Blessed are those who are condemned unjustly

The following is the full text of a recent letter from Jorge Montes, campesino leader unjustly imprisoned since September 2013: jorge2

Valledupar, Cesar

COMUNICADO A LA OPINION PUBLICA

Maximum and Medium Security Prison of Valledupar (Tramacua)

Jorge Luis Montes Hernandez, identified with the citizenship card #3.860.450, expedited in El Carmen de Bolivar.

Known in the region of the Montes de Maria, specifically in the municipalities of El Carmen de Bolivar, San Jacinto and Monte Cristo, municipality of Maria la Baja, as a defender of the rights of victims of the armed conflict which has caused great consequences in this region of the country. Former City Council member of the municipality of El Carmen de Bolivar from 2008-2011, with the Radical Change party. Rural Health Promoter in the High Mountain zone of el Carmen de Bolivar from March 16, 1995 to January 5, 2001. Teacher in the rural hamlet of El Milagro in the township of Santo Domingo de Mesa in the municipality of El Carmen de Bolivar, in 2003. Vaccinator in the APS program (First Health Attention) with Red Cross International in Sincelejo from September to December, 2001.

Recognized campesino leader in the rural region of El Carmen de Bolivar from 1996 to the present. General Coordinator of the Non-Violent March of 1000 people from the High Mountain Zone of El Carmen de Bolivar from the 5th to the 7th of April, 2013. The March took place from the rural parts of the municipalities of El Carmen de Bolivar, San Jacinto, and Maria la Baja to the municipal center of San Jacinto, over a distance of approximately 15 kilometers.  The March sought holistic reparations for victims of the armed conflict, as described in Law 1448, the Law of Victims’ and Land Restitution.

I have struggled greatly to see the rural communities organize in Communal Action Groups, as consecrated in Law 742 of June 5, 2002, which describes community organisms.

I have called this process a holistic one, because it is based on peacefully establishing a permanent dialogue with the civil authorities of the state, in order to, in common cause, seek the development of our communities. Even more so, I consider one element of the process the most important, which is the seeking of reconciliation of all the communities, victims of the armed conflict, since the enormous consequence of this scourge left the destruction of the social fabric, of unity and common purpose, of the communities in our region.  To strengthen this unity, we have organized non-violet events: sporting events with the support of IDERBOL (Sports Institute of Bolivar), inter-community meetings to analyze and build memory, community analysis of the crimes and violations committed before, during and after the conflict, finally concluding that we are all shores of the same river, destroying the great barrier of resentment and hate that the conflict left between our communities.

I am 38 years old, and I have proudly lived all my life in the rural region of my municipality, where I am known by all of the inhabitants, definitely not as a delinquent, but rather as a known defender of the rights of the communities most marginalized in my region. All of the processes I have developed have been in the public view, and in their majority, under the vigilance and observance of the armed forces and civil authorities. Such was the case of the Non-violent March that we organized last April, in which all of the planning and organizing meetings were attended by the Marine Infantry (Colonel Avellaneda, Captain Aristisaba), and the National Police (Major Franco and Lieutenant Mato, among others). Members of state intelligence agencies also attended specific meetings.

Regarding civil authorities, members of the Governor’s Office of Bolivar always participated: Roberto Camargo, Advisor to the Victims’ Secretary, Claudia Ayola, Departmental Victims’ Secretary, as were members of the Mayor’s Office of el Carmen de Bolivar, all of whom were invited by the Coordinating Committee of the March. From the Victims’ Entity of Bolivar, Dr. Arturo Zea Solano was present with his work team. Other functionaries, such as Camilo Matiz of the National Victims’ Entity, were present in the meetings and also helped organize logistical support, since the event was peaceful and organized by upstanding people.

All of the campesinos, victims of the armed conflict, who have been part of the process, have based their participation on the values of respect and transparency, and under the legality of Colombian law.

This process also has counted on accompanying organizations such as: Association Sowing Seeds of Peace- Sembrandopaz, directed by Dr. Ricardo Esquivia Ballestas and his team, the Communications Collective of the Montes de Maria, directed by Soraya Bayuelo and her team, the United Nations Development Program, directed by Dr. Aldo Morales, and others who had the opportunity to participate in different meetings: Movement for Peace (MPDL), ILSA, Pastoral Social, and others. Their participation makes it clear that the process was transparent and respectful, and in no moment challenged public order, or presented confrontations with the armed forces, or much less occasioned arrests. The March sought to generate spaces where the local and national government could discuss directly ways to move forward on the thousands of problems that the communities face in terms of their socio-economic rights, the historic debt of the Colombian state.

I have always been a man who has been known for respecting my fellow citizens and our national laws and I can assure that there is no commander of any illegal armed group that can name me as a member of any militia in their organization because my only weapons are and have been the laws that define social processes, such as the following: Law 742 about community organisms, Law 1448 of Victims and Land Restitution, Law 136 about mechanisms of citizen participation, the Political Constitution of Colombia, Article 35 and others, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. All of these processes have been built with the goal of contributing to a lasting peace in our region.

I consider that my only enemies are arguments because I am known for having many friendships.

Since 2005, I began to suffer persecution and stigmatization from the Colombian state, solely because of my work organizing and leading community actions. This work caused my arrest for the first time on the December 5, 2007, for the crime of rebellion, which made me understand that defending the rights assured to us by the Political Constitution of Colombia is considered an act of rebellion again the state. In this moment, it is evident that all of the accusations made about me were because of my work as a community leader, as proved by the summary of the investigation.

In this legal process, nine witnesses were called to testify against me, paid by the same state, which led to the fact that, after two months, I was granted liberty because of lack of evidence, since the aforementioned accusations were detracted by people from the same communities where the crimes were committed, and in some cases by families by the same accusers. It is important to note that this whole staging of the case was done because I had aspired to the City Council of El Carmen de Bolivar with the Radical Change party, elected for the period from 2008-2011, representing the rural mountainous area of El Carmen de Bolivar. This continuous persecution ensured that I was suspended from office for a period of one year.  On February 10, 2009, the Prosecutor in charge of the investigation revoked the suspension and I was returned to office, and in that moment, it seemed that the nightmare had finished. In 2013, after finishing my term as Councilmember, I returned to the rural area to strengthen the organizational process in the region, in order to assure holistic, transformative reparations as defined in Law 1448, and at the same time struggle for the integration and reconciliation of the area.

In this opportunity, we achieved that all of the presidents of the Communal Action Groups of the High Mountain Zone in our municipality organized together the aforementioned Non-Violent March. Only two short months, however, after the March, we began to hear rumors in the region that they were going to arrest me because the March had been pressured and financed by the guerrilla.  These rumors were very strange to me because the armed forces themselves say that the guerrilla has been defeated in the region and declared it a Consolidation Zone.

The rumors didn’t worry me because I have never had anything to hide but, as a surprise to me, on September 9, 2013, I was arrested in el Carmen de Bolivar by order of Prosecutor 25 of the UNDES of Monteria for the crimes of:

  1. Conspiracy to break the law, aggravated by the intention to commit murder
  2. Forced displacement
  3. Kidnapping and extortion
  4. Creating and financing illegal armed groups
  5. Forced displacement of the civil population
  6. Homicide of people protected by human rights
  7. Rebellion

It is important to note that in the format of the arrest warrant, there was not enough space to add more crimes, otherwise the list would have continued.

As is evident, the anxiety of those that have authored this great conspiracy against me to see me condemned was so great that they required 15 years of prison time to be paid per crime, which in case of conviction would require me to pay over 100 years in prison.

It strange and worrisome that this administrator of justice, even as I counted on the presumption of innocence, immediately and with great hurry sent me to a maximum security prison, very far from my family, because I was a person unfit for society at large. The action was designed to isolate me from my family, and even more to prevent contact with the communities that I have lead over much time. It is ironic to note as well that permission to visit me depends on the same prosecutor, permission which was granted only after six long months, which I consider as a time of being held hostage.

The conspiracy can also be observed in the fact that I am a native of the department of Bolivar, and although in the investigation the crimes of which I am accused were committed in the same department, my arrest warrant and the investigation are being led from Monteria, in the department of Cordoba.

It is clear that all of this is being done because I am a person with little access to resources, and therefore it is difficult for me to secure the right to a defense.

It is very worrisome that a social and democratic state such as ours penalizes the defense of human rights and rewards with monthly salaries the true delinquents so that they serve as false witnesses against human rights defenders of the most marginalized populations in the country, even as they themselves are the ones truly responsible for the crimes of which I am accused.

Also, it is important to analyze that the crimes for which I was arrested were committed in 2000, and after that date, in 2007, I was imprisoned for the crime of rebellion, as I mentioned above. It is surprising that in a different opportunity, after already being arrested and released, they realize that I presumably committed the earlier crimes.

It is my duty to inform the public so that they are aware of all of the persecutions that we suffer only because we wish for development in our communities.

There is prowling within me a great worry, that even after this conspiracy, the Colombian State still has a tool that it can use against me. It can still assassinate me, as the armed forces have done with many campesino leaders in different regions of the country; from my region I can list the assassination of Luis Gomez in the municipality of Coloso, Sucre and that of Patricio Florez in the community of Tierra Grata in the municipality of el Carmen de Bolivar. These leaders, among others, were presented as members of the guerrilla killed in combat, and afterward it was proved that they were community leaders. Because of cases like these, it is not strange to me that behind this conspiracy against me there are high-ranking members of the armed forces.

I inform the public that if such a thing would occur to me, I would be another false positive, one of the thousand million that the armed forces have committed in complicity with the state.

I do not have to say that I am innocent, because you were the ones who saw me be born and grow, and know all the things I have done which testify to my innocence.

I also have to tell you that I have the joy of inner peace, because I have no remorse in my conscience, since I have never been a part of any armed group, and I will never be, since my weapons are the Colombian laws that allow me to struggle for the well-being of the most marginalized.

On the other hand, I feel admiration, since the current accusations against me themselves state that I have a lot of power in the communities that I lead, and I will aspire to the Mayor’s Office of my municipality, and in the future to be Governor, as if this were a sin in itself. These statements make it clear that there is a political persecution against me, and also that in our Colombian state the campesinos with few resources cannot aspire to be popularly elected to political office because we then are persecuted by the same state that should guarantee the enjoyment our rights to elect and be elected.

I have to be sincere and say to my oppressors that although they take my liberty, and if possible my life, they will never be able to erase the ideas that will stay with the people that I have lead, the same people that know that I am not a delinquent. I also know that all good leaders have to suffer to be able to triumph; as examples we have Nelson Mandela, Cristopher Colombus, Simon Bolivar, and Pedro de Heredia, among others.

I am certain that I have never committed crimes against the state or against a fellow citizen of mine, because my ethics and morals do not permit me to. I continue fighting to defend the rights of the most vulnerable communities of my region, and from jail I will defend the rights of those who are detained but innocent and whose rights have also been violated in the same unjust way.

I also must inform the public that this experience is strengthening me and giving me a clearer idea of the reality of human rights in our state, and I invite everyone to wake up and unite with us to stand up to the constant and systematic violations of our rights, as they have continued throughout our history.

I invite all of the organizations which defend human rights to sound the alarm in our region for our rights.  Alone, we can no longer confront the great elephant that has us under the pressure of torture, stigmatization, and re-victimization as victims.

In the previous legal case, I was up against nine witnesses. Today, I am confronting fifteen witnesses in person, yet we still do not know who the intellectual authors of the case are, or how many they are. However I need to, I can guarantee the public that everything organized against me is a false conspiracy, and that I trust in divine justice, rather than trusting in earthly justice, which is the same as supporting corruption.  I know that it is difficult but not impossible to discover the actors who are responsible for these years of persecution against me.

These terrible and inhuman events have filled me:

  1. With tolerance:  Because I do not hate and will not hate my oppressors; vengeance is of God, and God will pay each of us according to our deeds.
  2. With patience:  Because I have learned to have patience and manage my despair.
  3. With faith:  Because I have complete confidence that I walk free and with my head held high.
  4. With love:  Because I have no thirst for vengeance.
  5. With inner peace:  I think this is the most important, because my conscience does not accuse me and I am convinced that I have never participated and never will in acts that will cause me to repent and much less any that will affect those around me.

There are many positive values and principles that accompany me, and fill me with optimism.  My innocence tells me that I cannot worry, and that it is necessary that these things pass.

From my place of confinement I send greetings and the greatest gratitude to all those who have accompanied me, have supported me, and above all, believe in me.

I ask God for a special blessing for my oppressors and that they and their families prosper, that blessings be their daily companions.

I will not faint because he who perseveres, reaches the goal. 

I say goodbye with this blessing: Blessed are those who are condemned unjustly.

I send a hug of solidarity and I invite you to continue struggling to defend our rights, which is hard but not impossible.

To triumph is my objective, and if I triumph, we all triumph, because I am with you, as you are with me. 

If God is with us, then who is against us?

Blessings from heaven,

Attentively,

 

Jorge Luis Montes Hernandez