SEMANA/Cover Story | 9/23/2008 12:00:00 AM
The sons and daughters of the FARC leaders
While their fathers engage in war in Colombia, they live in Europe, speak several languages and have studied at some of the finest universities. In the photo, Federico Sáenz with his father, 'Alfonso Cano', maximum leader of the Farc guerrilla.
For a long time, their families’ presence in neighboring countries and in particular in Europe had gone unnoticed. After all in the 1980s and 90s, these Colombians were considered political refugees and victims of the armed conflict. That perception changed following the June 2002 European Union decision that declared the FARC and the ELN (National Liberation Army) as terrorist organizations. From that moment on, European intelligence agencies began to try to locate possible guerrilla support networks. Thanks to those investigations, European authorities detected the presence of family members of important members of the guerrillas in the Old World. Those intelligence efforts sought to establish -and differentiate- which of these had been involved in illegal activities in support of the guerrillas and which had simply fled to European territory for security reasons.
SEMANA has obtained documents from Canadian, US, British, Spanish and German intelligence agencies, as well as from Europol, a pan-European police organization. These documents are the result of several years of work investigating the activities of FARC members or their collaborators in Europe. Today, intelligence agencies and the Police of some European countries know what the families of FARC commanders are doing, where they live, where they studied, and where they have traveled.
That investigation has led to many surprises- even for the authorities. One of those surprises was the discovery that children of the FARC secretariat live and move about comfortably and without difficulty in different European and Latin American countries.
The commander’s sons
One of the most documented cases by Europol and the German intelligence agency, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), is that of the sons of the current commander of the FARC , Guillermo León Sáenz, alias “Alfonso Cano”. In the mid-1970s, before entering completely into clandestine activities and heading for the mountains of Colombia to join the FARC, Cano had two sons: Federico and Felipe Andrés. The first was born on January 16, 1975, and authorities know that, for at least the last past seven years, he has lived outside of Colombia.
Federico has an enviable academic background. He studied economics and received a master’s degree in political economics at the University of Geneva. He has a master’s degree in globalization, social regulations, and sustainable development from the University of Lausanne. Although he claims to have studied at the University of Sydney in Australia, a spokesperson for that institution told SEMANA that his name does not appear in records of former alumni. Federico speaks fluent German, French, and English. He has lived in Venezuela, Mexico, the United States, Australia, Spain, Germany, Bulgaria and Switzerland, where he currently resides.
While some of his studies were made possible because of state subsidies in some of those countries, European intelligence agencies have found that a large part of Federico’s educational costs were paid with money sent by his father, the current head of the FARC.
Federico has worked in many companies in Europe as a consultant. His last job was at the Community Development Foundation (FORA), which is based in Sofia, Bulgaria. Marina Brakalova, director of FORA, told SEMANA that Federico was with them for just three months (October 2007 – January 2008). He was contracted through a Swiss business internship program called SYNI. Brakalova said that they weren’t satisfied with his work and that is why he was sent back to Geneva so soon. She said that she was unaware of the criminal past of the young consultant’s father.
From July 2006 to June 2007, Federico was an investment analyst for Symbiotics, a microfinance service provider. He had a special emphasis on Peru and Bolivia. Fabio Sofía, the head of Symbiotics in Latin America, informed SEMANA that Federico told them that he could not travel to Colombia, but did not explain his reasons. Sofía imagined that it was for security reasons since many Colombians in Switzerland are there for those reasons. Neither had he been informed that Federico was the son of “Alfonso Cano”, the FARC’S top leader.
In his resume Federico highlights as work experience his participation in marketing assistance and communications for the Geneva Humanitarian Forum, a project of the International Committee of the Red Cross, as well as activities as research assistant with the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD). At UNRISD, Federico participated in a study about popular movements and agrarian reform which was published at the end of 2001.
According to his resume, Federico loves playing volleyball, would like to learn acupuncture, and is a salsa fanatic. In fact, he is the correspondent in Geneva for a webpage about that musical genre.
His younger brother, Andrés Felipe, also lives and studies in Geneva and has been matriculated in universities in France and Australia.
According to authorities, the last time Federico saw “Cano” was several years ago when he visited him in “the mountains of Colombia.” European intelligence organisms report that there is no evidence that the two young men are involved in activities directly related to the FARC in Europe. Nevertheless, it has not gone unnoticed that some of the money with which they have paid their studies, travels and living costs is said to come from their father, the head of an organization which is considered a terrorist organization by the EU and the US.
SEMANA called Federico Sáenz repeatedly and sent him emails, but no response was received.
The sons of “Alfonso Cano” are not the only ones who intelligence agencies and the police in Europe have their eyes on. The activities of the three children of Luciano Marín, alias “Iván Márquez,” (another key member of the FARC leadership) are also part of a complete report on the families of guerrilla heads produced by the Spanish National Intelligence Center (CNI), the CIA, and other police organization, including Europol.
Adriana, the oldest child, studied and has lived for many years in France near the Swiss border. Óscar Iván, Márquez’s son, was also in Paris, but lives in Mexico today. Judy Andrea, the youngest, lives in Venezuela and therefore has the possibility of having the most contact with herr father, as his main guerrilla camp is located there, near the border with Colombia, according to intelligence agencies.
Given the long time that she has lived in France, Andrea has dual nationality (Colombian-French). According to sources, Europol has in its possession emails and bank accounts that show the economic help that “Márquez” has given his kids so that they can study and live abroad.
Like “Cano” and “Márquez,” Luis Édgar Devia, alias “Raúl Reyes”, also opted to send his children to study and live abroad. This guerrilla boss, who died in a Colombian military operation last March, had four children. Unlike the other guerrilla chiefs, most of his children studied in Cuba, where they have spent much of their lives.
Ariel Robespiere Devia, son of Reyes, is a psychologist who earned a master’s degree in clinical psychology at the University of Havana. Today he lives in Paris with his Italian wife. Lida Carmenza Devia Collazos, 33, is a social psychologist, with a master’s in social psychology from the University of Havana. Laura Devia, the third child, also studied in Cuba, but now lives in Mexico. Yeri Core Devia, the youngest son of the fallen guerrilla chief, is studying in Havana.
The case of the “Reyes” children has another difference with those of “Cano” and “Márquez.” “Reyes” did not use money of the “revolution” to send his children abroad and to pay for their studies. What he did try, however, was to use his position within the FARC and his international contacts to try to send his children to Europe. Some months before his death, he wrote several emails to his children, which were found in the computers he had in his camp, in which he describes his efforts. In mid-July of this year, the Colombian television program La Noche of RCN revealed various of these communications in which his attempts to send his children to France are clearly me evident.
“Hi, my dear daughter, I send you a big hug and kisses for your son and your daughters. Here we are in good health and have lots of work. I had a visit from Mr. Noel Sáez, emissary of the government of France for relations with the FARC. He told me that my daughter who lives in Cuba had solicited a visa for his country and that they would be willing to grant it to her because of who she is. I thanked him for the offer and the good will of his government, explaining that I do not request these things to avoid that they should commit to the organization that I represent. He asked me your name and an address so that his embassy in that country could locate you and organize the trip. I thanked him again and told him that you have a son under the age of two and a partner of Cuban nationality, to which he responded that all three would be allowed to go,” said one of the excerpts of the mail, revealed in La Noche, sent by Reyes to his daughter Lidia.
“I told him that you graduated from the University of Havana with a master’s degree in clinical psychology and he said that with a professional title it is easier to get work, after six months of learning the language. For the boy there are also orientation programs and later, studies. They will help you get work. After five years of living there you can apply for nationality from that country and after ten years you will have it automatically, the requirement is that you accept and follow the laws of that country. I gave them your name and telephone number, I hope that they are correct,” say another of the excerpts of that email written in Feb. 2008. “Reyes’” plans to send his children to Europe remain inconclusive as he was unable to complete his “political tasks” because of his death.
The “foreign minister” and 'Calarcá'
The two daughters of Rodrigo Granda, the so called “foreign minister” of the FARC, were lucky enough to be able to study and live in Europe. Although he is not a member of the secretariat, Granda is one of the most important men for the FARC given that he was partly responsible for international political relations for the group. In January 2005, he was captured in Venezuela and in June 2007 was liberated by order of Colombian President Álvaro Uribe in order to advance humanitarian activities. Today he is again sought by Interpol.
His daughters, Mónica María and Diana Granda Restrepo, studied in Geneva. Although they travel frequently to different Latin American countries, the first one lives in Geneva. Diana works in Caracas.
Another of the better known members of the FARC, whose children received a good education thanks to his activities, is Luis Alberto Albán Urbano, alias “Marcos Calarcá.” For several years “Calarcá” was the main spokesman of the FARC in Mexico, until he was expelled by the government of President Vicente Fox. His sons have always lived abroad. Raúl Ernesto Albán Torres, the oldest, is a biologist of Concordia Univerity in Montreal, according to the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS). He holds a postgraduate degree in ecology from the Universidad Central of Venezuela. Today he works as an agro-ecology professor in the Universidad Bolivariana of Venezuela and is one of the main leaders of the left-wing Coordinadora Continental Bolivariana in Caracas.
The other son of this guerrilla leader is Juan Jacobo Albán, who is a fifth year sociology student at the University of Havana and who, according to authorities, is a member of the International Commission of the FARC.
At first glance, it is outrageous for many in Colombia that the FARC chiefs maintain their children abroad with bourgeois privileges, far from the front lines of battle. But to be a guerrilla’s child does not imply obligations with the “revolution.” And even less if some of them, like the children of “Cano”, were still quite young when their father left for the mountains to join the guerrillas.
If they were common citizens, neither intelligence agencies nor the police would be interested in what they do or where they reside. But precisely because they are children of known criminals, considered leaders of a terrorist organization that profits from drug trafficking, they have been watched- especially because many of them are financed by FARC money. It is possible that in some cases, they will end up paying for the sins of their fathers, like what has happened to the Bin Ladens, who until September 11, 2001 were anonymous Saudi businessmen. Since then, all aspects of their lives have been followed because of Osama’s adventures. In the post 9-11 world, there is no tolerance for terrorists and that irremediably extends to their families. In the end, the sons and daughters of the Secretariat are also victims of the FARC.