Might the U.S. Release Simon Trinidad?

By:  Antoine Perret, CLALS Research Fellow

Simon Trinidad mug shot | by US Government | public domain

Simon Trinidad mug shot | by US Government | public domain

In the peace talks between the Colombian government and the FARC, the guerrilla negotiators have requested the release of FARC leader Simon Trinidad – nom de guerre of Ricardo Palmera – who is imprisoned in the United States.  Publicly available information gives no hint that the Colombian government has officially asked Washington to consider the question, but – since the release of FARC members in prison in Colombia is not off the table – Washington should be prepared to consider the possibility.

Simon Trinidad was captured in Quito, Ecuador, in January 2004, extradited to the United States and put on trial for conspiracy to engage in drug trafficking and to hold hostages.  Each of four trials for drug trafficking ended in a hung jury, and eventually those charges were dropped.  In 2007, however, he was convicted for an alleged role in conspiring to kidnap three U.S. contractors taken hostage after their counterdrug surveillance plane crashed in 2003.  Trinidad is serving a 60-year-sentence in Colorado at the United States’ only federal “supermax” prison, with no prospect of parole.

The U.S. State Department has publicly stated that President Obama will not grant Trinidad parole, as the FARC requested, to participate in the negotiations.  But the question of his release if the Colombian government requests it within a peace settlement remains pending.  If such a request arises, the U.S. government’s lawyers will certainly report that the protocol (II) additional to the Geneva Conventions states that “at the end of hostilities, the authorities in power shall endeavor to grant the broadest possible amnesty to persons who have participated in the armed conflict, or those deprived of their liberty for reasons related to the armed conflict, whether they are interned or detained.”  The words “shall endeavor” obviously do not imply obligation, but by establishing that states should release members, they create a political dynamic that could drive a decision giving a useful push to resolving Colombia’s six-decade conflict.