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Action for Jorge and Ricardo

Prison missives have power. When the normal liberties of life have been stripped away, all that remains is the humble authority of conviction and the truth of an unbreakable spirit. On September 9, community leader Jorge Montes was unjustly accused of belonging to the FARC, Colombia's largest guerrilla group. He is seen as threat to society and is currently in a maximum security prison, from which he writes, “I only ask God that he keep bitterness and revenge far from my heart and that he fill me with the wisdom to confront and endure this nameless torture. God will help me forgive those who have made me suffer….Only he who is strong enough to forgive an offense knows how to love.’”

The keys to imprisonment and freedom are held by those with the power to define. Civilized. Savage. Guerilla. Paramilitary. Guilty. Innocent. Left. Right. As Mennonite leader Ricardo Esquivia says, “War is the art of deception and the truth is its first victim.” Most human rights defenders and community organizers are accused of being terrorists and then threatened or  killed, enabling armed groups to maintain territorial control, yet love and strengthen remain a way of life in Colombia.

Thirty two communities in Colombia’s Montes de Maria region demonstrated this strength on April 6 when they left left the town of El Carmen de Bolivar on a nonviolent march to demand their rights as citizens and victims of armed conflict. One thousand people were led by community leaders such as Jorge Montes. Community leader Ricardo Esquivia and the Sembrandopaz (Planting Peace) team, a Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) partner,have been engaging with peace projects in the Montes de Maria region in Colombia for decades. They accompany communities in holistic development and reconciliation based out of a belief in nonviolent resistance and the peace message of Jesus. They have strongly supported this nonviolent movement.

This is the first time communities in the region have worked together since extreme violence broke out in the late 1990s. As Jorge explains, “They tried to divide us, so that they could impose their military indoctrination plan on our youth and then separate the peasants from their land, buying it off them at low prices. And those who refused to sell, were torn them forcibly from their land.” Leadership and grassroots organizations were destroyed, but community organizing related to the march is restoring relationships.

The state has failed to provide education, healthcare, usable roads, and basic services, injustices that should be addressed by the Victims’ Law of 2011. However, due to delays in implementation and a policy of targeted reparations with little option for individual compensation, leaders are not satisfied. Additionally, almost all of the region’s staple avocado crop is dead or dying due to a root disease. Residents fear a massive displacement caused by these economic factors. (Background report from MCC:

After negotiations with local and departmental government, the march ended and working groups were created. A stronger relationship with the government’s Department for Victim Attention was another positive outcome of the march.

But backlash has been harsh. Besides Jorge’s arrest, credible sources have confirmed that there are formal investigations in progress to support accusations that Ricardo Esquivia is also a guerrilla leader. A leaflet has arrived in the communities which accuses the movement leaders of stealing government money and threatens them with death.

The community leaders, including Jorge’s wife Miledys, stand firm in their commitment to the nonviolent process. They live out Jorge’s description of a leader as “someone who is tolerant, has patience, is selfless, loyal, caring, untiring, in solidarity, fair, unassuming, capable of giving him or herself entirely, all in exchange for nothing, and above all, he who can resist the attacks of the State in which we live.” They continue to demand the rights of their communities.

Video of the march:   

From prison, Jorge asks, “To my Christian friends: the best gift I can receive from you is your prayers because the Bible says ‘the prayers of the just can do much.’ I continue hopeful for that for which we wait, but which can’t be seen, and it gives me strength that there are blessings for those who unjustly suffer. During these imposed vacations I will try to gather my strength because I confess to you that I will never give up on this process.”

Please remain in prayer for Jorge, the leaders, and the process. Consider signing a petition or sending a letter. Let us stand in support of courage and love.

MCC Action alert about Ricardo:

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