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Are FARC rebels reaching into Central America?

The US Treasury has blacklisted 2 Costa Rican businesses for allegedly supporting the FARC.

Colombia mural, FARC
Motorcyclists drive past a mural with the portraits of dead FARC leaders in El Palo, Colombia, May 30, 2010. (Luis Robayo/AFP/Getty Images)

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica — The reach of Colombia’s leftist guerrillas has always extended past the country’s borders — with money, arms and support coming from nearby countries.

Though the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) has mostly been in retreat in recent years, its tentacles still reach Costa Rica, suggests a recent report from the U.S. Treasury.

The Treasury cited two Costa Rica-based agricultural businesses among its blacklist of people and businesses believed to be supporting the FARC, Colombia’s largest left-wing guerrilla group.

FARC began as a leftist campesino movement in the 1960s but it’s now accused of drug running, ransom kidnappings and waging war with the Colombian military and politicians.

Once the office places individuals or companies on its blacklist, it freezes their U.S.-based assets. Anyone caught doing business with the individual or company — with a few exceptions such as lawyers — from inside the United States can face hefty fines and even jail time.

The blacklist — known in Latin America as the “Clinton List” because it started with a 1995 executive order by then-President Bill Clinton — now includes more than 750 businesses and individuals linked to 87 drug kingpins.

“We call it economic death penalty,” said Erich Ferrari, a U.S. attorney who follows cases closely and writes about them on the blog

The companies Agropecuaria San Cayetano de Costa Rica Ltda and Arrocera El Gaucho Ltda are owned by a “FARC financial associate,” Jose Cayetano Melo, said the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control in a June press release.

Costa Rican anti-drug authorities here said they identified suspicious activity in Melo’s private bank account in 2008, including the movement of $1 million from Costa Rica to Colombia, according to local press reports from August 2009.

Security Ministry spokesman Jorge Protti told GlobalPost that Melo’s case was shelved after an investigation found no proof of Melo’s FARC link. Melo has fought the accusation, claiming that he resides in Costa Rica because he had to flee the FARC, not assist them. “Because of the persecution (from the FARC), I sought a place to put my soul at ease,” the business owner told the daily La Nacion. Melo could not be reached for comment.

The FARC is accused of infiltrating other countries in the region — most notably the dense jungles of nearby Panama — and some say Costa Rica’s links to the group go deeper than the alleged financial ties.

It’s a prickly accusation: Former Security Minister Fernando Berrocal stepped down in 2008 after sparking a national uproar by alluding to possible links between the FARC and Costa Rican politicians.