Hugo Chavez, the FARC Laptops, and the Non-Existent Emails

The Western press rushed to report a story which framed Venezuela's socialist president Hugo Chavez as a covert supporter of terrorism. Now it is clear that the key 'evidence' on which the story was based does not exist- but this is a fact which the media chooses not to publish.

Remember the laptop computer that,
according to the Colombian government, miraculously survived the
bombing of the Farc guerrilla camp in Ecuador? Yes, that one. The one
that allegedly contained thousands of emails showing the extensive
collaboration between the leadership of the rebel group and
representatives of the Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez.

The alleged contents of the laptop were exploited without delay by
US officials seeking to increase pressure on the Venezuelan government.
US Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Shannon said
that this was "the first time that we've stumbled across something
coming from the Farc drawing such a straight line" between the rebels
and Chavez.

Amidst the acres of news coverage generated by the ‘discovery’ of the laptop, the Economist provided a helpful summary:

"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 Guardian’s self-styled Caracas correspondent, Rory Carroll, even managed to intercept some of the emails:

"In one leaked email dated January 2007 the Farc's military
leader, Jorge Briceño, also known as Mono Jojoy, told the rebels'
governing secretariat that he planned to ask Chávez for a loan of
$250m, 'to be repaid when we take power'."

Carroll continued:

"In another coded email from April 2005 a rebel identified
as Iván wrote that 'Tino', who was said to be responsible for Venezuela
's Popular Defence Units, a civilian militia, wanted help from Farc in
teaching guerrilla tactics."

Ben Whitford, a writer for the Guardian's 'Comment is free' website, declared with undisguised glee:   

“it looks like Chavez has been caught red-handed”. 

Whitford went on to call for the USA to impose “smart sanctions”
against Venezuela if the Organization of American States failed to
conduct a “formal, impartial and transparent investigation into
Venezuela 's apparent efforts to hurt its neighbour.”

International NGOs were also moved to comment. A statement by Human Rights Watch (HRW) claimed that:

"email messages found on laptop computers reportedly
recovered from a FARC encampment by Colombian security forces in March
2008 describe meetings in which Venezuelan officials also appear to
have offered assistance to the Colombian guerrillas, including safe
havens, weapons procurement, and possibly even financial support."

While admitting that HRW had not actually had direct access to the
'emails', the organisation nevertheless described their alleged
contents in some detail:

“But according to excerpts released by the Colombian
government and reviewed by Human Rights Watch, the files contain email
correspondence in which FARC commanders recount multiple meetings with
Venezuelan officials. These messages refer to a meeting in which
President Chávez reportedly offered to provide the FARC with safe
havens within Venezuelan territory. They also mention meetings in which
two Venezuelan generals, Hugo Carvajal Barrios and Clíver Alcalá
Cordones, appear to offer the guerrillas assistance in procuring
weapons. The email message refers to another meeting in which Interior
Minister Ramón Rodríguez Chacín reportedly promised to facilitate the
delivery of arms shipments to the guerrilla group. In addition, there
are several email messages that allude to what appear to be offers of
financial support to the FARC, including allocating to the guerrillas
an oil ration which they could sell for profit.”

José Miguel Vivanco, HRW’s Americas director, added: “The emails
raise serious questions about Venezuela ’s relationship with the
Colombian guerrillas that deserve serious answers.”

Chavez’s answer that the emails and documents were fakes and that
Interpol’s secretary general, US citizen Ronald Noble, was “a
tremendous actor”, was dismissed without investigation by the same
Western media that brought us the Zinoviev letter
and Iraqi WMD. 

And so for nine long months after the Colombian military obliterated
the Farc camp, leaving only one survivor: that amazing bombproof
laptop, the official version stood largely unchallenged. Chavez was
damned as a sponsor of terrorism, his reputation sullied, his honesty
called into question.

Then, in early December, the official version, already widely
disbelieved across Latin America, began to crumble. The Colombian
government-appointed investigator, Captain Ronald Coy, stated under oath that he had found only word documents in the laptop, and not a single email: 

QUESTION: “Please state to this office if you have found in
the electronic elements seized from Raul Reyes, files corresponding to
email messages sent to or received by him.”

COY’S ANSWER: “Proper emails have not been found so far. A large amount
of e-mail addresses have been found, but Reyes kept the information
stored in word and other Microsoft software.”

So no actual emails. And consequently, no proof that any of the
alleged authors of these word documents sent or received anything.

So how did the Guardian’s
Caracas correspondent end up reporting on something which according to
the official investigator had not yet been found? What is the
explanation for Rory Carroll’s ‘WMD moment’? We don’t know. We will
probably never know. The Guardian, which rushed to report the
existence of the emails, has, in common with the rest of the British
and US media, chosen not to report their non-existence.