Nestora Salgado is a mother of three who left her hometown of Olinala, Mexico as a teenager 20 years ago for a new life in the United States. She became an American citizen and worked three jobs to provide for her family. But after a car accident in 2002 nearly killed her, she quit working and moved back to her hometown just as drug cartel rivalries became more violent.
The cartels fought for territory around Olinala, subjecting residents to kidnappings, extortion, and murder. Outraged, Nestora became the leader of a community police force that took on the cartels by arresting murderers and drug dealers. She operated under legally recognized community policing rules that were enacted to protect indigenous populations after a massacre of peasants by state security forces in 1995.
Two years ago she was arrested by Mexican authorities.
During our committee’s visit to Mexico to raise awareness of Nestora’s case, some of our delegates were able to spend some time with Nestora for an interview. Here’s what they had to say of their visit:
On Sunday, June 21, I visited Nestora Salgado in the medical tower at Tepepan Women’s Prison in Mexico City. She was healthy and full of life — happy in the wake of her struggle to be moved to a facility where treatment is better, given the tortuous regime she suffered at the high security prison in Nayarit. Nestora’s room is large with lots of natural light and a window with a view outside.
Nestora speaks freely and says that, just like Edith Piaf, she has no regrets. She is proud that she unified the townspeople of Olinalá against crime and injustice. She is glad she took on a network of child pornographers and liberated children and adolescents from human traffickers. She says it doesn’t bother her that she has had to face imprisonment as a result of fighting injustice. She says she remains convinced that she did nothing wrong and always has acted honorably in the interests of her people. She refers frequently to God in our conversation.
For me, it was like talking to someone I had known for a long time. Nestora is exceptional. She is a very smart woman with a strong character and a sweet personality. The serious Comandante Nestora is also a compassionate woman. She is proud and not diminished at all by the ugly pair of prison pajamas she is wearing.
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.
In one of the highest-profile stories about Nestora Salgado’s imprisonment yet, VICE News offers an informative account of her community policing efforts and subsequent arrest, her recent hunger strike, and the international efforts to end her incarceration (including a reference to this website). We encourage all of Nestora’s supporters to share this news story! We must spread the word if we hope to win her release!
An imprisoned U.S. citizen whose case has come to symbolize the Mexican government’s crackdown on community armed police forces in the state of Guerrero ended a month-long hunger strike on Thursday.
Nestora Salgado, who emigrated from Mexico and became a naturalized citizen in the US state of Washington, agreed to lift the hunger strike she began on May 5 to protest what she and international supporters called false charges of kidnapping and organized crime.
Salgado has been at the center of the struggle over public safety in Guerrero between state officials and grassroots community militias, which have sprung up in differing forms in states such as Michoacan.
Nestora Salgado, courageous champion of her indigenous community and a political prisoner in Mexico, is on a hunger strike. She began refusing food on May 5th and intends “to take this to the bitter end,” according to her attorney Leonel Rivero Rodriguez.
The Freedom for Nestora Committee is contacting you because we need your financial support to help win Nestora’s freedom at this critical juncture.
Recent reports claim that the new prosecutor assigned to Nestora’s case not only refuses to drop the charges against her, but is seeking a prison sentence of nearly 1,000 years for the community police force leader. Such trumped-up charges reveal the extent to which the government is willing to go to send a message to political dissidents seeking to end corruption in Mexico.
Read the full story here.
October 8, 2014
To the students of Ayotzinapa, Guerrero:
The Libertad para Nestora campaign in the U.S. stands in solidarity with you and your families today against the brutal repression and violence you have suffered at the hands of corrupt Guerrero political leaders and their criminal accomplices. We are incredibly saddened by the massacre of almost 50 students whose only “crime” was to struggle for a just society. What a callous waste of the precious lives of dedicated young people!
We raise our voices to join the chorus demanding that Sr. Ángel Aguirre, governor of Guerrero, resign immediately and that all those with blood on their hands be brought to justice. We have worked in the U.S. for a year to free Comandanta Nestora Salgado. There is only one reason she is still in prison: Governor Águirre refuses to release her despite an order by a federal judge. We have also fought for the freedom of other community police incarcerated under Águirre’s rule. Now he and the PRD have presided over the worst act of political violence in Mexico in decades. We join you in demanding an end to this reign of terror and lawlessness in Guerrero!
FREE NESTORA SALGADO AND ALL POLITICAL PRISONERS!
PROSECUTE THE ASSASSINS OF THE STUDENTS OF GUERRERO!
END THE REIGN OF TERROR AND CORRUPTION IN GUERRERO, MICHOACÁN AND PUEBLA!
Libertad para Nestora /Freedom for Nestora –U.S. Campaign
The following letter was issued to President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico by the U.S. Campaigns to Free Nestora Salgado. It is being reposted here for everyone to read:
August 21, 2014
President Enrique Peña Nieto
Los Pinos, Casa Miguel Aleman
Col. San Miguel Chapultepec
CP 11850, Mexico DF
Dear President Enrique Peña Nieto,
August 21 marks the one year anniversary of the illegal incarceration of Nestora Salgado, comandanta of the Olinalá, Guerrero community police force in a high security federal prison. She and 10 of her comrades, including leaders Gonzalo Molina and Arturo Campos, have been stripped of their constitutional rights, denied due process, locked-up far from their families in order to break their spirits, and subjected to miserable and life-threatening treatment for a non-existent crime—protecting the people of Olinalá, as guaranteed under the Mexican constitution, from criminals and unscrupulous local political figures.
We are present today at Mexican Consulates in Chicago, New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and Portland, Oregon on this one-year anniversary to demand that Nestora Salgado, her compatriots and the ever-growing number of other political prisoners in Mexico be freed immediately.
In the case of the Olinalá community defense force, there was no basis for their arrest in the first place and is no basis now for their continued detention. A federal court agrees with us. It dismissed the charges that were used as the pretense to jail Nestora and ordered that she be released. However, the Guerrero state prosecutor is refusing to do so. In the meantime, she has only been permitted to see her lawyer once for 45 minutes in an entire year. This is a complete mockery of the rule of law and casts the entire Mexican political and judicial system into question.
Instead of resolving this blatant miscarriage of justice over the last year, the federal and state governments have employed the Mexican military and state police to expand the bloody assault on civilian defense forces and indigenous communities.
On May 2, paramilitary forces (in which PRI is implicated) attacked a Zapatista elementary school killing Jose Luis Solís López, a teacher, and wounding 15 others.
On June 17, Marco Antonio Suástegui, respected leader of the Council of Ejidos and Communities Opposed to La Parota dam was arrested by state police from the Guerrero Attorney General’s office on completely fabricated charges of robbery and attempted murder, severely beaten and sent to the same prison as Nestora.
Ten days later, Dr. José Manuel Mireles, leader of autodefensas forces in Michoacán was tricked into meeting with an army officer who arrested him after planting drugs in his vehicle. Federal and state police and the Mexican army (SEDENA) and navy (SEMAR) were all involved in this action which included arresting 82 other autodefensas. All were charged with arms violations for carrying weapons that supposedly were for the exclusive use of the armed forces.
And on July 9, Federal District state police shot and killed a 13-year-old boy and injured 40 other Nahua citizens of Puebla who were blocking a highway to protest new laws that deprived them of their traditional rights.
It seems that the federal government does not care about poor and working people, their rights or ability to make a living. We know that the U.S. government is complicit in this attitude toward the people of Mexico, funding as it does the Mexican military and counter-insurgency programs to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars.
This is in sharp contrast to the community police forces and self-defense groups who risk their lives to maintain order and security in their hometowns.
Clearly there is deep seated racism in the treatment of indigenous fighters like Nestora Salgado and Marco Antonio Suástegui, but we know that beyond this there is a hunger in high places to privatize and exploit communal land in Mexico for international corporate profit. To do this, the federal government must first rid itself of the indigenous leaders who defend the inheritance of their people. Among these leaders are many women who have stood on the front lines like Nestora Salgado to save their way of life, refusing to be intimidated by criminals or corrupt politicians, the military and their arsenals.
They will not surrender and neither will we, the movement to Free Nestora and all political prisoners in Mexico. To deny the citizens of your country the right to fight back against extortion, mass murder, intimidation, rape, exploitation and the theft of communal lands is a form of genocide. To allow the U.S. government to continue arming and training the Mexican military to oppress its own people is an abomination. We join with the working and poor people of Mexico in demanding an end to the corruption, impunity and endless drive for super profits.
We wrote you almost a year ago regarding the unjust incarceration of Nestora Salgado. In the months that have passed since then, military and state police repression has widened and the bodies of the victims have continued to pile up. The responsibility for these deaths rests at your door. You alone can call off the Mexican military and open the prison doors. This reign of terror must end. U.S. counterinsurgency forces and their corporate and criminal partners have no place on Mexican soil, the birthplace of the proud 1910 Revolution.
We call on you to act now and look forward to a prompt response to this letter. Rest assured, we will not be silent. We demand freedom for Nestora Salgado and all political prisoners NOW.
Freedom for Nestora Committees, U.S.
June 17, 2014
For release: Immediately
Contact: Su Docekal
Congressman Adam Smith and Washington state activists demand justice for indigenous leader Nestora Salgado, imprisoned in Mexico
In a crowded courtroom at Seattle University’s School of Law, U.S. Rep. Adam Smith, D-Bellevue, Washington, joined human rights advocates and attorneys in defense of naturalized U.S. citizen Nestora Salgado, who has been illegally imprisoned in Mexico, without trial, since August 2013.
Salgado had been elected to lead the community police force in her desperately poor hometown of Olinalá when she ran afoul of the authorities while exercising her duties under Guerrero state law. While attempting to rid the area of violent crime and corruption, she was falsely charged with kidnapping and sent to a federal prison six hundred miles from her home. After 10 months in prison, she has yet to see her lawyers. A dozen other Olinalá residents who came to her defense are also under arrest.
“I am outraged at the reports of deplorable conditions and treatment that violate Ms. Salgado’s basic human rights,” said Rep. Smith, who represents her congressional district. “Mexico has virtually made no effort to follow due process.”
Rep. Smith has urged Secretary of State John Kerry to press both the Mexican authorities to treat Ms. Salgado fairly and the U.S. Embassy to “use all means necessary to ensure her health and safety while she is detained. “Let the story be told,” he said, “shame the Mexican government into doing the right thing.”
Professor Thomas Antkowiak, director of the International Human Rights Clinic at Seattle University School of Law, which leads the international litigation of the case, reported that she is being held in a maximum-security prison, which denies her clean water and medical treatment. A Mexican congressional delegation, which traveled to the prison two weeks ago corroborated that she is enduring “psychological torture.” He added that in March, “a Mexican federal judge ruled that she was acting legally as an authorized leader of her indigenous community, and ordered her immediate release.” The Guerrero state court has refused to release her and is looking into adding more state charges to those she already faces.
“My mom is a person with strong morals and a huge heart,” said Grisel Rodriguez, Salgado’s daughter who spoke at the conference. “That is why she never forgot her hometown, or the situation that the family lived in back in Olinalá. When intense violence tore into the communities in Guerrero after 2000, she tried to help any way she could and that is how she got involved in the Community Police, or Communitaria. The Community Police is a legal organization that works under Guerrero state law 701 which allows indigenous communities to form autonomous police forces.”
“They are not gun-toting vigilantes,” explained Rodriquez, “they are community people who primarily do social service work, such as providing hurricane relief to people who were forgotten by the state government after the tropical storm last October. Now my mother is a political prisoner,” she said, holding back tears. “My family and I are pleading for your help to secure her release and to bring her back home.”
In answer to a question from the media, she explained that neither Washington State Senator Patty Murray nor Senator Maria Cantwell had taken any action despite her meeting with their staffs months ago.
Su Docekal, chair of the Freedom for Nestora Committee in Seattle traced the beginnings of the fight for Salgado’s freedom to December 10, 2013 when local activists organized an action in front of Seattle’s Mexican Consulate. “Word had spread,” reported Docekal, “and simultaneous protests were held in five other U.S. cities and in Mexico, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Australia, France and Austria.
Docekal said that following Salgado’s imprisonment, dozens of other community police were also arrested, and twelve still remain in prison. “They include indigenous leaders Gonzalo Molina and Arturo Campos who led protests after Nestora’s arrest, and whose families our committee is also supporting. All of the detainees are from towns and villages which sit on huge reserves of gold and silver and that are resisting the encroachment of international mining companies, such as Goldcorp, Inc., based in Vancouver, BC, which are ravaging their land, water and way of life.”
Stephen Durham of the Committee for Revolutionary International Regroupment (CRIR), which with the Partido Obrero Socialista is leading the fight to free Salgado in Mexico and coordinating international support work, asked whether international legal initiatives have been filed. Antkowiak responded that the Legal Clinic has filed petitions with The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and the Inter-American Commission Human Rights, which are both now closely monitoring the case.
Student Miriam Padilla also spoke for the Freedom for Nestora/Libertad para Nestora Committee. “Nestora’s story touches people from many backgrounds,” she said. “She and her family are working-class people. Jose, Nestora’s husband, is a carpenter and Nestora held jobs as a custodian, maid and restaurant worker. Her outspoken feminism and her advocacy for her indigenous community have won her wide support. Latino, African-American and Native American communities, labor unions and women’s organizations have all spoken out on her behalf.”
“Nestora Salgado reminds me of Rosa Parks,” said Padilla, “who was arrested and fined for violating a city ordinance, but whose act of defiance began a movement.” She thanked those present for their support and noted that they represented a sample of the wide endorsements that Nestora’s fight has received. Among those present were: Herbie Martin, Washington State Labor Council AFL-CIO and A. Philip Randolph Institute; Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, Jimmy Haun, Political Director, Pacific Northwest Regional Council of Carpenters; Patricia Coley, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 46; James Williams, Seattle Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration Committee; Stephen Durham, Committee for Revolutionary International Regroupment (CRIR) and Campaign to Free Nestora Salgado, New York City; Alejandra Gonza, international human rights attorney; Steve Hoffman, Washington Federation of State Employees, Local 304; and Fred Hyde, Freedom Socialist Party (FSP). Padilla thanked the FSP for being “one of the first groups to initiate this campaign because of its longtime involvement in immigration and indigenous struggles.”
Ann Rogers, a Chippewa elder of Seattle Radical Women, observed: “Standing up for basic human rights protection of communal land and the equality of women should not land a person in a federal prison. There is something very wrong with a government that allows this to happen.”
A statement by El Centro de la Raza concluded that “We need to increase awareness of Nestora Salgado’s case and send a clear message that we stand in solidarity with the community of Olinalá, Guerrero. Their leaders are unjustly detained for seeking a dignified, humane existence safe from crime and violence.”
The Freedom for Nestora Committee (Freenestora.org) urged supporters to write letters to Washington Senators Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray and to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry urging them to intervene on Nestora’s behalf. They also announced that if Salgado is not free by August 21 — one year since her imprisonment, an International Day of Action is being planned by her supporters in a number of countries.
The Seattle Committee meets on the first and third Saturdays of each month, at noon, at 5018 Rainier Ave. S, Seattle, WA 98118. For more information or to make a donation visit www.FreeNestora.org, email FreeNestora.Seattle@gmail.com or call 206-953-5601.