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Victory in Colombia 3 Case

by Conor McGrady |
July 10, 2004
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(Fight Back! News/Staff)
The Colombia Three, members of the Irish republican political organization, Sinn Fein: Niall Connolly, James Monaghan and Martin McCauley.

The Colombia Three, Jim Monaghan, Niall Connelly and Martin McCauley, all from Ireland, were recently acquitted after having spent almost three years in prison in Colombia. The three men were found innocent of charges that they were in Colombia to train the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC-EP) in guerrilla warfare tactics aimed at overthrowing the Colombian government. They were arrested in August 2001 after visiting the demilitarized zone (established as part of a failed peace process) and have been held in some of Colombia’s most notorious and dangerous prisons since then.

Despite massive pressure from the Colombian, U.S. and British governments, Judge Jairo Acosta found that there was no evidence against the men other than that they were traveling on false passports. In a significant legal judgment, he ordered that the witnesses against the men be investigated for perjury. There is strong evidence that these witnesses had been coached by military intelligence into fabricating accounts of watching the three Irishmen training guerillas, when in fact they were proven to be in Ireland on the dates given.

The three had traveled to Colombia on false passports because of their role as prominent activists in the Irish Republican movement. Had they used their own passports, they most likely would have been denied access to the country. As participants in the peace process currently underway in Ireland, the three men had traveled to Colombia to study and share ideas about the Colombian peace negotiations that were going on at the time.

The declaration of the men’s innocence is a major victory for the grassroots campaign to free the men. It is also a source of deep embarrassment for the Colombian government and its backers in the U.S. government.

The U.S. State Department, along with members of the British government, wanted the men convicted in order to lend legitimacy to their international ‘war on terror.’ The U.S. in particular was seeking justification for its financial support of the Colombian regime under the auspices of ‘combating terrorism.’ In reality, this ‘war’ is driven by U.S. economic and geopolitical interests in the region. It has used military and economic aid to help the Colombian government wage war on its own population through Plan Colombia, renamed the Andean Initiative, which pumps billions of dollars of military aid into Colombia to prevent the FARC and other guerilla organizations from taking power and threatening U.S. interests.

The proven innocence of the Colombia Three is an important win for activists and campaigners concerned with justice, dignity and equality in Colombia and in Ireland. The pressure and commitment of the ‘Bring them Home’ campaign in Ireland focused international attention on the case of the Three, and forced elected representatives to take a stance. It played a vital role in the legal defense of the men and in producing evidence and observers at the trial. If it were not for this level of grassroots support and activism from the working class in Ireland and dedicated activists in the U.S. and elsewhere, a very different verdict may have been reached. While we should celebrate and acknowledge this victory, we also need to keep up the pressure on the Colombian government. Colombian prosecutors are appealing the case, and the three Irishmen cannot return home until the appeal issue is resolved.