- The Washington Times - Friday, March 25, 2005

Marxist guerrillas in Colombia have established cells in Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama in what U.S. intelligence and law-enforcement authorities say is an effort by the rebel organization to expand its arms- and drug-trafficking operations.

Honduran Security Minister Oscar Alvarez confirmed the presence of members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, in the three Central American countries last week, saying the organization was seeking to “infiltrate Central America to buy more weapons and destabilize the rule of law ….”

Mr. Alvarez told reporters in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, that arms traffickers in that country were trading automatic weapons, mostly AK-47 assault rifles, to the FARC in exchange for drugs, which were being sold to buyers in the United States. The weapons were identified as coming from Nicaragua, left over from that country’s civil war in the 1980s.

Three Hondurans have been identified in the scheme, including one man who managed the operation from his Honduran prison cell, although Honduran authorities and U.S. officials have said that many more are involved.

U.S. intelligence and law-enforcement authorities yesterday said the FARC — considered Latin America’s oldest, largest, most capable and best-equipped insurgency — has continued its high-profile terrorist attacks in Colombia and expanded its arms- and drug-trafficking operations into Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama.

The authorities said the FARC engaged in a concerted campaign to destabilize municipal governments in Colombia by killing local officials and threatening to execute others, and that it had kidnapped hundreds of civilians to help finance subversion and put political pressure on the Colombian government — tactics that now have been exported to Central America.

They added, however, that the Colombian government’s recent successes in combating the FARC — aided by the United States — may also have forced the organization to seek refuge elsewhere.

Earlier this month, a high-ranking FARC leader, Nayibe Rojas Valderrama, also known as “Comandante Sonia,” was extradited to the United States to face prosecution on drug charges. Rojas Valderrama’s capture last year by Colombian special-forces commandos was viewed as a major step in that government’s ongoing U.S.-led effort to attack the FARC.

The FARC, with as many as 12,000 armed combatants, has been named in connection with numerous bombings, murders, mortar attacks, narcotrafficking, kidnappings, extortion and hijackings, as well as guerrilla and conventional military actions against Colombian political, military and economic targets.

Earlier this month, Gen. Bantz J. Craddock, commander of the U.S. Southern Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that many nations in Latin America and specifically the Andean Ridge were threatened by regional terrorist organizations supported and funded by illegal drug trafficking and other criminal ventures, including the FARC.

Gen. Craddock said 90 percent of the cocaine and 47 percent of the heroin that reaches the United States annually originates in or passes through Colombia.

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