The uphill fight to free Nestora Salgado

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Nestora Salgado is both a naturalized U.S. citizen and an indigenous leader in her Mexican hometown of Olinalá, Guerrero. Last summer, Mexican authorities jailed her on trumped-up charges related to her role as the elected leader of Olinalá’s community police, which defends people against violent drug cartels and corrupt officials.

The grass-roots campaign to liberate Nestora is part of the hard-fought battle against neoliberalism. Over the past decades, the U.S. has joined many plans, treaties and alliances with Mexico aimed at opening up markets for the U.S., securing its oil supplies, and, ostensibly, combating narco traffic. In reality, Washington’s “War on Drugs” has been about protecting the profits of transnational corporations and foreign banks, including billions from laundering drug money.

As Marxist historian James Cockcroft notes in his most recent book on Mexico, the real targets of these Mexico/U.S. alliances are “immigrants, original peoples, guerrilla resistance, political dissidents, and social movements protesting transnational corporations that take over water and cause mining pollution.”

Clampdown and defiance. The U.S. wants stability in Mexico, something the Mexican government has been unable to achieve despite over $350 million in U.S. aid last year. So President Peña Nieto has resorted to sending thousands of federal troops to Guerrero and other states that have a history of indigenous-led insurgency. With the backing of Guerrero Governor Ángel Aguirre Rivero, they engaged in a dragnet operation last August that swept up leaders of the community police movement in Guerrero, including Salgado.

Past crackdowns have included murder and disappearances of opposition activists and ordinary people as well. This time, civilians are forming self-defense groups and electing community-based police forces, referred to as “comunitarios.” Despite government attempts at suppression and control, they are driving cartel criminals and corrupt politicians and police from their cities and towns. The comunitarios continue to hold mass demonstrations raising the demand to “Free Nestora” and others arrested with her.

Nestora’s liberty depends on all of us. Organizing around this unjust imprisonment has brought increased collaboration between leftist groups in the U.S. and Mexico and more broadly. It has also shown respect for women’s and indigenous rights by defending an independent woman of color, and confronting gender and racial prejudices that divide us.

Nestora is a political prisoner. Her prospects for getting a fair trial are poor. This is obvious by the way the prosecutor has piled on bogus charges against her — for example, 50 counts of kidnapping and allegations of leading a “criminal conspiracy.” Meanwhile, U.S. officials have done nothing to free her.

Nestora’s residence is in Renton, Wash., just outside Seattle. Recently, the campaign has won an outpouring of support from U.S. labor, including the 400,000-member Washington State Labor Council; Pacific Northwest Regional Council of Carpenters; Seattle/King County Building and Construction Trades Council; American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 28; and coalitions of Black and women unionists. This has encouraged Mexican unions to sign on too.

Members of Nestora’s family spoke at numerous events and demonstrations celebrating International Women’s Day where they read greetings from Nestora. Reporters for several mainstream news organizations in Mexico interviewed her sister Clotilde.

This backing and publicity has achieved some improvement in Nestora’s treatment in jail. More pressure is needed to get her out of prison. Salgado’s champions need to urge Secretary of State John Kerry to call on the Mexican government to drop all charges against her.

Visit the campaign’s new website (see below) for updates, more background, and info on how to help, in English and Spanish. Please make a donation toward campaign expenses.

Contact Fred Hyde, a member of Nestora’s Northwest defense committee, at

Related story — Mexico: the right of civilian self-defense

Announcing — a new website in English and Spanish. Find news, videos and activities from the international movement to free the indigenous community police jailed in Mexico.

To listen to this and other articles from this issue, click here.

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