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 Bogotá daily El Tiempo by an anonymous Colombian intelligence source Monday, March 3, just two days after the raid on the encampment.
Credible doubts about the provenance of the photos are potentially explosive, suggesting 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 foreign-intelligence penetration.
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.
Surveillance photo of the Continental Bolivarian Coordinating Committee (CCB) in Quito a week before the bombing of the FARC camp. (Photo from ElTiempo.com)
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?”
Photo from inside the CCB conference. The three bearded men from left to right: Walter Wendelin, Askapena representative; Iñaki Gil, Batasuna's representative to Latin America; and Carlos Casanueva, member of the Partido Comunista de Chile's Central Committee and a CCB leader. (Photo from ElTiempo.com)
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 unidentified people.
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 why they were removed from El Tiempo’s Web site. El Tiempo Justice editor Jhon Torres then told me the photos 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 the laptops.
Two unidentified men leaving the CCB conference. El Tiempo published at least one other photo of the man on the right. (Photo from ElTiempo.com)
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.