By the International Campaign for the Release of Simon Trinidad
January 29, 2018
In Colombia, like many other Latin American countries, peasant farmers with little land have been oppressed ever since colonial times. Up until the mid-20th century Colombia also had a history of partisan political violence between the traditional Conservative and Liberal parties. After a period known as La Violencia that lasted, by most accounts, from about 1948 until the late 1950s or early 1960s, a pact was reached between the Liberals and Conservatives that would prevent any other parties from gaining political power for 20 years.
As in many other Latin American countries, such exclusionary political arrangements were being challenged by leftist guerrilla movements. In this context rural sectors that were affiliated with the Liberal fighters during La Violencia joined with political activists inspired by the Communist Party to form the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, or FARC, in 1964. While many guerrilla groups formed in Colombia in the 1960s, most made peace with the government in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Yet the FARC was the largest, and the definitive peace agreement with the FARC was not finalized until November 2016. The FARC has since demobilized as a guerrilla force, laying down its weapons and transforming into a political party, the Fuerza Alternativa Revolucionaria del Común (FARC).
The story of Ricardo Palmera, also known as Simón Trinidad, is a story at the intersection of the long-standing close relationship between the governments of the United States and Colombia, and the 52-year insurgent war from 1964 to 2016. Ricardo Palmera was a child of the upper class in Valledupar, the capital of the department of Cesar, in Colombia’s sprawling Atlantic Coast region. As a young man he became involved with the community cultural center in Valledupar; he developed strong interests in literature, history, music and film. While he studied economics and then worked as a banker in his home town, he was also concerned about the social inequities and injustices in Colombia.
In the mid-1980s he joined the Unión Patriótica, a political force that included demobilized FARC members and others interested in broadening Colombia’s political system, in the context peace initiatives by then-President Belisario Betancur. However, the UP met with large-scale state-supported violence, with as many as 6,000 members and supporters killed from its inception to the mid-1990s, when it was effectively shut down. In that context, Palmera decided to give up his job at the bank and his life in Valledupar and to join the FARC guerrilla forces. That is when he chose the name Simón Trinidad.
Once in the FARC Simón Trinidad was involved primarily in educational work and providing political advice to the leadership. By the time of the 1999 to 2002 negotiations under President Andrés Pastrana, Trinidad was one of the FARC commanders who had the most contact with foreign government and international organization officials who visited the FARC’s de facto capital during that period, San Vicente de Caguán. After those negotiations collapsed in early 2002 the FARC continued to rely on him for international contacts, and in 2003 and 2004 he was sent to Quito, Ecuador, to pursue new leads for negotiations.
In February 2003 a small airplane had crashed over the jungles of southern Colombia. Three of the four survivors of the crash were United States military contractors. The FARC proceeded to take them prisoner and then held them for over five years. In 2004, while in Ecuador, Simón Trinidad was arrested by Ecuadorian authorities and then sent back to Colombia.
A cable from US Ambassador Woods, of January 6, 2004 to the US State Department stated that the Colombian government wanted to extradite Simón Trinidad to the United States but: “At this time, however, Simón Trinidad does not face criminal charges in the U.S. The Embassy is unaware of any pending investigations against … [him].”
The Colombian government began to work with the Bush administration to come up with charges against Simón Trinidad. The United States added him as a defendant to an existing case pending in Washington DC. The United States then indicted him for terrorism and hostage-taking in relation to three US military contractors who were captured by the FARC after their plane crashed. (The US government classified the FARC as a terrorist organization in 1997.) Simón Trinidad was extradited to the US on December 31, 2004.
Simón Trinidad went to trial four times in Washington DC, twice on the drug case, and twice on the hostage taking case. The jury hung in the drug trials (i.e. they could not reach a unanimous verdict) with most of the jurors in favor of acquittal. The US attorney dismissed this case.
In Simón Trinidad’s first hostage-taking trial the jury also hung, and the US decided to retry him. In his second hostage-taking trial the jury indicated they were deadlocked, but the judge ordered them to continue deliberations. The jury eventually convicted him on one of the six charges: conspiracy to hold hostages. The only evidence the government had was that the FARC had put out a communique in April 2003, that if the government would agree to negotiate the exchange of prisoners, Simón Trinidad would be one of their spokespersons, and the fact that he had gone to Ecuador to pursue such negotiations. There was never any evidence that Simón Trinidad had any role or responsibility in the capture of the three US military contractors.
Simón Trinidad, after his conviction, was sentenced to 60 years in prison. He has been held at the highest-level federal maximum-security prison in the United States, which is in Colorado, much of the time in solitary confinement and with limited contact with the outside world.
It is 2018 and the United States has yet to remove the FARC from the list of terrorist organizations, even though a peace process, supported by the United States, has concluded and resulted in the extinction of the FARC as a guerrilla army and its transformation into a political party.
Palmera should be sent back to Colombia. He is costing U.S. taxpayers an undisclosed sum (the Bureau of Prisons says it doesn’t have figures on how much it costs to keep prisoners there) even though he was tried mostly because he was a leading figure in an insurgent group in another country, not because he was personally involved in hostage-taking or kidnapping, or any other crime directed against anyone in the United States.
Please send letters to Simon Trinidad. He is in a maximum-security prison with limited communication with his family and the outside world, to let him know that he is not alone.
Note that the envelope has to be addressed exactly as follow:
USP Florence ADMAX
PO BOX 8000
FLORENCE, CO 81226