Mexico: divisions in the indigenous rights movement in the wake of Nestora Salgado’s release

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Winning the release of imprisoned community police leader Nestora Salgado, jailed for two-and-a-half years in Mexico on trumped-up charges of kidnapping, was a thrilling victory for international working class solidarity, especially in a time of deep-seated reaction.

The “Free Nestora” campaign was a complete repudiation of Trump’s brand of racist, “America First” nationalism. It involved hundreds of individuals and groups on both sides of the U.S./Mexico border, and in other countries, who lent their time, talents, financial support and hearts to the struggle. Experts in international law, Salgado’s family in Mexico and the U.S., socialist parties, labor unions, U.S. immigrant rights activists, Mexican teachers, feminists, a U.S. congressman, and the American Federation of State County and Municipal Workers (the largest U.S. public workers union) all contributed to the victory — among hundreds of others.

Deserving special mention is the Committee for Revolutionary International Regroupment (CRIR) and its affiliates — Partido Obrero Socialista in Mexico, Núcleo por un Partido Revolucionario Internacionalista in the Dominican Republic, Partido Revolucionario de las y los Trabajadores in Costa Rica, and Freedom Socialist Party in the U.S. — for launching the international solidarity movement.

But of all the many contributors, no one gave more than José Luis Ávila, Salgado’s husband, who launched the effort to free her by staging hunger strikes at U.S. federal buildings, accompanied by her daughters, shortly after her arrest.

Sadly the movement that won Salgado’s freedom is today fractured. The fault lies with the Mexican government that lost no time sowing seeds of conflict within the community police in Guerrero. At the same time, it extended a helping hand to Salgado using one of its client indigenous organizations.

Comandanta changes sides. Salgado was arrested and jailed in August 2013 for aggressively defending her indigenous community against dishonest government officials and drug dealers. Twenty-eight months later she was freed after two hunger strikes and persistent protests in the U.S. and Mexico.

Before her arrest, Salgado, a naturalized U.S. citizen, frequently returned to her hometown of Olinalá in Guerrero to help her people. Eventually she was elected leader of Olinalá’s armed self-defense force — a right guaranteed by state and federal law to Mexico’s indigenous peoples.

The community police in Olinalá quickly affiliated with a regional group known by its acronym CRAC-PC (for Regional Coordination of Community Authorities — Community Police), an organization with a 21-year history of defending indigenous communities in Guerrero, one of Mexico’s poorest states.

CRAC-PC is a network of autonomous, indigenous self-defense units organized as Casas de Justicia (Houses of Justice). As a comandanta, Salgado was affiliated with Casa El Paraíso, a group that declared fierce independence from the government. In contrast, Casa San Luis Acatlán was and continues to be the unit most closely tied to the Mexican government. In fact, when the governor of Guerrero decided he had to lock up Salgado to keep her from rocking the boat against corruption, he prevailed upon the Casa San Luis Acatlán to denounce her, thereby setting the stage for her arrest by the federal police.

However, since her release, Salgado has affiliated with this group, apparently thinking that the best way to defend indigenous communities is to link up with those close to official power and money.

Currently she is touring the U.S. and Europe with Felícitas Martínez, an advisor to Casa San Luis Acatlán, which calls itself the only legitimate community police entity and threatens independent community police, like the unit in Olinalá, with expulsion if they don’t sign agreements to abide by its dictates.

Slurs against the Seattle Free Nestora Committee. Salgado’s switch has been accompanied by attacks on the Seattle Free Nestora Committee. In October, Da Nie Luna, a Mexican social media activist, launched a Facebook campaign against the Free Nestora Committee accusing it of keeping funds collected for Salgado’s defense. She charged both the committee and the Freedom Socialist Party (FSP) with fraud and continued to spread accusations even after the co-founders of the Seattle committee, Su Docekal and José Ávila, Salgado’s husband, issued a statement answering Luna’s outrageous allegations. (To see a committee finance report and read the statement go to

On the U.S. leg of her tour with Martínez, Salgado denounced Partido Obrero Socialista (POS), the organization that launched the campaign in Mexico to free her. Los Angeles FSP organizer Karla Alegría, who attended an event where Salgado spoke, reports “It was very disturbing to hear Nestora falsely accuse the POS of manipulating 16 members of Nestora’s own family in Olinalá who issued a public statement distancing themselves from her due to her collaboration with Casa San Luis.”

Political prisoner campaign presses on. Despite the divisive efforts of the Mexican government and Casa San Luis Acatlán, the movement continues to organize for the freedom of the three remaining community police, Gonzalo Molina, Arturo Campos and Samuel Ramírez — all jailed after protesting Salgado’s arrest. Solidarity among families of political prisoners and of the 43 missing students from Ayotzinapa, together with striking militant teachers, have shaken the Mexican ruling class.

According to Su Docekal, co-founder of the Seattle Free Nestora Committee, while Salgado herself has retreated from her bold actions in defense of indigenous rights, the model of how her freedom was won is an important victory in itself.

“The campaign to free Salgado gave birth to a broad international united front against state repression,” says Docekal. “It brought together socialists, anarchists, feminists, labor unions, plus immigrant, African American and student activists. It stands as a model for how to unify diverse forces, win victories, and defend fighters against injustice today and in the future.”


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