Mistrial in FARC narco case —again

A cocaine trafficking case against Colombian rebel leader Ricardo Palmera (AKA Simón Trinidad) ended in a mistrial April 21—the second time a jury has deadlocked in a trial the US hoped would provide a symbolic victory against the FARC guerillas. A first trial ended last year with a jury deadlocked at 7-5 favoring acquittal. Palmera—who became the first FARC member to be extradited in 2004—is already serving a 60-year term on a hostage-taking charge. It is unclear whether the government will bring the drug case to trial for a third time. (AP, April 21)

See our last posts on Colombia and the FARC.

  1. Simón Trinidad wins again
    A commentary from our correspondent Paul Wolf, April 21:

    A few hours ago, a mistrial was declared in Simon Trinidad’s fourth trial in the US. Trinidad was tried twice for hostage-taking, the second of which resulted in a conviction, after two notes from the jury asking Judge Lamberth to declare a mistrial. Then he was put on trial twice for drug trafficking, and both times, the jury refused to convict. These trials have gone on for about two years and finally seem to be over.

    I attended part of each of these drug trials, which were a disgrace as well as a waste of taxpayer money. There was simply no evidence linking Trinidad to any drug trafficking activities. Those who attended Trinidad’s hostage taking trials can easily imagine what this one was like. A dozen government officials testifying about the FARC’s activities, followed by a few reinserted guerrillas unable to keep their stories straight. The prosecutors made great efforts to show Trinidad was a member of the central command of the FARC (Estado Mayor Central)—using a questionable video of a FARC meeting edited by the Colombian police. This was followed by Trinidad taking the stand in his own defense, telling the story of how and why he joined the FARC, and what the FARC is trying to achieve. By now, he’s told this story four times and has perfected it, even breaking into tears at the point where he learns of the death of Jaime Pardo Leal.

    The prosecutors tried to use this case to prove that the FARC not only taxed coca growers, but also controls the drug business by permitting the growers to sell to only certain drug traffickers. This was also, in my opinion, a total failure. Trinidad denied any knowledge about this, and explained that killing campesinos who sold to the competition would rapidly make the FARC very unpopular. The prosecution did not have any witnesses who could credibly testify about this point, which seemed to be one of the main things they were trying to prove.

    Today’s result was entirely predictable. It was a gross abuse of prosecutorial power and the misuse of our court system for political purposes. The mentality of the people involved in this case is demonstrated by the fact that they told the judge that a conviction and harsh sentence for hostage-taking would help free the three Americans held hostage. According to press reports, no one was more disappointed by Trinidad’s 60 year sentence than these three men.

    While scoring a big victory against the FARC may enhance one’s career, there seems to be no sanction for repeatedly prosecuting a person who is obviously not guilty. Or for using evidence and witnesses which are obviously untrue. It’s a vindication of our system when juries can see through this. I’m not sure what it means that prosecutors are permitted to continue putting a defendant on trial over and over, in the hopes they will eventually win.

    This trial was certainly a miscalculation, and the last word in the saga of Simon Trinidad seems to be “Trinidad wins again.” This result may not have been desired, but it was not unexpected.