¡Libertad! Nestora Salgado freed
Struggle continues to release community defenders in Mexico’s prisons
Helen Gilbert
volume 37
issue 3
June 2016

Salgado and supporters at her release from prison in Mexico City on Mar. 18.

On March 18, Nestora Salgado stepped out of the Tepepan women’s prison into the Mexico City sunlight. She wore the olive uniform of the volunteer community police of Olinalá and was flanked by male and female members of the indigenous self-defense group. Compañeros saluted and the gathered crowd chanted. Activists from Seattle to Olinalá cheered this hard-won victory.

Salgado’s release came nearly three years after her arrest in August 2013. A native of Olinalá, Guerrero, she had immigrated to the U.S. and lived in Renton, Wash. But she returned to Olinalá and was elected to lead a community police force formed to combat criminals that were terrorizing the community. Salgado and other indigenous community police in the statewide network CRAC (Regional Coordinator of Community Authorities) were arrested on trumped-up charges after they exposed corrupt officials working hand-in-hand with local drug gangs and international mining corporations.

Victory for international solidarity. The support movement for Salgado went public when her husband, José Luis Ávila, connected with members of the Freedom Socialist Party (FSP) in Seattle in the fall of 2013. They formed the Freedom for Nestora Committee, a united front with labor veterans, Chicano and Mexicano activists, feminists, and students. The campaign spread to other cities and became the U.S. Campaign to Free Nestora. With strong union backing, it raised funds for Salgado’s legal defense and families of other incarcerated CRAC leaders. They spread the word through protests and messages to U.S. and Mexican officials. International human rights lawyers at Seattle University volunteered their skills. More than 180 organizations and prominent individuals endorsed.

The campaign rallied around freedom for all Mexican political prisoners, defense of indigenous rights, solidarity with families of the 43 disappeared students from Ayotzinapa, Guerrero, and an end to U.S. military aid to Mexico.

Cross-border solidarity was built by groups in the Committee for Revolutionary International Regroupment: Partido Obrero Socialista (POS) of Mexico, Núcleo por un Partido Obrero Revolucionario Internacionalista (NUPORI) of the Dominican Republic, Partido Revolucionario de las y los Trabajadores (PRT) of Costa Rica, and the FSP (U.S. and Australia). The Mexican defense organization, Comité Nestora Libre, was founded after POS members travelled to Olinalá in December 2013 to meet with Salgado’s family to propose a public campaign. Soon the case built support in Europe and throughout Latin America.

A key turning point came in May 2015 when Salgado, suffering in a high-security prison, went on a 31-day hunger strike to demand medical treatment and access to legal counsel. The U.S. Campaign quickly mobilized and sent a delegation to Mexico City. Nestora ended her hunger strike after winning a transfer to Tepepan prison. Other jailed Guerrero community police were also moved nearer their families.

International pressure, including intervention by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, finally forced the Mexican government to drop all charges and release Salgado.

But the battle’s not over. The Guerrero state prosecutor recently announced an appeal to reinstate the charges — clearly a move to intimidate others and prevent Salgado’s return to Mexico. Nine community police in Guerrero remain in jail, including the CRAC Coordinator from Tixla, Gonzalo Molina, who was recently hit with additional charges of terrorism and conspiracy. Molina is speaking out publicly to expose a renewed campaign to split the movement to free all political prisoners. He warns that one group of community police, aligned with the government of Guerrero led by the Partido Revolucionario Democrático, is claiming to be the only legitimate self-defense group, sowing confusion and divisions on both sides of the border.

An invigorated movement against repression. State violence in Mexico is growing. According to Cuahtémoc Ruiz of POS, “The Mexican government has stepped up its arbitrary jailing of activists and dissidents. There are around 350 autodefensas [self-defense members] jailed in Michoacán. In Puebla, the [far-right] PAN governor is especially brutal, having jailed around 156 unionists, community leaders and environmental activists.” Every day, the number of prisoners in Oaxaca grows with the government effort to privatize education.

Ruiz and other members of POS attended the third national conference organized by the National Committee to Free Political Prisoners, held April 23-24 in Olinalá. It was a significant milestone that attracted 200 people from Puebla, Oaxaca, Guerrero, Michoacán, Chiapas and Mexico City. Many families of political prisoners attended.

Participants agreed to raise the issue of political prisoners at mobilizations planned in defense of public education on May 15. The conference marks a fruitful collaboration of the three main protest movements in Mexico: political prisoner defense, the fight against government impunity led by the families of disappeared Ayotzinapa students, and the militant mobilizations of teachers against neoliberal attacks on public education.

Moving forward. In April, Salgado and a panel of people who helped to free her spoke at a well-attended public forum at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash.

Su Docekal, head of the Seattle Freedom for Nestora Committee and Seattle FSP organizer, urged attendees to utilize the campaign’s model of a democratically run united front. “I believe it will take revolutionary change in both countries to win complete rights for indigenous and working people,” she said. “But in the meanwhile, ordinary people have achieved an extraordinary victory in this case.”

Send feedback to the author at helen.gilbert@juno.com.

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