Mexico’s Political Prisoners
Luis Hernández Navarro
La Jornada, 19th August, 2014
Adam Smith is a Democratic Congressman from the state of Washington in the United States. On August fifth he reported on a meeting he had with Anthony Wayne, his country’s ambassador to Mexico, in which he asked him to pressure the authorities of Guerrero to free Nestora Salgado immediately.
This is not the first time that Congressman Smith has advocated for Salgado. On the thirteenth of April he sent a letter to the Secretary of State, John Kerry, asking him to demand of the Mexican government guarantees for due process and better care of Nestora, because "her jail conditions are deplorable".
Two months later he insisted upon the matter once again. On the sixteenth of June, in a statement from the School of Law of Seattle University in Washington, Smith warned: "I am worried about Nestora’s detention and I am outraged by the reports of the deplorable detention conditions and treatment that violate her human rights."
Nestora Salgado, the woman the Congressman is advocating for, is commander of the community police of Olinalá, in the La Montaña region of Guerrero. She was unjustly detained on the twenty-first of August of 2013 under the false accusation of aggravated kidnapping. She was transferred to the maximum security prison in Tepic, 3,000 kilometres [1,864 miles] from her town.
Congressman Smith’s demand for her freedom is not capricious. Nestora has ties to the state of Washington. When she was 20 years old she went to the United States with her husband as a bracera [guest worker], without immigration documents. She worked hard as a maid, cleaning houses and as a nanny in Washington, until she obtained legal residence in 2000 and became a citizen in 2008. She is a resident not only of Olinalá, but also of the city of Renton in King County.
Back in Olinalá, Nestora encountered the climate of public insecurity that is devastating La Montaña and the government’s involvement with the criminals. Instead of standing around doing nothing, she organized the town to take on the problem. She formed a citizen police force and made the crime rate fall 90 percent in 10 months. On the fifteenth of November of 2012, Governor Ángel Aguirre Rivero took a picture with her and called the efforts of the town’s inhabitants heroic.
But Nestora made a "mistake". First, without hesitation, she denounced the threats that partners of corrupt politicians were making to local business owners so that they would stop selling materials and goods, to thus monopolize the market. Then she published a statement in which she denounced the involvement of the mayor and other public servants in drug trafficking. The commander’s challenge ended up being unacceptable.
Salgado is not the only commander of the Guerrero community police that is imprisoned. Since a year ago when in Guerrero the operations against the Regional Coordinating Committee of Community Authorities-Community Police (CRAC) began, at least 10 of their members have found themselves in similar circumstances and for similar reasons. That is the case of Gonzalo Molina, Bernardino García, Arturo Campos and the opponent of the La Parota dam, Marco Antonio Suástegui.
Doctor José Manuel Mireles Valverde, leader of the Michoacán self-defence groups, was sent a little further away than Nestora: to the federal prison in Hermosillo, Sonora. He is accused of carrying firearms exclusively permitted for military use and of an offense against health, under the category of drug dealing, for the simple possession of marijuana and cocaine.
The truth is that, as Commissioner Alfredo Castillo and Secretary of Government Relations Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong have declared, Dr Mireles is in prison for not having fulfilled the agreements made in May, signed by the federal government and the self-defence groups. That is, he refused to demobilize and disarm.
Dr Mireles defines himself as a political prisoner. His lawyer, Talía Vázquez, agrees with him. As she explained to journalist Sanjuana Martínez: "The one who did not follow any of the agreements was Castillo. He did not free the 517 prisoners from the self-defence groups, just in Michoacán. And, above all, he neither carried out the arrest of La Tuta nor re-established the rule of law. Nothing happened. The one who broke the pact was Alfredo Castillo and not Dr Mireles. This also shows that he is a political prisoner."
Along with Dr Mireles, 319 other self-defence group members from Michoacán have been imprisoned. Their true crime was guaranteeing security for themselves and their families, at the risk of their own lives, before the omission (or the open complicity) of the State.
The list of jailed social warriors goes far beyond those who come from the ranks of the community police or the self-defence groups of Guerrero and Michoacán. On April sixth Enedina Rosas, commissioner of the ejido of San Felipe Xonacayuca, in Puebla, was arrested. Just two days later they arrested Juan Carlos Flores, the spokesman of the Front of Towns in Defence of Water and Land, Morelos, Puebla and Tlaxcala, and Abraham Cordero, a member of Those from Below and the Campesino Front of the Valley of Texmelucan and Sierra Nevada. They are being accused of ridiculous charges. The reason they are behind bars is that they opposed the implementation of the Comprehensive Morelos Project, which involves the construction of a thermoelectric power station and a gas pipeline that crosses Puebla, Tlaxcala and Morelos, near the base of the Popocatépetl volcano.
Mixe activist Damián Gallardo has been imprisoned for 15 months in the El Salto high security prison in Jalisco. Under torture, he was forced to confess that he had kidnapped two minors in Oaxaca. He was not the only one. Mario Olivera Osorio, Sara Altamirano Ramos, Leonel Manzano Sosa and Lauro Grijalva are being accused of the same crime. The authorities got the "self-incriminations" out of them the same way they got one out of Damián.
The list of social leaders unjustly arrested is much longer. The jails of Mexico are full of political prisoners.
Translated by Sally Seward