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spookwork, iran, FARC, meat






              Colombian Deal Halted 


                                        U.S. Pressured
                                        Bogota to Stop
                                        Iranian-Funded Meat
                                        Plant 

                                    

              By Sue Lackey
              Special to ABCNEWS.com
              Jan. 6 — Under direct pressure from
              U.S. congressional and military
              emissaries, the Colombian
              government appears to have backed
              off its initial support of an Iranian
              investment project in rebel-held
              territory. 
                                      The project
                                 called for a $5
                                 million Iranian
                                 investment in a
                                 meat-packing plant
                                 to be located in the
                                 Colombian village
                                 of San Vicente del
                                 Caguan —
                                 headquarters of the
                                 leftist
                                 Revolutionary
                                 Armed Forces of
                                 Colombia, known
                                 by its Spanish
                                 initials FARC,
                                 which has been
                                 battling the
                                 Colombian
              government. 
                   While Iranian officials maintain the
              project was simply an investment in the
              local economy, U.S. intelligence sources
              feared it would be used as a cover for a
              terrorist-training operation. 

              Senator: ‘We Have Warned
              Them’ 
              An agreement to support the project was
              signed by Iranian representatives and Victor
              Ricardo, Colombia’s high commissioner for
              peace, in October — just weeks after U.S.
              drug czar Barry McCaffery requested $1.5
              billion in emergency aid for the Colombian
              government. Much of the current U.S. aid to
              Colombia supports counter-narcotics
              training, and ever-increasing intelligence
              efforts directed at FARC-held territory
              surrounding San Vicente.
                   Fearing that Iranian involvement in the
              region might jeopardize the aid package,
              congressional emissaries met
              representatives of the Colombian
              government and pressured them to distance
              themselves from the project, according to
              U.S. intelligence and congressional sources.
                   Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert,
                                 R-Ill., today
                                 confirmed to
                                 ABCNEWS.com
                                 that Congress
                                 pressured
                                 Colombia to drop
                                 the deal.
                                      Sen. Paul
                                 Coverdell, former
                                 chairman of the
                                 Senate’s Narcotics
                                 and Terrorism
                                 subcommittee, also
                                 said the
                                 intelligence
                                 sources’
                                 information is
                                 “salient and true.”
                                      The Colombians
                                 “have been advised
              by congressional leaders in the Senate and
              House that if such an arrangement is
              accurate — and there have been denials —
              it would be very very bad for ongoing
              relations. There have been assurances from
              the Colombian government that it won’t
              happen,” said Coverdell, R-Ga.
                   “Those are unofficial at this point, but
              the contacts have been very rigorous and
              assuring,” he added. 
                   One of the authors of the Colombian aid
              package, Coverdell also expressed
              confidence that the $1.5 billion bill would
              pass.
                   A staff member at the House Select
              Intelligence Committee who asked not to be
              identified said the panel was looking into
              the matter. 

              Military Concerned, Too 
              U.S. intelligence sources said American
              military officers also were concerned about
              any activities that would affect U.S.
              counterinsurgency training operations in
              Colombia, and they conveyed their concerns
              to the Colombian government.
                   The village of San Vicente is located in
              Caqueta province, approximately 200 miles
              southwest of the capital, Bogota, and in the
              center of Colombia’s coca-producing
              region.
                   It serves as the makeshift capital of an
              area roughly the size of Switzerland, all but
              ceded to the rebels by President Andres
              Pastrana in an attempt to jump-start peace
              talks.
                   In theory, Colombian rule of law still
              applies to the area. In practice, it is
              dominated by FARC, and has been for some
              time. The Colombian army is forbidden by
              the agreement to enter the territory, which
              gives FARC free reign to conduct guerilla
              training, maintain its lucrative drug trade,
              and establish itself as a de facto
              government.
                   A perfect arrangement, say intelligence
              sources, for an Iranian alliance with FARC. 

              A Plausible Explanation 
              The modern slaughterhouse and
              meat-packing facility the Iranians proposed
              to finance in the middle of this sparsely
              populated rural area, a region totally
              lacking in infrastructure that is hundreds of
              miles from Colombia’s main
              cattle-producing region, is not as outlandish
              as it might seem.
                   “They’ve always wanted a beef-packing
              plant there, according to reports,” said a
              U.S. Embassy official based in Colombia
              who asked not to be identified. “It just
              doesn’t make any sense economically if
              you’re looking at exports. If it’s local, it
              makes a lot more sense.”
                   The cost of shipping local cattle
              hundreds of miles for slaughter is
              prohibitive, and investment in the
              agricultural economy is desperately needed
              in order to provide alternatives to the
              lucrative illegal drug trade.
                   “The region is very underdeveloped, and
              needs development and the process of
              education,” says Iran’s ambassador to
              Colombia, Hossein Shaikh Zeineddin.
              “Then [the citizens] can handle their lives
              and defend themselves against army groups
              and terrorist groups. This is our principle
              idea for our involvement here.”
                   It is also a perfect cover for illicit
              operations. Similar factories have been
              used as cover by Iran in Romania and
              Bosnia, say U.S. intelligence sources, as has
              a U.S.-built facility in Peru. 

              Windowless Buildings, Plenty
              of Trucks 
              A meat-packing plant, featuring large,
              windowless buildings and serviced by a
              constant stream of trucks — placed in a
              region controlled by a guerilla army, where
              Colombia’s armed forces are forbidden to
              enter — raised too many red flags to be
              ignored.
                   The Iranian-sponsored terrorist group
              Hezbollah is already well established in
              South America. Major training centers have
              been located on the Isla de Margarita off the
              coast of Venezuela, in northwest Brazil near
              the Colombian border, and in southern
              Brazil near its borders with Paraguay and
              Argentina. 
                   Terrorists can blend in with established
              Lebanese communities, and support
              themselves with various illegal activities
              including credit card fraud, money
              laundering and counterfeiting, says a State
              Department counterintelligence expert. 
                   Hezbollah also has a well-established
              channel for arms shipments, and FARC has
              the cash to spend.
                   The illegal trade in cocaine has taken
              FARC from a peasant army to a financially
              viable political entity, increasingly
              well-armed and looking to increase its
              horizons. Intelligence sources have reported
              an increasing flow of small and light arms
              to the organization, which has also
              reportedly hired foreign advisers.
                   An alliance with Hezbollah could
              facilitate arms purchases and provide
              training. With the U.S. cocaine market
              saturated, Hezbollah could provide an outlet
              for the drug to the emerging markets of
              Russia and the Middle East. (See story,
              below.)
                   While the Colombian government
              maintains the Iranian involvement in San
              Vicente is falling apart over financial
              details, the Iranian ambassador blames U.S.
              involvement in a trade project he says was
              initiated by the mayor of San Vicente.
                   “We welcomed this initiative,” says
              Zeineddin. “The government of Colombia
              should support us on this, and they have
              been silent. The U.S. media is saying we are
              terrorists. America has 70 percent of the
              volume of trade in Colombia; maybe it is
              not so easy for them to let us have a
              percentage.”
                   Whatever the reasons, U.S. sources say
              they now intend to step up
              intelligence-gathering in Colombia to try to
              learn beforehand of any FARC contacts
              with outside terrorist entities.