Hunger strike, US delegation to Mexico bolster freedom campaign

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On May 5, political prisoner Nestora Salgado said “Enough!” A naturalized U.S. citizen, she had endured almost two years of prison torment in Mexico. Her crime? Leading the indigenous community of her home town, Olinalá, Guerrero, in self-defense against vicious drug gangs and corrupt politicians. She was denied medical care and mired in solitary confinement even though a federal judge dropped charges last year and even though the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights expressed alarm about her treatment, determining it was jeopardizing her life.

With no relief in sight, Nestora began a hunger strike to demand better conditions and freedom. She held out for 31 days, including, at the end, five days without even water.

This brave and desperate act riveted attention within Mexico and spurred Salgado’s U.S. freedom campaign to organize an emergency delegation. Another of Salgado’s imprisoned comrades from the Guerrero community police forces, Gonzalo Molina, began refusing food on May 13.

The mounting pressure ultimately forced the government to move Salgado and all the other imprisoned Guerrero community police to prisons closer to their families and communities, where they will have more support to continue their determined fight for freedom.

Mobilization in the U.S. On learning of the hunger strike, the U.S. Campaign to Free Nestora flew into action to send a five-person delegation to Mexico City. Almost $5,900 was donated for the support campaign, the trip to Mexico and legal defense by unions, community organizations and individuals.

From New York City came Freedom Socialist Party (FSP) leader Stephen Durham, co-coordinator of the Committee to Free Nestora–NY, and Daniel Vila Rivera, a Puerto Rican community organizer and host of
“La Voz Latina” on WBAI radio. From Chicago came Alejandro Hernandez, an immigrant rights activist representing the Ayotzinapa Committee for Justice. From the Seattle Freedom for Nestora Committee were Nestora’s daughter Grisel Rodriguez, and Tricia Coley, a militant unionist and civil rights defender.

The first task of the delegation was participating in a press conference that included family members of political prisoners. The media event garnered impressive coverage from major Mexican newspapers and magazines, TV and radio stations, Venezuela’s Telesur, and the U.K.’s The Guardian.

Delegates and Mexican activists also picketed the U.S. Embassy, which has failed to intervene on Salgado’s behalf. As a result, the embassy staff finally agreed to meet with Nestora’s family and lawyer.

Delegation members attended a rally of insurgent teachers and visited an encampment protesting the disappearance of 43 students from Ayotzinapa, Guerrero.

The U.S. activists were deeply moved by meeting with Salgado in her room in the hospital tower of a medium security women’s prison in Mexico City where she had been moved shortly before.

Delegation member Tricia Coley observes, “We brought support from U.S. unions, including the Washington State Labor Council, which represents 400,000 unionists. This inspired people facing terrible repression.”

Mexican movements draw together. The hunger strikes propelled a new level of unity between Mexican protest movements. Those organizing against the government’s abduction and forced disappearance of 43 student militants from Ayotzinapa, Guerrero, built ties with teachers striking against neoliberal reforms and privatization of education. They raised the visibility of and support for Mexico’s hundreds of political prisoners.

A crucial role in this development was played by the Partido Obrero Socialista (POS), which has been involved in all three struggles. International support for freedom for Nestora has been raised by the Committee for Revolutionary International Regroupment (CRIR), which includes POS, FSP and leftists in Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic.

!Adelante! Forward! The fight for freedom for Salgado and other Mexican political prisoners is far from over.

But a new level of solidarity on both sides of the border has been achieved. And Nestora, through her personal integrity and courage, and as an elected woman leader of the community police, has become a national symbol in Mexico of the struggle against injustice and for indigenous rights.

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Also see: A visit with Comandante Nestora

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