Nestora Salgado Garcia intended to improve the Mexican city where she grew up and which she hoped to once again call home.
Salgado, an indigenous woman from Olinala, Guererro, was re-establishing roots after living and working in Renton, Washington for 20 years.
But now she’s facing the rest of her life in prison, after having already been in a Mexican maximum security prison for more than 18 months.
Her family has been told that Salgado could face up to 1,000 years in prison.
“Even the worst criminals get 43 years,” said her husband, Jose Luis Avila.
In response to rising crime in Olinala, Salgado had organized a community police force, which indigenous communities are allowed to do under the Mexican constitution and Guerrero state law.
Avila said that they family had concerns about whether Salgado would be safe from criminal gangs.
But after the community police force arrested three people accused of drug dealing and a government official accused of stealing a cow, Salgado was the one who ended up in jail. She was accused by Mexican prosecutors of running organized crime and kidnapping.
“Never in a thousand years I thought she’d end up in prison,” Avila said.
Federal prosecutors dropped charges last year, but she remains in jail on state charges of kidnapping.
Earlier this year, the state of Guerrero’s interim governor Rogelio Ortega, said her case was political and called for her release. But the state prosecutor declined to drop the charges a few weeks ago.
While Salgado’s case has been taken up as a cause by some in Mexico — inspiring the hashtag #NestoraLibre on Twitter — other activists are pushing for a trial.
“It can probably take five years, but could take up to eight years,” according to her attorney, Leonel Rivero, said in Spanish, through Avila’s interpretation.
Rivero says ideally the charges should be dropped – but Salgado has not even had her day in court.
“So far, she’s never been in front of a judge,” he said.
Rivero says Salgado is a political prisoner who is in jail for offending those in power. Charging political enemies of kidnapping is a common tactic in Mexico, he said.
“It’s something that they always use toward these social activists,” Rivero said.
Avila and his family hopes for movement in Salgado’s situation after a statement released last month from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, a human rights monitor that criticized the conditions under which she has been held in maximum security prison.
The group said that she has not been receiving access to needed medical care while in prison.
Salgado also has remained in solitary confinement since her arrest in 2013, only receiving visits from her sister and one of her daughters. She has had little time with attorneys and doesn’t fully understand the charges against her, Rivero added.
The situation has taken a toll on her health, Rivero said.
Salgado, a naturalized U.S. citizen, has received the political support of Congressman Adam Smith, who has called for her release.
Rivero is also working with attorneys at the International Human Rights Clinic at Seattle University School of Law. The lawyers say that Salgado has not been given due process.
“The State has never presumed her innocence, Guerrero courts have not responded to our motions, and access to her is nearly impossible,” said Seattle attorney Alejandra Gonza in a statement released earlier this month.
The family is ready to take the case to the highest level in Mexico if necessary.
Avila adds that he is hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst.
“There’s no way this could be a fair trial,” Avila said. “We believe we are going to the Supreme Court.”