Cuba and its change in role: From encouraging the Colombian guerrillas to being an artificer of the peace talks. Why? What does it seek?
by Carlos Alberto Montaner
It should never be forgotten that the FARC are the armed wing of the local Communist Party and that the ties between this narcoterrorist organization and the regime of the Castro brothers go back to the 1960s and have never been interrupted, given that the island was always a stopover and shelter for all subversive groups. For example, two of the sons of Comandante Raúl Reyes, killed in an Ecuadorean camp by Colombian airplanes, studied in Cuba thanks to scholarships provided by the Revolution.
Writer Juan F. Benemelis, a diplomat and former outstanding member of the Cuban intelligence services, tells in The Secret Wars of Fidel Castro (2003) that Castro’s contribution to the formation of the FARC was “absolute.”
Benemelis relates — as published in the magazine Cuba-Encuentro in an article written and researched by Michel Suárez — that on March 17, 1965, Tiro Fijo’s men sacked the city hall in Inzá (Cauca), torched the public buildings and murdered several residents. “Two days later,” the publication notes, “the army arrested nine people who had been given training in Cuba.”
But there was more. According to Benemelis, the Cuban ambassador to Colombia, “Fernando Ravelo, managed an agreement between the M-19, the Medellín cartel and other guerrilla groups, intending that the factions would support one another.”
“From the early 1980s, it had become evident — through nautical charts, logbooks and the airplanes that crashed in Colombia — that Cuba facilitated the trafficking of drugs throughout the Caribbean. Around that time, Colombian officials commented that the planes that ferried drugs returned with armament for the FARC. By the fall of 1981, the evidence was undeniable,” Benemelis wrote.
Citing the Aug. 3, 1987, issue of the newspaper El Tiempo, Benemelis added that “several deserters from the FARC revealed that Cuban advisers operated in several guerrilla fronts.” Venezuelan historian Elizabeth Burgos, Regis Debray’s former wife, believes that drug trafficking business was transacted between Marulanda and the Castro brothers. “The ELN was a Cuban creation, but the FARC and the paramilitaries dominated the drug market. A drug economy existed in which Havana participated.”
The Castro brothers have been masterful in the strategy of playing simultaneously with two decks of cards. With one of them, the ELN — a total creation of Havana — in 1983 kidnapped Jaime Betancur Cuartas, a magistrate and brother of President Belisario Betancur and, with the other one, they arranged his release.
Exactly the same strategy was utilized with Juan Carlos Gaviria, brother of President César Gaviria, kidnapped in 1996 by Freddy Geofrey Llanos (aka Santiago el Gordo). The kidnapping was solved by Fidel Castro and the victim and seven kidnappers ended up in Cuba, a mediation for which César Gaviria thanked the Cuban dictator profusely, without realizing that he might have fallen into a peculiar trap.
Surely Venezuelan President Carlos Andrés Pérez was similarly tricked in 1989, when, shortly after beginning his second term, his brother-in-law, Norberto Rodríguez, was kidnapped, also in Colombia, and later freed through the intercession of Fidel Castro, in that Godfather role that the old Cuban Comandante so enjoys playing.
In the end, what do the Castros and the FARC seek by using the Cuban capital as the site of the peace talks? Clearly, they seek three objectives:
1. To polish the image of the Cuban regime, which in 2013 was found to be sending concealed shipments of weapons and warplanes to North Korea in a ship that was halted in Panama.
2. To keep the Colombian negotiators under the tireless surveillance — visual and aural — of the powerful Cuban intelligence, both on the island and Bogotá. This enabled the FARC to know exactly the positions held by Juan Manuel Santos and how far he would go. Colonel “Niebla” [Fog] was the man in charge of collecting and editing the thousands of hours of recordings by “the enemy.”
3. To change their strategy and prepare to seize power by other means, with the help of the experienced Cuban operators.
Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza, one of the great Colombian writers, explained this very well in an open letter to Mario Vargas Llosa published in El Tiempo:
“It is a triumph of the new strategy for struggle conceived by [the FARC’s] top leader, ‘Alfonso Cano,’ when he had to abandon forever the Castro myth of armed revolution after his troops were decimated under Uribe’s government.”