A press release from the United States Department of Justice announced that a federal jury in the District of Columbia has found Juvenal Ovidio Ricardo Palmera Pineda (a.k.a. Simon Trinidad) guilty of conspiracy to engage in taking hostage three American citizens. This announcement was made by Kenneth L. Wainstein, Assistant Attorney General for National Security, and Jeffrey A. Taylor, a U.S. attorney. Palmera is a known senior member of a foreign terrorist organization known as FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia).
FARC issued a statement in April of 2003 that alerted the American public as to the abduction of three American citizens: Marc Gonsalves, Keith Stansell, and Thomas Howes. According to evidence presented at the trial, these three Americans were performing counter-drug surveillance in a rural area in Columbia in a small Cessna airplane. The engine of the Cessna failed them at some point during their surveillance, and the plane crash landed in the state of Caqueta. FARC guerrilla fighters, heavily armed, surrounded the plane immediately and brutally executed two of the plane’s occupants: Thomas Janis (an American pilot) and Luis Alcides Cruz (a Colombian national). The other three men mentioned above were taken hostage at that point and have been held hostage ever since.
FARC made demands of the United States for the exchange of the three hostages and various other hostages that were also being held by FARC at that time. FARC named the above mentioned Palmera as the voice of FARC in the negotiations with the United States. However, Palmera was arrested eight months later in Ecuador for the possession of false identification. This identification, Palmera later stated, was obtained in Ecuador to enable him to travel abroad to accomplish duties as a FARC spokesperson in this hostage case. He was deported to Colombia and then extradited to the United States to face charges on the final day of 2004.
The jury found Palmera guilty of the conspiracy count on July 9, 2007. The jury was dismissed yesterday after they could not reach a unanimous verdict on the four remaining counts. A date for determining the sentencing of Palmera has not yet been determined. Palmera could face a maximum sentence of life in prison by United States standards. However, due to an agreement with Colombia, the U.S. has to sentence Palmera to a period defined by specific years rather than simply “life in prison.”
Hopefully this tragedy and others like them will be less frequent because of situations like this where the U.S. proves they are willing to track down and punish anyone who commits a criminal act on an American citizen. No further information was released concerning the status of the three American hostages spoken of in this report or the other hostages currently being held by FARC.
U.S. Department of Justice website, http://www.usdoj.gov/
U.S. Department of Justice press release, http://www.usdoj.gov/opa/pr/2007/July/07_nsd_494.html