The Anti-Oppression Forum is really excited to be getting involved in this campaign to free Nestora Salgado, a community organizer imprisoned in Mexico for standing up to politically powerful drug cartels. The following statement on Salgado’s story was written by the Freedom Socialist Party. You can sign the petition to free Nestora at this link.
Nestora Salgado is a naturalized U.S. citizen who grew up in the small indigenous village of Olinalá in the state of Guerrero, Mexico. She moved to the United States in 1991 at the age of 20, working as a maid, nanny and waitress. She splits her time between Olinalá and Renton, Washington, where she lives with her husband José Luis Avila, a construction worker, her daughters, and grandchildren. Over the past four years, she made numerous trips to deliver clothing and supplies to the desperately poor residents of her hometown.
Fighting poverty and violence in Guerrero. Guerrero has the highest murder rate in Mexico and a history of state involvement in massacres of indigenous peasants. During her trips home to Mexico, Salgado witnessed increasing poverty and the rise in violent crime and political corruption. This led her to become a community activist for the human rights of indigenous people in Guerrero and neighboring parts of Mexico. In particular, she became involved in the indigenous movement for community policing that has swept through the region during the past several years. Guerrero State Law 701 and Article 2.A of the Mexican Constitution guarantee the right of indigenous people to self-government and self-defense, including forming their own police forces.
Soon, Salgado was putting the laws into practice by organizing with others to form a community police force in Olinalá. Its officers formed patrols to defend residents against organized crime, particularly the Los Rojos gang. The gang had been terrorizing the community and operating with impunity due to the complicity of local officials, including the mayor.
The impetus for forming the community force was the murder of a local taxi cab driver who refused to pay protection money to Los Rojos. Salgado led a mobilization of village residents to drive the gang out of town and set up checkpoints to keep them from coming back. Last spring Salgado was elected “comandante” or coordinator. She has worked hard to develop the leadership of indigenous women and to empower them to stand up against domestic violence and child abuse.
Initially, Salgado was able to obtain the support of Angel Aguirre, the governor of Guerrero, who promised in writing to provide the force with uniforms, small arms, training and other support. The impact of the community policing, which relied on traditional means of accountability and social control, was dramatic—a 90% drop in the crime rate and no murders during the 10 months that it was in operation. (In the two months since the governor shut down community police, crime has increased and there were four killings, despite the presence of over a thousand marines and soldiers as well as state and federal police. Government forces harass community organizers, sometimes threatening to kill them, while protecting criminal activity.)
Nestora Salgado’s abduction and arrest. The official pretext for seizing her on August 21, 2013, was the arrest of several teenage girls for dealing drugs and the local sheriff, Armando Patrón Jiménez, for tampering with evidence at the crime scene of a double assassination where he attempted to walk off with a cow, the property of the deceased. She is falsely charged with kidnapping both the sheriff and the girls.
At a meeting five days before her arrest between the mayor and Salgado, she refused to let the sheriff, a political crony of the mayor, go free without trial by a peoples’ court. A few days later, she found herself transported by private plane to a maximum security prison 2000 miles from Olinalá. The arrest appears to be in retaliation for a press release Salgado issued that outlined the mayor’s and other government figures’ ties to drug trafficking.
Prosecuting indigenous leaders like Salgado and suppressing autonomous community police forces also serves a larger purpose—silencing vocal opposition by indigenous communities to foreign mining companies that have large contracts to extract mineral wealth from the mountains of Guerrero.
Political persecution and mistreatment in jail. Salgado was seized without an arrest warrant by federal soldiers at a checkpoint while driving home. She had been harassed with death threats by marines for several days prior to her arrest. Since the day after her arrest, Nestora Salgado has been incarcerated in the high security detention center of El Rincon, in Tepic, Nayarit, several days travel from Olinalá. There is no basis for the government’s claim that such extreme measures are warranted because Salgado—a grandmother and well-respected citizen with no criminal record—is a danger to society. Furthermore, kidnapping is not a federal crime in Mexico and those accused are normally held in local jails.
Isolating Salgado from her supporters and family by transporting her so far away, without legal justification, is evidence that she is a political prisoner. Efforts to organize support in Olinalá for Salgado’s release and the revival of community policing are being suppressed by death threats and reprisals; Salgado’s advocates are being cut-off from public assistance, especially needed since a severe storm in mid-October.
For weeks, Salgado was held incommunicado. She was not allowed to see her attorney or family members, who had traveled the long distance to get to the penitentiary. She was only allowed a lawyer after the deadline had passed to petition for release while awaiting trial. Only one of her daughters and a sister has been able to visit her. This persecution is all for performing her lawful duties as the coordinator of the community police force.
Several years ago, Salgado was injured in a car accident that left her temporarily paralyzed from the neck down. Through extensive physical therapy, she was able to regain 90% of her functioning but is still unable to work. To manage severe neuropathy in her hands and feet, she relies on pain medication and frequent exercise. In prison, she has been denied both, worsening her physical and mental condition. Now she is being threatened with solitary confinement.
The recent assassination of another strong woman activist in Guerrero, Rocío Mesino Mesino, is a reminder that Salgado’s life is in jeopardy without close public scrutiny and strong support in Mexico and the United States.
UPDATE (December 4, 2013)
Read a letter to U.N. Secretary Miguel de la Lama requesting her release and a statement of facts related to her case.
Read the misleading AP article which incorrectly states that Nestora led a “vigilante” police force, and Guerry Hodderson and Fred Hyde’s corresponding letters to the editor.
You can help Nestora by clicking here to sign the petition demanding that President Obama secure her release.
Find information on demonstrations to be held on December 10, 2013 at U.S. Mexican Consulates at these locations.
Alianza Puertorriqueña, Los Angeles
Ángeles Sin Fronteras, Hugo Castro, Internacional Coordinator, San Diego
Anti-Oppression Forum, Poughkeepsie, New York
Bread is Rising Poetry Collective, New York City
Coalición Humanitaria Internacional Pro Migrante, Southern California & Mexico
Comité Por La Reagrupación Internacional Revolucionaria
Far North Queensland Deaths in Custody Watch Group, Cairns, Australia
Free Marissa Now, U.S.
Freedom Socialist Party, U.S. & Australia
Frente de Resistencia por México, Los Angeles
Feminist Resistance, New York City
Indigenous Social Justice Association, Sydney, Australia
International Action Center, U.S.
International Artivism Collective—US, México, Guatemala, Dominican Republic
International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal
International Socialist Organization, New York City
Izquierda Revolucionaria, New York City
Jobs with Justice, Portland, Oregon Chapter
La Voz Latina, WBAI-99.5 FM, New York City
La Zenka and Associated Indigenous Movements, New York City
Latin-American and Latino/a Studies Department, City College of San Francisco
National Lawyers Guild, Los Angeles Chapter
Núcleo por un Partido Revolucionario Internacionalista, Dominican Republic
Organized Workers for Labor Solidarity (OWLS), Seattle
Partido Socialista-Frente Amplio, U.S.
Partido Obrero Socialista, Mexico
People’s Organization for Progress, Newark
Radical Women, U.S. & Australia
Socialist Core, New York City
Stop the Checkpoints, Port Angeles, Washington
Trabajadoras por la Paz, New York City
United American Indians of New England
United Front for Justice and Dignity, California
Washington Federation of State Employees, Local 304, Seattle
Witness for Peace Northwest, Portland, Oregon
Workers World Party, U.S
YoSoy132 Nueva York, New York City