Liliany Obando / Miércoles 8 de noviembre de 2017 / Español

“You never abandon your comrades”
Fidel Castro

Translated by: Marie France Arismendi - LACASA

Colombia, October 28th, 2017

Based on the case of extradition to the United States of rebel leader Ricardo Ovidio Palmera Pineda- his birth name- also known as Simon Trinidad within the insurgent movement and member of the former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, People’s Army - FARC-EP, we wish to present an overview of the many dimensions of the practice of extradition as a tool used under the logic of the enemy’s criminal law, used against national sovereignty and to persecute political opponents. As activists and human rights defenders many of us have denounced and rejected this practice because we think it violates human and political rights and goes against the free self-determination of peoples.

Extradition: a tool of the ruling powers

Extradition is a feature of institutional criminal law. It’s a mechanism of judicial cooperation subscribed or agreed to between states, under which “a competent state asks another state to surrender an individual, accused or convicted, who finds him/herself on its territory, with the purpose of criminally prosecuting said individual …” [1]

But extradition is also clearly an instrument of power by which the dominant country imposes its will over the subordinate one. This is shown in the lack of reciprocity between the petitioning country, e.g. the one actively exercising extradition and the country that surrenders its citizens in a mere passive way. [2]

This is what usually happens with the Colombian extradition treaty- the United States is the country to which the majority of Colombian citizens are being extradited to, but there is no reciprocity of practice with our country when United States citizens commit crimes on our soil.

This situation is what makes it even more difficult to resort to instruments like humanitarian law or other types of repatriation for our citizens, because it has to be done at the request of the Colombian state who is the entity that authorizes extradition of our compatriots and therefore should be the one to ask for their repatriation.

For repatriation to be possible it is important to, first, make people aware that extradition goes against national sovereignty; then you have to convince civil society organizations, human rights defenders, friends and family members of the extradited individuals to actively pressure the government and to demand that they be judged, if need be, in their own country.

Shamefully, it has also occurred that the insistence on extraditing our citizens to the United States has been more the product of scheming and pressure on the part of some Colombian authority than a petition from the Northern country. This is the case that we wish to deal with in this paper: the fabrication of the extradition to the United States and later conviction to 60 years in jail, on trumped up charges, of Ricardo Ovidio Palmera Pineda -Simon Trinidad.

Extradition: a weapon of political persecution

One of the conditions provided by the extradition treaties, by international human rights law and by our own political charter and criminal law is that individuals accused or convicted of political offences (rebellion, sedition, and uprising) and other related crimes cannot be submitted to a process of extradition. However, the Colombian state is using very dubious agreements with the United States and a series of illegal judicial methods to, on more than one occasion, extradite to the United States individuals that have been investigated or sentenced for political crimes.

A feature of judicial cooperation, extradition is in fact exercised as a political tool that is not neutral and offers no guarantees. On the contrary, it has been turned into a weapon of political persecution, of judicial incompetence, of rights violation and impunity toward the victims. In Colombia, extradition is used against the political opposition as a persecution tool in the perverse logic of the enemy’s penal legal system.

American lawyer Mark Burton who has assisted Ricardo Palmera -Simon Trinidad during his sentencing phase, sustains the following:

“There is a clause in the extradition treaty… it says that extradition is prohibited in political cases… but many of the cases that are sent (to the United States) are political.” [3]

Extradition violates victims’ rights

The extradition of compatriots is also used as a mechanism to silence the voice of the extradited person and it gravely harms the right of victims to seek the truth, justice, reparations and non-repetition. A case in point was the extradition to the United States of paramilitary leaders during the Uribe government, so that the truth they knew was never going to be revealed to their victims or to the country in general.

Also, extradition is a power tool that is not reciprocal, as we can see with the so-called “diplomatic immunity” in which a servile state like Colombia concedes to countries like the United States, and to its citizens, especially its military and contractors (mercenaries) who are also performing military tasks- and operate on Colombian soil what is tantamount to complete immunity even if they have committed all kinds of violations against the civilian population without any repercussion.

American lawyer Burton confirms this:

“… There is total impunity because Colombia has signed a treaty (in which) American soldiers are kept out of Colombian jurisdiction… even if they’re committing crimes… They justify this saying… that the American soldiers need to be free to perform their war duties…” [4]

Extradition does not guarantee the human and legal rights of Colombians

The legal instrument of extradition, once adapted to the standards of international justice and of each country, must guarantee to the individuals subjected to it some sine qua non conditions such as: the petitioning state must have jurisdiction in order to ask for the extradition of a person and give evidence that the alleged crime was committed on its soil; Double indictment which requires that the offence for which the person is being extradited be established in the legal framework of both states; non bis in idem principle which guarantees that the person will not be judged twice for the same offence; The minimum standard of the offence, which prohibits extradition for minor offences; The nature of the offence which clearly provides that extradition cannot be granted for political or related offences; The respect for due process ; The validity of the petition; Respect for the dignity and human rights of the person; and the right to not be sentenced to penalties greater than those provided by the Criminal Code of Colombia. [5]

But in many cases of Colombians who are extradited to other countries, these conditions are far from being met, as in the case of Ricardo Palmera -Simon Trinidad.
The conditions of his extradition do not meet these standards nor do they meet the international legal norms of human rights, or the minimum international norms for the treatment of detainees, and they do not even meet the standards of Colombian criminal law or its political charter.

The case of Ricardo Ovidio Palmera Pineda – Simón Trinidad

The civilian life of Ricardo Palmera

Ricardo Palmera was born in a wealthy family in the city of Valledupar, Cesar, in northern Colombia. As a result, he was able to attend university and graduated as an economist. He was a university professor and a bank manager, leading an ordinary life as a married man with children.

But the turmoil of Colombian political life and the difficult conditions in which the majority of the people were living soon moved the sensitivity of a humanist like Ricardo Palmera who thus started his political involvement, first in center left organizations such as Causa Comun and then with the Union Patriotica.

Simon Trinidad the insurgent

A wave of threats, persecution and assassinations soon swept over the fledgling Union Patriotica and this harsh reality moved Ricardo Palmera to take up arms, exercising his right to rebel, which is a crime in Colombia, and get involved with the FARC-EP guerrilla. That is when he adopted the nom de guerre of Simon Trinidad.

During his life as an insurgent, Simon Trinidad stood out as a political leader, an ideologue more than a military man. He never held a position in the high command of the FARC-EP, known as the Secretariat, nor in the Central Chiefs of Staff committee. However, because of his political skills, he became a member of the negotiating team during the peace process of El Caguán, between the above guerrilla and the government of Andres Pastrana Arango (1998 – 2000).

The capture

It transpired that at the beginning of 2004, while performing a task for his organization, Simon Trinidad found himself in Quito, Ecuador, to make a high level contact with the United Nations which could have facilitated a humanitarian exchange of prisoners, some under the control of FARC-EP and others who were jailed by the Colombian state.

It was there that American and Colombian intelligence agents captured Simon Trinidad in a coordinated operation. He was then deported to Colombia by the Ecuadorean government

The ruling government of Alvaro Uribe Velez, who was behind the capture of Ricardo Palmera-Simon Trinidad, immediately asked for his extradition to the United States. But due to the absence of charges against him by the American government- he had never committed any criminal act on American soil- and due to the lack of compliance with several of the conditions required by an extradition treaty, e.g.: jurisdiction, double indictment, nature of the offence, due process and validity of the petition, the American government abstained at first from requesting his extradition.

This situation was revealed in one of the famous cables disclosed by WikiLeaks where the American ambassador to Colombia at the time, William Wood, affirms:

“High ranking officials from the Colombian government, including president Uribe, have asked the United States to consider requesting the extradition of Palmera. Obviously, they prefer seeing him locked up in an American jail rather than prosecuted in the unreliable Colombian justice system. The request has a note of urgency on their part. However, Palmera does not face any criminal charges in the United States at the moment. The embassy is not aware of any pending investigation against this well-known narcoterrorist by official agencies in the US. [6]

Due to this first obstacle, Ricardo Palmera spent the first part of 2004 in a Colombian jail while the Uribe government ,with the cooperation of then Attorney General Camilo Osorio, fabricated a false case of drug trafficking against Ricardo Palmera -Simon Trinidad in order to remove him from the domain of political “offender”. This is how in November of the same year, the Supreme Court of Justice approved his extradition and immediately after Uribe’s presidential sanction, he was finally extradited to the United States on December 31st of 2004.

The trials against Simón Trinidad in Colombia and the United States

In the United States, Ricardo Palmera -Simon Trinidad faced several trials with the assistance of the state appointed lawyer Robert Tucker since he could not even count with the help of a trusted lawyer, a violation of due process. Four of these trials were for drug trafficking charges and there were others where they could not present any evidence and he was acquitted.

Afterwards he had to face new trumped up trials, with unreliable witnesses and testimonies of deserters they brought from Colombia. They made up new charges, such as conspiracy to take hostages, for which he was finally convicted and sentenced to 60 years in jail. They made him responsible for the alleged kidnapping of the three military contractors or American mercenaries, Thomas Howes, Keith Standell and Marc Gonsalves, employees of Northrop Grumman [7] ,the third most important military defense contractor in the US, who at the time worked for the Pentagon.

These contractors were indeed detained by the FARC-EP after their plane crashed while engaged in aerial intelligence gathering over the Caquetá region, which was under FARC control in the year 2003. But Simon Trinidad never operated in that area and never had any responsibility in this event. They made him responsible by invoking the so-called chain of command and argued that Trinidad was part of the Central Chiefs of Staff and its maximum governing entity, the Secretariat, which was not true either.

According to lawyer Burton:

“He faced four trials and… several charges, in one trial he had five charges and in the other, three or four…but he was convicted on only one charge: CONSPIRACY, and here in the United States this charge is wide-ranging and it is well known to be often used by the government to involve people in crimes, offences… The evidence I have seen against him was not strong… it was weak… It is very unjust because they brought witnesses of doubtful honesty from Colombia, who had deserted from the insurgency in order to lie or say things that were not true during his trial…” [8]

In Colombia, the legal persecution against Ricardo Palmera-Simon Trinidad has also been considerable. He is facing several charges [9]. According to the lawyer who advises the FARC, Diego Martinez, there are more than 170 legal cases against him, which could not follow their legal course because, among other things, Palmera was only allowed to appear at a few hearings, in a virtual manner, from the ADX jail in Florence where he is being held.

On October 24th, 2017, a commission composed of Colombian officials and parliamentarians visited Simon Trinidad at the US prison so that he could voluntarily sign a document requesting to be included in the Jurisdicción Especial para la Paz - JEP [10], which was created within the framework of the Havana peace process between the FARC-EP guerrilla and the Colombian government, so that he could close the cases that are pending against him in Colombia.

In the meantime, Ricardo Palmera-Simon Trinidad continues to be detained at the ADX prison in Florence, Colorado, serving his unjust sentence, which, given his age, is becoming a life sentence, hoping that other legal, political and humanitarian alternatives might succeed in getting him repatriated to Colombia.

Detention conditions at ADX Florence, Colorado

The ADX prison, located in the desert of Florence, Colorado, is one of the jails where there is the least respect for international norms of dignity and respect for human rights toward the detainees. It is also known as the “supermax” for its harsh conditions and there is where Ricardo Palmera -Simon Trinidad is being held captive.

Of the 13 years that Ricardo Palmera has spent at this prison, 11 have been in solitary confinement, which is a serious violation of his human rights, given the effects that such a prolonged confinement can have of the mental and emotional health of a person.

On this issue, lawyer Burton said [11]:

“…He is subjected to infrahuman conditions… He’s been alone for almost 11 years… international norms state that a person should not be in solitary confinement for more than 60 days because this harms the mind and the soul of a person. Many people go [crazy]… with many psychological problems…”

Aside from being denied contact with any other person during this first long period of detention, Simon was confined in a wing with other prisoners who were deemed to be very dangerous. He was denied access to books or newspapers; he was denied the right to learn English, the language of the country holding him captive; he cannot watch television; they took away his glasses; he was denied proper medical and dental care; he did not have access to his files in order to prepare his defense in the cases pending against him in Colombia; one of his Colombian lawyers, Ramiro Orjuela, was denied a visa to go visit him in the US; he could not see the sun and therefore never knew whether it was day or night; he was heavily shackled every time he had to be taken to some procedure within the prison, or to one of the scarce virtual hearings he was allowed to attend; they even confiscated some cards he used to play solitaire, etc., “In May 2013, ADX Florence was ranked #1 as one of the ten worst prisons in the United States, in the opinion of Mother Jones magazine”, says Wikipedia.

At one of those hearings which was video recorded, the world was able to see the extreme security and confinement measures [12] that Ricardo Palmera -Simon Trinidad must suffer in the “supermax”, the maximum security prison where he is held. In the video, you can see how he is shackled from the waist, feet and hands and they put a high voltage electrical device on one of his legs for maximum restraint.
Simon Trinidad [13] denounced this in a message to one of the judges in the city of Neiva in Colombia:

“I am not guaranteed the right to defend myself. I am not allowed to send documents to my lawyer or to the judges in Colombia where I have to prove my innocence; my comrades have to denounce this before the government delegation in Havana. They don’t even allow me to talk to the CICR.”

During the peace talks in Havana, his comrades in the cause, the FARC-EP, intensified private initiatives, with the knowledge of the Colombian government, in order to obtain the repatriation of Ricardo Palmera -Simon Trinidad. For that purpose, they also named him, at the outset, as one of the spokespersons of the FARC-EP peace delegation at the negotiating table, but in vain; toward the end of the Obama administration it was hoped that he would get a pardon, but this was also impossible; there were petitions to improve his detention conditions, according to international standards for the treatment of detainees. Until now, the only thing that has been gained in his favor is minimal changes in his detention conditions. On the other hand, the Colombian state, which is the main culprit in the unjust conviction of one of its nationals on American soil, is washing its hands and has not even remotely tried to obtain the repatriation of Ricardo Palmera -Simon Trinidad.

¿Why a campaign for the liberation and repatriation of Ricardo Palmera – Simon Trinidad?

Simon is a trophy for the underground state that is the American intelligence services and for the Colombian government. They have tried to defeat and break him morally and through him they wanted to teach the then insurgent forces of the FARC-EP a lesson, but their attempt has failed. His life history, his commitment to struggle and resistance in spite of a long, twisted and unjust detention in an American prison make Ricardo Palmera -Simon Trinidad a symbol of dignity and serenity for revolutionaries all over the world.

We can’t abandon him now. We cannot allow him to die in an American prison. We just can’t! It is a moral imperative to seek his release and repatriation because in the words of Fidel Castro “You never abandon your comrades” [14].

There are other examples like the 5 Cuban heroes, of Oscar Lopez, the Porto Rican, of Angela Davis, Nelson Mandela, Mumia Abu-Jamal and others. They show us that solidarity and political pressure are crucial and that positive results can be obtained. We are in debt with Ricardo Palmera -Simon Trinidad. He also deserves a grand national and international campaign that reflects his revolutionary stature.

Ricardo Palmera -Simon Trinidad needs a multitude of people and organizations, at the national and international levels, to make an effort to use all strategies available in order to create greater international awareness in support of his cause and thus finally obtain his liberation and repatriation.
Simon is also the symbolic figure through whom we can make many other political prisoners visible, among them Sonia and Ivan Vargas and dozens of social prisoners who were torn from our soil under the hateful, anti-national extradition measure.

We need Ricardo Palmera -Simon Trinidad back in our country, free and able to contribute with his intelligence and commitment to the construction of a national peace, a complete peace.

Ricardo Palmera Pineda -Simon Trinidad, with your great example of dignity and resistance, you are not just a militant of the FARC, you are our own Mandela, the National Hero of a whole nation.

[1Sebastián Zuleta H. Colombia y la extradición: ¿quo vadis? Fundación Ideas para la Paz. Dossier No. 3/22 de diciembre de 2010. Bogotá, Colombia, p.1.

[2Sebastián Zuleta. Colombia y la extradición… p.1.

[3In: /news/political-prisoners/entrevista-con-mark-burton

[4In: /news/political-prisoners/entrevista-con-mark-burton

[5See: Op. Cit. Sebastián Zuleta H. Colombia y la extradición: ¿quo vadis?...

[6Wikileaks:, first published and translated to Spanish by lawyer and political analyst Juan Carlos Vallejo in: Colombia: destapes del poder oligárquico en Las Notas de ANNCOL in:árquico-+Juan+carlos+vallejo.pdf. For a well documented follow up of the Ricardo Palmera – Simón Trinidad case, see from same author: Apuntes sobre el caso de Simón Trinidad, in:

[8See: /news/political-prisoners/entrevista-con-mark-burton

[11See: /news/political-prisoners/entrevista-con-mark-burton

[14Taken from an article by lawyer and political analyst Juan Carlos Vallejo, ¿Al hombre de hierro lo abandonaron?, febrero 28 de 2017,