Mistrial declared in US case against FARC leader —again

A federal judge in Washington DC declared a mistrial Oct. 4 in the cocaine trafficking trial of Colombian guerilla leader Ricardo Palmera, AKA Simón Trinidad. AP writes: “The US government had hoped a conviction would underscore its view that the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, is not just a terrorist organization but also a violent drug cartel. But jurors said they could not reach a verdict.” (AP, Oct. 5)

As we have noted, this was the second time that mistrial has been declared in charges against Trinidad. Paul Wolf, a Washington attorney involved in the litigation against Chiquita Bananas on behalf of paramilitary victims in Colombia, has been watching the case closely, and send us this analysis:

Odds are, if you’re a “high profile” defendant in a federal conspiracy case, you’ll be found guilty, with or without evidence. If there is no evidence, there is an endless supply of “low profile” individuals who’ll say just about anything to gain their freedom.

Last week, Simon Trinidad beat the odds yet again, achieving a hung jury (annulación) in his third trial, this one for conspiracy to import narcotics into the United States. The score: Simon Trinidad 2, USA 1.

It’s some consolation that the jurors in this case were unwilling to convict him, but the fact that he will be put on trial again in March shows the confidence of the prosecutors, who apparently believe that if they keep trying, with the right combination of paid informants and compliant jurors, they could convict a “ham sandwich”, as the saying goes.

Considering that Trinidad’s 40-year sentence in Colombia was recently affirmed on appeal, and that he will likely get dozens of years for the hostage-taking conviction here, and that the man is already 57 years old, these trials are more like sporting events, or maybe like watching an unarmed defendant face off against a couple of lions in a Roman Colliseum, than like what one would expect in a civilized country. The Colombian media barely covered this trial at all … a far cry from the near-daily coverage this first trial had. One wonders what kind of a show the upcoming prosecution of the top 50 leaders of the FARC (none of whom have been captured) will be.

Then [fellow FARC defendant] Sonia comes out with a public statement siding with the Colombian government’s position, that she does not want to be included in a prisoner exchange. She is more concerned with the well-being of the 50 people held by the FARC and about the terrible conditions they must endure. This is coming from a woman who was framed by highly-paid (and, to be fair, highly threatened) reinsertados [demobilized fighters], who has spent years in solitary confinement. It’s mind-boggling.

There is better news, for all concerned with justice and the rights and dignity of the Colombian people, in the case against Chiquita Brands. Four members of the Colombian Congress have introduced a resolution asking Fiscal General Mario Iguaran to extradite the Chiquita executives to Colombia for criminal prosecution. It is a bipartisan endeavor led by Antonio Guerra de la Espriella (Cambio Radical) and Luis Fernando Duque (Liberal Party).

I’m told (but cannot verify) that if this really occurs, it will be the first time a US citizen has ever been extradited to Colombia. Colombia extradites about 100 people to the US each year. Most had never even contemplated a visit to the US before. The US extradites about 50 people per year, to all other countries in the world combined. The narcos in Combita prison have a local office here in the DC jail, and maybe someday, Washington DC will be a major center for the importation of drugs, as well as drug traffickers. I dont see any benefit to the US in this arrangement.

Colombians should lobby their own congress members for the extradition of the Chiquita executives and make sure this bill gets passed. It’s a matter of national sovereignty to prove that the extradition of a US citizen to Colombia is possible. And there is no better case to prove it. This is the UNITED FRUIT COMPANY we’re talking about. This is the case that put [populist politician] Jorge Eliecer Gaitan on the national stage in 1929, when he appealed to the dignity and pride of the Colombian people after the Colombian army killed an estimated 3,000 striking banana workers to protect the financial interests of this foreign company. No one has ever been punished for any of the crimes committed by this company, and this is the chance to do it.

See our last posts on Colombia, the FARC, the paramilitaries and the Chiquita case.