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From Harvard to Mass Murder By: Michael Radu
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, January 09, 2004


Facts and reason are still rare commodities among academics studying political violence and terrorism. Nowhere is this more obvious than in their persistent and futile search for a root cause of such phenomena in some deep flaw of society, whether it be injustice, poverty, or inequality. This is, at best, subliminally Marxist "class analysis," and like Marx's other theories, has no real basis.

For example, a recent intercept of Al Qaeda recruiters quoted by The Observer made it clear who the most effective terrorists are: "We need foreigners. We have Albanians, Swiss and English.All that is important is that they are of a high cultural level ...businessmen, professors, engineers, doctors and teachers." Not exactly the natural victims of injustice, poverty, and inequality, but similar to the perpetrators of 9/11 and indeed the entire Al-Qaeda leadership.

However, Islamist terrorism is not the only example of mass murder committed by, or under the orders of, the privileged. A recent event in South America demonstrates, once again, that the engine of terrorism everywhere is largely a dysfunctional middle or upper class seeking power. This time the "hero" was Ricardo Ovidio Palmera Pineda, a.k.a. Simón Trinidad, ideologue and a member of the supreme leadership of Colombia's Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC), who was captured January 2, 2004 in Quito, Ecuador. This was the first time a top FARC leader was ever captured.

A FARC member since 1987, Trinidad (born in 1950) belongs to a wealthy family of ranchers from Valledupar. He graduated from a prestigious private Catholic high school and studied economics at the Jorge Tadeo Lozano University, where he later became a faculty member. He also did post-graduate work in business administration at Harvard, and, upon returning to Colombia, worked as a manager of Banco del Comercio. His wife was also a bank manager, his father a prominent lawyer, and his two sons live safely abroad. Nevertheless, in 1987, Trinidad fled to the mountains and joined FARC-but not before stealing 30 million pesos from Banco del Comercio's coffers, as well as a list of the main depositors' accounts. The list was later used by FARC to select targets for kidnapping and assess the amount of their ransom.

According to the Bogotá newspaper El Tiempo, Trinidad stated upon his arrest that, although it was hard to leave behind his children, "dignity comes first." What dignity? As commander of one of FARC's main units, he kidnapped and murdered Consuelo Araújo Noguera, a former minister and Trinidad's own relative! By 2001, after propagating FARC's cause in Denmark, Sweden, Spain, and Italy as its chief "peace negotiator," Trinidad was a prominent hardliner within FARC. In talks with the government, he repeatedly emphasized on FARC's behalf that, "We want power."

Apparently ill with leishmaniasis (a parasitic disease transmitted by sand flies) and diagnosed with prostate cancer, Trinidad may have sought treatment in Ecuador, where he was finally arrested before being extradited to Colombia, to face 69 charges of terrorism, rebellion, kidnapping, extortion, forced displacement of civilians, multiple homicide, recruitment of minors, conspiracy to commit crimes, property damage, etc. He is also accused of ordering the destruction of the oil, hydroelectric, gas, and water infrastructure and the kidnapping and assassination of former governor and minister Gilberto Echeverri, for which he could face a 60-year prison sentence. In addition, he is presently being sought by the United States for being responsible, with his colleagues in the FARC leadership, for the kidnapping and subsequent murder of American pilots in February of last year.

Not surprisingly, considering the longstanding and intimate ties between FARC and the "legal" Communist Party, the Party's boss, Jaime Caycedo, "did not find any pleasure" in Trinidad's capture. This for an individual accused by the Colombian justice of being the intellectual author of the Bojayá massacre of May 2, 2002, when FARC blew up a chapel full of civilians, killing 119. Comrade Caycedo also stated that Trinidad is a "political prisoner in a foreign country," and that Colombia, as a result, had to think about a "political solution and humanitarian accord." Considering that the "political prisoner" himself, while "negotiating" with the government in October 2001, made it clear that FARC will use military or political means, or both, to obtain power, Caycedo's statements are laughable at best.

What made Trinidad, a Harvard graduate from among Colombia's elite join, and ultimately become a leader of, a murderous Marxist organization? Did he feel that he did not have enough power for someone with his education, social standing and income? That is precisely the motivation of Islamist terrorists, from Osama bin Laden on down to Mohammed Atta. These characters are no more representative of the real victims of existing poverty or injustice than the unanimously elected former dictators of the Soviet bloc or Saddam Hussein. They are equally criminal, especially as they exploit and manipulate their poor followers. Those in the frontlines of combating terrorism know this, and the public should be helped to understand it-but don't count on the academic experts or the media to help.

Michael Radu is Senior Fellow and Co - Chair, Center on Terrorism and Counterterrorism, at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia.


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