Something rotten in the state…

In yesterday’s La Jornada newspaper, journalist Blanche Petrich published an interview that the paper conducted with Nestora Salgado, former communal police commander of the community of Olinalá, in the Mexican state of Guerrero. On August 23, 2013, Nestora Salgado was arrested and charged with the kidnapping, on the orders of Ángel Aguirre, the state governor who was forced to resign fifteen months later after the (still unresolved) case of the disappearance of 43 students from the Ayotzinapa teacher training college in the city of Iguala.

Nestora Salgado is an indigenous woman who migrated to the United States at the age of twenty, married a construction worker and has three daughters and five grandchildren in Renton, Washington. A US citizen, she left a happy family home in the United States and began to make return visits to Olinalá out of a sense of commitment to doing something personally about the poverty and violence of her birthplace, increasing her level of commitment as she saw these problems and the political corruption that accompanied them deepening. She is now 43 years old.

Despite many attempts to secure her release, Nestora Salgado continues to languish in gaol two years and five months after her arrest. Although other charges were subsequently added, the core charge of kidnapping revolves around the communal police system’s subjection of female minor children who became entangled in the webs of organised crime to custodial “reeducation”. The defence argues that this was done at the request of their mothers and other relatives. In the interview, Nestora Salgado explains how she discovered that local criminals were operating a network of child prostitution and pornography. She reported this discovery, along with the complicity of local politicians, to the civil and military authorities, to no effect whatsoever beyond her own subsequent persecution. The evidence that she supplied, which included video evidence of abuse of children as young as nine years old, has apparently disappeared. But she refuses to apologise for arresting and punishing persons guilty of criminal acts.

The girls who became the subject of the kidnapping charges had also provided evidence in the form of videos from their cell phones that their criminal “boyfriends” had prostituted them in the town of Tulcingo, in neighbouring Puebla state. It was this that convinced their relatives to sign their agreement to the young women’s re-education custody. Whatever criticisms some might wish to make of this kind of “disciplining” practice, it did conform to local community values and was the result of a due process. This is more than can be said for the process that put Nestora Salgado in gaol. The imprisoned communal police commander asserts that relatives of the girls were persuaded to bring kidnapping charges against her a few days later after the municipal authorities paid each family twenty thousand pesos as an inducement for changing their minds.

This is a high profile case, which has something in common with that of the still imprisoned Michoacán autodefensa leader, Dr José Manuel Mireles Valverde: the authorities seem to be dragging out the legal process in order to keep the accused in gaol, despite having a weak case for doing so. In the case of Mireles, who has now tried to make his peace with the federal government, the motive for this legal foot-dragging seems to be protection from further damage to the already tarnished reputation of Alfredo Castillo, former special security commissioner for Michoacán and personal protégé of President Enrique Peña Nieto. In the case of Nestora Salgado, the motive is clearly that she remains defiant and critical, a voice to be kept as silent as possible and a leader who needs to be prevented from leading (although Ángel Aguirre had initially given the impression that he supported her efforts, at the time of her incarceration he described her as a “danger to social peace”). One tactic for ensuring that court hearings that might lead to her release fail to produce that result has been the organised non-appearance of witnesses.

Guerrero now has a new state government but it continues to be ravaged by crime and violence, including violence perpetrated by criminals against those who strive to provide greater security for local people. The President of the Republic has just presented the nation’s highest honour for foreigners to the king of Saudi Arabia, a country rather more noted for its promotion of the fundamentalist forms of Islam associated with global terrorism than for its respect for civil and human rights, and yet to make it into the twentieth century, let alone the twenty-first, as far as the rights of women are concerned.

Following the recapture of “El Chapo” Guzmán, the Federal Public Attorney’s office, backed by a media frenzy, dedicates resources to “investigating” the capo’s largely virtual relationship with the actress Kate del Castillo, despite the fact that very few of the public officials whose complicity made the drug lord’s second escape from prison possible in the first place have actually been punished. This persecution of the popular actress, who starred in a highly critical film about the assassination of the PRI presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio, as well as the famous TV series La Reina del Sur, is not simply unfair, but obviously intended to distract attention from potentially much more embarrassing questions about what is happening in relation to the organisation of criminal activity and its relationship to politics in Mexico.  As Javier Oliva Posadas, from the Social and Political Sciences Department of the UNAM, and currently visiting the LSE, has remarked, the “banalities” of El Chapo’s conversation with Sean Penn and Kate del Castillo are hardly a relevant investigative response to the real issues raised by the formation and maintenance of his criminal empire of drug trafficking, money laundering and arms shipping: the systematic chains of complicity between financial, business and governmental actors and organisations that maintained it. Yet it is pretty obvious why, despite the efforts of both investigative journalists and academics to shed light on these questions, they are never subject to serious official investigation. This is also why people who live in Guerrero continue to suffer everyday violence and insecurity, including the kidnappings by real criminals that populate what seems an every growing number clandestine burials throughout the region, while a principled, brave and self-sacrificing woman like Nestora Salgado stays in prison.