By Grisel Rodriguez and Tricia Coley
August 12, 2015
August 12, 2015
In response to the Mexican government’s initial refusal to meet any of the demands of Nestora Salgado’s hunger strike, which she began on May 5th, the U. S. Campaign to Free Nestora Salgado sent a delegation of five activists to Mexico City on May 31, 2015. The purpose of the trip was to show support for Nestora’s struggle from U.S. labor unions and other organizations. We hoped that our presence would put pressure on the Mexican government to release her from prison or at least secure her transfer to a women’s prison in the city that had better medical care and was closer to her family, attorneys and supporters.
The transfer took place two days before our arrival, but Nestora continued her hunger strike into June – holding out until the government met her demand that other political prisoners from the community police also be transferred to prisons closer to their homes, including fellow hunger striker Gonzalo Molina.
The two of us from Seattle were Grisel Rodriguez, Nestora’s daughter, and Tricia Coley, retired electrical worker and unionist. At the Mexico City Airport, we met up with two of the other delegates, Stephen Durham who is the co-coordinator of Campaign to Free Nestora Salgado-New York City, and Acting International Secretary of the Freedom Socialist Party; and Daniel Vila Rivera, originally from Puerto Rico and host of the “La Voz Latino” radio program, WBAI, in New York City. He is also a veteran organizer for tenants, immigrants and labor. Also greeting us at the airport were Cuauthémoc Ruíz, a member of the Comité Nestora Libre Mexico, and the Partido Obrero Socialista, and Aidee Tasarani, Comité Nestora Libre Mexico.
When we arrived at our hotel we were united with the fifth delegate, Alejandro Hernandez, a student and immigrant rights activist from Mexico, also a member of Ayotzinapa Committee for Justice-Chicago.
Getting the word out through the press
Sunday evening Cuate and Aidee hosted a planning meeting for the press conference, which was the following day, Monday, June 1st. It was scheduled to take place at the Miguel Agustin Pro Juarez Human rights Center (Center Prodh) in Mexico City.
The evening gathering was truly an inspiriting experience. Although we were exhausted from a long day of travel we were quickly revived by the Mexican Chocolate, amazing dialogues and an opportunity to meet some of the most committed activists we have ever known, including leaders of the (CNTE) National Coordinator of Education Workers. We had the privilege to meet Agustina, wife of political prisoner Arturo Campos, and Ernestina, wife of political prisoner Gonzalo Molina. Both men are leaders of Community Police Forces from other towns who were jailed on similar trumped up charges after they organized marches protesting Nestora’s incarceration.
When we gathered at Center Prodh the next day, the press room was full of major Mexican TV networks, major national and international newspapers, and many radio stations. Even though the press conference went for a long time with 14 speakers, no one lost interest. The presentations were intense. The press stayed.
Stephen Durham was the opening speaker. He said,
“We are part of an international campaign that is demanding freedom for Nestora today in many U.S. states and in Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Japan, Australia, South America and Europe”.
“We are here to express our solidarity with the Mexican people who continue to mobilize for justice, also to ask President Peña Nieto to free Nestora Salgado and all political prisoners, including Gonzalo Molina and Arturo Campos, who are still on hunger strike along with Nestora. “
Grisel said that the U.S. government is not supporting her mother, a U.S. citizen. “On the contrary, they’ve abandoned her.”
We Seattle delegates spoke of the support that has come in from organized labor in the State of Washington, Nestora’s home state. We brought messages of solidarity from powerful U.S. labor unions and talked about our history of fighting back against police brutality and organizing for our rights as working people.
Daniel Vila River, read a document brought by the Seattle committee from the Washington State Labor Council:
“On behalf of the nearly 400 thousand members of the state AFL-CIO, we urge the immediate release of Nestora Salgado from prison, where she is held as a political prisoner, without being found guilty of any crime.”
Seeing Nestora: a moving experience
June 2, Tuesday, we all took a taxi to Tepepan Women’s Prison in the southern district of Mexico City. That is where Nestora had been transferred to on May 29, after her hunger strike continued into its fourth week. Our delegation had been preauthorized to visit Nestora; but we anxious about actually getting in and what would our interaction be.
Grisel was allowed in first and stayed the entire time while the rest of us went in one at a time from outside the prison where we waited in the hot sun. There are no chairs or reception area to wait after we checked in with the guard. We talked to people outside the prison and heard the stories of their family members who were held there.
Our experiences meeting this courageous woman were similar. Nestora is a more impressive leader we had even imagined. Her deep concern for the welfare of others left us with the impression that she was a mother of all people and a steadfast warrior against the greedy, murderous crimes of the Mexican oligarchy and the corrupt politicians tied to the drug cartels. It made us all feel more committed to work harder in the movement to free Nestora and all political prisoners.
Visit to the encampment of leaders of the CNTE and others
On our way to the U.S. Embassy we stopped off at the encampment where leaders of the National Coordinator of Education workers (CNTE) and other political activists were occupying the plaza in front of the Monument to the Revolution in Mexico City. That union was in negotiations with the Secretary of the Interior over education reform. CNTE members took time to join us in a demonstration in front of the Embassy, helping hold our Free Nestora banner.
Knocking on the door of the U.S. Embassy
La Jornada, a Mexican newspaper, reported on the delegation’s June 3 visit to the U.S. embassy:
“Activists and relatives of Nestora Salgado Garcia requested a meeting this afternoon with officials from the U.S. embassy in Mexico to ask them to intervene in the release of the ex-comandante of community policing from Olinalá, Guerrero, who remains on a hunger strike after 30 days. “
“My mother is American and is entitled to consular help and we want to know what the American government is doing to help,” said Grisel Rodriquez after delivering the request for a meeting.
“They have the power to take her (out of the prison), that’s more than obvious, they just need to adopt a more aggressive attitude with the Mexican government. They can do it, they simply need to want to, or need to press the Mexican government until they act”, added Rodriguez.
Advocates of freedom for political prisoners front and center
On June 4, there was a large demonstration in support of Nestora and all political prisoners that marched from Mexico City to Tepepan Women’s Prison in the southern district of Mexico, where Nestora is being held. This impressively large and determined group of activists were joined by leaders of the CNTE. It was one of the biggest demonstrations in support of the political prisoners in decades. One of the Free Nestora banners that we brought to Mexico with us was carried at the front of the march even though the delegation, except for Grisel, had to fly back to the U.S. that morning.
The legal fight drags on
Nestora’s lawyers continue to pursue legal proceeding to get the state charges against her dropped. (Federal charges based on the same facts have already been thrown out). Meanwhile, the Guerrero state prosecutor is conjuring up more bogus charges to justify her continued confinement that carry a potential sentence of over 1,000 years. Stay tuned for further developments.
Who we are
The U.S. Freedom for Nestora Campaign is a grassroots effort with committees in various U.S. cities. Launched in Seattle with Salgado’s family in 2013, it has coordinated protests at Mexican consulates and international solidarity actions in August 2014. The Campaign assisted the U.S. tour of parents protesting the disappearance of 43 student activists in Ayotzinapa, Mexico. The Campaign calls for the end of all U.S. military aid to Mexico, given the government’s appalling human rights record and involvement of federal troops in repressing political dissent and disappearing activists.
Generous financial support for the delegation and the legal fight
Campaign supporters stepped up to the plate big time in response to our appeal for donations for the delegation’s travel and housing costs, and for ongoing legal expenses. The Campaign received $5,897.60 in donations from May through July in response to our appeal. Thanks to many in-kind donations by supporters and the delegates themselves, the cost of this intervention was only $2,328.07. The balance of funds raised are going to cover legal fees and related travel expenses, which are still quite substantial. A BIG THANK YOU! to all of you who contributed to this effort.
For those who would like to contribute online, please go to our website listed below. Or you can send a check made out to “RW-Nestora Fund” and mail to: Freedom for Nestora Committee, 5018 Rainier Ave S., Seattle, WA 98118.