Our visit to the Colombia Three
Cristin McCauley gives her account of the visit to their Colombian jail by family members of three Irishmen being held in dangerous and cramped conditions without charge in Bogota. The three men, Niall Connoly, Jim Monaghan and Martin McCauley, are accused of being members of the IRA and of assisting Colombian rebels of the FARC organisation. Dan Connolly, Gerry Monaghan and myself, arrived in Bogota airport, Colombia, on Thursday the 18th of October. Thebeauty of the country and its climate were somewhat overshadowed by our reasons for being there, to visit our loved ones in the Dijin holding centre. Martin had been nervous about my decision to make the journey, and after our stay, I understood why. A representative from the Irish Embassy in Mexico accompanied us to the Dijin on the Friday morning and negotiated a one-hour visit. I was literally shaking when Martin, Niall and Jim were brought out into the small yard. It had been months since I had last seen or touched Martin and I didn't know what to expect, I can't express the intensity of that long awaited moment. The three had recently been isolated from each other and the marked difference in Martin's form during phone calls home concerned me greatly. He was very pale and his eyes were glazed and a bad colour, but I left the visit that day content that he was in high spirits. Twenty three-hour lock- up and solitary confinement were sure to have an affect on the physical appearance. We learned the men's lawyers had been refused access to the FARC-controlled zone to collect witness statements. This was an essential part of the men's defence and a worrying development. It backed our fears that there was little chance of a fair legal process in Colombia. Our next visit was on the Sunday for three hours, although about half an hour was lost going through security. This was the regular visit for the Dijin, and we were allowed to bring in food. I brought bacon, soda bread and black pudding from home, and made them each a fry, needless to say it went down well and they spoke little or none until they had eaten! It was a great visit for Martin and I as we were relaxed knowing we had enough time to discuss the children and news from home in depth. There was great excitement about the full page campaign ad in the press at home that day, it gave the men a real boost. Again I left content, although Martin expressed concerned for my safety. After our visit on Friday the police that run the centre had been inquiring as to where we were staying. I tried to assure Martin that we were safe, the friend we stayed with had armed guards on the house 24 hours a day, he was still uneasy. After the visit we had a meeting with one of their lawyers who suggested we do an interview for a local TV station. We agreed, and publicly aired our concerns for the men's safety, wellbeing and continued detention. We called for their release. We were refused a visit on Monday. Diplomatic intervention secured a visit on Tuesday afternoon, but nothing could have prepared me for the petty needling directed at Martin by one guard in particular, during that hour. Instead of a visit together we were all separated. Gerry and Jim were left in the yard, Dan and Niall in a small room and myself and Martin in a narrow corridor from where I could see into the tiny cells. This caused the three of them annoyance as visits were their only opportunity for contact, and there was much to be discussed. The papers for the case had been given to them on the Sunday and because they ere in Spanish,Niall was the only one in a position to study the contents. We had a number of meetings whilst in Bogota, in our efforts to secure the men's release or improve their conditions. At on such meeting with a Colombian Foreign Affairs representative, Dan and I explained our request to have the men moved to the more dangerous Picota Jail. We could not leave them in their present circumstances with no way of defending the case and being locked-up like animals. It was not a decision we made lightly and one that still concerns me. We felt we had no choice. We were advised that day by a reliable source that the military were expressing interest in our whereabouts in Bogota and to "be careful". We were leaving Bogota on Saturday after the regular three-hour visit, and Dan, Gerry and myself agreed to make it a special one. Dan went shopping for their parcels on Friday evening. He also got chicken and baby potatoes for the farewell feast, and that it was! Martin, Niall and Jim were in great form and we all had a good visit, toasting a "slainte" (with coke) when our time was up. It was the moment I had dreaded but knew it had to be. I managed to keep my dignity until I was well away from the Dijin, but admit to being comforted by Dan until we were half way over the Atlantic! We were detained at the airport by the DAS for about half an hour. I am proud beyond words of the resilience Martin and his friends have maintain in such degrading and inhumane conditions but pray that I do not have to witness the likes again. In Dan's account of the first visit to the men in September, he ended by saying that he "left Bogota with a heavy heart", I left my heart in Bogota, but something inside me aches.