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The Trial of the Bogota Three

When President Bush attends fundraisers in Miami he certainly needs to watch out for terrorists. But no worries–they’re likely to be on the invited guest list. Orlando Bosch and Virgilio Paz are just two prominent Miami Cubans who were members of a US sponsored terrorist gang active when Bush Sr was their boss as head of the CIA.(1) Like his father and brother Jeb, George W. Bush too is politically associated with these unrepentant terrorists.(2) Two other members of the gang, Luis Posada Carriles and Guillermo Novo, are currently on trial on terrorist charges in Panama.

Rather than strengthen the rule of law President Bush has systematically trashed the very norms and institutions that uphold it. “Our terrorists”–the imperial variety–are all right. No need to target them in the “war on terror” which only applies to “foreign terrorists”. “Our terrorists” harrass the current convenient enemy–formerly in Nicaragua or Angola, always Cuba, now Venezuela–deal in drugs to pay for the networks, and serve as enforcers when the populations in other imperial “democracies” get out of hand.(3)

The Irish Connection In the summer of 2001, three Irishmen were arrested in Colombia and accused of terrorism as they left a zone controlled by the FARC armed opposition group during a truce period. A look at the background to their plight exposes the US-uk coalition’s hypocrisy on terrorism. Every sign is that the three men, now in prison in Bogota, are victims of a crude frame-up. They insist they were on a fact finding visit carrying video equipment so as to record material for use with organizations promoting peace back in Ireland.

The men–Niall Connolly, Martin MacAuley and James Monaghan–are all republicans who support the Good Friday peace agreement in Ireland. MacAuley and Monaghan are ex-political prisoners. Both have promoted conflict resolution work since their release from prison. Niall Connolly is a carpenter who has worked in community development and solidarity activities in Latin America since the early 1990s.

Before they were arrested, Sinn Fein was making steady electoral progress throughout Ireland, and the Unionist leadership in Belfast was in trouble. At the time, the Ulster Unionists and British government were using the issue of disarmament to stall full implementation of the Good Friday peace agreement. In that context, the men’s arrest was timely and convenient.

For death squad and drugs kingpins–the velvet touch Contrast the treatment of these three Irish soldarity tourists with that accorded to Carlos Castaño, Salvatore Mancuso and Juan Carlos Sierra, leaders of the United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC), notorious paramilitary allies of the Colombian military. In 1997, the US Attorney General accused them of arranging to ship 17 tons of cocaine to the US and Europe. But no practical steps have been taken to arrest the three.

In November 2002 it was revealed that the Colombian government under President Uribe was in “ceasefire” negotiations with Castaño and the AUC. Uribe has close links to these narcotics dealing murderers.(4) Opposition Colombian politicians see the talks with the AUC as a preliminary to the formal integration of the death squads into the Colombian military. This move has the blessing of the Bush regime.

War on terrorism bonanza Uribe is just the latest corrupt and repressive Colombian leader to receive US support since the 1960s. With an uncooperative popular government in oil-rich Venezuela and a voracious need to control oil resources for its profligate world-polluting economy, the US government has destined $98 million to help protect a Colombian oil pipeline. A total of US$1.5 billion in military aid has been scheduled for the period 2002-2004. Colombia is the third-largest recipient of U.S. military aid after Israel and Egypt.

In Colombia, poverty indicators are among the worst in Latin America. One per cent of the elite owns 55% of the land. 15.7 million of Colombia’s 44 million inhabitants are children, 39% of them in poverty. The latest figures from UNICEF conclude that 67% of the total population live below the poverty line (80% in rural areas). 11 million people live in extreme poverty, unable even to feed themselves properly.

While the country goes hungry, President Uribe plays the “war on terrorism” card, tricking billions of dollars of aid from United States taxpayers to attack his domestic opponents. Similarly, as part of the equally bogus “war on drugs” the US has waged widespread chemical and biological warfare against hapless rural populations–to no avail. Drug production in Colombia has actually increased.(5) Here, as in Iraq, oil industry insiders like Vice-President Dick Cheney, President Bush and National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice unscrupulously use US military muscle and aid to promote private business interests. Drugs and terrorism are convenient pretexts.

Leading US politicians are aware of the manipulation. In March 2002, US Representative Ron Paul member of the House International Relations Committee and the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere spoke against a bill authorizing expansion of US intervention in Colombia, “I was only made aware of the existence of this legislation this morning, just a couple of hours before I was expected to vote on it. There was no committee markup of the legislation, nor was there any notice that this legislation would appear on today’s suspension calendar…..This legislation represents a very serious and significant shift in United States policy toward Colombia. It sets us on a slippery slope toward unwise military intervention in a foreign civil war that has nothing to do with the United States.”

The Bogota 3 case–the facts and the spin After September 11th 2001, the case against Connolly, McAuley and Monaghan became a small but significant component of the US-uk spinning of “the war on terrorism”. The facts of their case are simple. They are accused of traveling using false identity papers and training anti-government FARC guerrillas. They admit the first accusation but vehemently deny the second. The three insist they used false documents because they feared being harassed had they used their real identities to travel.

The main charge is that of training FARC members in explosives and mortar technology. Soon after their arrest, US embassy personnel tested them and their belongings for explosive traces. The tests used equipment requiring special care with both calibration and with anti-contamination procedures to produce trustworthy results. These procedures were not followed and the tests showed positive. Subsequent tests carried out by the Colombian authorities using correct procedures produced opposite results.

The only other evidence presented against the three is witness testimony from two young men alleged to be former FARC members and who were under Colombian army “protection” . Both so-called witnesses testified earlier this year that at different times between 1998 and 2001 they witnessed explosives and mortar training by the three men. But all three defendants have solid, respectable alibi evidence that places them outside Colombia on those dates.

No technical evidence was presented in the case to justify claims of “skills transfer” of arms technology. There is no hard evidence against the three to contradict their explanation of their visit to the FARC zone at a time when the ceasefire with the government was still in place. But they are still in prison in Bogotá and face long sentences if convicted. They are victims of “war on terrorism” political theatre orchestrated through a lazy, complacent news media.

Fiction and reality

The “war on terrorism” is the US government’s justification for pre-emptive military attacks it deems necessary to promote US business and economic interests. Some governments collaborate out of arrogance as supporting bit-players, like the administrations of Tony Blair in the UK and Jose Maria Aznar in Spain. Others cave in to US pressure, like the Irish government. This deep cynicism and hypocrisy are nothing new.

Grotesque inequality in Colombia has caused forty years of bitter, miserable conflict–a catastrophe with lessons for everyone. The three Irishmen under arrest in Bogota took an interest in Colombia before the “war on terrorism” confidence trick really began. Tony Blair’s government has used the men’s predicament to deceive people about British policy in Ireland just as he, Aznar and George Bush have lied about Iraq. Connolly, MacAuley and Monaghan risk becoming forgotten pawns in this cynical geo-political propaganda war.

TONI SOLO is an activist based in Central America and can be reached at:

Notes 1. Hernando Calvo Ospina, “Pinochet, la CIA y los terroristas cubanos”, 23 de agosto del 2003, Ospina’s essay summarises evidence from many reliable sources that Bosch, Novo, Paz, Posada and others were part of the US/Chilean supported terrorist gang–at one time authorised by Vernon Walters, later US representative to the UN–responsible for the following crimes among many others:

* In 1974, the murder of Chilean General Carlos Prats and his wife in Buenos Aires

* In February 1975 an attack on Chilean exiles Carlos Altamirano and Volodia Teitelboim in Mexico.

* October 1975, in Rome, an attack against Bernardo Leighton a Chilean dissident politician.

* March 1976. Failed murder attempt in Costa Rica against Chilean dissident Pascal Allende.

* August 1976 after failing in a kidnap attempt on the Cuban ambassador on Buenos Aires, the gang kidnapped and disappeared two other Cuban diplomats.

* In September 1976, the murder of ex-Chilean Foreign Minister Orlando Letelier and his American assistant, Ronni Moffit in Washington.

* In October 1976 the gang bombed a civilian Cuban airliner causing over 70 deaths.

2. Orlando Bosch was about to be deported from the US in 1988. George Bush Sr. blocked it. His son George W. Bush had Virgilio Paz freed from deportation custody just before September 11th 2001. Florida governor Jeb Bush relies on organizations that have harboured and supported these terrorists–such as the National Cuban American Foundation–to fund his re-election campaigns. For the Posada Carriles connection see the report by Ann Bardach. July 12-13, 1998 New York Times.

3.Contractors playing increasing role in U.S. drug war. Tod Robberson DALLAS MORNING NEWS. Sunday, 27 February 2000.

4. Doing the United States Dirty Work. Israel and the Colombian paramilitaries. Jeremy Bigwood. Augist 15th 2003

5. US Biological Terrorism in Colombia. How Dr. Mengele Might Wage the Drug War. Jeffrey St. Clair. Counterpunch 2003



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