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60 Years in Prison for Colombian Revolutionary Ricardo Palmera

by Kati Ketz and Angela Denio |
January 30, 2008
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Washington D.C. - Professor Palmera appeared calm and confident as he entered the courtroom in an orange prison jumpsuit, Jan. 28. He listened with interest as U.S. prosecutor Ken Kohl repeatedly called him a ‘terrorist’ as he argued that Palmera should receive a life sentence.

Ricardo Palmera, who served as a peace negotiator for Colombia’s largest rebel group, the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) and is now a political prisoner held the U.S., had faced Prosecutor Kohl at past trials. In two previous trials, prosecutor Kohl failed to prove terrorism charges against Professor Palmera.

In the last case, Kohl was caught colluding with the judge and the judge had to step down. Kohl’s cheating set the stage for Judge Lamberth to take over. In the retrial, Judge Lamberth approved dozens of prosecution witnesses, while not allowing Palmera even one. U.S. prosecutor Kohl’s sentencing arguments were outrageous distortions.

In response, public defender Bob Tucker argued for a lesser sentence. Tucker’s arguments emphasized the political background of the trial and the U.S. government’s intervention in Colombia’s civil war. Tucker spoke of how Judge Royce Lamberth influenced the jury by instructing them to use wide definitions in finding Ricardo Palmera guilty of belonging to a conspiracy - the FARC. Tucker also pleaded to the judge to show some leniency due to Palmera’s honesty in his testimony, contrasted with the coached testimony and lies of many prosecution witnesses.

For the next hour, Ricardo Palmera spoke with honor and pride. These are excerpts:

“I speak as a member of the FARC, an insurgent organization that takes up arms against the Colombian government. I have been a member since 1987. The Colombian oligarchy has used arms to oppress the people; this gave rise to the FARC, which uses arms to free them. The FARC are part of the Colombian people. They use arms and protests and various other ways to express opposition to the violent and elitist regime.”

Professor Palmera spoke about various FARC leaders, like Marulanda, and their backgrounds including farmers, workers, indigenous, women and student leaders and their struggle for a “pluralistic, democratic and peaceful Colombia with social justice.” Later he added “The ruling regime uses a policy of violence - employing murder, assassination, threats and death squads to keep themselves in power.”

Palmera went on to speak about economic inequality. “Latin America represents the greatest economic disparity. Colombia is third in Latin America in economic and social disparity. 24 million Colombians live below the poverty line and subsist on one or two dollars per day.”

Referring to the trial, Palmera said, “What takes place here is a political trial from beginning to end, no matter what the U.S. government may try to claim. The political nature of this trial is pleasing to me because it allows me to present the ideas of the FARC and the Secretariat to the judge and the jury, and to explain the ideas and goals of the FARC to the American people. I am also quite satisfied because despite the great lengths the U.S. government went to, the jury did not find me, Ricardo Palmera, guilty of being a terrorist, which I believe the U.S. government has mistakenly classified the FARC as. I take the opportunity here, on behalf of the FARC and myself, to make a condemnation of all terrorism no matter its origin. I will never forget that it is the terrorist actions of the Colombian state that brought me to become a member of the FARC and I will never allow it to become our practice.”

“The FARC - and I as a member of the FARC in particular - reject extradition. It is a neo-colonial policy that violates the sovereignty of the Colombian people. It is used as a weapon by the U.S. to blackmail men and women who fight for a just cause, including Sonia and myself. On the charge of conspiracy itself, I bear no guilt. The charge pertains to problems in my country and not beyond. It reflects real problems of the conflict and ways to exchange prisoners on both sides. I sent a letter to FARC leader Marulanda asking that my freedom not become a barrier for the freedom of others in Colombia. I think that the Prisoner Accords will become an important factor to achieve peace and justice in Colombia. A political solution has always been a part of any conflict and it has always been part of the FARC platform to find a political solution. As I have already had a meeting with the U.S. Department of State, I am willing for further meetings to take place to increase dialogue. When I joined the FARC, I was aware I might lose my life or liberty to obtain peace and justice for the Colombian people.”

Palmera’s arguments were coherent and clear. He was unrepentant and defended all of his actions on behalf of the Colombian people. He described and spoke with pride about the FARC and its leadership. Palmera thanked the National Committee to Free Ricardo Palmera for their support. He thanked Colombian Senator Piedad Cordoba for meeting with him prior to the sentencing. Then Palmera ended his speech with slogans and a quote from Bolivar: “Viva La FARC! Viva Marulanda! Viva Bolivar!”

Following Ricardo Palmera’s speech, Judge Royce Lambert praised Ricardo Palmera’s intelligence, his belief in principles, and while emphasizing his own ‘judicial independence’ sentenced Palmera to 60 years in prison, calling him a terrorist and saying his activity in Colombia broke U.S. law. A few months earlier, Judge Lamberth would not allow criminal proceedings against the executives of Chiquita Banana who armed and paid right-wing paramilitaries to kill union workers and leaders.

Tom Burke of the National Committee to Free Ricardo Palmera said, “This verdict is the equivalent of a life sentence for Ricardo Palmera. It is a slap in the face to the Colombian people and anybody who believes in the sovereignty of their own country. Professor Palmera can be proud that despite solitary confinement, cheating prosecutors and biased judges, he has beaten nine other charges during three trials. Like their wars in Iraq and Colombia, the Bush administration “made an underestimation” in deciding to put Ricardo Palmera on trial. Palmera’s speech was brilliant.”

It remains to be seen whether Ricardo Palmera or Colombian revolutionary Sonia, held in a Fort Worth, Texas prison, will be included in any prisoner exchanges. The National Committee to Free Ricardo Palmera plans to protest an upcoming re-trial of Ricardo Palmera in late March.

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