After spending more than 32 months in jail, six members of an Indigenous community-based police force in the southern Mexican state of Guerrero bonded out of jail on Thursday, May 12. The six Mixtec men, members of the Regional Coordinator of Community Authorities (CRAC), were detained in an August 2013 operation spearheaded by the Mexican federal police officers, soldiers and marines.
Originally charged with kidnapping, firearms violations and engaging in organized criminal activity, the men were arrested along with Nestora Salgado, commander of the community police force in the municipality of Olinala, Guerrero, who was held virtually incommunicado for more than two years before she was released on March 18 of this year.
Based in part on favorable federal court rulings for the CRAC Six reached between December 2013 and November 2015, two courts in the Guerrero cities of Ayutla and Tlapa rendered decisions last week that ended up reducing the kidnapping charge to the less serious crime of illegal privation of liberty, making the men eligible for bail.
After paying approximately $600 each, Bernardo Garcia Francisco, Angel Garcia Garcia, Eleuterio Garcia Carmen, Abad Ambrosio Francisco, Florentino Garcia Castro and Benito Morales Bustos walked out of their jail cells. The men maintained their innocence of the crimes for which they are accused.
“The government wants Indigenous people asleep. It doesn’t want those who live for the people,” Ambrosio Francisco said. The CRAC member blasted former Governor Angel Aguirre Rivero for trampling on Guerrero State Law 701, which gives a legal basis to the CRAC’s authority. He also remembered Dr. Bertoldo Martinez, a CRAC supporter and the longtime leader of the Guerrero State Front of Democratic Organizations who passed away May 6 after a long illness.
In other remarks, the bailed out prisoners and their legal representatives from the Tlachinollan Human Rights Center of the Mountain denounced the November 2015 murders of four CRAC officers in Tixtla, expressed solidarity with striking Mexican teachers, demanded the return of the 43 forcibly disappeared Ayotzinapa college students, and urged the release of three remaining imprisoned CRAC members-Gonzalo Molina, Arturo Campos and Samuel Ramirez.
Interviewed from jail in the state capital of Chilpancingo, Molina called for the complete dropping of charges against both the jailed and bailed out CRAC members, adding that the men just released still confront legal charges and must regularly report to the appropriate authorities. “They will be outside but (in effect) incarcerated,” Molina said.
Molina added that the legal attacks against his organization were being “unmasked” in plain public view, but assured that the CRAC is a structured organization which “works and will continue working.”
Now nearly 21 years old, the CRAC is a community police force in Indigenous communities of Guerrero that operates law enforcement and justice systems based on uses and customs as well as international and Mexican laws that uphold the right of Indigenous peoples to self-determination. The movement took shape after the 1994 Zapatista uprising inspired Indigenous communities across Mexico to demand greater autonomy and self-governance.
Although the CRAC has been credited with reducing crime and instituting alternative justice programs such as community reeducation in places where it operates, the Indigenous organization has periodically clashed with state and federal authorities over the years.
Supporters of the CRAC members jailed in 2013 maintain that the arrests were part of a frame-up designed to neutralize an organization which had affected vested and criminal interests in Guerrero.
In a May 16 op-ed, Tlachinollan noted contradictory postures by the authorities, with Guerrero Governor Hector Astudillo praising CRAC on the one hand and officials rolling out new charges May 13 against Arturo Campos on the other- only a day after the CRAC Six bailed out. The human rights advocacy organization charged that the cases of Salgado, Campos and Molina were illustrative of official frame-ups aimed at containing the CRAC and preventing the movement and its example from expanding.
“The (three CRAC leaders) were sent to high security prisons and accused of grave crimes: kidnapping, terrorism, murder and robbery,” Tlachinollan wrote. “When the defense managed to show that the accusations were fabricated, the authorities undertook to accuse them of other crimes..”
The CRAC Six were released four days after Nestora Salgado embarked on a 16-day tour of Europe, where she is speaking out for the release of 500 people in Mexico she considers political prisoners. Welcoming the release of her comrades, Salgado nevertheless called for the dropping of charges against the men for which she was absolved.
“They aren’t guilty and the government knows it,” Salgado said in a message sent from the first leg of her tour in Spain. Salgado criticized Guerrero State Prosecutor Xavier Olea Pelaez for declaring that he would appeal the dismissal of the charges against her. She once again denounced that her family had been the object of recent threats and agressions since the CRAC commander’s release from prison, including a May 5 shooting near her daughter’s home.
The timing of Salgado’s European trip-and the release of the CRAC Six-comes at a very politically sensitive moment for the Mexican government in Europe and abroad. In recent weeks, at the same time the Pena Nieto administration was negotiating an expanded free trade accord with the European Union, international criticism of Mexico’s human rights record sharpened in the wake of the Mexican government’s decision announced last month not to extend the probe of the Ayotzinapa atrocity by international investigators appointed by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
In two reports, the international experts reported findings that seriously challenged the Mexican government’s official version of the so-called Night of Iguala back in September 2014, when students and civilians were killed and/or disappeared by government security forces, as promulgated by the Office of the Federal Attorney General.
For an earlier article about Nestora Salgado and Guerrero’s community police: https://fnsnews.nmsu.edu/nestora-is-finally-free/
Additional sources: La Jornada (Guerrero edition), May 11 and 13, 2016. Articles by Citlal Giles Sanchez and editorial staff. El Sur, May 11, 13, 14, and 16, 2016. Articles by Lourdes Chavez, Jacob Morales, Maria Avilez Rodriguez, and Tlachinollan.
Frontera NorteSur: on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news Center for Latin American and Border Studies New Mexico State University Las Cruces, New Mexico