When I first heard that Jorge had been arrested, I set up a shrine in my house. It reminded me that although I was not there physically, I could have a tiny piece of the coast in my home as a sign of the life and hope that exists all over Colombia. The altar contained candles, not for death but for the power of life and light that the movement in the Montes de Maria represents, a mango to represent the joy, the abundance and the generosity of the Coast, a picture of the Mampujan march as a sign of courage. There was a also a quilt with the silhouettes of the community to represent the healing power of memory, a book with pictures of a displacement site to show the past and the desire to move forward with dignity, a bottle of perfume to capture the smell of the coast: sweet, floral and exuberant, and a weaving from Guatemala as a sign of the global struggle for justice.
As time went on, the shrine slowly got dismantled. The mango started to go bad, so I ate it. Someone wanted to read the book, so I took it out. The candles burnt down. It became easier and easier to go about my daily life and forget that Jorge (and countless others) do not have that freedom to take for granted.
As human beings, we have an enormous capacity for resilience and resistance; this includes the ability to go on living. Yet I do not want to forget that this Friday Jorge will complete 6 months of being unjustly imprisoned. Instead, I want to remeber his courage and example, using his latest letter as another type of shrine to life and a remembrance that hope cannot be jailed.
Here is some of what he writes from his maximum security prison:
“I must confess that, being in this onerous place, I have felt much affliction, disappointment, and sadness but above all, helplessness to know that in Colombia the innocent are judged while the true delinquents are free to roam about the country, and what is even more outrageous is that the state pays them to do so. But at the same time, I reflect and feel the need to continue struggling. This is a constant effort that requires great sacrifice, such that I must sacrifice freedom, family, health and if it would be necessary, life. But this is not everything: one must be tolerant, wise, filled with patience, but above all with the positive values that allow us to conclude that this struggle is necessary. We take as example the Lord Jesus Christ, who faced trials, temptations, difficulties and even death for one solo fact: LOVE OF HUMANITY. John 3:16.
I want to remind you that my personality does not allow me to change my way of thinking, that my principles are and will be the same and that most importantly I do not lend, rent or sell them. For this reason, I send you calmness because I will leave here strengthened and with more clarity than before about the state in which we live.
The torture that I am living I am taking as a vacation in hell, but I am clear that God only sends to human beings that which they can resist. While I consider myself a man with a bit of resistance I hope of you only the sufficient support so that this process continues to advance because the benefits are for you; as you have been able to realize I have received only prejudices which I have faced with resistance and decision, waiting and trusting as someone said, “After the storm, comes the calm.” This is why I know that after all of this suffering, the triumph will come.
I invite you to continue struggling with great care so that we will finally be able to achieve what we have so greatly desired: progress for our communities.
The time has come to change the history of our communities and to achieve this the decisive support from all of the communities is needed, without thinking of colour or race, with only the objective that our new generation will not live that which we had to live.
I want to as well dedicate part of this writing to all of those people that can be considered to be my enemies. I ask God that he will help you, generously and greatly strengthen your families and help me to forgive you from my heart. Vengeance belongs to God and although you have tortured me and disintegrated my family, I do not hold resentment nor do I consider you my enemies because it is not, nor has it been, within my plans to harm anybody. I ask God to remove from me hatred, revenge and resentment and endow me with with wisdom and tolerance. In my prayers, it is my duty to ask first for those who feel they are my enemies and I wish them the best and that my suffering will turn into happiness for them.
Lastly, I invite all the coordinators, representatives, young people, women, supporting organizations and the community in general to stand their ground. Remember that nothing is impossible, there only exists incapable people. The people that struggle with vigour will have better generations.
To the Christians I ask for your prayers for me and for my enemies, so that the truth will come to light as when the people of Israel worshipped Baal. We ask God to send a signal that justice will always prevail. I have no fear because God knew me before the foundation of the world.
A brother greeting and a big hug.
My hope is to be able to meet with you very soon.
Jorge Luis Montes Hernández
My strength depends on your strength- united we stand!
Valledupar – Cesar
Here is the complete letter.