Colombia’s FARC and the Basque ETA: Exploring the Tactical and Economic Partnership

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 2

A recent Spanish-Colombian counterterrorism investigation has confirmed the previously widespread belief that the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC) and the Basque Homeland and Freedom group (Euskadi Ta Askatasuna – ETA) have enjoyed mutually beneficial logistical and tactical connections. According to the results of the investigation, ETA has been training FARC members in explosives and weapons since 2003, as well as providing logistical support to the Colombian guerrillas in the execution of several terrorist attacks. In exchange, FARC compensated the Basque terrorists for their training and assistance, using financial revenues obtained through drug trafficking. In this sense, the two organizations have engaged in an economic and tactical partnership, enabled by their ideological affinities but dictated by pragmatic reasoning. 
News reports describing substantial ties between the ETA and FARC pre-date the current 2008 investigations by many years. In April 2002, the International Relations Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives issued a report using Colombian sources that established a link between FARC, the Irish Republican Army (IRA), and the ETA (EFE [Spain], April 24, 2002). At the time of its release, the report was backed by Colombian government sources that claimed FARC members had received training in explosives and urban guerrilla tactics from both IRA and ETA militants (AFP–Spanish, April 25, 2002). The Spanish government, by contrast, denied the validity of the report and the then-Minister of the Interior, Mariano Rajoy, gave assurances that he did not possess any information that could substantiate allegations of an ongoing FARC-ETA partnership (Deutsche Presse-Agentur, April 25, 2002).
Training Camps in the Jungle
In the following years the FARC-ETA nexus was further exposed, revealing both ETA’s involvement in training Colombian militants, as well as the Basque’s organization logistical support in several FARC attacks. For instance, Colombian police forces foiled a plot against former President Alvaro Uribe Velez, which was supposed to take place on his inauguration day, August 2, 2002. On this occasion, the police were able to identify the FARC cell responsible for the plan and declared that the militants behind the failed assassination plot had been trained by ETA (Spanish Newswire Services, August 31, 2002).
In February 2003, then-Colombian Minister of Defense Marta Lucia Ramirez stated that ETA had supported FARC and provided the organization with military training in explosives and logistical support. This aid helped the organization perpetrate a car-bomb attack in the Bogotá night club El Nogal, which killed 25 people and wounded 160 (El Mundo [Madrid] February 12, 2003). Following Minister Ramirez’s declarations, Ana Palacio, the Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs at the time, confirmed that the Spanish secret services had found evidence that corroborated the Colombian investigations, proving that the El Nogal attack of February 7, 2003, had been carried out in collaboration with ETA (El Mundo, February 20, 2003).
Even more substantial connections between the two organizations have emerged in the course of the past year. First, in January 2008, the Colombian newspaper El Tiempo published an exclusive interview with a former FARC militant, “Camacho,” who stated that seven ETA members had trained a FARC cell in the Colombian region of Tolima, teaching them how to fabricate and deploy explosive devices. Another former militant interviewed by El Tiempo validated the information, adding that the ETA-trained cell had fabricated over 10 tons of bombs in the past year (Deutsche Presse-Agentur-Spanish, January 18, 2008). These allegations were further confirmed by another former FARC member interviewed by Caracol, a Colombian Radio Station. In the interview, the former guerrilla fighter – speaking on condition of anonymity – stated that ETA had trained FARC cells in explosives and urban guerrilla tactics, adding that some of the training sessions had taken place in Venezuela, near the Colombian border. The former gunman also said that the two organizations maintained a business relationship, as FARC compensated ETA for the training sessions (UPI Reporte, June 12, 2008). Moreover, he added that both groups were engaged in drug trafficking, and that FARC would at times compensate ETA for its training with drugs that the Basque group would then resell in Spain (UPI Reporte, June 12, 2008).
A Computer Full of Secrets
Following these early revelations, the next breakthrough in uncovering the bonds between the FARC and ETA occurred in March 2008, after the Colombian Armed Forces killed Raul Reyes in the course of a military operation. Reyes was known to be the spokesperson and advisor to the Southern Bloc of FARC, as well as a member of the organization’s Secretariat. Reyes was regarded as FARC’s “number two.” Following the killing of the FARC leader, the operation led to the retrieval of Reyes’ computer, which provided Colombian security and intelligence forces with information that documented in detail the existing FARC-ETA connections (ABC, March 8, 2008).
Reyes’ computer revealed that in 2003, ETA and FARC were plotting terrorist attacks in Madrid against Colombian citizens resident in Spain (EFE, May 29, 2008). Among the possible targets were former Colombian President Andrea Pastrana, former presidential candidate Noemi Sanin, former senator Bernardo Gutierrez, and Colombian vice president Francisco Santos. The latter’s assassination was supposed to take place during his official visit to the Spanish capital (EFE, May 29, 2008; El Pais [Madrid], May 31, 2008). Colombian Attorney General Mario Iguarán declared that the information in Reyes’s computer (more specifically, the contents of 115 personal emails of the deceased FARC leader) confirmed the existence of a formal agreement between ETA and FARC (UPI Reporte, July 25, 2008).
These findings led the High Court of Spain to initiate an investigation into the alleged FARC-ETA connections. For that purpose, the High Court sent an investigative committee to Colombia, tasked with collecting additional information and new evidence on the issue (ANSA, June 2, 2008; El Mundo, July 16, 2008). Furthermore, in July 2008 Colombian Attorney General Mario Iguarán and his Spanish counterpart, Javier Zaragoza, signed an agreement to jointly investigate ongoing ties between the two terrorist groups (AFP, July 25, 2008). Soon after, Spain began to crackdown on Spanish-based FARC supporters accused of maintaining ties with ETA. In July 2008, the European representative of FARC, Remedios García Albert, was arrested for her alleged support to the Colombian terrorists (El Pais, July 27, 2008). Ms. García Albert was arrested and interrogated – along with several other alleged FARC-ETA supporters – by Judge Baltasar Garzón, who sits on the National Court (ABC, July 28, 2008). Commenting on the results of the investigation, the Colombian director of the Judicial Police, César Pinzón, affirmed that at least four other people besides Ms. García Albert were indicted for their connections with both ETA and FARC (ABC, July 29, 2008).
The Spanish High Court Investigation
The latest developments in the FARC-ETA investigation came in November 2008, when ETA documents found in France confirmed the existence of strong ties between the two groups. According to these new findings, ETA members had been training FARC guerilla fighters since at least 2003. The files in fact showed that ETA militants had spent seven days in a FARC camp in 2003 training Colombian militants in explosive devices activated by cell phone and anti-aerial equipment (EFE, November 13, 2008). These documents were particularly significant because it was the first time the ETA-FARC connection was supported by ETA files (all of the previous documentation had come from the FARC database only). The retrieved documents also led the Office of the Prosecutor of the High Court to investigate the role of five Spanish citizens and ETA supporters (who in the meantime had escaped to Cuba and Venezuela) in providing instruction to FARC members in weapons and explosives (El Mundo, November 14, 2008). Judge Eloy Velasco, who sits on the High Court, followed up on these findings and opened an investigation on the five Spanish fugitives in December 2008 (El Mundo, December 1, 2008). Furthermore, the ETA files found in France confirmed that FARC had sought ETA’s help to assassinate Colombia’s former President, Andres Pastrana (El Mundo, November 15, 2008). 
The results of the ongoing investigation into FARC-ETA relations clearly demonstrate that the two groups have maintained substantial contacts and have developed tactical and logistical cooperation. At the same time, it seems that these terrorist organizations were also maintaining business relations. In this sense, the above-mentioned findings suggest that the ties between the two terrorist organizations go well beyond sporadic contacts and rise to the level of tactical partnership. The real depth and significance of such a partnership will be further uncovered as the investigation continues. Currently, due to the ongoing law-enforcement and judicial efforts, both organizations have been dealt a substantial blow and their mutual relations have been damaged, perhaps irreparably.