Victory for two-and-a-half-year campaign to free leader of indigenous community police force that battled drug cartels and crooked Mexican politicians
After two-and-a-half years behind bars, most of the time spent in solitary confinement in a remote Mexican high security prison, political prisoner Nestora Salgado will walk out a free woman at 9:00am on March 18 from Tepepan prison in Mexico City. An outpouring of public support for Salgado, combined with a recent United Nations ruling in her favor, finally prompted Guerrero state judges to act. Charges of kidnapping and homicide, stemming from Salgado’s leadership of an indigenous community police force in Olinalá, Guerrero, were dismissed due to lack of evidence.
The U.S. Campaign to Free Nestora Salgado will hold a victory rally in front of Seattle’s Mexican Consulate on Saturday, March 26 at 12:00pm to demand the release of other Mexican prisoners jailed on false charges. The consulate is located at 2132 3rd Ave.
March 26th holds special significance as the anniversary of the disappearance of 43 students from Ayotzinapa, Guerrero. Salgado has joined the parents of the missing students in demanding an accounting of their fate from Mexican President Peña Nieto. Rallies are expected on that date at Mexican consulates in several other U.S. cities including San Francisco and New York.
Salgado’s freedom hard won
José Luis Avila, Salgado’s husband, credits the international, grassroots movement with winning her release. “We showed that by mobilizing indigenous organizations, unions, and human rights activists on both sides of the border we were able to win a victory over the corrupt Mexican government,” he told reporters. Avila joined with unionists and feminists in Seattle to found the U.S. Campaign to Free Nestora Salgado. It grew to include a number of U.S. cities and collaborated with the Comité Nestora Libre and community police members in Mexico to fight for Salgado’s freedom.
Salgado moved to the U.S. as a young mother from Olinalá, Guerrero, an indigenous community. She and her husband José Luis Avila raised her three daughters in Renton, Washington. Several years ago, Salgado began making regular trips to deliver clothing and supplies to the desperately poor residents of her hometown, where she witnessed the growing violence by drug traffickers. In early 2013, she was elected coordinator of the newly formed chapter of the community police in Olinalá. This volunteer force coordinated local residents to defend themselves against the misuse of government power and lawbreakers. Community police have legal standing under federal and Guerrero state laws that protect the rights of indigenous people.
“The success of this citizens’ police force infuriated dishonest politicians who are in league with the racketeers and the foreign-owned mining companies who want access to the gold and silver deposits on which a number of indigenous small towns sit,” said Su Docekal, coordinator of Seattle’s Freedom for Nestora Committee.
Federal army and local police arrested Salgado on August 21, 2013 on kidnapping charges related to an arrest she made as a member of the elected police force. When those charges could not be upheld in federal court, murder charges were added by prosecutors in Guerrero. Other community police were arrested following Salgado’s detention. Arturo Campos and Gonzalo Molina, from neighboring towns, were charged after leading large protests of her imprisonment. They remain in jail today along with several other Guerrero community police members.
After spending a year-and-a half in a dangerous federal prison without ever seeing the inside of a courtroom, Salgado launched a 31-day hunger strike in May 2015. As a result she and other jailed community police were moved to prisons closer to their families and lawyers. A U.S. delegation to Mexico the same month helped to highlight the injustice of her detention and put pressure on the U.S. State Department. “The State Department had done next to nothing to assist Nestora, even after a Mexican federal judge dropped the kidnapping charges and ordered her freed two years ago,” explained Docekal.
In February 2016, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention ruled that Salgado’s arrest and detention were illegal. Later that month, a twitter and call-in campaign to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was initiated by the U.S. Campaign to Free Nestora Salgado and Jornada por Nestora, an immigrant activist network.
“In the end, it was the international movement and Salgado’s intransigence that won her freedom,” said Stephen Durham, Freedom Socialist Party International Secretary, who took part in the 2015 U.S. delegation to Mexico City which sought to focus public pressure on the U.S. embassy. Durham credited the Partido Obrera Socialista for initiating the movement that has grown up around Salgado, and other political prisoners in Mexico, and the Committee for Revolutionary International Regroupment (CRIR) for advancing the campaign in Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic and Argentina, among other countries.
Broad and deep support for Salgado
Attorneys Alejandra Gonza and Thomas Antkowiak, with Seattle University’s International Law Clinic, worked pro bono to win United Nations attention for Salgado’s cause, collaborating with the campaign and Congressman Adam Smith, the only member of the Washington delegation to actively champion her cause.
Among other key U.S. advocates for Salgado’s freedom were the Washington State Labor Council, AFSCME International, Puget Sound Chapter of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, Radical Women, and Mexicanos Unidos en Washington; an additional 200 organizations also endorsed the fight. Finally, city and county councils in various Washington locales took a stand for Salgado including Renton City Council, King County Council, and lastly the Seattle City Council.
A full list of endorsers, more background and contact information can be found at the U.S. Campaign to Free Nestora Salgado website: FreeNestora.org.