(9/16/12) TAKE ACTION:
We are United States residents and citizens hopeful for the prospect of peace talks to end almost five decades of civil war in Colombia. We call on our government to welcome and not block this process. Specifically, we call on the administration of President Barack Obama to:
- Release Ricardo Palmera aka Simón Trinidad from the Supermax prison in Florence, Colorado so that he can fulfill his role as one of the FARC’s three primary negotiators in peace talks. Professor Palmera was a negotiator in past peace talks for the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia).
- End the extradition of FARC insurgents to the US, a practice that directly interferes with the peace process and Colombian sovereignty.
- End the extradition of all Colombians, including members of paramilitary organizations, a practice used by the U.S. government to “white wash” leaders of death squads, interfering with ongoing investigations into connections between pro-government death squads and Colombian politicians.
- We also call for an immediate end to the inhumane practice of solitary confinement for Ricardo Palmera, held in isolation for eight years, and the more than 81,000 inmates held under similar conditions in US prisons.
Over the past 14 years, the US government has contributed more than $8 billion to Plan Colombia to fund war and repression. US aid is a crucial component in the displacement of 5 million mostly rural persons, forcibly run from their homes so that US-favored big landowners and transnational corporations can seize natural resources for private development.
The FARC’s choice of Ricardo Palmera as one of its top negotiators during this process brings front and center several issues that should concern people of the United States. It exposes how the extraditions of Palmera and other Colombian prisoners are violations of Colombia’s sovereignty as well as the spirit of peace and truth telling. Palmera was a primary spokesperson during the 1999-2002 peace talks and facilitated the release of warcaptives being held by the guerrillas.
Palmera was a university professor and belonged to a Leftist teachers’ organization. The Colombian military’s death squads assassinated all but two of its members. One survivor, Imelda Daza Cotes, went into exile in Sweden. The other survivor, Palmera, joined the FARC in 1987.
The CIA seized Palmera in Ecuador, while he was traveling under terms of “safe passage”. Palmera was on his way to meet an aide to UN chief Kofi Annan so they could discuss terms of a prisoner release by the FARC. Professor Palmera was extradited from Colombia to the US on Dec. 31, 2004 to face terrorism, hostage-taking and drug charges. The terrorism and hostage-taking charges stemmed from a Feb. 13, 2003 incident in which three US mercenaries were taken prisoner after their plane crashed inside FARC-controlled territory. Palmera himself had nothing to do with this and was charged entirely on the basis of his membership in the FARC. In fact, the prosecutor at one point identified 20,000 FARC members as co-conspirators, later reducing it to 50 FARC officers. Palmera was convicted on one count of hostage-taking and sentenced to 60 years. Prosecutors were unable to get convictions on the other counts.
The extradition of FARC leaders is a Bush-era tactic developed in conjunction with Colombia’s former President Álvaro Uribe. Uribe himself was listed by the US Defense Intelligence Agency as one of Colombia’s top 100 narco-traffickers. With peace talks now announced by the Colombian government and the FARC, the time has come to end this tactic once and for all.
The extradition of pro-government paramilitary prisoners has served a similar purpose, interrupting judicial investigations into links between paramilitaries and major political figures. Most of the implicated politicians come from Uribe’s party and its allies. For peace and reconciliation to be achieved, paramilitary prisoners must also be returned and the extraditions stopped.
The case of Ricardo Palmera exposes the repression and inhumane treatment now commonplace in US prisons. Ricardo Palmera is himself confined to a cell 23 hours a day, completely isolated from other inmates. Interactions with guards are so minimized that he does not even see the person who brings him his food, delivered through a small slot in the cell door. He is also not allowed to receive visits or exchange letters with friends, his supporters, or his Colombian lawyer. According to a 2005 census by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, there are at least 81,622 persons held in “restrictive housing” (solitary confinement), and some 25,000 in Supermax prisons under conditions similar to Palmera’s.
The time for peace in Colombia is here. It is also time for the US government to show that it truly supports—and will not impede—Colombia’s pathway to peace.