Commander Nestora Salgado
Luis Hernández Navarro
La Jornada, 19th May, 2015
For the past 22 months Nestora Salgado García has been living in hell. Locked up in the Cefereso 4 Northeast maximum security prison in Tepic, Nayarit, she occupies a small cell meant for the highly-dangerous criminals she fought against. She spends 23 hours each day in her cell, hardly seeing the light of day, and is nearly completely isolated. She is allowed just five or ten minutes to talk on the phone sometimes.
Nestora needs medicine, medical treatment and daily exercise. In 2004 she nearly saw death in a car accident. She was paralyzed for three months. As a result of that accident, she suffers from acute neck neuropathy and has difficulty moving her hands. She needs appropriate medical attention and medicine, but she is not receiving them. On the rare occasion that doctors visit her, they do not want to touch her. She needs nutritious food, but the food they give her, often spoiled, is rubbish. During the first six months she was in prison, they only let her drink tap water.
The Tepic jail is "the prison of exile," wrote Marco Antonio Suástegui Muñoz, Nestora’s comrade and spokesman of the Council of Ejidos and Communities Opposed to the La Parota Dam (CECOP), in a letter to Nestora. For 10 months he experienced the nightmare of being jailed there. In the letter, he told her: "It makes us go out of our minds."
Salgado García’s condition has become noticeably worse because of the hunger strike she started on the fifth of May to protest her unjust imprisonment. Since that day she has not eaten a bite. According to what Paula Mónaco told this newspaper, she told her daughters: "If dying is necessary, then so be it, because I am dead in life."
According to her husband, José Luis Ávila, his wife "ran out of patience."
The situation is so delicate that U.S. Congressman Adam Smith and Senator Patty Murray consider it "unacceptable" for Nestora to remain in prison in an environment that does not guarantee her life or integrity. They criticized the fact that her health is continuing to deteriorate without any action being taken by the Mexican government.
Despite the danger she is in, the Mexican authorities do not seem to care what happens to this social activist. They have ignored the decision from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), in which they demanded that the federal government offer her the medical attention she needs. Just last Saturday, Roberto Campa, Undersecretary of Government Affairs, confirmed that she was in good health.
Nestora Salgado was locked up because, as Marco Antonio Suástegui said, "she was bringing justice and offering security to her people, something the government cannot currently offer us."
She was chosen by an assembly [decision-making body in indigenous communities] to be the commander of the Citizen Police of Olinalá. In the 10 months she spent at the head of this institution, the crime rate decreased 90 percent and there was not a single homicide.
The commander is now in prison, accused of crimes she did not commit. On March 31, 2014, the judge of the First Unitary Tribunal of the Twenty-first Circuit, José Luis Arroyo Alcántara, dismissed the accusations of kidnapping and organized crime, determining that Salgado’s actions fell within the powers of the Community Police recognized by the Guerrero law itself. Her success in the fight against the bad guys was so great that the governor at the time, Ángel Aguirre, ran to take a photo with her and put her as an example of what people should do. He called the struggle of the residents of Olinalá "heroic".
But the praise from the government did not last long. Nestora made the "mistake" of naming the "wolf". She often said that "to start with public security, we have to clean the corral. We are in a corral, and we do not know who the wolf is. We should start by figuring out who the wolf is." When she found out, she did not hesitate to report it.
First, she revealed the threats that the partners of corrupt politicians were making to local business owners so they would stop selling materials and goods, and thus to monopolize the local market. Then she published a press release in which she denounced the involvement of the mayor and other public servants in drug trafficking. The affront was too much for the "narco-politicians". The commander was arrested and brought by plane to a maximum security prison, 3,000 kilometres from her pueblo [traditional village].
From the very start of her imprisonment, the process was full of abnormalities. Her transfer to the Cefereso jail was not the result of a court order, but of an illegal request to the federal authorities made hours before the arrest by the Secretary of Public Security of Guerrero, Sergio Lara Montellanos. For the transfer, the judge’s opinion was not even taken into account.
The commander is not the only community police member from Guerrero unjustly imprisoned for fighting against public insecurity and organized crime. Twelve other members of the Regional Coordinating Committee of Community Authorities (CRAC-PC) are in jail, several in high security prisons, accused of crimes like kidnapping, carrying firearms that only the Army is allowed to use, terrorism and injury. Due process has not been followed in any of their cases.
Nestora Salgado García could have lived the American dream without any problem. In 1991, at age 20, without a future at home, she emigrated without papers to the United States. She worked very hard in the state of Washington as a maid, servant, nanny and waitress. Without giving up her Mexican nationality, she legalized her immigration status and became an American citizen. But she decided to return to her town, Olinalá, and from there to lead the struggle against organized crime and the "narco-politicians". For that she has had to pay a very high price. Today, her life is in danger.
Note: The federal government agreed to move the coordinator of the Community Police of Olinalá to a state prison. Nestora should not be in that or any other prison.
Translated by Sally Seward