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Venezuela-Colombia ties remain strong despite Chávez's reported links to FARC

Newly published findings that Venezuela financed the FARC rebel group in Colombia seem unlikely to harm growing economic and diplomatic links between the two countries.

By Jasmina KelemenCorrespondent / May 11, 2011

Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez gestures upon his arrival at Bolivar avenue to attend the May Day rally in Caracas, Venezuela, on May 1.

Fernando Llano/AP

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Caracas, Venezuela

Hugo Chávez for years has offered the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) financial support and sanctuary inside Venezuela, motivated by the belief that Colombia, and its ally the United States, would be less of a threat if it were mired in a rebel conflict.

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That's a key finding from a 240-page report from the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), a London-based think tank, published just as the neighbors have taken substantial steps toward reconciliation, underscoring how decades of enmity lurk beneath recent moves to restore goodwill.

But most observers say even the report's most explosive assertions – including that Venezuela’s secret police wanted to use some of the rebel group's techniques against government opponents – are unlikely to stem the positive diplomatic tide.

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“Neither Chávez nor [Colombian President Juan Manual] Santos has any interest in derailing the rapprochement between Venezuela and Colombia,” says Michael Shifter of the Inter-American Dialogue. “Both presidents are intent on continuing to reduce bilateral tensions.”

The report, “The FARC Files: Venezuela, Ecuador and the Secret Archive of Raúl Reyes,” is based on documents found in the computer files of a senior FARC commander who was killed in a 2008 raid. If accurate, the report confirms longstanding allegations that Mr. Chávez collaborated with Colombia's largest rebel group.

Responding to its publication Tuesday, Venezuela insisted the information was based on documents doctored by Colombian authorities. Interpol examined the files in 2008 and said the Colombian authorities did not follow “internationally recognized principles” in handling electronic evidence but added there was nothing to suggest the archives had been doctored.

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