BOGOTA — A mysterious "Belisario'' offered to sell Colombian rebels uranium that could be used for a dirty bomb. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez feuded with Cuba. Chavez offered to move hostages held by the rebels to Venezuela — and hold them there.
That's just some of the content in 15 documents released Tuesday by Colombian police, who said they'd been found in the captured laptop of the rebel's No. 2 commander, Raul Reyes, who was killed Saturday when Colombian forces attacked his camp inside Ecuador.
Overall, the documents describe the Venezuelan and Ecuadorean governments as far more deeply enmeshed with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, than previously had been realized.
There was no independent verification of the documents, but Colombia has said it would allow experts from the Organization of American States to examine the computers involved.
The most stunning information in the documents involves uranium, which can be used by terrorists for so-called "dirty bombs'' in which conventional explosives disperse radioactive materials that people then inhale.
"Another of the themes is the one on uranium,'' says a Feb. 16 note from someone identified only as Edgar Tovar to Raul — most likely Reyes.
"There's a man who supplies me with material for the explosive we prepare, and his name is Belisario and he lives in Bogota," the note says. "He sent me the samples and the specifications and they are proposing to sell each kilo for two and a half million dollars, and that they supply and we look for someone to sell to, and that the deal should be with a government that can buy a huge amount. They have 50 kilos ready and can sell much more.''
Colombian Vice President Francisco Santos said in a statement Tuesday that the letter proves the FARC was "negotiating to get radioactive material, the principal base for making dirty weapons of destruction and terrorism.''
"This shows that these terrorist groups ... constitute a grave threat not just to our country but to the entire Andean region and Latin America,'' he added.
Some experts were skeptical, however.
"In a lot of cases involving uranium deals, somebody's usually getting snookered,'' said James Lewis, a former State Department expert on arms smuggling now with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
The $2.5 million per kilo price "sounds about right,'' he said, but "the quantity sounds really suspicious'' because accumulating 50 kilos would be very difficult under the very watchful eye of U.S. and other intelligence agencies.
In another of the more intriguing documents, an email to the FARC's ruling secrtariat dated Jan. 14, Reyes reports that Chavez has proposed moving to special "humanitarian camps'' in Venezuela the 47 high-profile hostages then held by the FARC and the 500 FARC fighters jailed in Colombia that the FARC wants free, while awaiting a negotiated exchange.
Reyes offers no comment on the Chavez proposal, which essentially would have meant holding the Colombians against their will on Venezuelan territory.
The document adds that three U.S. defense contractors held by the FARC since their plane crashed in southern Colombia "would only be there'' if two FARC leaders in U.S. prisons were part of the deal. It's not clear whether that caveat was included by Chavez or the FARC.
The same email expresses both satisfaction and frustration with the FARC's January handover to Chavez of two Colombian hostages, both women politicians.
The release "was covered by the world. We did not feel disappointed, despite our own instances of ingenuity and incapacity and those of Chavez,'' Reyes wrote. "Now our struggle is with those [hostages] that we have remaining ... we know we have a treasure.''
Several of the documents make indirect reference to the $300 million allegedly paid or promised by Chavez to the FARC, whose full name is the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.
One email from Reyes says a person code-named ANGEL — from the context of that and other emails it appears ANGEL is Chavez himself — "already has ready the first 50 and has a timeframe for topping us up to 200 during the year.''
Two of the emails list the ways in which the FARC would receive the money:
"He offered us the possibility of a business in which we receive a quota of petroleum to be sold abroad, which would leave us a juicy profit.
"Another offer: the sale of gasoline in Colombia or Venezuela ... the creation of a profitable enterprise for investments in Venezuela [or for the] possibility of assigning state contracts.''
Another document indicates Chavez met personally with FARC leaders sometime after losing a Dec. 2 referendum on constitutional reforms. "He told us,'' the document said, "that he won the referendum by 5,000 votes, but that had he insisted on such a precarious triumph, a violent situation would have exploded.''
Later in the document, Reyes writes that "he confirmed to us that on these [hostage negotiating] contacts with us he has maintained the Cubans 'compartmentalized.' And those guys are complaining.'' Another email dated Oct. 8 says Havana is "feeling marginalized.''
Other interesting excerpts from the documents:
- In a July 13 email, Reyes writes that "on Tuesday of next week I have to hand over 700 kilos of crystal, but on Saturday or Sunday I have to receive the money in Quito, one and a half million dollars.'' The crystal is cocaine, police said.