Letâ€™s be clear here: â€œSimÃ³n Trinidad,â€ the most senior FARC member ever to
be in Colombian government custody, is going to be extradited to the United
States by the end of the year.
On November 24, Colombiaâ€™s Supreme Court gave the green light to the extraditions,
on drug-trafficking charges, of Trinidad (real name: Ricardo Palmera) and paramilitary
leader Salvatore Mancuso. The rulings force President Uribe to decide promptly
whether to hand them over to U.S. authorities. Uribe has now made decisions
in both cases, determining that each must meet specific conditions in order
to avoid extradition.
Mancuso’s conditions merely require the top paramilitary figure to keep doing
what he has already said he would do: keep taking part in peace negotiations
and â€œabandon illegal activities.â€ Of course, what Mancuso has said he would
do may not be what he actually will do. If the AUC leader continues participating
in â€œillegal activities,â€ letâ€™s hope the Colombian government doesnâ€™t turn a
The conditions facing the guerrilla leaderâ€™s extradition are much tougher:
if Trinidadâ€™s extradition is to be avoided, President Uribe has declared, by
December 30 the FARC must free all sixty-three of the hostages it has held,
in some cases since the late 1990s. The href="http://eltiempo.terra.com.co/coar/NEGOCIACION/negociacion/ARTICULO-WEB-_NOTA_INTERIOR-1913740.html"
target="_blank">list of prominent kidnapped people â€“ whom the guerrillas insist
on exchanging for FARC prisoners in Colombian jails â€“ includes military officers,
politicians (including former senator and presidential candidate href="http://www.4ingrid.com/main/accueil.htm" target="_blank">Ãngrid Betancourt),
and three target="_blank">U.S. citizens captured while working for a Defense Department
There is about a zero likelihood that the FARC will agree to Uribeâ€™s demand.
The guerrillas view their hostages as an enormous bargaining chip, and have
sought to hold talks in a temporarily demilitarized zone (the latest demand
is the municipalities of Florida and Pradera southeast of Cali) to discuss a
deal to secure their release. Though a prominent guerrilla leader, Trinidad
was neither a member of the FARCâ€™s top href="http://www.farcep.org/documentos/pleno/" target="_blank">Secretariat
nor its 18-member high command (Estado Mayor Central); the guerrilla
leadership is unlikely, then, to give in to what it regards as blackmail, freeing
hostages it has held for years merely to secure Trinidadâ€™s release.
So Trinidad will be on U.S. soil sometime around New Yearâ€™s Day. If that happens,
what comes next?
Gustavo Petro, a Colombian congressman and former M-19 guerrilla, put it well:
President Uribeâ€™s demand â€œis like attaching a bomb to each hostage.â€ The FARC
has already shown its willingness to kill its hostages in cold blood. In May
2003, FARC captors killed the governor of Antioquia department, his peace advisor
(a former defense minister) and several others during a botched army rescue
What is to stop the guerrillas from responding with equal brutality to Trinidadâ€™s
extradition, killing one or more hostages? In their calculations, doing so would
set a precedent making it very costly for the government to agree to extradite
future FARC prisoners. The hostagesâ€™ family members are right to be very worried.
The blackmail runs both ways.
President Uribeâ€™s ultimatum not only endangers the FARC hostages, it makes
it even less likely that dialogue can be re-established anytime soon. Angelino
GarzÃ³n, the governor of Valle del Cauca department, which includes the area
the FARC hoped to demilitarize to hold talks (a proposal GarzÃ³n supported),
laments this situation. â€œExtradition and a humanitarian negotiation are different
dynamics. The government should carry out greater efforts to find spaces for
agreement, achieve the hostagesâ€™ liberation and stimulate opportunities for
peace, such as what is being done with the paramilitaries.â€
The government is doing the opposite, issuing ultimatums that play to popular
opinion. Uribeâ€™s demand â€œisnâ€™t going to have any positive effect on an eventual
hostage liberation,â€ Camilo GÃ³mez, the Colombian governmentâ€™s chief peace negotiator
between 2000 and 2002, told El Tiempo. â€œThe President is playing politics
instead of seeking the hostagesâ€™ freedom.â€