Nestora Salgado thanks law school for support

October 04, 2016

For almost three years, Renton resident Nestora Salgado-García suffered in a Mexican prison while Seattle University School of Law students worked to free her. This week, she returned to say thanks.

Nestora Salgado"I was able to be released from the government because of the work that you did as my representatives," she said, speaking through an interpreter. "That strength and that community that you built around my case had results."

Salgado, a dual citizen of the United States and Mexico, was arrested for community service in her home village of Olinalá in the Mexican state of Guerrero. Though Guerrero's coast is home to the tourist haven of Acapulco, the remote and mountainous interior is plagued by poverty, drug trafficking, and violence.

Guerrero law and the Mexican Constitution guarantee the rights of indigenous communities to form their own security groups. Salgado's group - created to protect the indigenous people of Olinalá - was officially part of state law enforcement, and had the express approval of Guerrero's governor.

Speaking at Social Justice Monday in Sullivan Hall, Salgado told law students that the goal of her community security group was to help people whose pleas for justice were being ignored by the Mexican government. Her voice broke as she described how her people suffer from lack of health care and are traumatized by sexual violence and child trafficking.

"I became an enemy of the state, just because I was trying to help people file reports," she said.

Salgado was never given due process or allowed a trial on the trumped-up charges against her. Students in the law school's International Human Rights Clinic, with the guidance of Professor Thomas Antkowiak and co-counsel Alejandra Gonza, successfully petitioned the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention to demand her release.

"You were my support," Salgado said. "You were the back-up of my case. That's how I felt about it and that's how it was received by other people, even worldwide."

Antkowiak and his students said it was inspiring to have a client as courageous as Salgado.

"Mexico is one of the most dangerous places for human rights activists and journalists in the entire world," Antkowiak said.

Salgado, who became the first female leader of an indigenous community police force in Mexico, will now begin a speaking tour of several cities in the United States, Europe, and South America to speak up for the rights and autonomy of indigenous people.

"She formed her team with farmers," Antkowiak said. "They didn't have a lot of weapons but they had courage and resolve, and solidarity with the community."

Salgado urged law students to remember the people of Guerrero and other indigenous communities who need their legal expertise and support. 

"You will ask yourselves, why are we asking you guys? Why? Because you are the ones who are going to have the power of knowing the law and you're able to provide support in our communities," she said. "We need the support of young people like you because the governments are not doing anything."