City Council joins effort to free Renton woman illegally held in Mexican prison

Councilman Greg Taylor shakes hands with Grisel Rodriguez, whose mother Nestora Salgado is being held in a Mexican prison, as members of the Freedom for Nestora Committee look on. - Brian Beckley, Renton Reporter
Councilman Greg Taylor shakes hands with Grisel Rodriguez, whose mother Nestora Salgado is being held in a Mexican prison, as members of the Freedom for Nestora Committee look on.
— image credit: Brian Beckley, Renton Reporter

It’s been nearly a year since Grisel Rodriguez’s mother, Nestora Salgado, was illegally imprisoned in Mexico and though the tears flow easily when she talks of her, Rodriguez tries to keep a clear head.

“We’ve got the easy part,” she said, wiping away tears. “She’s in prison.”

Salgado, a Renton resident and naturalized U.S. citizen, was elected to lead a community police force in her hometown of Olinala, Mexico, when local authorities in the poor, violent region known for crime and corruption charged her with kidnapping and sent her to a federal prison.

Salgado was elected leader of a legally sanctioned civilian police force that defended the community from drug cartels and corrupt public officials. In performing her duties, Salgado angered local officials who seized her on trumped-up charges. A Mexican federal judge struck down the charges against her and called for her release last March, but the state courts have ignored the federal mandate and she is still behind bars.

So far, Salgado has been denied a lawyer and medical treatment, has not been allowed to make international phone calls and, according to family, has lost 30 pounds due to lack of proper food and water at the Mexican jail where she is being held.

Rodriguez, who has not seen her mother since before the arrest, said her older sister is able to make a 1,000-mile trip from another part of Mexico to see Salgado every 12 days, though their visits are often ended around the two-hour mark, well before the four-hour visitation is supposed to be up.

Because of the nature of her arrest, a large group supporting Salgado’s release has sprung up. This month, the ranks of those supporting her release grew to include Rep. Adam Smith and the Renton City Council, who on Monday conducted the first reading of a resolution supporting Salgado’s release.

The resolution is expected to pass on Monday.

“The more people we get behind it, the more pressure can be put on the Mexican government to do the right thing,” said Councilman Greg Taylor, who took the lead in drafting the ordinance after members of the Freedom for Nestora Committee spoke before the council in July.

“Isn’t it obvious?” he said, when asked about  how he got involved. “When I read the info about the reasons she was imprisoned, it certainly didn’t seem right.”

Taylor also said it was “critical” for the council to be part of the effort to free the Renton resident.

Mayor Denis Law also spoke with Smith about the issue last week. Earlier this year, Smith joined the growing ranks of those calling for Salgado’s release and is presently working to get the State Department to work on her behalf.

This week, Smith, who has said he is “outraged” by Salgado’s imprisonment and the conditions in which she is being held, met with the Early Anthony Wayne, the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, regarding the case.

“Nestora was unjustly arrested for exercising the rights guaranteed to her indigenous community by the Mexican constitution,” Smith said in a press release. “Not only have the federal courts acknowledged this, but a federal judge issued an order for her immediate release from the maximum security prison she is in since she is no longer being charged for federal crimes.  Despite this ruling, she remains detained in unacceptable conditions and has not been granted due process.

“The United States must do more to pressure the Guerrero state courts to schedule a trial immediately or release her per the federal courts’ decision,” he concluded.

“As Renton residents, we would love to see that happen,” Law said of the federal government getting involved.

For members of Salgado’s family, the most difficult part is knowing that Salgado did nothing wrong and was simply trying to make things better in her hometown.

“One day you are doing social work and the next day you are in a maximum security prison,” husband Jose Avila said.

But the entire family said Salgado knew the risks when she went to Mexico, but felt the issues were too important and she had to go, something she had done every year since 2004.

“We knew she had a passion,” Avila said.

“She really believed in what she was doing,” agreed Rodriguez. “She knew the dangers.”

Now, the family is fighting to get Salgado’s story out and to get their local representatives on board. Smith is in their camp and both U.S. Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell have agreed to get involved.

Along with the family, a large group of supporters, the Freedom for Nestora Committee, meets on the first and third Saturday of every month in Columbia City in Seattle. The group is hosting a rally on Aug. 21, the one-year anniversary of Salgado’s imprisonment, to demand Secretary of State John Kerry act to secure her release. The rally is scheduled for 4 p.m. at the Federal Building Plaza at 915 Second Avenue in Seattle.

Demonstrations and speak-outs are also scheduled in Los Angeles, New York City and worldwide, including Mexico, Australia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic and England.

Closer to home, the committee thanked the Renton council for its efforts.

“It means we’re a step closer to bringing my mom home,” said Rodriguez as she wiped away tears.

“Thank you,” said Kenneth Randolf, a member of the Freedom for Nestora Committee after the reading. “Next time we see you here we hope it’s with Nestora with us.”

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