[Ppnews] FARC negotiator gets Colombia's max ­ in US prison

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Tue Jan 29 11:07:37 EST 2008

FARC negotiator gets Colombia's max ­in US prison


Submitted by WW4 Report on Mon, 01/28/2008 - 23:21.

<http://ww4report.com/node/4534>Simón Trinidad 
[nom de guerre of Ricardo Palmera Piñeda], the 
FARC's well-known prisoner-exchange negotiator, 
was today sentenced to 60 years in prison in 
Federal District Court in Washington, DC. Several 
months ago, Trinidad was found guilty of 
conspiracy to take three [US] military 
contractors as hostages, a crime occurring back 
in 2003. The sentence was determined in a separate proceeding held today.

The 60 year penalty, the maximum allowable under 
Colombian law, is a relatively new invention. In 
2004, under a program funded and administered by 
the U.S. Agency for International Development 
(USAID), Colombia reformed its penal code (Law 
890, which modified Article 31) to increase the 
maximum allowable penalty from 40 to 60 years. As 
one of the first beneficiaries of the legal 
reform, it seems fitting that the punishment 
would be calculated in Washington. Even more so 
because this penalty didn't even exist in 
Colombia back in 2003 when the "crime" was committed.

The penalty was calculated according to the US 
federal sentencing guidelines. Factors used to 
calculate the sentence included whether a demand 
was made for the release of the hostages, whether 
a weapon was used, the length of time the 
hostages were held, whether Trinidad accepted 
responsibility for the crime, and the relative 
importance of his role in it. Another factor­and 
a big one­was whether taking the three 
contractors prisoner was an act of 
"terrorism"­i.e., a violent crime intended to 
intimidate a government and extract a concession from it.

The defense argued that Trinidad's "agreement" ­ 
a conspiracy is essentially an agreement to 
commit a crime ­ was limited to taking a letter 
from FARC commander Raul Reyes to Ecuador, to 
present to James LeMoyne, a UN official who had 
brokered the FARC's negotiations with the 
government of President Andres Pastrana. Trinidad 
didn't have the mens rea, or guilty mental state, 
had never made any demand for the hostages' 
release, had no say in whether they ever would be 
released, and has never even seen the hostages.

Nevertheless, the judge found against Trinidad 
for every sentencing factor, indicating the 
maximum penalty available for this crime, which 
under US law would be life imprisonment. However, 
the judge noted that he would respect the wishes 
of the Colombian government, which asked for the 
sentence to be limited to 60 years, in accordance 
with the new law. Judge Lamberth acquiesced and 
sentenced Trinidad to 60 years without parole.

During the "allocution" phase of the hearing, 
prosecutor Ken Kohl gave a dramatic presentation 
about the evils of the FARC, the seriousness of 
the offense, and his low opinion of the 
defendant. He believed this case should be an 
opportunity to, as he put it, "educate" the FARC 
and show them that they could be subjected to 
criminal prosecution in the US if captured. He 
said that the FARC had kidnapped or killed 21 
North Americans in its history, and that Simon 
Trinidad was the first FARC member ever convicted of terrorism.

Kohl repeated the claim, promoted by [Colombian 
vice president and former Medellín cartel 
Santos' group Pais Libre, that the FARC are 
currently holding 700 people hostage. It's worth 
noting that [President] Alvaro Uribe does not 
make this claim. Just this weekend he stated in 
an interview to Euronews, that the Colombian 
government blames 700 kidnappings over the past 
ten years on the FARC. This is a very small 
percentage of the total number of kidnappings 
which occurred in Colombia over this 
period­perhaps 2-3%. And there is no reason to 
believe those 700 people are even alive. It's 
certainly not something the prosecutor could 
prove in court, or that the judge should consider 
in calculating Trinidad's sentence.

Kohl emphasized that Trinidad should be punished 
as a terrorist "because," he said as he pointed 
at the defendant, "that's what he is. A 
terrorist." Kohl described various notorious 
crimes committed by the FARC, such as the 
kidnapping and subsequent (and still unclear) 
deaths of eleven deputies abducted in Cali, the 
abduction of Alan Jarra while riding in a UN 
vehicle, and the kidnapping of Elias Ochoa, which 
the prosecution used as character evidence in 
Trinidad's first trial. Kohl argued that Trinidad 
had knowledge of all of these crimes, as well as 
knowing [prominent FARC captive] Ingrid 
Betancourt personally, who, he said, had pled 
with the FARC to stop kidnapping, and paid the price with her freedom.

As Kohl described Trinidad's "exploiting the 
agony" of the hostages, a large flat screen TV 
displayed photos of prisoners in barbed wire 
camps, of Ingrid Betancourt, and of the three 
North Americans, both before their capture, and 
in the recent "proof of life" photos. The FARC, 
he said, is not a populist movement. There is 
nothing noble or inspiring about it. Photos of 
the FARC in uniform were an illusion. The FARC 
wore them at the time of the despeje 
[FARC-controlled demilitarized zone], but 
otherwise, he said, the FARC was a clandestine 
organization. Of the 16,000 members of the FARC, 
8,000 had recently deserted. Kohl showed a photo 
of a mass demonstration in Bogotá with a sign 
that said "Down with the FARC." Again pointing at 
Trinidad, Kohl reminded the judge that 
negotiations for the release of the three 
Americans "had to go through this man."

"The callousness and brutality of this crime is 
hard to comprehend. It is impossible to overstate 
how horrific and barbaric this crime is," he 
continued, "the product of Simon Trinidad's 
crazed, warped sense of social justice." Trinidad 
was responsible not only for this crime, said 
Kohl, but also for brainwashing other guerrillas, 
even recruiting one of the reinsertado 
[demobilized guerilla fighters] witnesses, who 
testified that Trinidad induced him to join the 
FARC with champagne and the promise of girls. "If 
the guerrillas who carried out these abductions 
were the paws of the beast, Simon Trinidad was it's mouth," he observed.

Kohl believed that nothing good had come of 
previous peace negotiations with the FARC. These 
negotiations only helped the FARC take more 
hostages and produce more cocaine. For 20 years, 
he said, Simon Trinidad had been sending out 
teams of kidnappers and was responsible for 
numerous crimes not before the court. He "drank 
the kool aid," according to Kohl. He was even 
like Osama bin Laden. Kohl said bin Laden was hiding in a cave in Afghanistan.

To tell the truth, I was not able to write down 
everything that Ken Kohl said. He was on a roll, 
performing for a courtroom packed with reporters. 
But I think the judge had already made up his 
mind before Kohl even began. Once the judge 
determined that all of the sentencing factors 
weighed against Trinidad, Trinidad‚s fate was 
sealed. Kohl's presentation was a political 
speech delivered with great impact. The judge 
just sat there listening politely, already having calculated the sentence.

Then Trinidad's court appointed lawyer, Bob 
Tucker, took the podium. He rejected the 
comparison of his client to Osama bin Laden, and 
reminded the court that a harsh sentence will 
not, as Kohl likes to insist, convince the FARC 
to release the three Americans. He reminded the 
court of Trinidad's cooperation with US 
authorities in writing a letter to [FARC 
commander] Raul Reyes, asking for proof of life 
(something demanded by some members of the US 
Congress) and asking that he not be included in a 
prisoner exchange. The prosecutors weren't giving 
him any credit for that. Tucker also argued that 
the US government should change it's policy 
regarding negotiating for the release of 
hostages. This prompted a response from the 
Judge, who answered "I don't have anything to do with that."

Then Tucker got to the heart of the case. "The 
idea that there is not a war is totally 
fanciful." These kinds of negotiations, he said, 
were not unusual. Trinidad's mission to Ecuador 
was compared to Henry Kissinger's trip to Paris 
during the Vietnam war. Punishing Trinidad will 
discourage future negotiations, he said, while 
lenient treatment would send a message that the 
court is an independent branch of government. 
Tucker also noted that in the cases relied on by 
the prosecution to calculate the sentence, the 
defendants had not only personally kidnapped 
people, but also killed them. He referred to jury 
notes asking the judge to explain the minimum 
participation by Trinidad that would be 
sufficient to convict him, and argued that the 
minimal participation should weigh against a heavy sentence.

Then the judge asked Simon Trinidad whether he 
wanted to say anything. Trinidad obviously did. 
He spoke for an hour, and although I was unable 
to write it all down verbatim, I believe I got most of what he wanted to say.

Simon Trinidad's Statement at his Sentencing Hearing for Hostage Taking

After thanking the judge for his help with 
medical and other problems he'd had at the DC 
Jail, and for permitting the meeting with Piedad 
Cordoba, and thanking the US Marshalls and others 
working at the court for the respect with which 
he's been treated, Simón Trinidad began his 
statement by saying that he was speaking today as 
a member of the FARC, an insurgent group that had 
taken up arms against the Colombian government.

 From the moment of its inception, the FARC had 
struggled to change an oligarchical system that 
had maintained itself over the years through 
blood and fire. Beginning on July 20, 1964, the 
FARC had sought peaceful democratic change 
through the masses, but the oligarquia had used 
paid assassins­pajaros, chulavitas, and now 
paramilitaries­to terrorize the population with 
the power of the bullet. Nelson Mandela, who 
founded a guerrilla movement in South Africa and 
later rose to become president of that country, 
said it is the oppressor who always dictates the 
terms of the struggle, not the oppressed. In 
Colombia, the oppressor is the oligarchy and the 
use of force against the people is what led to the formation of the FARC.

The FARC, he said, are a part of the Colombian 
people who express their dissent in various ways 
to the violent and elitist regime. Founded by 
campesinos like [FARC top commander] Manuel 
Marulanda, the FARC's efforts have centered on 
agrarian issues and the protection of campesinos. 
Created by campesinos and workers, the FARC 
fights for the improvement of wages, 
unionization, and has a political strategy against the oppressors.

Citing [FARC commanders] Ciro Trujillo and 
Hernando Gomez Acosta, Trinidad said the FARC 
respects indigenous and womens' organizations, 
and believes in a pluralistic and democratic 
Colombia. Latin America, he continued, is a 
region of great economic disparity and is third 
in the world in social disparity. The FARC 
supports the basic human rights that everyone 
needs to lead a dignified life, including access 
to nutrition, education, potable water, 
electricity, dignified living conditions, 
recreation and rest. Some 54% of Colombians, he 
said, or 24 million people, live below the 
poverty line, living on just $1-2 dollars a day.

A variety of fertile lands and climates would 
permit the harvesting of crops in Colombia 12 
months of the year, providing enough for all 
Colombians as well as a surplus for export. 
Colombia is also rich, he said, in mineral 
resources, including gold, nickel, coal, salt and 
oil. Colombia's biodiversity, in flora and fauna, 
the fish in its rivers, and a wealth in human 
resources make Colombia a very rich country able 
to provide for all of its inhabitants.

Nevertheless, a small group of people, the petty 
governing class, has monopolized these resources, 
taken the best lands, controlled the economy, and 
kept the rest of Colombia in poverty. Leaders of 
both Liberal and Conservative parties have 
legalized these monopolies for the benefit of the 
rich, and by the same token, handed over 
Colombia's resources to foreign capitalists for their own enrichment.

The oligarchy's policy of violence utilizes 
murder, torture and disappearances as tools 
against their opponents to keep themselves in 
power. Examples range from the genocide of the 
Gaitanista movement in the 1940s to the 
extermination of the Union Patriotica in the late 
1980s. The three branches of power in the 
government have granted themselves impunity for 
all of their crimes, as well as those of the military and paramilitaries.

The unjust character of the government, where 
immorality and cynicism have been the norm, and 
its corruption are shown through the management 
of the people's money paid as taxes, and the 
mismanagement of state-run industries. The 
government has abused its power by selling the 
nation's resources to foreigners. It's true that 
in Colombia, those who govern are elected every 
four years, but democracy isn't just voting, and 
65% of Colombians typically abstain from voting 
anyway. Large numbers of votes are bought. Voters 
are promised a job. Dead people vote. Others vote 
more than once. The electoral process in Colombia is illegitimate and a farce.

In the last 14 years, the presidency of Colombia 
has been manipulated by drug traffickers. The 
Cali cartel contributed $6.5 million dollars to 
the campaign of Ernesto Samper. Andres Pastrana 
was furious when he didn‚t receive the support of 
this cartel, and it took him four more years to 
become President. An August 2, 2002 report of the 
US Defense Intelligence Agency describing Pablo 
Escobar's drug cartel lists both [paramilitary 
leader] Fidel Castaño and Alvaro Uribe as 
members. After his election, Uribe gave public 
contracts and political offices to his friends in 
an effort to reform the constitution so he could 
be re-elected a second time automatically. This 
is the best picture that can be drawn of 
Colombian democracy. It is a paper democracy, but 
what is described in the papers is far from the truth.

Colombia has been at war for more than 60 years, 
with a growing participation of the USA. Today 
the war against the insurgents is disguised 
behind other arguments. The war on drug 
trafficking is a disguise the US uses for greater 
interference in the Colombian conflict, sending 
advisors, spies, weapons, and investing millions 
of dollars in the war. This financial and 
military support emboldens the oligarchy and 
sustains the conditions that cause the Colombian 
conflict, but provides no solutions. Simon 
Bolivar said that "the destiny of the US was to 
plague America with misery in the name of liberty."

The US government, and some members of the US 
Congress have misunderstood the Colombian 
conflict as being centered around drugs. Although 
in Colombia there are no serious ethnic, 
religious, or separatist divisions, the conflict 
has deep social and historical roots that have 
nothing to do with drug trafficking. The FARC do 
not share the Colombian government's belief in a 
military solution to the conflict. This conflict 
is harmful to the dignity of the Colombian 
people. Instead, the FARC advocates social 
investment and the participation of communities 
in the planning of agriculture and crop 
substitution. The military strategy should be 
changed. The US and Colombian governments should 
work together to confront the challenges that 
face humanity. No country has the exclusive power 
to lead the fight in this area. The international 
community must have a greater participation, 
particularly countries where drugs are consumed.

Simon Trinidad said he was quite surprised when 
the Department of Justice introduced clumsily 
altered videos, made by the Colombian military, 
to try to prove that he was a member of the 
Secretariado of the FARC. He said he was sorry he 
never saw the letter sent by the US authorities 
to the Colombian government, because he was sure 
that a serious complaint must have been made 
about this mockery of justice. If the Colombian 
army can shamelessly lie to the people who 
provide them with so much money, just imagine what they are doing in Colombia.

Trinidad said his trial was political. The 
political nature of his trial proves the 
political nature of the FARC. Politics, he said, 
is an expression of economics, and war was the 
expression of politics by other means. His trial 
was political from beginning to end. At least, he 
said, his trial allowed him the opportunity to 
explain the FARC's revolutionary philosophy and 
the position of its Secretariado on various 
issues, and he is satisfied that despite great 
efforts, the jury could not find him guilty of 
supporting a terrorist organization, because the 
United States had erroneously classified the FARC as a terrorist organization.

Trinidad said that because he and his 
organization, the FARC, had been labelled a 
terrorist organization, he wanted to take the 
opportunity to condemn all terrorism, regardless 
of the source. Don't forget, he said, that the 
terrorist faction of the state was what brought 
him to become a member of the FARC to combat it. 
Based on his own principles and ideological 
conviction, he could not condone terrorism. Like 
the FARC, he felt that any force that wants to 
rise to power cannot engage in terrorism.

By the same token, though, he rejects the 
extradition of Colombians to be tried in other 
countries. This is a neo-colonial practice that 
undermines the sovereignty of the country. It is 
used as a weapon to blackmail men and women 
fighting for a just cause, including Sonia and himself.

In Colombia there is a war, with prisoners taken 
on both sides. This is a very real problem that 
demands a solution. The political order that came 
from Trinidad's superiors was a first step to 
carry out a humanitarian action meant to benefit 
prisoners on both sides. "My conscience absolves 
me. I join the ranks of those that history can and has absolved."

Trinidad said he was also satisfied with the 
letter he wrote to Manuel Marulanda requesting 
proof of life of the three Americans, and still 
he does not want to be an obstacle for the 
exchange of prisoners. He is convinced that this 
will be an important factor in achieving peace 
with social justice in Colombia. The first point 
on the FARC's political platform is to find a 
political solution to the conflict.

Trinidad said it was his sincerest wish that the 
three Americans are returned safe and sound to 
the bosoms of their loved ones. He had already 
met with officials from the State Department, and 
would be willing to have further meetings to 
continue the dialog. He said that when he joined 
the FARC, he knew he could lose his life and 
liberty fighting for justice and peace in his country.

Finally, Trinidad thanked the Committee to Free 
Ricardo Palmera and quoted the Cuban 
revolutionary Jose Marti: "What Bolivar didn't do 
remains undone today." Trinidad concluded his 
statement with the following words, which he 
spoke in the same tone of voice as the rest:

Long live Manuel Marulanda
Long live the FARC
Long live Simon Bolivar, whose sword of freedom 
continues to run through America.

After hearing all this, Judge Lamberth looked 
Trinidad in the eyes, said he respected 
Trinidad's intelligence, sincerity, and 
eloquence, and then proceeded to sentence him to 
60 years, the longest sentence ever imposed on a 
Colombian. Trinidad had gone over the line, 
explained the judge, when he joined this 
conspiracy. His crime was terrorism, a heinous 
and barbaric crime that violated the law of 
nations. No civilized nation will tolerate 
terrorism, he concluded, and this was a court of 
law. The maximum sentence allowed for hostage 
taking was life imprisonment, said the judge, but 
he would abide by the wishes of the Colombian 
government and only impose a term of 60 years. 
"Good luck to you, Mr. Palmera Piñeda."

Paul Wolf on the scene in Washington DC

Freedom Archives
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110

415 863-9977

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