As part of an International Day of Protest for Mexican political prisoners, supporters came out under sunny skies in Seattle on Aug. 21 to demand freedom for Nestora Salgado, their “homegirl” in the words of King County Councilmember Larry Gossett.
Salgado, a naturalized U.S. citizen and resident of Renton, was the coordinator of a community police force elected to protect her impoverished indigenous hometown of Olinalá, Guerrero, from violent criminals and corrupt officials. She was arrested one year ago. She was charged with “kidnapping” the local sheriff after community police officers found him stealing from a crime scene. Since then, she has been held in isolation in a high-security prison in conditions her supporters describe as torture — despite the fact that a federal judge has dismissed all the charges and ordered her release. Hundreds of other members of community self-defense groups have also been arrested and imprisoned.
The Seattle press conference at the Mexican Consulate and afternoon rally at the U.S. Federal Building were organized by the Libertad para Nestora /Freedom for Nestora Committee (FreeNestora.org). The campaign, which began locally, has expanded internationally and has mobilized growing numbers of public officials to call for U.S. State Department intervention on Salgado’s behalf.
Speaking at the Mexican Consulate, Salgado’s husband, José Avila, thanked her supporters. He called for the release of all political prisoners in Mexico and said that Plan Merida, described by the State Department as a “joint partnership between the U.S. and Mexico to fight organized crime,” had promoted state repression instead. “In Mexico, justice is dead,” said Avila.
Other speakers at the Seattle events included Renton City Councilmember Greg Taylor and representatives from the Washington State Labor Council, Seattle Building and Construction Trades Council, Freedom Socialist Party, Radical Women and the Committee for Revolutionary International Regroupment.
On Sept. 2, Rep. Adam Smith,
D-Bellevue, sent a letter that was cosigned by Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell and Democratic members of the Washington state delegation, urging U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to “employ the resources of the State Department to continue efforts to secure Ms. Salgado’s release.”
The Seattle event was one of numerous international events held in front of Mexican embassies and consulates in six U.S. cities, as well as in Australia, Costa Rica, Brazil, Argentina and the Dominican Republic. In Mexico, residents of Salgado’s hometown marched for her freedom. They were joined by other protestors across Mexico from the Autonomous University of Mexico City and Ciudad Juárez to the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. All demanded an end to the wave of government repression against Mexican self-defense forces, indigenous communities and social activists.
At each U.S. rally, a letter was signed by supporters for Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. It asked him to “call off the Mexican military and open the prison doors” for Salgado, self-defense leaders and political prisoners.
Participants in every city vowed to keep fighting, inspired by the message that Salgado had sent for the occasion: “What keeps me alive is that I know that my imprisonment is unjust. What keeps me strong is the knowledge that the government holding me hostage is the same government that makes deals with organized crime; and that I am imprisoned by unscrupulous government officials who don’t want the Mexican people to freely organize to defend their rights.
“I am not broken. I will hold on as long as necessary. I am thankful to all the women and men who support me in Mexico and in other countries. I want to salute all those women and men who fight every day in their towns or wherever they may be for a democratic, just and free Mexico, purged of organized crime and corrupt officials.”