Reflecting with Jorge in Jail

Jorge Luis Montes Hernandez, community leader of the High Mountain Zone, has been unjustly jailed for eight full months this week on the following fabricated charges, a fact that feels both unbearable and unbelievable.jorge1

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

After six months of denying his fundamental right to receive visitors, his friends and family have been able to visit him, and as part of Sembrandopaz, we have had the honor and privilege of doing so.  After a seven-hour bus ride, hours of waiting in line, and almost 10 checkpoints inside the Maximum Security Jail in Valledupar, we are led to the visiting patio of Jorge’s building.  We talk for hours on old school chairs in a small yard where inmates make off to corners to find shade and privacy to share with their loved ones. With Jorge, we talk of the High Mountain Zone – his wisdom, experience and leadership is greatly missed in the day-to-day activities and we are grateful to hear his perspectives, advice and experience.  Even from behind bars, Jorge’s priority is the communities – he’s worried about any internal conflicts that pull people apart and expresses his deep desire to be out of jail so that he can help reconcile friends in conflict; he talks of the Peace Movement, how to strengthen community leadership and maintain unity in 50 rural communities.

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.

We have three or four hours of soul feeding, life-giving conversation and we must go.  All I could think of as we left Jorge behind the locked gate in the visitors’ yard was how small he looked.  Too small to merit the enormous state mechanism of so-called justice that is keeping Jorge in jail, although innocent; too small to be the subject of a plot by certain members of the Colombian military to do away with the social movement of which Jorge is general coordinator; and definitely too small to require the shoddily built yet impenetrable maximum security wires, guards, walls and locks that hold Jorge and many others away from the rest of the world.

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. 

This is the man who led a peaceful march for campesinos to respectfully speak to their government representatives, asking for reparations and their basic rights, after having been denied them for decades.

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.

This is the man who has worked as a schoolteacher, a health promoter, and community leader for two decades in the region.

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.

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.

How is this man a threat to the state? Yet, in talking with Jorge there at the jail, we realized again how powerful his spirit actually is.  Jorge has led his fellow community leaders as they organize and negotiate with armed groups to save lives and keep their communities breathing while penned in by active combat.  He is in prison, locked in his cell and the prison yard with members and leaders of the armed groups.  Nevertheless, Jorge is actually cheerful.  He says that as long as the movement keeps going well, he will be well.  He fills his time by writing formal petitions demanding that the policies on visits, food, and health care be followed.  He has made friends with others in prison for any number of crimes, and has dialogued with leaders of the armed groups responsible for atrocities in the same communities  he has spent his life defending. So if Jorge is guilty of decency, of self-respect, and of never giving up, if his crime is seeking justice for his people and being loved and followed, if he has committed to have endless hope that integrity, goodness and truth will triumph, then Jorge is much more powerful than any bars, walls, or smear campaign can contain.

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.

His tranquility is inspiring, a calm, and confidant stature, rested in his knowledge of his innocence, albeit deeply aware of the intense complication of the conspiracy being plotted against him.

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.

Part of our accompaniment as Sembrandopaz has been walking with Jorge and the communities as they weather political persecution, which includes visiting Jorge in prison.  We have learned much about resilience and justice through our relationship with him and others from the High Mountain Zone.

I will not faint because he who perseveres, reaches the goal.  I say goodbye with this blessing:  Blessed are those who are condemned unjustly.

Read the entire letter that Jorge recently sent from jail, from which these excerpts are taken, here.

Jorge Luis Montes Hernández, líder comunitario de la Alta Montaña, cumplió ocho meses de haber sido encarcelado injustamente con falsas acusaciones, un hecho que no parece ni manejable, ni creíble.