As part of an International Day of Protest for Mexican political prisoners, family members, community activists, union leaders, and local officials came out under sunny skies in Seattle, Wash. on Thursday, August 21 to demand freedom for Nestora Salgado, their “homegirl” in the words of King County Councilman Larry Gossett.
The Seattle event was one of many held that day in front of Mexican embassies and consulates in the U.S., Costa Rica, Brazil, Argentina and the Dominican Republic. In Mexico, residents of Salgado’s hometown—Olinalá, Guerrero—marched for her freedom. They were joined by other protestors across Mexico from the Autonomous University of Mexico City and Ciudad Juarez 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, including Dr. José Mireles, an organizer of local autodefensas in Michóacan and Marco Antonio Suástegui, leader of the Council of Ejidos and Communities Opposed to La Parota dam.
Nestora’s husband, Jose Avila & daughters, Seattle
Seattle turns out to support its “homegirl”
Salgado, a naturalized U.S. citizen and resident of nearby Renton, Wash., was the coordinator of a community police force elected to protect her impoverished indigenous hometown of Olinalá from violent criminals and corrupt local officials. She was arrested one year ago on August 21. The charge was “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 federal high security prison in conditions her supporters describe as intentional torture and humiliation — 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 in several Mexican states.
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. The support campaign, which began local and grassroots, has expanded internationally and has mobilized growing numbers of public officials to call for U.S. State Department intervention on Salgado’s behalf. One participant in Thursday’s actions was Renton City Councilman Greg Taylor, who led in the passage of an August 11 city council resolution that requested “Washington’s United States Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell to take affirmative action with the U.S. State Department to support efforts to free Nestora Salgado.” A delegation from the rally to the offices of Cantwell and Murray learned that they and other congressional representatives would be signing a letter to State Department head John Kerry within a few days. Representative Adam Smith and Renton Mayor Denis Law have already publicly announced their support for Salgado.
Speaking in front of the Mexican Consulate, Salgado’s husband, José Avila, thanked Nestora’s supporters but said there is a long way to go toward achieving her freedom. He called for the release of all political prisoners in Mexico and said that Plan Merida, described as a “joint partnership between the U.S. and Mexico to fight organized crime” by the State Department, had promoted state repression instead. “In Mexico, justice is dead,” said Avila. Salgado’s nephew, who served in the community police force with his aunt, said his own experience showed him that the Mexican army, state police and politicians were working for the drug cartels.
Other speakers at the Seattle events included Washington State Labor Council Secretary-Treasurer Lynne Dodson; Seattle Building and Construction Trades Council President Lee Newgent; Rita Zawaideh, chairperson of the Arab American Community Coalition; Herbie Martin of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists; Annaliza Torres, representing the Freedom Socialist Party; Sarah Scott, speaking for Radical Women. Guerry Hoddersen, on behalf of the Committee for Revolutionary International Regroupment (CRIR), called for an end to U.S. counter-insurgency training and military aid to Mexico which is used to clear the path for foreign investments in resource exploitation. She also said the U.S. had its own problems with militarization and police brutality at home—as has been dramatically shown by events in Ferguson, Missouri.
Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
An international movement
CRIR—a recently formed international nucleus of four socialist parties—was the motivating force for the international day of protests. NUPORI (Núcleo por la construcción de un Partido Obrero Revolucionario Internacionalista) brought together representatives of Dominican and Haitian organizations in Santo Domingo. In San Jose, Costa Rica, several groups including Partido Revolucionario de los y las Trabajadores and the Bolivarian Circle gathered to raise their voices for Salgado and Mireles.
Sign from protest in Olinalá, Guerrero
In Mexico, Partido Obrero Socialista spearheaded the organizing effort. As a result of their work, the rally in Mexico City was attended by Nestora’s family, the rector of the Autonomous University of Mexico, and the sister of Rocío Mesino, a popular indigenous woman leader murdered last year in Guerrero. The wife of Arturo Campos, another arrested leader of the Olinalá security force, said she would never keep silent about the injustice she and her husband have suffered, vowing “This is just the beginning.” Major stories on Salgado’s case appeared in various Mexican newspapers before and after the event, including La Jornada, a major daily.
Tendencia Piquetera Revolucionaria, Buenos Aires
In Buenos Aires, a rally organized by the Tendencia Piquetera Revolucionaria was met with 30 federal police, several water cannon trucks, and a mobile satellite intelligence vehicle—proving that the militarization of the police is a hemisphere-wide problem. Nonetheless, defiant protesters saluted “how the struggle of Nestora Salgado is serving to unite the Left on both sides of the Rio Brava” and called on internationalists to “take up her cause as their own.”
Australians in Melbourne held their own protest on August 23. The event was organized by the Freedom Socialist Party and supported by respected leaders and organizations of the indigenous people of Australia and West Papua including two chapters of the Indigenous Social Justice Association and Rize the Morning Star Committee. Australia Asia Work Links and Anarchist Black Cross also endorsed the fight to free Salgado.
The word spreads in defense of the community police
The U.S. campaign to free Salgado has grown exponentially since it was launched by her family a year ago. Today there are over 120 U.S. endorsers calling to “Free Nestora.” They come from every walk of life and justice movement and include members of Congress, labor leaders, Native Americans, immigrant rights groups, former political prisoners, feminists, socialists, educators, anarchists, and gay and lesbian organizations. Many took part in the August 21 consulate protests in New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago and Portland, Oregon.
New York City, August 21, 2014
The rally by the New York Campaign to Free Nestora, chaired by Angie Sophia of Yo Soy 132 Nueva York, included representatives of Freedom Socialist Party, Socialist Action, Green Party, Solidaridad con los Autodefensas/ New York, and an Ecuadoran indigenous group, among others—all under the watchful eye of a State Department security agent who claimed to be present to “make sure everyone’s rights were respected.” According to this well-dressed interloper, “respect” included not leaning signs up against the wall of the consulate as it is considered Mexican territory (an admonishment heard also in Seattle). After this exchange, the agent stood across the street with consulate staff who photographed the entire event, but had no effect on the spirit of the protestors. As luck would have it, a gathering of media figures was also taking place at the consulate and Nestora’s case got extra press attention.
Several rally speakers connected the plight of Mexican political prisoners to those in the U.S. and Puerto Rico. Emily Woo Yamasaki, speaking for Radical Women, linked Nestora’s struggle to those of people of color in the U.S., saying, “This is our fight because it touches the right of all women of color and people of color to self-defense.”
In San Francisco, solidarity statements were read from more than 10 endorsing organizations, including Mujeres Unidas y Activas, Poor Magazine/Prensa Pobre, and Stop Mass Incarceration. Several speakers drew the connection between the assaults on indigenous communities in Mexico and the fear perpetuated by the police in U.S. communities of color, specifically the predominantly Black city of Ferguson, Missouri, where an unarmed teenager was recently shot dead for walking in the street.
In the City of Angels, supporters of Salgado and Dr. Mireles made a colorful impression at a morning press conference in front of the Mexican consulate and an afternoon rally at the federal building that was attended by various media. Banners, balloons and Aztec dancers added to the festive spirit, but the message was serious.
Pakal Hatuey, speaking on behalf of the Los Angeles Free Nestora Committee, pointed out that Salgado and the other imprisoned community police stopped government officials who work with organized crime and that “by gaining control of their lands and detaining and exposing the criminal elements in their communities…[they] are simultaneously contributing to our safety [in the U.S.]…”
Karla Alegria, speaking for Radical Women, hailed Salgado as a woman leader, saying, “If a woman can organize a community to run its own police, then she can organize the working class to run their own education, their own healthcare, their own economy…Nestora is not one of a kind…”
Wendy McPherson, a librarian and member of AFSCME Local 2626, compared Nestora to other public employees who serve poor communities and “must struggle with our ‘powers-that-be’ to provide quality services (and save lives) in our communities.” Among other groups which spoke at the events were representatives of Frente de Resistencia por Mexico, National Chicano Moratorium Committee, and Voluntarios de la Comunidad.
At each rally, a letter signed by local supporters was delivered via the consulates to Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. It asked him to, “call off the Mexican military and open the prison doors” for Salgado, other self-defense leaders and political prisoners. However, consular officials showed no interest in the issue while committing to forward the letter.
Undeterred, the 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.