Unable to receive letters, packages, and emails, Simon Trinidad, citizen of Colombia, lives in a tiny, constantly illuminated, underground cell in a high-security prison in Colorado. From 2005 to 2016 Simon Trinidad lived in total isolation. Now he may, infrequently, receive four family members and two lawyers as visitors. Now, chained, he may occasionally interact with a handful of prisoners.
A U. S. court in 2008 sentenced the 58-year old Trinidad to 60 years in prison. He was charged with conspiracy to hold three U.S. contractors hostage – “mercenaries of North American corporations engaged in spying,” according to one observer. The three hostages went free that same year.
One Colombian regards Trinidad as a “clear symbol of the resistance and dignity of a people who had to rise up in arms to confront state terrorism.” Another speaks of the “debt we have as revolutionaries” and “the grief we feel that someone with the humanity of Simon is in that situation.”
The group Voices for Peace, joined by Colombian human rights organizations, has been agitating for Trinidad’s repatriation; the group cites humanitarian reasons and the peace process. It urged Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos to submit a request to President Donald Trump. But Santos’s office referred the question to the Foreign Ministry and from there it went to the Ministry of Justice and Law, where it stalled. An activist explains that, after all, Trinidad is only one of many “extradited Colombians suffering in jails of the imperialist country.”
A new solidarity group emerged recently with support from prisoner defense organizations in Colombia and from Spain’s “Solidarity with Colombia Platform.” The name for the group’s campaign for Trinidad’s release is: “One reads dignity and writes Simon Trinidad” (“Se lee dignidad, se escribe Simón Trinidad”). Organizers are on their way to gathering 100,000 signatures for a petition to the White House. The campaign’s website is here.
The group organized and sponsored Mark Burton’s European tour for the prisoner that ran from September 4 to September 15. Burton, Trinidad’s U. S. lawyer, is part of the Simon Trinidad campaign in the United States. In Europe, he held informational meetings with parliamentarians of Spain, the Basque Country, Germany, and the European Parliament. Burton joined a forum staged by the United Nations Human Rights Council and in Geneva he discussed Trinidad’s case with diplomats of various countries. Along the way, he took part in public events and gave interviews
He told interviewer Javier Couso, a Spanish United Left deputy to the European Parliament, that “Simon Trinidad is a most important person in the peace process in Colombia,” and on that account must be freed. Later he remarked to Publico’s interviewer Danilo Albin that, “I want to educate people about my client … I know that the European Union is involved in the phase of peace implementation in Colombia. That’s why I am looking for support for his freedom.”
Reviewing his trip in an email, Burton anticipates parliamentary statements and diplomatic initiatives on Trinidad’s behalf. Pro- Trinidad organizations are taking root in Berlin, Brussels, Madrid, Alicante, and Geneva. A member of Germany’s Bundestag wants to visit Trinidad in prison.
Serving the FARC
Prior to joining the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in 1987 at age 37, Simon Trinidad had been Ricardo Palmera, member of a politically-connected and wealthy family. He prepared in economics and worked as a banker and economics professor in Valledupar, Cesar Department. Along the way Palmera became aware of unjust land use and distribution. He and others formed a left – leaning, local affiliate of the Liberal Party, after which he helped organize a group called Common Cause. He soon joined the Patriotic Union.
A peace agreement in 1986 between President Belisario Betancourt’s government and Marxist-oriented FARC rebels made that political party possible. Demobilized FARC insurgents, Communists, and other leftists belonging to the Patriotic Union ran for political office. Soon they were being killed. Palmera had already suffered prison and torture for a week. Comrades were leaving for exile, but Palmera “decided to save his life but [also] to continue with his revolutionary ideals of social justice, and thus joined the FARC.”
The FARC began in 1964 when a group of small farmers fighting for agrarian rights organized militarily to defend against violence. As Mark Burton explains, new FARC recruit Simon Trinidad, formerly Ricardo Palmera, became “in reality an intellectual for that group.” He was in charge of political education, propaganda, and negotiations with international agencies, foreign governments, and the Colombian state. He had a lead role in peace talks with the government in Caguán beginning in 1998.
In January, 2004, Trinidad was in Quito, Ecuador where he was to have asked United Nations official James Lemoyne to facilitate FARC plans to release hostages. Ecuadoran police, assisted by the CIA, arrested him and transferred him to Colombia. Colombian President Alvaro Uribe insisted on his extradition to the United States. Trinidad lingered for a year while a pretext was manufactured. A former political prisoner explains that, “Colombia’s Constitution prohibits the extradition of a citizen for political reasons” such as rebellion. Alternative charges were devised.
The U. S. government subjected Trinidad to four trials. Persuaded by his testimony, Trinidad’s first jury stopped short of convicting him on the charge of membership in a terrorist organization. A second jury did convict him of conspiring to hold the three captured U.S. agents as hostages, this despite the unlikely chance he would have helped plan the operation; he had no military-command responsibilities. Two subsequent trials declared Trinidad innocent of drug – trafficking.
For four years FARC negotiators insisted that Simon Trinidad join them at peace talks in Havana. The FARC is a political party now, and spokespersons say they need Trinidad’s negotiating skills for dealing with post – agreement problems. While the talks were in progress, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos indicated he was open to Trinidad’s return. After conferring with former U. S. Secretary of State John Kerry, FARC representatives were hopeful that the U. S. government might cooperate. But, “the Colombian government apparently never approached the United States with a formal request,” according to Mark Burton.
In Colombia Trinidad would be benefiting from the peace agreement. He would join other former insurgents in applying to the new Special Jurisdiction for Peace for amnesty. He might receive reparations, as per the agreement, because his wartime partner and their child were targeted for murder.
No end to conflict
Old adversaries are at each other’s throats. Simon Trinidad figures as a stand-in for the revolutionary side, still under siege in Colombia.
Former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, inveterate opponent of the peace process, leads the opposition to Trinidad’s release from prison. In one tweet typical of many such denigrating the prisoner, Uribe laments that “Simon Trinidad added narco-trafficking to the money from kidnappings.” Opinion surveys suggest that at least a majority of Colombian adults agree with claims from Uribe – led right-wingers that the FARC won’t comply with requirements of the peace agreement and claims too that high-visibility FARC leaders deserve imprisonment.
Nor have wealthy elites in the United States forgotten the cause they shared with counterparts in Colombia. To defeat the FARC, they provided billions of dollars in military aid, U. S. troops, and intelligence expertise and equipment. Florida Senator Marco Rubio, intent upon keeping that memory alive, has led in vilifying Simon Trinidad.
Revolutionaries in Colombia are speaking out. For former political prisoner Liliany Obando, “Simon has been man of integrity, a revolutionary, and a humanist and his cause on this road has been altruistic….Simon must inevitably be able to count on more hands and on the solid commitment of many people, abroad and especially in the United States, people who can be mobilized and exert important political pressure so that Simon’s repatriation can be achieved.”
On August 20 in Bogota, Colombia’s Communist party staged its annual festival for its Semanario Voz (Weekly Voice) newspaper. An editorial writer celebrated the event saying that, “It’s time now for Colombians who are living moments of change and national reconciliation to take on the job of broadcasting the life, history, and need for repatriation of Simon Trinidad. [He] has already gone from being a rebel of the FARC –EP to being a national hero.”
Jaime Caycedo Turriago, the Party’s secretary – general read a poem:
The bright star you can’t see
hardly asks you
if any verse
flew off in the night,
If it came through the bars
And the regulations,
If it disappeared beyond the sea
And the empire’s walls.
Perhaps there’s no reply
To this question.
There will be silence and,
There will be uncertainty.
On this shore,
Which is the shore of the world, There are millions who are pondering.
And they throw out hopes to the universe
That are shaking your bars.
There are millions of hearts
that are together on a shaft of liberty
Who are calling you back to your homeland,
And to freedom.