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Interview with Mark Burton, attorney for Colombian revolutionary Simon Trinidad

Interview by staff |
January 25, 2021
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Simon Trinidad.
Simon Trinidad.

Fight Back! interviews Mark Burton, attorney for Colombian revolutionary Simon Trinidad who is a political prisoner held by the U.S. government. Simon Trinidad, also known as Ricardo Palmera, is a good man who has done nothing wrong. His only crime is to fight for the freedom and independence of his own country, taking the side of Colombian workers and peasants. Due to U.S. government repression, we are unable to interview Simon Trinidad directly. Check out the campaign to Free Simon Trinidad at http://freesimontrinidad.org.

Fight Back!: Who Is Simon Trinidad?

Mark Burton, Esq.: Simon Trinidad is a historical figure who rose to be an important spokesman for peace for the FARC-EP in Colombia. Simon began his career as a banker and an economics professor in his home Department of Cesar, Colombia. In the 1970s and 1980s he became very interested in the struggle for peace in Colombia and joined the political group Causa Común and then joined the Patriotic Union (Unión Patriótica). A campaign of genocide against the Patriotic Union began in 1986 and Simon was threatened with death. After some colleagues were assassinated, Simon fled his home and joined the FARC-EP. In the FARC he became one of their principal spokespersons for peace.

Fight Back!: Why is he imprisoned in the Florence Supermax prison in Colorado?

Mark Burton, Esq.: Prisoners who are considered enemies of the state are often sent to the penitentiary Florence ADX, popularly known as Supermax, as the prisoner’s ability to communicate with the outside world is tightly controlled. In general, prisoners are cut off from contacts outside the prison. Simon was sent there after his conviction in Washington D.C., where it took the government four trials to convict him of one count of conspiracy. The rightist forces were unable to silence Simon through assassination, but the Colombian and American governments have been able to silence him by imprisonment in Supermax.

Fight Back!: A British judge recently ruled to not extradite Julian Assange of WikiLeaks, because he might be imprisoned in the Supermax prison in Florence. What are conditions like there?

Mark Burton, Esq.: For the prisoners who are under a SAM, the Special Administrative Measure, like Simon, they generally pass 23 hours a day in a 3.5 by 2-meter cell. Normally the prisoners are allowed a television, but, apart from approved family members and lawyers, they have no contact with the outside world. They are generally allowed three phone calls a month to the approved persons on the government approved list of contacts. Simon is under a SAM but is now in the step-down program that allows him access to three other prisoners for two hours a day He is still unable to communicate with the world at large. Even for prisoners who are not under a SAM in Supermax, communication is tightly controlled.

Fight Back!: What efforts are being made to free Simon Trinidad?

Mark Burton, Esq.: Simon was never an item on the agenda of the peace talks in Havana, Cuba but there were efforts, both diplomatically and informally, to free him. Some members of the FARC-EP, particularly Iván Márquez, who was the leader of the FARC-EP’s peace delegation, made diplomatic efforts to free Simon with the Colombian and U.S. governments. Iván Márquez met with John Kerry in Havana, Cuba in 2016 and thought he had some sort of commitment to free Simon, but was later disappointed when Simon was not freed.

Since that time, there have been numerous calls for Simon’s freedom from popular movements in the United States and internationally. Simon will ask the new Biden administration for executive clemency and this will give the new administration an opportunity to right this historic wrong.

Fight Back!: Will having President Biden in office offer new possibilities?

Mark Burton, Esq.: There is certainly hope that the Biden administration will have a different approach to Colombia than the outgoing Trump administration. However, this hope should be approached with some caution. Joe Biden was one of the promoters of the notorious Plan Colombia which led to an intensified war in that country. It should also be noted that his foreign policy team is largely made up of persons who served in the Obama administration. Obama had the perfect opportunity, during the peace talks, to free Simon Trinidad and failed to do so.

On the other hand, there are reports that the Biden team is very unhappy with the current Colombian president Ivan Duque, who openly supported Donald Trump and whose ambassador to the United States, Francisco “Pacho” Santos, actually campaigned for Trump among the Latino community in Florida, interfering in the internal affairs of the United States. There are reports that Duque has called Biden five times and each time Biden has refused to talk to him. Many in Colombia hope that this unhappiness with Duque may turn into more U.S. support for the implementation of the peace agreement, which has languished under Duque, and there could possibly be some benefit for Simon.