Migrant returned home without trial after 7 years in Mexican prison

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GUATEMALA CITY — An indigenous migrant accused of kidnapping and detained in a border town in northern Mexico returned to her native Guatemala as a free woman on Sunday after spending more than seven years in prison without a trial.

A Mexican court on Saturday ordered the immediate release of Juana Alonzo Santizo, 35.

The court ruled that there was no clear evidence against them, said Netzaí Sandoval, head of Mexico’s Bureau of Public Defenders.

Sandoval, whose office took over Alonzo’s defense in 2021, claims she was tortured and forced to sign a confession that she didn’t understand because she didn’t speak Spanish.

The Mayan Chuj woman left her village of San Mateo Ixtatán in 2014 to emigrate to the United States, he said. She was arrested by immigration officers in Reynosa, a Mexican border town across from McAllen, Texas, and one of the main smuggling points in the state of Tamaulipas.

Police then accused her of kidnapping and put her in jail, Sandoval said. He said the charges had not been translated into their Chuj language as of this year.

She was never convicted, never tried, and was in “pre-trial detention” the entire time.

A campaign for her release was supported by national and international groups and by Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, and Tamaulipas prosecutors dropped the charges against her.

“It’s a completely different case,” Sandoval said. All her rights have been violated because “she is a woman, she is an indigenous person, she is a migrant, she is poor and she does not speak Spanish”.

An emotional Alonzo was greeted by her family at Guatemala City airport on Sunday and she fell into the arms of her father and uncle. Her relatives helped her change from jeans to traditional regional clothing.

“It’s easy to go into jail, but it’s hard to get out,” Alonzo said in faltering Spanish, which she learned in prison.

“We’re not rocks, we’re not plastic things.” She added.

Pedro Alonzo, an uncle, said she emigrated hoping to help her family.

“Her crime was not being able to speak Spanish. Who’s going to pay for that scar?” he said.

According to statistics from the Mexican federal government, 43% of those held in the country’s prisons have not been convicted or convicted.

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