Fight Back!: Tom, can you tell us about Ricardo Palmera and why he is in jail in the U.S.?
Tom Burke: Ricardo Palmera is a Colombian revolutionary imprisoned by the U.S. empire because he is fighting for the freedom for his own country. He has done nothing wrong, only opposed the U.S. war and exploitation in Colombia. He dedicates his life to ending the poverty and misery of peasants and workers.
Professor Palmera was a leading peace negotiator of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army (FARC-EP). The FARC is the largest and most well-organized revolutionary insurgent group in Latin America. They fight for justice, to end corruption and poverty and for freedom from U.S. domination. They want a new Colombia. The rich people who run the U.S. and Colombia fear Ricardo Palmera and the FARC.
So the U.S. makes a dirty war and directs the Colombian military, backing a corrupt death-squad government, what they call Plan Colombia. Instead of waiting for the pro-government death squads to kill him like they did most of his friends, Palmera joined the FARC. Now the U.S. outrageously treats him as a criminal. There is also a brave woman named Anayibe “Sonia” Valderrama, another FARC leader, who is held in a U.S. prison in Fort Worth, Texas. Their trials were corrupt and unfair. Judge Hogan was forced to step down after the first Palmera trial because he was caught cheating with the prosecutor. These U.S. State Department-sponsored trials were designed to criminalize the Colombian struggle for national liberation. It backfired on them.
Fight Back!: You are the spokesperson for the National Committee to Free Ricardo Palmera. When did you establish the committee and what is your aim?
Tom Burke: We formed the National Committee to Free Ricardo Palmera following a Colombia Action Network conference at DePaul University in Chicago, summer of 2005. The conference leaders met and discussed Ricardo Palmera’s extradition and imprisonment by the Bush State Department. There were dozens of activists from the U.S. and Colombia with as many views as there are flowers in Colombia. We decided to organize protests against U.S. extradition of Colombians and U.S. trials of revolutionaries – especially Ricardo Palmera.
The trials are a violation of Colombia’s sovereignty and the U.S. has no right to judge revolutionaries in other countries who are fighting for their freedom, whether it is Colombia, the Philippines or Palestine. There is no court in the U.S. that can deliver justice to a Colombian freedom fighter.
Fight Back!: What makes Palmera so important for the U.S. government? In what way is his imprisonment connected with U.S. national and foreign policies?
Tom Burke: Ricardo Palmera was on a peace mission to meet an envoy of the UN Secretary General when the U.S. intelligence and Colombian agents in Ecuador kidnapped him. In Palmera’s four court cases, the U.S. judges would not allow a UN official to testify. The UN official witnessed a peace negotiation between the Colombian government and the FARC where Ricardo Palmera’s safe passage was agreed to. The U.S. did not want to see a peace process in Colombia, – the White House wanted more war.
While most Colombians and Americans want peace, the wealthy few that rule our countries want more profits and will pursue wars to that end. The U.S. government did not and does not want a peace process in Colombia.
Now under Obama, the U.S. is occupying seven military bases in Colombia. Many Europeans, like many Americans hoped Obama would turn towards peace. That is not what is happening, instead, Obama is escalating the war in Colombia.
Fight Back!: Can you tell us where Ricardo is currently and about his situation and prison sentence?
Tom Burke: Ricardo Palmera is in solitary confinement in the Supermax prison in Florence, Colorado. These prisons are inhuman and designed to break the human spirit. The U.S. government holds him under ‘Special Administrative Measures.’ Ricardo Palmera is not allowed to read the letters we write to him; the press cannot interview him; when he is moved out of his cell he is shackled head to toe and hooked to a machine that will shock him if he moves too quickly. The U.S. government is abusing this Colombian freedom fighter. It is sickening.
We continue demanding the U.S. government release this brave revolutionary and allow him to travel to a country of his choice. We are organizing a petition drive to target Attorney General Holder.
The petition to free Palmera can be found here: http://www.fightbacknews.org/2010/3/24/petition-campaign-underway-demand-freedom-ricardo-palmera