Approaching the end of 2013, we find ourselves sitting with the family of Nestora Salgado in Olinalá, Guerrero, Mexico. Nestora is the commander of the community police of this town, which belongs to the Regional Coordinating Group of Community Authorities (CRAC in Spanish). Her family members tell us about her and her story.
With pain, they begin to tell us about the condition she has been in since she was arrested by the Mexican army and marines. Initially in solitary confinement in the Tépic Penitentiary in Nayarit, she was deprived of clean drinking water and the medicine and exercise prescribed by her doctor after an injury to her back as a result of an accident. It was only when her sisters were interviewed by a reporter and denounced these privations to human rights organisations that she was given bottled water like her fellow inmates and allowed her medicine. But she is still not allowed any kind of social contact with anyone inside the prison – treated like she was the worst sociopath of the nation.
Among the topics discussed, her family spoke of how the community police of Olinalá began, and how Nestora became its leader. After several incidents of criminals getting away with theft and murder, due to the negligence or complicity of the municipal authorities, the town spontaneously took the fight for justice into its own hands. That is how the citizens’ police of Olinalteca was born and, after joining the CRAC, in was renamed as the Community Police of Olinalá. Her family then went on to describe briefly how the CRAC works. To start with, each neighbourhood of the community chooses who can and wants to be part of the community police. That same community then decides if those chosen can be trusted to defend the community. If anyone is not trusted in the community, they are not eligible to be a community police officer.
On top of being elected by her community as the commander of the community police force of Olinalá, she was also named coordinator, for her temper, leadership skills, and sense of justice. Officially, the CRAC does not allow one person to have more than one post, and Nestora actually refused to take on both positions. However, with mass support in her community, they eventually convinced her to do so – leading her to become the first commander and coordinator of a CRAC community.
During this conversation in the low mountains of Guerrero, Nestora’s family and friends spoke to us about the great sense of justice that runs through her veins and exudes from every pore of her body. They told us that, even at primary school, she would defend her weakest classmates or any who found themselves faced with some sort of misfortune. Since then, her spirit and sense of social justice grew and grew, and her community recognised that.
Her colleagues in the community police force say that the government thinks that, “with the blow they have dealt to us by imprisoning Nestora and 13 other community police officers, they have weakened us. They are wrong. They have made us even stronger.”
Proof of this came on the December 2, when 5 thousand people (among them community police officers from different communities, teachers, peasants, family and friends) marched to demand freedom for their comrades, who they consider political prisoners. Before this event, only 700 or 800 people marched, at the most. The pressure they exerted managed to get the state government to open up negotiations on December 11. On the following day, they would march again.
Nestora’s family and friends are emboldened and encouraged by the actions of international support for her freedom. This could be seen in the change in their facial expressions, tone of voice, and body language when we informed them about the campaign in the USA for her freedom (and the protests that would take place outside the Mexican embassies in 5 cities in the US on December 10) and the letter sent by allied organisations in the Dominican Republic demanding that the Mexican government release Nestora. They said these actions of solidarity gave them hope and that they would be following events closely.
We proposed that they open an event in Mexico City at the start of 2014 to launch a national campaign for Nestora’s freedom, and the freedom of all community police officers who find themselves imprisoned. They will soon give us their answer.
Once again, moving from subject to subject, we frequently discussed the idea of revolution. This word is a part of their vocabulary. They aren’t scared to talk about it. Without animosity, they say “we are prepared”. They ended by filming a short message of solidarity for community police forces, especially in Michoacán, reminding them they are not alone.
Although the food we received was delicious, my comrade and I were also left with a pleasant taste in our mouths for having met people full of such dignity and sincerity. Our journey to Olinalá, Guerrero, filled us with hope.
Translated and adapted from a text written by Tomás Holguín and Ismael Ortega