Belligerents and terrorists are different

Commentary

A 60-year sentence handed down Jan. 28 to Ricardo Palmera, a leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), by a U.S. judge demonstrates abuse of the terrorist designation. In January 2004, the CIA and local police captured Palmera in Ecuador, where he had been negotiating the release of FARC and Colombian government hostages with a UN official. The FARC, with 16,000 combatants, has engaged oligarchic Colombian governments since 1964.

Palmera, known as Simon Trinidad, spent a year in jail in Colombia and on Dec. 31 was extradited to the United States. In July a federal court convicted him of participating in a hostage-taking conspiracy to seize U.S. mercenaries. Both Palmera and outside observers claim he neither met them nor planned their capture. His main crime, according to U.S. lawyer Paul Wolf, was affiliation with a terrorist organization.

Wolf states that Palmera’s extradition, conviction and sentencing violate Colombian sovereignty. Palmera’s penalty did not exist prior to 2004 when the USAID retooled the Colombian penal code to increase maximum sentences from 40 to 60 years.

The Palmera case illustrates the advantage a superpower derives from labeling foes as terrorists. Jointly with client states, the U.S. government gains the unimpeded ability to make war against revolutionaries and national liberation movements. International norms no longer apply. One country disposes of selected internal enemies of another.

Recent publicity on Colombian President Alvaro Uribe’s ties to drug traffickers and paramilitaries suggests that Colombia’s puppet elite shares Washington’s propensity for excess and stopping at nothing.

In 2004, Newsweek published a 1991 declassified U.S intelligence report stating that President Uribe once “worked for the Medellin Cartel and is a close friend of Pablo Escobar.” The document listed 104 lieutenants of the drug impresario, Uribe’s name appearing as number 82.

Virginia Vallejo, Escobar’s former mistress, published her memoirs last year. She quotes Escobar: “My business is transport and has one foundation — landing fields and planes and helicopters. That great guy (Uribe) dispensed for us dozens of licenses for airfields and hundreds for aircraft.” Uribe was then Civil Aeronautics head for Antioquia State.

In his “Unauthorized Biography,” Newsweek reporter Joseph Contreras claimed that as governor of Antioquia in 1995-97, Uribe was the “driving force” behind the paramilitary Convivir Brigades, a connection going back to the 1980s, according to Aporrea.org. In a press conference last year, Senator Gustavo Petro noted paramilitary use of Uribe family farms, his brother Santiago’s role as paramilitary leader, and participation of state helicopters in paramilitary massacres.

Legal scholars say belligerency status brings international law to bear upon internal armed conflicts, gives rebels groups a quasi-government status, and requires rebels to abide by Geneva protocols. But belligerency status is also defined, even legitimized, through the causes that make insurgents fight.

Writing Jan. 22 for rebelion.org, Colombian jurist Carlos Alberto Ruiz suggests that “what happens every week” to poor people does more to rationalize Colombian insurgent movements than mere judicial categories. He points to “children dying of malnutrition and curable sicknesses, or the adults who die abandoned.” He finds “daily evidence of young people with no future. There are 18 million adolescents, six million live in poverty; two million, in extreme poverty.”

Ruiz describes the marriage Jan. 19 in Cartegena de Indias of Andrés Santo Domingo and Lauren Davis, an editor of New York’s Vogue Magazine. Streets around the cathedral were closed. The rich, powerful, and stylish arrived by the hundreds. Forbes magazine lists Julio Mario Santo Domingo, father of the groom, as Colombia’s richest man, worth $4.5 billion.

“A few hundreds of meters away,” writes Ruiz, “child prostitutes wait.” All the while, “hundreds of thousands of the displaced, the poor, the Blacks, the mulattos, and the forgotten barely survive and wait.”

He describes Colombia’s situation as “ignominious. Armed conflict contesting the status quo is rejected and origins of the war are not confronted.” He calls for “validation of the causes and political perspective that were the genesis of the resistance and the armed conflict.”

atwhit @roadrunner.com