[News] Colombian rebel leader extradited to U.S.

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Sun Jan 9 13:17:06 EST 2005



Colombian rebel leader extradited to U.S.

By Berta Joubert-Ceci

In an act of compliance with the will of its U.S. masters, on Dec. 31 the 
Colombian government of Álvaro Uribe Vélez handed over guerrilla member 
Ricardo Palmera to the FBI for extradition to the United States.

This unprecedented act marks the first time that a leading member of the 
Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces-Peoples' Army (FARC-EP) has been 
extradited to the United States for prosecution.

Palmera--better known by his Simón Bolívar-inspired pseudonym "Simón 
Trinidad"--had been detained, or, better said, kidnapped in Quito, Ecuador, 
on Jan. 2, 2004.

He had been there to accomplish a clandestine mission requested by the 
FARC: to find a suitable place for a meeting with United Nations Secretary 
General Kofi Annan and other international personalities to work out a 
solution for the return of the FARC's prisoners of war through a 
humanitarian prisoner exchange.

Trinidad's capture was carried out through a joint action of the Interpol, 
CIA and the Colombian and Ecuadorian armed forces. It was reminiscent of 
the murderous anti-communist Operation Condor of the 1970s.

Trinidad was then extradited to Colombia. He remained in maximum security 
prison there until Dec. 31. He faced 100 legal charges of terrorism, 
kidnapping, drug trafficking and rebellion that guaranteed 81 months in 
prison, according to his lawyer in Colombia, Oscar Silva.

Trinidad's transfer from the Boyacá jail to Bogotá was a three-hour, 
extremely well-armed action dubbed "Operation Freedom." The Colombian army 
surrounded the prison while four military Black Hawk helicopters--the one 
assigned to carry him named "Batman"for the trip to the capital's El Dorado 
International Airport. There, all flights had been canceled in preparation 
for the operation. On the runway, a U.S. government Gulf Stream-5 airplane 
was ready to take him to Washington, D.C., in the company of the FBI.

As he entered the plane, Trinidad shouted in Spanish: "Long live Bolívar, 
Bolívar lives! Long live the FARC, the people's army!"

In Washington that afternoon he was taken to federal court before Judge 
John Facciola. Trinidad will face charges of kidnapping, terrorism and drug 
trafficking on Jan. 5.

The kidnapping charges stem from the February 2003 incident when the FARC 
shot at a small plane flown by U.S. contractors/agents over territory 
controlled by the insurgents in Caquetá, in the south of the country. These 
contractors are just some of the many U.S. military or military-associated 
personnel sent by the United States to Colombia to fight against the 
insurgency under Plan Colombia. The agents, Thomas Howes, Keith Stansell 
and Marc Gonsalves have since been kept captive by the FARC.

Trinidad's extradition to the United States took place after President 
Uribe issued an ultimatum to the FARC. With no possibility of negotiation, 
he unilaterally demanded that the insurgents release all captives by Dec. 
30, as the only condition for annulment of the extradition order.

'I am on the side of progressives!'

Who is Trinidad? His story is noteworthy, for it illustrates the reasons 
why so many young people join the insurgency. While his background differs 
from that of the overwhelming majority of the FARC members, his reasons for 
joining the armed movement reflect the hopes of so many in Colombia.

A native of Valledupar, in the northeast of Colombia, bordering Venezuela, 
Trinidad belonged to a wealthy and influential family. He studied at 
Harvard University. He worked as a banker and teacher, cooperating 
particularly with the peasant progressive movement that was very strong in 
the area.

In moving testimony by Imelda Daza Cotes, a friend and political associate 
of Trinidad, written in Colombian anthropologist Yezid Campos' recent book 
"Memoria de los Silenciados, El Baile Rojo" (Memory of the Silenced, the 
Red Dance), she vividly recounts the dangerous atmosphere in Valledupar 
during the mid-1980s, the time of the formation of the Patriotic Union.

The Patriotic Union (UP) was an effort by the FARC and the Colombian Com 
munist Party to form a broad alternative party that would include all 
sectors that had suffered under the dictatorship of Liberals and 
Conservatives and achieve peace and social justice. The UP's main vehicle 
would be unarmed and peaceful, through the electoral arena. It was launched 
on May 28, 1985, as a result of the peace accords between the FARC and 
Colombian President Belisario Betan court. The government committed to 
respect and guarantee the security of the members, among many other written 
promises.

In 1986, the first elections in which the UP members participated, they had 
a historic success: five senators, nine representatives to the House, 14 
state deputies, 351 councilpeople and 23 mayors were elected. However, as 
this victory took place, so did a state campaign of terrorism and 
annihilation against the UP that still goes on.

More than 3,500 members and sympathizers were killed, many disappeared and 
many were forced into exile.

Daza Cotes narrates the multiple stories of increasing threats and 
assassinations by the Colombian army, the disappearances and the forced 
exiles--but also the people's fierce resolve to continue struggling for 
justice and true democracy in Colombia. And she writes about the choices 
they were forced to make.

One of the stories is about Ricardo Palmera. She says of him, "I do not 
think there was a man in Valledupar as honest and honorable as Ricardo 
Palmera Pineda." Daza Cotes did not share the idea of armed struggle, but 
she points out that while she and her comrades, including Palmera, wanted 
to peacefully solve the problems of poverty and social inequities that gave 
rise to the guerrilla, "the response from the establishment and the ruling 
class was violence. Their decision was to assassinate us and silence us 
with the help of weapons."

She concludes that "many people decided to join the insurgency because they 
did not find how to work politically in a peaceful and legal way." She 
later told a friend: "Definitely, there is no alternative. The truth is 
that the only way you can struggle in this country is through the armed 
struggle. There are no other possibilities."

One of those who decided to join the insurgency was Simón Trinidad. In 
2002, during the time of the negotiations between the FARC and President 
Pas trana, he said: "I chose this new life with the guerrilla because I am 
on the side of progressive people who fight against the 10 percent of 
landowners who control 90 percent of the arable land in Colombia. For them, 
I turned into their enemy."

Many in Colombia, including relatives of FARC captives, view the 
extradition of Trinidad to the United States negatively. They are afraid 
that Uribe, as he has done in the past, will try a military, violent 
solution to the hostage situation in which the hostages could be hurt, 
instead of a negotiated solution.

Reprinted from the Jan. 13, 2005, issue of Workers World newspaper



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