Indigenous woman returns home to Guatemala after seven years without trial in Mexican prison

Guatemala City — An indigenous migrant imprisoned in a city on the northern Mexican border for kidnapping, returned to her native Guatemala as a free woman on Sunday after spending more than seven years in prison without trial.

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

The court ruled that there was no coherent evidence against her, said Netzai Sandoval, director of the Mexican Federal Office of Public Counsel.

Sandoval, who defended Alonzo in 2021, insisted he was tortured and had to sign a confession he didn’t understand because he didn’t speak Spanish.

Mayan Chuj woman left her village of San Mateo Ixtatán to emigrate to the United States in 2014. She was detained by immigration officials while in Reynosa, a Mexican border town across McAllen, Texas and one of Tamaulipas’ main smuggling points.

Friends and relatives of Guatemalan immigrant Juana Alonzo hold a blanket that reads “Freedom for Juanita” as they arrive at La Aurora International Airport in Guatemala City on May 22, 2022.Johann Ordonez/AFP – Getty Images

Police charged her with kidnapping and put her in jail, Sandoval said. He said the allegations were not translated into her chum language until this year.

She has never been convicted, never tried, and has been in “pretrial detention” throughout.

Her advocacy campaign for freedom was supported by national and international groups and Mexican President Andres Manuel López Obrador, and the Tamaulipas prosecutors dropped the charges against her.

Sandoval is “completely wrong. All her rights have been violated because she is a woman, a native, an immigrant, poor, and doesn’t speak Spanish.”

Emotional Alonzo was greeted by her family at Guatemala City airport on Sunday and she collapsed into the arms of her father and uncle. Her relatives helped her change from her jeans to her local traditional attire.

“It’s easy to go to jail, but hard to get out of,” Alonzo said when he stopped learning Spanish in prison.

“We are neither stone nor plastic.” she added

Uncle Pedro Alonzo said he moved here to help his family.

“Her sin was that she could not speak Spanish. Who will pay for the scar?” he said

Statistics from the Mexican federal government show that 43% of those incarcerated in Mexican prisons have either been convicted or never sentenced.

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