Weeks after the dust settled from the Colombian bombs dropped on a clandestine rebel camp in Ecuador, the information found on three laptop computers found in the rubble continues to reverberate in the Andes.
On Wednesday, Colombian military officials said that they recovered 66 pounds of uranium that, they say, was acquired by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Colombian Gen. Freddy Padilla tied the uranium to the seized laptops, saying one of the computer files mentions attempts by the FARC to buy uranium, apparently to resell. Earlier this month, Colombian officials claimed the rebels were seeking uranium to make a "dirty bomb."
Venezuela has since restored full diplomatic relations with Colombia, and Ecuador says it intends to. But there's uneasiness in the capitals of Caracas and Quito about what else may be revealed by the FARC laptops – and how Colombian President Alvaro Uribe intends to use it, analysts say.
The laptops reportedly detail meetings between FARC leaders and members of Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa's government – and a possible $20,000 rebel contribution to Mr. Correa's campaign. Another document, say Colombian officials, indicates Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez planned to make his own contribution to the FARC of $300 million and several hundred used rifles. Based on that information, Mr. Uribe threatened to have Mr. Chávez prosecuted in international courts for sponsoring "genocide."
After sending troops to the Colombian border, suddenly a week later Chávez called for reconciliation and Correa accepted Colombia's apology for violating its territory.
Laura Gil, an international relations consultant in Bogotá, says it was the computer files rather than their "vocation for peace," that led Chávez and Correa to stand down from the conflict.
"Chávez and Uribe checkmated each other," agrees Mr. Shifter explaining the lightning fast reestablishing of ties. Ecuador has been slower to send its ambassador back to Bogotá, wary that Colombia may still plan to use the information to its advantage.
Both Chávez and Correa are now warning that tensions in the Andes will not fully ease unless Colombia agrees to keep quiet about what's on the computers.
"As long as they keep using the supposed computers to attack us, the conflict is going to continue to flare," Chávez told reporters in Caracas Tuesday. In an attempt to discredit what else may be released from the computers in the future, Chávez suggested he may be falsely linked to the leaders of Al Qaeda and the FARC. "Don't be alarmed if from that computer they pull a photo of me with [Osama] bin Laden and Manuel Marulanda," he jibed.
For his part, Correa asked: "How can we renew relations if they keep trying to link us to the FARC to justify their aggression?"
Only a fraction of what is on the computers – believed to contain thousands of files – has been released to the public. Colombian authorities say they also used information from the computers to tip off the Costa Rican police to a stash of $480,000 belonging to the FARC that a local couple was keeping in their San Jose home. The cash was confiscated, but Costa Rican authorities did not charge the couple with any crime.
The computers and two hard disks are now in the hands of Interpol experts who are examining the files to verify that they had not been tampered with since their recovery from the camp.
A FARC statement published on Venezuela's Information Ministry's website ridicules Colombia's claims about the computer files, saying that the computers would not have survived the Colombian Army attack "even if they had been bullet-proof." But other items, such as a large-screen LCD television, are known to have survived the attack intact.
Since the easing of tensions with its neighbors, the Colombian government has ordered a halt to any further public airing of the files.
But the information that Uribe may hold up his sleeve gives him powerful leverage. "He'll use it when it suits his purpose," says Shifter.
The United States has shown interest in using the information as well. Several US lawmakers have called for the State Department to add Venezuela to its list of terror sponsors, which includes North Korea, Iran, Syria, Sudan, and Cuba.
That temptation, says Shifter, will be balanced, however, by skyrocketing oil prices. Venezuela is a major oil exporter, and any sanctions on it would drive the price higher.
Still, US ambassador to Colombia, William Brownfield, said US officials have had access to the files. "Whatever information is culled from those computers could then be used subsequently" in legal processes in the Untied States or elsewhere, he said in Washington Monday.