Jailed US vigilante becomes political football in Mexico

AP News
Posted: Jan 13, 2015 3:59 PM

MEXICO CITY (AP) — A proposal to free a female vigilante leader who holds dual U.S.-Mexico nationality has become a subject of heated debate in Mexico.

The case of Nestora Salgado has pitted supporters who claim she is a crime-fighter and victim of a political vendetta, against victims-rights activists, who say freeing her would be an added offense to victims of unlawful detention.

Salgado returned from Washington state, where she lived and obtained U.S. citizenship, to her hometown of Olinala in southern Guerrero state to head a vigilante-style community police force.

She was arrested in August 2013, after people detained by vigilantes complained they had been kidnapped. Some said Salgado's force had demanded payments in exchange for releasing them.

Last week, Guerrero Governor Rogelio Ortega suggested last week that charges against Salgado be dropped.

But anti-crime activist Isabel Miranda de Wallace said Monday that freeing her would be a violation of victims' rights, and that the governor's intervention constituted improper political pressure on prosecutors, who have the final say on such decisions.

"I ask the governor to respect the law, and enforce it," Miranda de Wallace said. "To respect the rule of law, and the independence of prosecutors." She said some victims fear for their safety if Salgado and other radical community police leaders are released.

Miranda de Wallace also said a group of congressmen had been improperly lobbying for Salgado's release. "They should let the judiciary do its work, within the framework of the law."

One legislator pressing for Salgado's release said Tuesday it was a simple question of rectifying violations of Salgado's human rights.

"We are getting involved as part of an effort to defend human rights," said federal congressman Roberto Lopez of the leftist Democratic Revolution Party. "What we want is for the law to be applied and due process be respected." Lopez said Salgado had been arrested unjustly "because she had affected political interests" by detaining a town councilman and fighting drug trafficking.

Lopez also said she had not been given consular assistance, as a U.S. citizen is entitled, nor had been she been given adequate access to legal representation.

Much of the dispute revolves around the somewhat hazy legal standing of community police in Guerrero. Lopez argued that state law 701 guarantees towns the right to form community police; however, that law applies only to Indian communities, and Miranda de Wallace noted that Salgado is not an Indian, nor was she elected under a traditional Indian governance system.

Salgado, from the Seattle suburb of Renton, has been accused of kidnapping in connection with the arrest of several teenage girls on suspicion of drug dealing, and of a town official for allegedly trying to steal a cow at the scene of a double killing.

The Guerrero state government said following the arrest that authorities had received complaints from the families of six kidnappings victims, including three minors, and that ransom had been demanded.

Salgado grew up in Olinala, a mountainous town of farmers and artisans. She moved to the U.S. when she was about 20, settling in the Seattle area and working as a waitress and cleaning apartments.

The killing of a taxi driver in Olinala who refused to pay protection money to a cartel sparked Salgado and others to form the vigilante group, which mounted patrols to protect residents from the gang.