The Guardian November 14, 2001


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.

Back to index page