The other side (with an important update)

Say what you will, but this defense of the Venezuelan government in the face of the damning files contained in the FARC’s laptops is the most serious attempt to defuse the burgeoning scandal.

Now, before you all get your panties in a tizzy, please note: I’m not taking sides. I’m not even validating chavismo’s arguments. I’m simply saying it’s the only semi-coherent response I’ve seen from the other side.

Not surprisingly, it comes not from Venezuelan government officials, but from its intelectual defenders who long ago assumed the front lines of this debate.

Chavismo is such an intelectual desert, it even has to get foreigners to feed the world its own spin.

Update: A previous version of this post suggested, hinted, or somehow left implicit that Mrs. Grandin and Tinker-Salas were chavista “mercenaries” or were somehow being paid for their tireless defense of the indefensible. As a reader who has been reading us since 2002 rightfully explained to me, that was a careless choice of words, and was wrong. I fully apologize for this.

I have no evidence whatsoever that Mrs. Grandin and Tinker-Salas are paid for their opinions, just like Mrs. Grandin and Tinker-Salas have no evidence whatsoever that Freddy Bernal is innocent of the claims made in the FARC files. But since I have standards, I take back my unfounded claim.

And finally, anyone who has been reading us for that long has earned the right to pull our ears whenever we cross the line.

22 thoughts on “The other side (with an important update)


    Greg Grandin and Miguel Tinker Salas view that the files recently published by IISS detailing Venezuela’s links with FARC are utter fabrications would certainly be news to Francisco Gutierrez. Back in 1997, the now 81 year old Costa Rican school principal had agreed to keep a safe deposit box in his house in San José on behalf of FARC leaders, assured that it contained a number of old documents. Gutierrez had the shock of his life eleven years later when, just weeks after the raid that killed Raúl Reyes in March 2008, Costa Rican police came storming into his house looking for the safe. Inside, instead of a load of boring old papers, they found $480,000 in cash – exactly the amount Colombian police had told them they would find, going on intelligence recovered from Reyes’s laptops earlier that month.

    The Costa Rican raid remains the most striking -but far from the only- bit of corroborating evidence that has now been put forward on the authenticity of the Reyes laptops. But it’s far from the only one. Intelligence gathered from the laptops also led to directly, weeks later, to the seizure of a large cash of depleted uranium munitions, a cache described precisely in Reyes’s emails. The timing of these raids, as well as the direct links between the information found in Reyes’s files, provide some of the clearest evidence yet that, whatever else they were, the FARC Files cannot simply be dismissed as an outright fabrication.

    Grandin and Tinker Salas’s refusal to even cite these raids – well documented though they are – even for the length of time it would take to posit a conspiracy theory to explain them away begins to give you a sense for the professionalism and independence of their critique of IISS’s report.

    But why stop there? Now that IISS has published CDs containing hundreds of pages of alleged Reyes Laptop files, the record is brimming with falsifiable claims. Surely, in the 832,000+ words of FARC Files published, even the most careful propagandist would have made one or two mistakes. If the FARC Files are fake, then surely the evidence to prove it lies somewhere in the FARC Files themselves.

    A researcher genuinely committed to sussing out the truth of the matter has his work cut out for him: jump into the data and start submitting it to critical scrutiny. Perhaps one of the many Venezuelan public figures descibed as being in Colombia for jungle rendez-vous with FARC leaders has a clear alibi – a video or some such proving that a specific claim made in the files is unambiguously wrong. Perhaps some event one or another of the thousands of falsifiable claims made in this massive document trove turns out to be demonstrably false. Perhaps the evidence doesn’t add up.

    Perhaps, but one thing’s for sure: if any such contradiction exists, you won’t learn about it from reading Grandin and Tinker Salas. Their conclusion is immediate, instant, direct and – the real givaway – utterly unhinged from any sort of examination of what the files themselves say!

    It’s on this point that Grandin and Tinker Salas’s rank propagandism shines through most clearly. Their certainty that the IISS study is a propaganda hit against Chávez rests -in characteristic chavista fashion- entirely on ad hominem attacks on the people who wrote IISS’s report. They could have written – and, one suspects, did write – their piece before they’d even leafed through IISS’s report, because its actual contents are immaterial to them. For Grandin and Tinker Salas, the report is fake not because anything it says is false, but because the people who wrote it are evil.

    In Venezuela, we recognize this kind of warped cognitive process right away: the a priori determination of truth and falsehood on the basis of who speaks rather than what is spoken has been a cornerstone of chavista authoritarianism from the outset. The utter ethical bankruptcy of the approach isn’t really news to us anymore, nor is the appalling hackistry of those who peddle it. It does remain mildly depressing, after all these years, to realize that slivers of opinion in the first world can still be brought around by this kind of artless obfuscation, but that too is more or less an occupational hazard for the Venezuelan political junkie.

    In the end, the desperate obfuscations of a Grandin, a Tinker Salas or even a Chávez are purely theater. They know, as well as we do, that the FARC Files are genuine. They’ve made a conscious choice to obfuscate this fact. In branding as “Black Propagandists” those who have spent years on a painstaking evaluation of the evidence contained in these files, despite having barely skimmed the evidence themselves, Grandin and Tinker Salas are engaged in an uncommonly brazen form of Orwellian inversion.


    • great stuff, FT. If I may, I would suggest that you find alternatives for obfuscation. You’ve used that very visible, fat word 3 times in your last 2 paragraphs. And here’s another tip, which I have belatedly learned. Try not lumping so many adjectives together. For they confuse the reader. Better to break them up by using prepositions. So, instead of “Greg Grandin and Miguel Tinker Salas view that the files recently published…” try this:
      “The view from Greg Grandin and Miguel Tinker Salas, that the files recently published…”


    • “The Costa Rican raid remains the most striking -but far from the only- bit of corroborating evidence that has now been put forward on the authenticity of the Reyes laptops. But it’s far from the only one.

      There should be only one “far from the only one”.

      Also, what exactly is their claim, anyway? That all the files are fakes? (Aren’t there like 800gb worth of files?) That some of them are fake? That some were modified to make Chavez look bad, but all the other stuff is real? Those are extremely different claims.

      And why does everyone forget all the videos and pictures found among the files? Faking a document might be simple, but faking a video is extremely hard, and even if the videos themselves don’t contain anything that incriminates Chávez, they prove that the apologists’ main claim (that everything is fake and there were no documents recovered from Reyes’ camp), is utterly preposterous.

      And don’t forget that video that appeared afterwards (when Tirofijo died?), where one of the big ones from the FARC (Mono Jojoy? I don’t remember) reads a letter from Tirofijo admitting that after the Reyes raid the Colombian army “knows all their secrets”.


  2. As defenses go, it’s really weak. Interpol also found no evidence that the files had been tampered with. And Fraser’s comment was so weak – and later recanted – that their use of it shows they’re scraping for arguments.

    In Colombia, scandals, secrets and cover-ups often get exposed. Creating and planting huge falsified computer files would have required coordinated, long-term efforts by lots of people and tremendous sophistication to trick Interpol, the IISS and US government. The same Colombian government officials who’ve gotten themselves into trouble and into prison for so many other misdoings would never have been able to keep this one secret.



    • Well, Mike, that’s the thing: the Interpol report (which I leafed through for the first time yesterday) actually says two things:

      a) That between March 3 (when the Colombian military handed the files over to the Colombian police) and March 11 (when the Colombian police handed it over to Interpol), the files had been handled according to international standards for handling evidence (I’m paraphrasing).

      b) The between March 1 (when the files were seized by the military) and March 3 (when the military handed over the files), proper procedure was not followed.

      That part, b), is the straw that these guys are grasping. It’s a weak straw, but a straw nonetheless. That’s where their theory is based on, that in that two-day space, the Colombian military – under direct orders from George W. Bush, I suppose – planted or manipulated the evidence, and therefore all of it is suspect.


  3. FT – A good response, but could it be counter-productive? Looking at the comments page it seems very few people have actually bought in to the wedge of crap that Grandin and Salas have made. A crap case makes itself no?


  4. The Grandin/Salas article truncates what Interpol said in order to make one of their points.

    “Interpol noted that there was a one-week period between the computer documents’ capture by Colombia, and when they were handed over to Interpol, during which time the Colombian authorities actually modified 9,440 files, and deleted 2,905, according to Interpol’s detailed forensic report. This “may complicate validating this evidence for purposes of its introduction in a judicial proceeding”, Interpol noted at the time.”

    Missing is the rest of the quote:”because law enforcement is then required to demonstrate or prove that the direct access did not have a material impact on the purpose for which the evidence is intended.”

    So the correct thing to say is that there’s a bump in the road to using the info in court, not that you can’t use it.


    • Their quote is doubly misleading, when they say that “the Colombian authorities actually modified 9,440 files, and deleted 2,905”.

      The Interpol report explains in quite some detail the difference between “user files” ( e-mails, word documents, etc. ) and “system files” created and manipulated in the background when you start up the computer, open up documents, etc. Only these system files have been modified and / or deleted, because Colombian police started the laptops and opened some of the documents. Interpol makes a point of clarifying that no user files have been modified or deleted by Colombian police:

      “Finding 3: INTERPOL found no evidence that user files were created, modified or deleted on any of the eight seized FARC computer exhibits following their seizure on 1 March 2008 by Colombian authorities.”

      Grandin and Tinker Salas deliberately omit this crucial distinction and cherry pick their quotes from the Interpol report.


        • A couple of commenters already pointed that out, plus I can’t really get arsed to sign up.

          Also, I really need to get back to work. ;)


          • Alek,

            You still don’t understand the principle of The Guardian. That newspaper gives room to different writers with quite different perspectives, as long as the people writing there keep up to some basic norms (like no name calling), very much or even more so than NYT or The Washington Post.

            Those guys’ article is not “The Guardian’s position”.

            It is the same with former The Guardian employee and former KGB informant Gott, a guy who had to resign from The Guardian ages ago and who still writes in Comments for Free – precisely because he knows The Guardian offers that venue. He is no longer from The Guardian, unlike Rory Carrol.

            The first two guys wrote in The Guardian in the same way as Francisco Toro did some time ago. It was Toro’s position, not The Guardian.

            It is good that a newspaper can portray different views, no matter how much we reject some or all of them.

            Your position is rather counterproductive, it gives the impression to a lot of people that you are afraid of letting some speak and/or that you despise the principle of pluralism.


      • Just what everyone supposed. But nevertheless worth remembering.

        Of course, If I were the Colombian authorities I would have never switched on the laptops or the external drives. Not in the usual ways. Not only on account of any doubt.

        There might be valuable information in system files. You might want to know the history of activities of the perp (Reyes) on his computer. Or if his computer was connected to other devices, and what these were.


  5. Juan, I am going to disagree with your “…the most serious attempt to defuse the burgeoning scandal.”

    Grandin and Tinker Salas’ ‘defence’ does not deviate one comma from the official line. And we must be remind ourselves, that both Grandin and Tinker Salas were dismissed by HRW, together with Greg Wilpert and other imbeciles, as nothing but “critics who opt instead to disseminate baseless allegations“. Propagandistas pues. What does surprise me though, is that these two are the first apologists of Chavez that seem to have read the INTERPOL report in its entirety. While other idiots say that Colombia’s Supreme Court ‘ruled’ that the evidence found in the archives is inadmissible in a court of law, an argument completely false, these two cite from INTERPOL’s, which says it “may complicate validating this evidence for purposes of its introduction in a judicial proceeding.” In the presence of readily verifiable information in the public domain, it is hard to imagine any court dismissing said information, especially when INTERPOL concluded that there was no tampering with any data, something you won’t hear from PSFs towing Chavez’s line.

    What these two think, say, or publish, is beyond relevant. Not surprisingly, only The Guardian seems courageous, or stupid, enough to give tribune to such people. Expect another “independent and shrewd defence” from Mark Weisbrot anytime now.

    FT brings some very valid arguments in his reply. I have been able to corroborate, at a very minor and simple scale, that what the archive contains is true information regarding Chavez granting Venezuelan nationality to FARC’s Rodrigo Granda.

    So Juan, a serious attempt it ain’t, more BS from the usual suspects…


    • Well, I guess I found it semi-serious in the sense that it benefits from comparison. Because, let’s face it, the government’s predictable knee-jerk, shoot-the-messenger response is too boring to even discuss. This one, at least, has some meat in it for us.


  6. “A photo depicting a high-level Ecuadorian official meeting with the Farc was revealed to be a fake.

    Yeah, Grandin and Tinker Salas completely mangled that, their very own link refutes them. The photo is genuine, it just didn’t show Gustavo Larrea, as claimed by El Tiempo, but the SG of the Argentine Communist Party, Patricio Etchegaray.

    So it’s a genuine photo, El Tiempo misinterpreted it and jumped the gun ( and IIRC, they promptly apologized once their mistake was pointed out to them ). That’s very different from claiming that the photo is a fake.


  7. Great post… What irks me the most about the Grandin and Tinker is the reference to Philip Agee. Of all people!


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