken inside and outside of Quito’s Casa de Cultura
arts and convention center during the international conference of the
Continental Bolivarian Coordinating Committee (CCB) the week before the
attack. The CCB is a small left-wing organization with ties to the FARC
and chapters throughout Latin America.
The photos, which now appear to be intelligence photos, were included in a Web gallery on El Tiempo’s
Web site of photos purportedly found on Reyes’s laptop. When I came
across the photos my first question was “Why would the FARC take
intelligence photos of their supposed allies?”
The individuals photographed include two Basque separatists:
Batasuna representative Iñak Bil de San Vicente and Askapena
representative Walter Wendelin. (Batasuna is the political arm of the
armed Basque nationalist separatist group ETA. Askapena is a support
organization for Basque prisoners.) Also captured in the photos are
Carlos Casanueva, a member of the Chilean Communist Party’s Central
Committee; Lucía Morett, a visiting Mexican student who was injured in
the attack (four other Mexican students were killed); Venezuelan
Communist Party deputy and Central Committee secretary general Oscar
Figuera; Chilean Communist Youth member Manuel Olate, who, along with
fellow Chilean Valeska López, visited the FARC encampment just before
it was bombed; an unnamed Italian CCB delegate; and at least five other
After weeks of contradictory and incomplete answers from El Tiempo, I traveled from Quito to their Bogotá office to ask some questions in person. El Tiempo reporters had at first confirmed that the photos were from the FARC laptops and were unsure of why they were removed from El Tiempo’s Web site. El Tiempo
Justice editor Jhon Torres then told me that they were not from the
laptop and that a retraction had been issued. (I was unable to find a
retraction in any of El Tiempo’s March or April archives.
Journalistic ethics require news outlets to issue corrections if doubts
emerge as to the validity of evidence used to support an article.)
In an interview this past Tuesday, Torres told me that the photos
were removed from the Web site because of doubts that they were really
found on the FARC laptops. According to Torres, however, their
intelligence source has not changed his claim that the photos are from
Torres also claimed that all of the people captured in the CCB
photos were also in photos found on Reyes’ laptops. I was unable to
confirm this through a review of photos that have been released, and
Torres was unable to provide me with photos confirming this statement.
Torres played down the notion that the Colombian government
purposely leaked false information, hypothesizing the photos’ inclusion
to be an accidental “infection” and characterizing their intelligence
source as a lone actor rather than part of a media campaign
orchestrated by the Colombian government.
Torres also confirmed that El Tiempo has not issued any
retractions regarding the photos—contradicting his earlier
statement—saying that they simply removed them from the Web site. This
even though the paper ran a story on March 7 titled “Trace of ETA in
Reyes’ PC,” including the photo of Batasuna members Walter Wendelin and
Iñak Gil at the CCB conference. The article does not mention that the
photo was taken at the conference, and it is possible that El Tiempo
was unaware of this fact. The rest of the photos were only posted as
part of the Web gallery and were not used in the newspaper’s print
edition. Torres acknowledged that, “perhaps we could have done a better
job clarifying our opinions of the photos.”
I am still reporting this story. Further information will be posted on the NACLA Web site.
Daniel Denvir is an independent journalist in Quito, Ecuador and an editor at the forthcoming journal Caterwaul Quarterly (www.caterwaulquarterly.com). Denvir is a 2008 recipient of NACLA's Samuel Chavkin Investigative Journalism Grant.