- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 5, 2005

A Colombian rebel leader, a wealthy lawyer’s son who attended private schools and did graduate work at Harvard University, was ordered held yesterday without bail to face trial on charges of drug trafficking, kidnapping and supporting terrorists.

Juvenal Ovidio Ricardo Palmera Pineda, a leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, was extradited to the United States last week aboard a U.S. government aircraft from Colombia. He was ordered held by Chief U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan, who agreed with prosecutors that the Colombian posed a danger to the community and an “extraordinary” flight risk.

Palmera, 54, the first FARC leader to face U.S. drug and terrorism charges, is accused in two indictments — one handed up in March and another in May by grand juries in Washington — of narcotics trafficking, hostage taking and providing material support to terrorists.

Wearing a green prison uniform and using headphones to listen to a Spanish translator, he arrived under heavy security at the federal courthouse. He was convicted last year in Colombia of aggravated kidnapping and sentenced to 35 years in prison.

Palmera, who also is known as Simon Trinidad, was extradited to the United States after the FARC ignored an ultimatum by Colombian President Alvaro Uribe in December to release 63 hostages it held — including politicians, government troops, three U.S. Defense Department contractors and a German businessman.

He was arrested Jan. 2, 2004, in Quito, Ecuador, and described at the time as a top political leader and negotiator with the FARC — a Marxist insurgency group with an estimated force of 18,000.

According to the terrorism indictment, Palmera served in the senior strategic planning group of the FARC, a drug-trafficking organization that also has been designated as a terrorist organization by the State Department. He is accused of conspiring with the FARC and others to take hostage Thomas Howes, Keith Stansell and Marc Gonsalves. The three Americans were kidnapped in February 2003 when their U.S. airplane crashed in the Colombian jungle. The hostages remain in FARC custody.

The indictment said Palmera was named in an April 27, 2003, FARC communique as one of three senior commanders to represent the group in presenting its demands for the release of hostages it held.

It also said that as part of the hostage-taking conspiracy, the FARC and its conspirators killed two other occupants of the airplane, American Thomas Janis and Colombian Sgt. Luis Alcides Cruz.

Palmera is charged with providing material support and resources to terrorists, namely the FARC, knowing and intending that his support would be used in preparation for or in carrying out the hostage-taking conspiracy.

In the narcotics indictment, he is accused of controlling and directing FARC drug-trafficking activities by “issuing orders regarding the acquisition, transportation and sale of cocaine by various fronts of the FARC and the movement of drug money.” The indictment said he managed money used by the FARC to conduct drug-trafficking activities.

Palmera obtained a degree in economics in Bogota and won a fellowship at Harvard. He worked as a history professor at a Colombia university and later managed Colombia’s Banco del Comercio, but he quit in the 1980s to join the FARC.

Colombian authorities said he used his education and banking skills to oversee the payment to the FARC of ransoms for kidnapped ranchers and to negotiate a deal with then-Colombian President Andres Pastrana for a 16,000-acre parcel for the FARC in southern Colombia in exchange for peace talks. The talks failed.

Palmera’s extradition was ordered despite warnings by the families of the hostages and the Catholic Church in Colombia that his removal to the United States would end efforts under way to negotiate the release of some of the hostages.

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