In August of 2013, Nestora Salgado, a dual citizen of both the United States and Mexico was seized by soldiers at a checkpoint in Guerrero, Mexico. She was given no reason for her arrest and she was not presented with an arrest warrant. The governor of Guerrero gave the military the use of his personal private plane to whisk Salgado to a maximum-security prison 1000 miles away from her home. She was held in solitary confinement for almost two years and she was denied legal visits for a whole year. Since her arrest there has not been a trial and no evidence has been presented against Salgado. Her United States passport was ignored and embassy officials were not immediately notified of her arrest.
Why was Salgado arrested? She left Mexico as a young woman and made many visits back to Guerrero over the years with the ultimate intention of moving back permanently eventually. When she returned to Olinala in 2012 she realized Olinala was not the same as when she had left as a young woman. The area was being run by Los Rojos, a violent branch of central Mexican drug cartels. The community members of Olinala were being terrorized by these thugs and many believe that the gang was being protected by local politicians and police.
The brutality of Los Rojos reached a fever pitch on October 27, 2012 at the funeral for a taxi driver who was killed for refusing to pay protection money. As the taxi driver was being buried, a rumor was started that another driver had been kidnapped. The town had reached it’s breaking point and thousands poured into the streets. Salgado commandeered a police car and drove through town with a megaphone urging the community to join her thereby leading the rebellion. Within a few hours the cartel thugs were driven from the area and a hastily assembled militia was created. They carried hunting rifles and AK-47’s and set up their own checkpoints. This group received a degree of legality with the tradition of community policing that has long been accepted by indigenous communities in Guerrero. This idea of indigenous justice is the key to her defense.
There is evidence to suggest that initially the governor at the time supported the community police force as they were given uniforms and vehicles. The crime rate dropped dramatically at this time, but Salgado ran afoul of local authorities from politicians to the police. Salgado was arrested for kidnapping as it relates to this work as a community police leader. The crux of the case against her stems from the detention of three teenage girls and two adult men (separate cases). The girls were detained for charges relating to drugs and the men were detained for theft of a cow. There is also a third accusation for the “kidnapping,” of 43 persons of whose “illegal” detention Nestora Salgado is also accused, they are citizens who were undergoing processes of reeducation at the House of Justice of El Paraíso, in the municipality of Ayutla de los Libres, Guerrero, and who were liberated by members of the Mexican army in a regional operation in August 2013. These people had been detained by the various community police forces of the region. None of the people liberated mentioned Salgado in their depositions, nor have they showed up for cross-examination to corroborate their denunciations.
In the first two cases the detained claimed they were kidnapped and held against their will by Salgado. In media reports the location of their detention is described as an “ad-hoc detention center”. According to the same expert witness this “ad-hoc detention center” is actually something that is referred to in this indigenous community as a “House of Justice”. This is a common cultural practice in rural Mexico whereby community elders assist in the rehabilitation of youthful offenders. The three girls (minors) received permission from the parents to stay at the justice house where they were being instructed in traditional forms of embroidery and also receive other training in traditional art forms and cultural practices. The girls (and others who have been at a justice house) were doing community work and were allow to receive visits from their family. This is an alternative to the traditional methods of incarceration and it is a commonly used tactic by indigenous groups all over Mexico. Indigenous justice systems and models have been recognized by the Mexican Congress and exists in different regions of Mexico. It was this work that resulted in Salgado’s arrest.
In a stunning twist it appears that Salgado made be out of prison within days or even hours. According to the Los Angeles Press, Salgado appeared before a panel of judges on Thursday, February 24, 2016 who heard her testimony. La Suprema Corte de Justicia de la Nación (Supreme Court in Mexico) held that denying her consular assistance as a US citizen violated her rights. Due to this she should be released soon. Earlier this month the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention decreed that Salgado’s detention was arbitrary and therefore illegal. As of Friday, February 25, 2016 Nestora Salgado is still imprisoned but she may be released imminently. It would be a major personal victory for Salgado and her family if she were to be released and a victory for justice and community activism.