Newsbrief: Colombia Guerrillas Demand Return of Commander Extradited to US 3/4/05

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http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/377/farc.shtml

Colombia's leftist rebel army, the 17,000-strong FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) is demanding the release of one of its top commanders, Ricardo Palmera (better known by his nom de guerre Simon Trinidad), as a key condition for the release of 63 hostages it is holding, including three American mercenaries and former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt. Trinidad was extradited to the US by the government of President Alvaro Uribe to face cocaine trafficking and kidnapping charges.

While the FARC began as a peasant-based guerrilla army in 1964, it has, along with nearly everyone else involved in Colombia's 40-year civil war, turned to the coca and cocaine trade as a means of raising money. Beginning with the Clinton administration's Plan Colombia in the late 1990s, the US has funneled more than $2 billion in military, police, and economic assistance to the Colombian government in an effort to suppress the drug traffic. After the September 2001 attacks on the US, the Bush administration dropped all pretense of limiting US assistance to the war on drugs and has openly embraced a war of counterinsurgency designed to defeat the FARC and the smaller Army of National Liberation (ELN). The administration has budgeted more than $700 million for that effort in its 2006 budget proposal.

But the war continues, and in a February 25 communiqué from somewhere "in the mountains of Colombia" posted two days later on its web site, the rebels blamed the Uribe government's decision to extradite Simon Trinidad, as well as the pending extradition of Nayibe Rojas ("Sonia") for ending the possibility of a prisoner exchange. "The sorrow and deserved discontent of the families of prisoners of war with the government of Uribe grows because he has frozen the possibility of a humanitarian exchange... with the unjust extradition of Simon Trinidad to the United States. Family members know that without the return of Simon to Colombia, the possibilities for an agreement on an exchange are far from being realized, and the responsibility lies with Alvaro Uribe and his government."

The FARC communiqué added that the group's proposal for a prisoner exchange was non-negotiable. "We will deliver the group of people to be exchanged if we receive from the government all the guerrillas in its power, including Simon Trinidad, Ricardo Gonzalez, and Sonia."

Family members of prisoners on both sides, don't hold your breath.

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Issue #377 -- 3/4/05

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