- The Washington Times - Monday, March 21, 2005

BUENOS AIRES - The political party of Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was offered $5 million in 2002 by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a popular Brazilian newsmagazine reports.

The report in the weekly Veja, which government officials denied, came weeks after a top FARC commander was implicated in the kidnapping and slaying of the daughter of former Paraguayan President Raul Cubas.

Analysts say the cases highlight the Marxist guerrilla group’s effort to extend its influence throughout Latin America, and to export kidnapping and other criminal skills to finance an upsurge in activity as Colombia’s national elections near.

The article, which purportedly relied on secret documents from Brazil’s national intelligence agency, said FARC’s Brazil-based ambassador, the Rev. Oliverio Medina, made the offer on April 13, 2002, during a meeting of about 30 leftist militants and FARC supporters at a small farm 25 miles from Brasilia. The meeting reputedly was witnessed by a secret agent who had infiltrated the meeting.

As news spread to Argentina and neighboring countries, Workers’ Party President Jose Genoino said the Veja article, which cited a lack of evidence to prove that money changed hands, was unsubstantiated and irresponsible.

On Thursday, Mauro Marcelo de Lima e Silva, the intelligence agency’s director general, told a Brazilian Senate hearing the reputed links between Mr. Lula da Silva and FARC were rumors, Reuters reported.

Others were not convinced.

“This shows that FARC is working throughout Latin America to revive the socialist ideal,” said Luis Villamarin, a retired colonel of the Colombian army who fought FARC forces for 25 years.

More than exporting criminal skills to neighboring countries, Col. Villamarin said, FARC is attempting to “internationalize their efforts by sponsoring socialist revolution throughout the Southern Cone.”

FARC, whose three-decade-old battle with Colombia’s government is said to claim about 3,500 lives per year, has emerged from a tactical retreat, analysts say. Its domestic goal is to foment public fear that will help unseat Colombian President Alvaro Uribe in elections next year.

“For a couple of years, they have been in a period of retreat with the idea being to avoid pitched battles and open conflict, moving their leadership deep into the jungle,” said Adam Isacson, senior associate of the Center for International Policy in Washington and co-author of a book on Colombia.

“That is changing this year, as they have started picking off columns and bases in isolated areas. Apparently they are moving out of this retreat as the elections near,” he added.

Analysts say FARC is working to export its fine-tuned criminal skills in drug trafficking and kidnapping in the region.

Money, for example, is likely behind the reputed involvement by a FARC commando in the kidnapping and slaying of Cecilia Cubas, 32, in Paraguay, Mr. Isacson said.

“They probably have seen some of their drug income hit under Uribe and are looking for other sources of revenue,” he said. “If FARC was involved in the kidnapping, then it is something new, something we’ve never seen.”

The body of Miss Cubas was found last month in a shallow grave near Asuncion. Investigators discovered e-mails exchanged between the kidnappers and a FARC commander.

The Colombian guerrilla group denies involvement in the kidnapping. But the case prompted Colombia and Paraguay to announce this month a joint effort to battle narcotics trafficking and address Paraguay’s contention that FARC had infiltrated its borders.

U.S. officials and observers also contend that FARC is expanding its support of regional movements like the “cocaleros” (small-scale coca farmers) of Bolivia and remnants of the Shining Path in Peru, while cultivating drug trafficking links in and beyond the triple border region of northern Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil.

“The Paraguay case should not have come as a big surprise,” said Tom Marks, a political risk consultant. He said U.S. officials have had evidence as early as 2001 of the FARC aiding illegal activity throughout the region.

Mr. Marks said the group has taken a beating from Colombian military forces and turned more toward terrorism and guerrilla warfare.

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