Nestora is Finally Free
After spending two years and seven months behind bars, Mexican community police commander Nestora Salgado was freed on Friday, March 18. Surrounded by family members, community police comrades, parents of the 43 disappeared Ayotzinapa college students and other supporters, an elated and defiant Salgado emerged from the infirmary of the Tepepan women’s prison in Mexico City dressed in the uniform of Guerrero’s CRAC police force.
Suddenly holding up a rifle, Salgado proclaimed, “I am free and it is the freedom of the people. We are not going to allow them to continue stepping all over us, and so they don’t continue repressing us, we will use this if necessary.”
Similarly decked out in their CRAC uniforms, rank-and-file officers saluted Salgado and shouted in unison, “At your command, Commander Nestora!” Other shouts and signs emanating from the crowd demanded the freedom of jailed Michoacan self-defense leader Dr. Jose Mireles and imprisoned members of Guerrero’s community police, as well as the return of the 43 Ayotzinapa students.
A longtime resident of Washington state, Salgado returned to her native state of Guerrero and got involved in the CRAC, an indigenous community police organization which is rooted in and recognized by Guerrero State Law 701, the Mexican Constitution and the International Labor Organization.
As the coordinator of the CRAC’s force in Olinala, Guerrero, Salgado was credited with cracking down on kidnappers, rustlers, rapists and other elements of organized crime, and with helping to implement a community-based justice system of reeducation.
In August 2013, Salgado and other members of the CRAC were arrested by Mexican soldiers and marines and accused of kidnapping and other serious crimes. Supporters charged the arrests were in retaliation for the CRAC’s actions against organized crime.
In comments to the Guerrero daily El Sur last month, Salgado said the detentions also followed the CRAC’s denunciations of officials in Olinala and Tixtla (the town adjacent to the Ayotzinapa college) as complicit with drug traffickers.
“We knew we were combating delinquents, but the ones who acted against us were the authorities,” Salgado was quoted.
Salgado was whisked to a faraway prison in the state of Nayarit, where she was held in isolation for 20 months and under conditions the prisoner said caused her health to significantly deteriorate. After an international outcry, Salgado was transferred to the Mexico City penitentiary while still awaiting trial. Her case became an international cause célèbre, inspiring protests in the United States, Europe and other parts of the world.
Declaring Salgado’s detention was illegal and arbitrary, a United Nations’ working group on arbitrary detention appealed on the Mexican government last month to free the community police activist. Noting Salgado’s detention by soldiers and marines, the UN working group expressed concern over the detention of civilians by the military when national security issues were not at stake.
Despite the earlier dismissal of charges against Salgado by a Mexican court, the Office of the Guerrero State Prosecutor (FGE) persisted in legal maneuvers in an attempt to keep her in jail, even rolling out new charges.
However, in recent days the wheel of justice began turning in Salgado’s favor. Finally, on the evening of March 17, three separate judges in Guerrero state decreed her freedom citing either a lack of evidence or upholding Salgado’s detentions of delinquents as perfectly legal under Guerrero State Law 701.
Another factor that eventually worked in Salgado’s favor was her status as a U.S. citizen, and the failure of the Mexican government to notify U.S. consular authorities of the detention of one of their citizens- a diplomatic issue Mexico has brought repeatedly up in relation to Mexican citizens arrested in Texas and other U.S. states.
Following her release, Salgado appeared at a press conference hosted by the Miguel Agustin Pro Human Rights Center in Mexico City. The newly-released prisoner urged freedom for other jailed CRAC members and “500 political prisoners,” criticized media manipulation and educational policies, backed the movement for the 43 Ayotzinapa students, and demanded respect for Mexico’s original peoples.
“I only want to tell Mr. Pena Nieto to respect our peoples and our community police, because we have shown that we don’t defend delinquents,” Salgado said. “I ask for support for our indigenous peoples and respect for their rights, and that so much injustice not be permitted.”
Nestora Salgado is expected to return to the United States for medical treatment.
Sources: Proceso, March 18, 2016. Articles by Gloria Leticia Diaz and editorial staff. La Jornada, March 6 and 18, 2016. Articles by Sanjuana Martinez and Josefina Quintero.
El Sur, February 3 and 9, 2016; March 18, 2016. Articles by Lourdes Chavez. La Jornada (Guerrero edition), March 6, 2016. Articles by Salvador Cisneros Silva and Roberto Ramirez Bravo.