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Mistrial in Colombia rebel’s drug case

From the Associated Press

A federal judge declared a mistrial Thursday in the cocaine trafficking trial of the most senior commander of Latin America’s largest rebel group to be captured by Colombian authorities.

The U.S. hoped a conviction would support its stand that the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia is both a terrorist organization and a violent drug cartel.

But jurors said they could not reach a verdict against Ricardo Palmera, the latest stalemate in the government’s case. Prosecutors indicated they would seek a retrial of Palmera, also known by an alias, Simon Trinidad.

Jurors, whose names were kept secret under a court order, said they were deadlocked at 7 to 5 in favor of acquittal. Jurors did not dispute that the group, known by its Spanish initials FARC, was in the cocaine business. But most agreed that the government could not prove Palmera was part of that enterprise.

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One juror told reporters that the Justice Department never disproved Palmera’s defense that “he was a political advisor for the FARC and that his duties and responsibilities were primarily for political reasons.”

The rebel group has fought the Colombian government for 40 years. The U.S. has spent billions of dollars in recent years to combat the insurgency and the Colombian cocaine industry.

Palmera was convicted in July of hostage-taking conspiracy. Though he faces decades in prison on that charge, this is not the outcome officials hoped for when Palmera was arrested in 2004 and extradited to the United States.

The Justice Department’s terrorism case fell apart when, after two trials, jurors could not agree whether Palmera had supported terrorists. Now, after a monthlong drug trial, prosecutors must decide whether to bring this case again.

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The U.S. successfully prosecuted a FARC commander on drug charges this summer. Anayibe Rojas Valderama, or “Sonia,” was convicted of exporting cocaine to the U.S. to finance the rebels.


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