To mark the one-year anniversary of Nestora Salgado’s arrest, spirited protests were held on Aug. 21 this year in Mexico, across Latin America, in Australia, and in the United States. Hundreds of people came out to demand freedom for Salgado and other political prisoners who are filling Mexico’s jails.
Salgado is suffering inhumane conditions in a high security prison. She has become a symbol of growing resistance to increased state repression under President Enrique Peña Nieto.
In response to drug cartel violence and government corruption, indigenous communities are reviving traditional methods of self-defense. This includes community police forces, in which leaders are directly elected by residents and duties are shared.
Nestora Salgado is one such leader. At age 20, she moved to the U.S. from Mexico and became a naturalized U.S. citizen. For the past several years, she has split her time between Renton, Wash., where she lives with her family, and Olinalá, Guerrero, her hometown in Mexico. She was eventually elected commander of the community police force in Olinalá. During her tenure, crime rates dropped 90 percent and women sought her guidance on domestic violence issues.
Then, in August last year, government officials arrested Salgado and others on fabricated charges as part of a wider crackdown on the self-defense movement. Despite support from legislators in Mexico — and an order by a federal judge to release Salgado — she remains in prison, with her health deteriorating.
But the effort to win her freedom, kick-started last year in Seattle, is gaining steam. It is also connecting the dots between military aid from the U.S. and stepped-up repression and government corruption in Mexico. To date, the campaign has won support from more than 170 organizations and individuals, including labor unions and human rights groups.
The Aug. 21 actions this year, the largest coordinated effort so far, produced letters to President Peña Nieto that condemned the attacks on self-defense groups as “a form of genocide.” Ten days later, U.S. Rep. Adam Smith of Washington state sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry calling on the State Department to intervene. The letter was co-signed by Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell and six other congressional delegates from Washington and California.
From her prison cell, Salgado sent a message to protesters: “I am not broken. I will hold on as long as necessary. … I want to salute all those women and men who fight every day in their towns or wherever they may be for a democratic, just and free Mexico, purged of organized crime and corrupt officials.”
An international cause. The protests were initiated by the Committee for Revolutionary International Regroupment (CRIR), together with Salgado’s family. CRIR is made up of socialist parties representing five countries: Partido Obrero Socialista (POS) in Mexico; Núcleo por un Partido Revolucionario Internacionalista in the Dominican Republic; Partido Revolucionario de las y los Trabajadores in Costa Rica; and the Freedom Socialist Party (FSP) in the U.S. and Australia.
Events took place in front of Mexican consulates and embassies in the U.S., Costa Rica, Brazil, Argentina, and the Dominican Republic. They helped to raise heat on Peña Nieto over the suppression of self-defense forces, indigenous communities and social activists.
Among those targeted are Dr. José Mireles, organizer of a self-defense group in Michoacán who was arrested with compañeros in June, and Marco Antonio Suástegui, leader of the Council of Ejidos and Communities Opposed to La Parota, a dam project in Guerrero.
Especially inspiring were rallies held across Mexico. In Olinalá, people came from surrounding areas to march, braving military roadblocks.
In Mexico City, the rally was attended by members of Nestora’s family, the rector of the Autonomous University of Mexico, and the sister of Rocío Mesino, an indigenous woman leader who was murdered in Guerrero.
The wife of Arturo Campos, another arrested leader of Olinalá’s security force, said she’d never keep silent about the injustice she and her husband have suffered. POS leader and CRIR co-founder Cuauhtémoc Ruiz said the repression unleashed by Peña Nieto has created misery for the community, while aiding drug cartels and multinational mining corporations in exploiting indigenous lands.
In Buenos Aires, a rally organized by Tendencia Piquetera Revolucionaria (TPR) was met with 30 federal police, water cannon trucks, and a mobile satellite intelligence vehicle — a sobering reminder that the militarization of police is a global phenomenon. TPR saluted Nestora’s struggle as “unifying the left wing on both sides of Rio Bravo.”
In Melbourne, a protest led by FSP included Aboriginal leaders, groups from Australia and West Papua, and Anarchist Black Cross.
The U.S. connection: driving it home. U.S. actions were held in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, and Portland, Ore.
Los Angeles supporters of the Mexican political prisoners held a press conference and festive rally that included Aztec dancers. Then, on Aug. 26, they turned out to picket Peña Nieto as he motorcaded through their city.
In Chicago, Yo Soy 132 joined forces with Gay Liberation Network. In San Francisco and New York, speakers connected the attacks on Mexico’s indigenous communities to the fear perpetuated by police in U.S. communities of color.
In Seattle, advocates held signs at a press conference outside the Mexican consulate as Salgado’s husband, José Luis Avila, called upon officials to release her. Speakers included Lynne Dodson of the Washington State Labor Council and King County Council member Larry Gossett. At a rally later in the day at the Federal Building, speakers including Rita Zawaideh of the Arab American Community Coalition reflected the broadening interest in Salgado’s cause.
On behalf of CRIR, FSP leader Guerry Hoddersen called for an end to U.S. counterinsurgency training and military aid to Mexico, which is being used to clear the path for foreign investments in resource exploitation.
Free Nestora! At each rally, letters signed by supporters were delivered via the consulates to Peña Nieto, calling on him to “open the prison doors” for Salgado and other self-defense leaders.
As Mexico’s attack on the right to organize intensifies, opposition to it is growing, fueled by the passion for justice of people like Salgado’s family and supporters.
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