The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

A South American Verdict


Anthony McIntyre • May 3, 2004

Three summers ago I received a phone call from a radio station in Bogotá. On the other end, a female journalist seemed excitable and her voice conveyed a pleading tone. It is hard to mistake an elongated ‘please’ for anything else. Three Irish men had been arrested in Colombia and were being accused of having illicit links with FARC guerrillas. Understandably, she wanted the scoop for her station and felt her endeavours would be beefed up a bit if she could add an ‘authentic’ voice to the narrative. Having previously done South American broadcasting, the task seemed straightforward enough for me.

She wanted to know what the IRA was doing in Colombia. I probed her as to how we could be sure it was the IRA. Yes, one of the men at least was a republican well-known to everybody but Sinn Fein seemingly; and he had functioned as a senior party education officer. The one time I had spoken with him was at a 1990s ard fheis and the only thing we discussed was education, or the thwarting of it within the party. A decade later, he had just left a demilitarised zone controlled by FARC which had been ceded to the guerrillas by the then Colombian president Andres Pastrana who was looking at ways of developing a peace deal. So while the detained man’s voice had not yet managed to make it into public discourse explaining why he was in the conflict riven South American state, at the time it seemed plausible to me that he had been there for what he later claimed – looking at the peace process. The interviewing journalist, while probably not convinced, was happy enough to have a voice even if it was highly perspectival. Despite the plausibility I wasn’t entirely persuaded myself but had no way of knowing and did not want to say anything that would enhance the potential risks facing the men detained. My sympathies invariably lie with the jailed, never the jailers.

Their innocence or guilt did not primarily concern me. It still doesn’t. For having wreaked terrorist havoc in South America, it was easy to argue that there were other more suitable candidates to spend decades locked in a Bogotá jail than these three; Henry Kissinger heading the queue. In a country with an atrocious human rights record, it is straightforward enough to think of worse things than helping guerrillas fight the government.

Although the Irish Times has argued why the three men were in Colombia in the first place has still not been satisfactorily explained, this is more a political concern than a judicial one. Legally, the men had only to remain stum and the onus after that was on the prosecution to prove its case. As far back as 2002 it was clear that such provability was determined to remain elusive. The verdict, when pronounced, merely reflected the evidence before the court. The defence case was much the stronger.

What helped persuade many that the men had a case to answer was not the shoddy evidence presented against them but that Sinn Fein, true to form, immediately sought to lie about any links to the arrested men. Worse still, reports of party representatives telling US officials and media people in off-the-record briefings that it was all the work of a Marxist on the army council who ‘Gerry can’t control’, hardly tipped the credibility scales in favour of the account offered by the arrested men. If the latter were, as claimed, out examining the peace process and nothing else, then all critics and adversaries could be told to get lost and there was no need for the party to wax flabbergasted. But as the Sinn Fein leadership lie so routinely about events, a suspicious public suspects the party of something underhand even when it is wholly blameless.

In Ireland the verdict has been treated with the usual congenital instinctive responses. Sinn Fein, always comfortable when sporting a brass neck, will now seek to exploit the return of the men, greeting them with open arms despite having done a St Peter on them three years ago. The staggering in sentences suggests that the Colombian judiciary is seeking to deny Sinn Fein any propaganda victory which may mean the three men do not arrive in Ireland as a group. The unionists, for their part, never learn and have been spewing venom about the acquittal. Much better, in their view, had the men been shot when arrested and then all this pesky business of human rights and due process would just go the Argentinean way - up against a wall alongside those about to be despatched. Unionism seems both PR and justice blind; always willing to play by the rules until wrong footed. When things don’t go its way it reverts to type. David Trimble hits out at human rights agencies and Pat Finucane suddenly becomes an IRA member despite all the evidence to the contrary.

And as if to confirm nationalist scepticism about unionist intentions, the unionists had nothing to say when 13 British cavers, many of them British military, were found in Mexico in march, forcing the country's leader Vincente Fox to ask the British Government to explain what its soldiers had been doing in Mexican caves. Under the country’s law a special visa for scientific explorations is required and foreign military exercises are outlawed. The cavers' refusal of local assistance coupled with demands that British specialists be flown in to rescue them led to speculation that the group had been exploring the caves on a secret military mission. But none of that matters – there is no mileage to be squeezed from it in the battle to kick opponents out of Stormont.

While the three Irish republicans were found not guilty in a court of law, Sinn Fein has already been judged complicit in the court of political interests where legalities play second fiddle to geo-strategic considerations. That the US played a role in building the case against the arrested men will ensure that. And there is no ‘get out of jail free’ card in the deck shuffled on the bench there. There will be no appeal against the judgement of Mitchell Reiss.

James Davis suggested in Counterpunch that it may be even more difficult for Sinn Fein's leadership to explain why, were it not for a grassroots family campaign, the three men might be looking at a very long time away from home.

Don't hold your breath waiting on answers.




Index: Current Articles + Latest News and Views + Book Reviews + Letters + Archives

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
- George Bernard Shaw

Index: Current Articles

3 May 2004


Other Articles From This Issue:


A South American Verdict
Anthony McIntyre


A New Year for the Oldest Colony of the UK
Brian Mór


Politics in Command
Liam O Ruairc


Report Discredits U.S. Institute of Peace
Distorts truth and offends Irish-Americans

Sean Mc Manus, INC


Forensic Evidence 'Interfered with' in Case of Tyrone Men
J Sean Burns, IRPWA


Easter Commemoration Speech on behalf of the Republican Socialist Movement, Milltown Cemetery Belfast



The Legacy of Bobby Sands
Charles J. Murnick


29 April 2004


Pragmatic Politics
Liam O Ruairc


Hard Times
Brian Mór


Every Picture Tells A Story
Anthony McIntyre


Demonizing Will Backfire
Sean Mc Manus


Tangled Wed Which Stretches from the New Lodge to Iraq
Eamonn McCann


Glossary of the Iraqi Occupation

Paul de Rooij


The Letters page has been updated.




The Blanket

http://lark. phoblacht. net



Latest News & Views
Index: Current Articles
Book Reviews
The Blanket Magazine Winter 2002
Republican Voices

To contact the Blanket project with a comment, to contribute an article, or to make a donation, write to:

webmaster@phoblacht. net