Crime With No Punishment
have Mexican and U.S. authorities allowed the murderers of
an American journalist to go free?
Photos courtesy of bradwill.org
of us who report from the front lines of the social-justice
movement in Latin America share an understanding that there’s
always a bullet out there with our names on it. Brad Will
traveled 2,500 miles, from New York to a violence-torn Mexican
town, to find his.
Throughout the summer and fall of 2006, the southern Mexican
state of Oaxaca was on fire. Death squads rolled through the
cobblestone streets of this colonial state capital, the pistoleros
of a despised governor, peppering with automatic-weapon fire
the flimsy barricades erected by masked rebels. Hundreds were
killed, wounded, or imprisoned.
Will, a New York Indymedia video journalist, felt he had to
Xenophobia was palpable on the ground when Will touched down.
Foreign journalists were attacked as terrorists by the governor’s
syncophants in the press: “Si ves a un gringo con cámara,
mátalo!” the radio chattered, “If you see a gringo with
a camera, kill him!”
For much of the afternoon of Oct. 27, Will had been filming
armed confrontations on the barricades just outside the city.
He was trapped in the middle of a narrow street while gunshots
boomed all around him, but he kept filming, looking for the
And he found it: On his final bits of tape, you see two killers
perfectly framed up, their guns firing. You hear the fatal
shot and experience Will’s shudder of dismay as the camera
finally tumbles from his hands and bounces along the sidewalk.
Photos taken by El Universal, the Mexican newspaper,
at the same time show the same gunmen, and they’re perfectly
By all visible evidence, Brad Will filmed his own murder.
But this is Mexico, where justice is spelled i-m-p-u-n-i-t-y—and
Will’s apparent killers continue to ride the streets of Oaxaca,
free and, it seems, untouchable.
Curiously, this egregious murder of a U.S. reporter in Mexico
has drawn minimal response from Ambassador Tony Garza, an
old Bush crony. Why this lack of interest? Can it be that
Washington has another agenda that conflicts with justice
for Brad Will—the impending privatization of Mexican oil?
Brad Will once was a fire-breathing urban legend on Manhattan’s
Lower East Side. Perched atop the 5th Street squat where he
had lived for years and waving his long arms like Big Bird
as the wrecking ball swung in, or being dragged out of City
Hall dressed as a sunflower to rescue the neighborhood’s community
gardens, this child of privilege from Chicago’s wealthy North
Shore was a legitimate street hero in the years before the
World Trade Towers collapsed and the social-change movement
in New York City went into deep freeze.
Will hosted an incendiary weekly show on the pirate station
Steal This Radio, and was an early part of Indymedia, the
Web publishing experiment born during the Battle of Seattle,
the World Trade Organization protests that rocked that city
With his long hair neatly tied back and parted down the middle,
his granny glasses and fringe beard and fierce commitment
to building community, Will seemed to have emerged whole from
a more utopian time in America.
Will was an independent journalist, one of the growing number
of people who, like Josh Wolf in San Francisco, used the Internet
and their own video cameras to track and report on social
moments and injustice. He wore no credential from any major
news organization, but using outlets like Indymedia, he and
Wolf—who spent seven months in prison to avoid giving the
police a copy of his video outtakes—represent part of the
future of journalism.
Will’s journey to the land where he would die began right
after Sept. 11, 2001. Dyan Neary, than a neophyte journalist,
met Brad in the elevator soon after the terrorist attack,
coming down from the WBAI studios in the South Street skyscraper
from which Amy Goodman used to broadcast.
walked down the piles. They were still smoking,” Neary remembers
in a phone call from Humboldt County, California. “We were
both really scared. We thought this was not going to be resolved
soon. Maybe never. So we thought we should go to Latin America,
where people were still fighting.”
Will and Neary spent most of 2002 and 2003 roaming the bubbling
social landscape of Latin America. In Fortaleza, Brazil, they
confronted the director of the InterAmerican Development Bank
during riotous street protests.
They journeyed to Bolivia, too, and interviewed Evo Morales,
not yet the president, and traveled in the Chapare with the
coca growers federation. They hung out in Cochabamba with
Oscar Oliviera, the hero of the battle to keep Bechtel from
taking over the city’s water system. Everywhere they went,
they sought out pirate-radio projects and offered their support.
In February 2005, Will was in Brazil, in the thick of social
upheaval, filming the resistance of 12,000 squatters at a
camp in the city of Goiania in Goias state when the military
police swept in, killing two and jailing hundreds. On his
videos, you can hear the live ammunition zinging all around
him as he captures the carnage. Will was savagely beaten and
held by the police. Only his U.S. passport saved him.
Undaunted by his close call, Will picked up his camera and
soldiered back through Peru and Bolivia, and when the money
ran out, flew back to New York to figure out how to raise
enough scratch for the next trip south. He was hooked.
In early 2006, like a moth to the flame, he was back, tracking
Subcomandante Marcos and the Zapatistas’ Other Campaign through
the Mayan villages on Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula.
In the spring of 2006, Will was back in New York as he tracked
the Other Campaign and the incipient rebellion in Oaxaca on
the Internet from his room in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
He was poised to jump south again, friends say, but worried
that he would just be one more white guy getting in the way.
In the end, the lure of the action in Oaxaca pulled him in.
He bought a 30-day ticket, caught the airport shuttle from
Brooklyn to JFK, and flew south on Sept. 29. His return was
set for Oct. 28. He never made the plane.
mountainous southern Mexican state traversed by seven serious
sierras, Oaxaca is up at the top of most of the nation’s poverty
indicators: infant mortality, malnutrition, unemployment,
and illiteracy. Human-rights violations are rife. It’s also
Mexico’s most indigenous state, with 17 distinct Indian cultures,
each with a rich tradition of resistance to the dominant white
and mestizo overclass. Oaxaca vibrates with class and race
tensions that cyclically erupt into uprising and repression.
The Party of the Institutional Revolution, or PRI, ruled Mexico
from 1928 through 2000, the longest-running political dynasty
in the known universe. The corrupt organization was dethroned
by the right-wing National Action Party (PAN) and its picaresque
presidential candidate, Vicente Fox, former president of Coca
Cola-Mexico, in 2000.
But in Oaxaca, the PRI never lost power. While all over the
country, voters were throwing off the PRI yoke, in Oaxaca,
one PRI governor had followed another for 75 years. In the
latest installment, Ulises Ruiz Ortiz, known as URO, a protégé
of party strongman and future presidential candidate Roberto
Madrazo, won a fraud-marred gubernatorial election over a
right-left coalition in 2004.
In the first 16 months of his regime, Ulises Ruiz had proven
spectacularly unresponsive to the demands of the popular movements
for social justice. When on May 15, 2006, National Teachers
Day, a maverick, militant local of the National Education
Workers Union known as Section 22 presented its contract demands,
Ruiz turned a deaf ear. Then on May 22, tens of thousands
of teachers took the plaza and 52 surrounding blocks and set
up a ragtag tent city. Each morning, the maestros would march
out of their camp and block highways and government buildings,
which were soon smeared with anti-URO slogans.
Ruiz retaliated before dawn on June 14, sending a thousand
heavily armed police into the plaza to evict the teachers.
Low-flying helicopters sprayed pepper gas on the throng below.
Ruiz’s police had taken up positions in the colonial hotels
that surround the plaza and tossed down concussion grenades
from the balconies. Radio Planton, the maestros’ pirate-radio
station, was demolished and the tent city set afire. A pall
of black smoke hung over the city.
Four hours later, a spontaneous outburst from Oaxaca’s very
active community and the force of the striking teachers, armed
with clubs and Molotov cocktails, overran the plaza and sent
URO’s cops packing. No uniformed police officers would be
seen on the streets of Oaxaca for many months. And on June
16, two days after the monumental battle, 200,000 Oaxacans
marched through the city to repudiate the governor’s “hard
hand.” The megamarch was said to extend ten kilometers.
John Gibler, who closely covered the Oaxaca uprising as a
human-rights fellow for Global Exchange, writes that the surge
of the rebels June 14 soon transformed itself into a popular
assembly. The Oaxaca Peoples Popular Assembly was formally
constituted a week later. The APPO would have no leaders but
many spokespersons, and all decisions had to be taken in popular
For the next weeks, the APPO and Section 22 would paralyze
Oaxaca, but the rest of Mexico took little notice. Instead,
the nation was hypnotized by the fraud-marred July 2 presidential
election in which a right-wing PANista, Felipe Calderon, had
been awarded a narrow victory over leftist Andres Manuel Lopez
Obrador, the candidate of a coalition headed by the Party
of the Democratic Revolution (PRD). Lopez Obrador was quick
to cry fraud, pulling millions into the streets, the most
massive political demonstrations in Mexican history. Oaxaca
still seemed like small potatoes.
But Oaxaca is an international tourist destination, and the
APPO and Section 22 had closed down the tourist infrastructure,
blocking the airport and forcing five-star hotels to shutter
their doors. On July 17, Ruiz was forced to announce the cancellation
of the “Guelaguetza,” an “indigenous” dance festival that
has become Oaxaca’s premiere tourist attraction, after roaming
bands of rebels destroyed the scenery and blockaded access
to the city.
Ruiz began to fight back.
By the first weeks in August, URO launched what came to be
known as a Caravan of Death—a train of 30 or 40 private and
government vehicles—rolling nightly, firing on the protesters.
The governor’s gunmen were drawn from the ranks of the city
police force and the state ministerial cops.
To keep the Caravan of Death from moving freely through the
city, the APPO and the maestros threw up barricades; a thousand
were built in the working-class colonies throughout the city
and its suburbs. The rebels piled up dead trees, old tires,
the carcasses of burnt-out cars and buses to create the barricades,
which soon took on their own life: Murals were painted with
the ashes of the bonfires that burned all night on the barriers.
In fact, the barricades gave the Oaxaca struggle the romantic
aura of the Paris Commune, and attracted droves of dreadlocked
anarchists to the city.
An uneasy lull in the action gripped Oaxaca when Brad Will
arrived at the bus terminal on the first of October and found
himself a cheap room for the night. The break wouldn’t last
Like most non-Mexicans who style themselves independent reporters,
Brad Will had no Mexican press credentials and therefore was
in the country illegally, working on a tourist visa and susceptible
to deportation. So that he would have some credential other
than his Indymedia press card to hang around his neck, he
got himself accredited at Section 22 and wore the rebel ID
On Oct. 14, APPO militant Alejandro Garcia Hernandez was cut
down at a barricade near the corner of Simboles Patriotas
(“Patriotic Symbols”) downtown. Will joined an angry procession
to the Red Cross hospital where the dead man had been taken.
In the last dispatch he filed from Oaxaca on Oct. 16, Will
caught this very Mexican whiff of death: “Now [Alejandro]
lies there waiting for November 2nd, the Day of the Dead,
when he can sit with his loved ones again to share food and
drink and song . . .”
more death. One more time to cry and hurt. One more time to
know power and its ugly head. One more bullet cracks the night.”
The dynamic in Oaxaca had gotten “sketchy,” Will wrote to
Neary. Section 22 leader Enrique Rueda Pacheco had cut a deal
with the outgoing Fox government and forced a back-to-work
vote Oct. 21 that narrowly carried amid charges of sellout
and payoffs. If the teachers went back to work, the APPO would
be alone on the barricades and even more vulnerable to Ulises’
gunmen. But backing down is not in the Popular Assembly’s
dictionary, and the APPO voted to ratchet up the lucha
(struggle) and make Oaxaca really ungovernable.
Mobile brigades were formed. Young toughs armed with lead
pipes and boards with nails driven through them hijacked what
buses were still running in the city, forced the passengers
off, and rode around looking for action. Later, the buses
would be set afire. Charred hulks blossomed on the streets
of the old colonial city. The barricades were reinforced to
shut down the capital beginning Oct. 27.
The escalation proved to be a terrible miscalculation. Up
in Mexico City, the post-electoral turmoil had finally subsided
and the PAN was ready to deal with the PRI; bailing out the
Oaxaco governor was the PRI’s price of admission.
It wasn’t a good time for inexperienced foreigners. URO’s
people were checking the guest lists at the hostels for “inconvenient”
internationals. Immigration authorities threatened extranjeros
with deportation if they joined the protests. The local U.S.
consul, Mark Leyes, warned Americans that he would not be
able to help them out if they got caught up in the maelstrom.
To add to this malevolent ambiance, a new pirate radio station
popped up at 99 on the FM dial on Oct. 26. Radio Ciudadana
(Citizens Radio) announced it was broadcasting “to bring peace
to Oaxaca” and to celebrate the honor of “our macho, very
macho governor.” The announcers seemed to have Mexico City
accents. Wherever they had been sent from, they let loose
with a torrent of vitriol—stuff like, “We have to kill the
mugrosos (dirty ones) on the barricades.” The extranjeros,
the radio said, were stirring up all the trouble. “They pretend
to be journalists but they have come to teach terrorism classes.”
More frightening was this admonition: “ Si ves a un gringo
con cámara, mátalo!”—literally, “If you see gringo with a
camera, kill him!”
This poison spewed out of local radios all day on Oct. 26
and 27, but whether Will heard the warnings—and if he did
hear them, whether he knew what they meant—is unclear. Brad
Will didn’t speak much Spanish.
Oct. 27, Will went out to do interviews on the barricade at
Cal y Canto. That outpost, along with two others at Santa
Maria Coyotepec and La Experimental, was crucial to closing
down Oaxaca. The broad Railroad Avenue where the barricade
was stacked was empty. Nothing was moving. Will walked onto
the next barricade at La Experimental to check out the action.
Shortly after the Indymedia reporter left, all hell broke
loose at Cal y Canto. A mob of about 150 supporters of the
governor stormed down Railroad Avenue, led by what witnesses
thought was a Chevy Blazer. The car was moving very fast.
“We thought it would try and crash through the barricade,”
Miguel Cruz, an activist with the Council of Indigenous People
of Oaxaca (CIPO), recalls. But the SUV stopped short and several
men jumped out with guns blazing. The APPO people hunkered
down behind the makeshift barrier and moved the women and
kids who were with them into a nearby house. Then they went
on the counterattack with Molotov cocktails, homemade bazookas
that fired bottle rockets, and slingshots. Most of the mob
had melted away, and with the gunmen retreating, the rebels
torched their car.
Will heard about the gunfire, and hurried back to Cal y Canto
with a handful of other reporters. They arrived a little after
Will climbed under a parked trailer to shoot the shooters.
He focused in on a man in a white shirt. When an APPO activist
came running by (we never see who it is on Will’s last tape),
Will indicated the shooter: “Camisa blanca.” While all this
was going on, his camera captured a bicyclist peddling dreamily
through the intersection. Soon after, a large dump truck appeared
on the scene, and the group on the barricade used it as a
mobile shield as they chased the gunmen down the avenue.
Suddenly, the pistoleros veered down a narrow side
street, Benito Juarez, and took refuge in a windowless one-story
building in the second block. The only access to the building
was through a large metal garage door, and the reporters followed
the APPO militants, many of them with their faces masked,
as they tried to force their way in. Will actually stood to
one side of the door for a minute, poised for the “money shot.”
Then the compas tried unsuccessfully to bust down the
big door by ramming the dump truck into it.
In the midst of this frenzy, five men in civilian dress—two
in red shirts (the governor’s colors) and three others in
white—appeared at the head of Juarez street, about 30 meters
away, and began shooting at the rebels.
Two of the gunmen were later identified by Mexican news media
as Pedro Carmona, a local PRI political fixer and cop, and
Police Commander Orlando Manuel Aguilar Coello. One of the
men crouched down behind Carmona was Abel Santiago Zarate,
aka “El Chino.” Santiago Zarate and Aguilar Coello were reported
to be the personal bodyguards of PRI Municipal President Manuel
Martinez Ferrea. The other two men would be fingered as Juan
Carlos Soriano and Juan Sumano, both Santa Lucia police officers.
You can see the gunmen in the film Brad Will shot just moments
before the bullets hit him, and they are clearly framed in
a picture taken at the same time that ran on the front page
of El Universal.
When the shooting erupted, Will took cover on the opposite
side of the narrow street from the rest of the press. He was
crouched against a lime green wall when his bullet came for
him. You can hear the shot on the soundtrack and listen to
Will’s cries of dismay as it tears through his Indymedia T-shirt
and smashes into his heart. A second shot caught him in the
right side. There was little blood, the first slug having
stopped his heart from pumping. On film that Gustavo Vilchis
and others took, the entrance wound looks like a deep bruise.
Others were hit in the pandemonium. Oswaldo Ramirez, filming
for the daily Milenio, was grazed in the fusillade.
Lucio David Cruz, described as a bystander, was shot in the
neck and died four months later.
As Will slid down the wall into a sitting position, Vilchis
and activist Leonardo Ortiz ran to him. His Section 22 credential
had flown off and no one really knew his name. With bullets
whizzing by, the compas picked him up and dragged him
out of the line of fire around the corner to Arboles Street
about 35 paces away. Along the way his pants fell off.
We need an ambulance! They’ve shot a journalist!” Vilchis
shouted desperately. A man named Gualberto Francisco had parked
his vochito (Volkswagen Bug) on Arboles and pulled
up alongside where Will was laid out on the pavement.
Ortiz and Vilchis loaded a dying Brad Will into the backseat.
They thought he was still breathing, and Vilchis applied mouth-to-mouth
resuscitation. “You’re going to make it. . . . You’re all
right,” they kept telling him. But Will’s eyes had already
receded to the back of his head, perdido (lost), as
they say here.
The vochito ran out of gas, and as the three frantic young
men were stuck in the middle of the Cinco Senores crossroad,
it began to rain hard. They tried to stop a taxi to take them
to the Red Cross, but the driver supported the government
and wanted to argue. Finally they flagged down a pickup truck
and laid Will out in the bed. He was dead when he arrived
at the hospital, according to Dr. Luis Mendoza’s report.
Oct. 27 was the bloodiest day of the Oaxaca uprising. Four
others were killed besides Will; their names were Emilio Alonso
Fabian, Estevan Ruiz, Estevan Lopez Zurita, and Eudacia Olivera
Unlike their murders, Will’s death triggered international
outrage. Because he was so connected—and because much of the
episode was recorded on film—the shot of the mortally wounded
Indymedia reporter lying in the middle of an Oaxaca street
went worldwide on the Web in a matter of minutes.
There were instant vigils on both coasts. On Monday morning,
Oct. 30, 11 of Will’s friends were busted trying to lock down
at the Mexican Consulate off Manhattan’s Park Avenue where
graffiti still read “Avenge Brad!” in December. Anarchists
splattered the San Francisco consulate with red paint. Subcomandante
Marcos sent his condolences and called for international protests.
Amy Goodman did an hourlong memorial.
The official reaction to Will’s death was more cautious. “It
is unfortunate when peaceful demonstrations get out of hand
and result in violence,” a U.S. spokesperson told the press,
seeming to blame the APPO for Will’s killing. After once again
warning Americans that they traveled to Oaxaca “at their own
risk,” Ambassador Tony Garza, a Bush crony from his Texas
days, commented on the “senseless death of Brad Will” and
how it “underscores the need for a return to the rule of law
months,” he said, “violence and disorder in Oaxaca have worsened.
Teachers, students, and other groups have been involved in
increasingly violent demonstrations . . .”
Garza’s statement sent President Fox the signal he had been
waiting for. Now that a gringo had been killed, it was time
to act. The next morning, Oct. 28, 4,500 Federal Preventative
Police, an elite force drawn from the military, were sent
into Oaxaca—not to return the state to a place where human
rights and peoples’ dignity and a free press are respected,
but to break the back of the peoples’ rebellion and maintain
Ulises Ruiz Ortiz in power.
On Oct. 29, the troops pushed their way into the plaza despite
massive, passive resistance by activists, tore down the barricades,
and drove the Commune of Oaxaca back into the shadows.
In Mexico, the dead are buried quickly. After Dr. Mendoza
had performed the obligatory autopsy, Brad Will’s body was
crated up for shipment back to his parents, who live south
of Milwaukee. After a private viewing, the family had Will
Killing a gringo reporter here in plain view of the cameras
(one of which was his own) requires a little sham accountability.
On Oct. 29, URO’s state prosecutor, Lizbeth Cana Cadeza, announced
that arrests warrants were being sworn out for Abel Santiago
and Orlando Manuel Aguilar, two of the five cops caught on
film firing shots at Brad Will, and they were subsequently
taken into custody.
The scam lost currency two weeks later, when on Nov. 15, Cana
dropped a bombshell at an evening press conference: The cops
hadn’t killed Will, she said; he was shot by the rebels.
Will’s death, she insisted, had been “a deceitful confabulation
to internationalize the conflict” and was, in fact, “the product
of a concerted premeditated action.” The mortal shot had been
fired from less than two and a half meters away, Cana said—although
there is nothing in Dr. Mendoza’s report to indicate this.
The real killers were “the same group (Will) was accompanying.”
In the state prosecutor’s scenario, the order of the shots
was reversed: First Will had been shot in the side in the
street, and then finished off with a slug to the heart on
the way to the hospital in Gualberto’s vochito.
The prosecutor’s plot was immediately challenged by the APPO.
“The killers are those who are shown in the film” Florentino
Lopez, the Assembly’s main spokesperson, asserted at a meeting
Our detailed investigation shows that there is very little
evidence to support Cana’s theory. Photos from the scene,
some published in the Mexican press, show Will’s body with
a bloody hole in his chest on the street near where he fell–
indicating that his fatal heart wound had occurred well before
he was dragged into the car where he was supposedly shot.
There’s another problem with the prosecutor’s suggestion:
Nobody on the scene saw any of the APPO members—or anyone
else except the authorities—carrying guns. I have talked to
numerous eyewitnesses, and all of them tell the same tale:
The rebels at the Cal y Canto barricade that day had no firearms,
no weapons with which to have shot Brad Will.
Miguel Cruz, who spent much of Oct. 27 with Will, first at
the CIPO headquarters and then on the barricade at Cal y Canto
and Juarez Street, is a soft-spoken young Zapotec Indian,
but he pounded on the kitchen table vehemently when he addressed
Lizbeth Cana’s allegations.
companeros had no guns. What gun is she talking about? They
had slingshots and Molotovs but no guns. The PRIistas and
the cops had their .38s and they were shooting at us. We were
trying to save Brad Will’s life, not to kill him.”
And if Cana had any proof of her allegations, she likely would
have filed charges. But none of the protesters or Will’s companions
has ever been formally charged with the killing. Ulises’ prosecutors
have never publicly presented the alleged murder weapon.
But by the time Cana told her story, of course, the only way
to determine for sure the order of the bullets and the distance
from which they had been fired would be to exhume Brad Will’s
body. And there was no body: He had been cremated the week
On Nov. 28, as expected, El Chino and Manuel Aguilar were
released from custody because of “insufficient evidence” by
Judge Vittoriano Barroso, with the stipulation that they could
not be rearrested without the presentation of new evidence.
Lizbeth Cana, who is now running as a PRI candidate for state
Legislature (with the strong support of the Oaxaca governor),
collaborated closely on the case with Oaxaca secretary of
citizen protection Lino Celaya. Both reported to Ulises’ secretary
of government, Heliodoro Diez, who in turn reported directly
to URO. There seems little doubt that the state prosecutor’s
accusations of murder against Will’s comrades—and the determination
of innocence for the apparent killers—came straight from the
Dr. Mendoza is otherwise occupied when I stop by the CEMEFO,
the Oaxaca city morgue, to ask him for a copy of the autopsy
report upon which the state of Oaxaca has based its allegations.
died eight months ago,” Mendoza complains testily. “Do you
know how many others have died since? How many autopsies I’ve
performed?” He gestures to the morgue room where the cadavers
are piled up.
The coroner is scrunched over his desk, filling out the paperwork
for one of the stiffs. He doesn’t have any time to look for
the autopsy report. I am not the first reporter to ask him
about the document. “What paper are you from anyway?” he asks
suspiciously, and when I show him my press card, he tells
me that it doesn’t sound like a real paper to him. “I know
what I’m doing. I worked as a coroner in your country,” he
snaps, and waves me out of the office.
I walk into the police commissary under the first floor stairs
of the Santa Lucia del Camino Municipal Palace. The small
room is crowded with cops and cigarette smoke. Three of the
officers are in full battle gear and the rest are all plainclothes.
I have been warned not to ask for Pedro Carmona, the most
prominent red shirt in Brad’s photo. Carmona is described
as prepotente, i.e. a thug with an attitude, who is
Instead I ask the desk clerk if I could get a few minutes
with security supervisor Abel Santiago Zarate and police commander
Orlando Manuel Aguilar Coello. For all I know, the two are
sitting in the same room behind me. The desk clerk studies
my card. “Que lastima! [What a shame!]” he exclaims;
the supervisor has just left and won’t be back until after
six. The Comandante is off today. When I call back
after six, El Chino is still not available. Nor would he or
Aguilar ever be available the dozen or so times I called back.
This sort of stonewall is nothing terribly unusual for Mexico,
where killer cops often sell their service to local caciques
(political bosses) and go back to work as if nothing happened.
Those who direct this mayhem from their desks in the statehouses
and municipal palaces—the “intellectual assassins,” as they
are termed—are never held accountable.
In March, Brad’s parents Kathy and Howard Will, and Brad’s
older brother and sister paid a sad, inconclusive visit to
Oaxaca. They had hired Miguel Angel de los Santos Cruz, a
crackerjack human-rights lawyer who has often defended Zapatista
communities in Chiapas. John Gibler would translate.
The Wills, upper-middle-class Americans, had little experience
with the kind of evil that lurks inside the Mexican justice
system; the trip was a traumatic, eye-opening experience.
The federal attorney general’s office (PGR) had taken over
the case from the state in December, but rather than investigating
police complicity and culpability, the office was pursuing
Lizbeth Cana’s dubious allegations blaming Will’s companions
for the killing.
Vilchis, Francisco, Ortiz, and Miguel Cruz were summoned to
give testimony with the Wills in attendance. Testifying was
a risky venture, as they could be charged with the murder
at any moment, but out of respect for the family, the compas
agreed to tell their story to the federal investigators. During
the hearing, the witnesses were repeatedly questioned about
and asked to identify not the cops who appear on Brad’s films,
but their own companeros, some of who were masked,
who appeared on tape shot by Televisa, the Mexican TV giant.
When de los Santos accompanied the Wills to a meeting with
Cana, she touted her investigation and promised them a copy
of it. But she refused to allow the family to view Brad’s
Indymedia T-shirt and the two bullets taken from his body.
They were under the control of Judge Barroso, the same judge
who cut loose the cops, she explained.
The U.S. State Department has a certain conflict of interest
in trying to push freshman Mexican president Felipe Calderon
to collar Brad Will’s killers. The crackdown in Oaxaca was
all about a political deal between Calderon’s PAN and Ulises’
PRI: Save URO’s ass, and the PRI would support the president’s
legislative package. Indeed, the PRI’s hundred votes in the
lower house of Congress guarantees Felipe the two-thirds majority
he needs to alter the Mexican constitution.
And at the top of Calderon’s legislative agenda is opening
up PEMEX, the nationalized petroleum corporation expropriated
from Anglo and American owners in 1938 and a patriotic symbol
of Mexico’s national revolution, to private investment, a
gambit that requires a constitutional amendment.
Since President Lazaro Cardenas nationalized Mexico’s petroleum
industry from Anglo-American owners in 1938, the United States
has been trying to take it back. “Transnational pressure to
reprivatize PEMEX has been brutal,” observes John Saxe-Fernandez,
a professor of strategic resource studies at Mexico’s autonomous
During the run-up to the hotly contested July 2, 2006, presidential
elections, the two candidates debated the privatization of
Mexico’s national oil corporation before the American Chamber
of Commerce in Mexico City; former U.S. ambassador Jeffrey
Davidow moderated the debate. When leftist Andres Manuel Lopez
Obrador insisted he would never privatize what belonged to
all Mexicans, the business suits stared in stony silence.
Felipe Calderon’s pledge to open PEMEX to private investment
drew wild applause. Calderon was, of course, Washington’s
horse in the fraud-marred election.
In order to accommodate Washington, Calderon needs a two-thirds
majority in the Mexican Congress. “Without the PRI’s votes,
PEMEX will not be privatized. That is why Calderon has granted
Ulises Ruiz impunity,” Professor Saxe-Fernandez concludes.
Washington, whose interests in Mexico Garza represents, is
eager to see PEMEX privatized, an opportunity for Exxon and
Halliburton (now PEMEX’s largest subcontractor) to walk off
with a big chunk of the world’s eighth largest oil company.
Pushing President Calderon too hard to do justice for Brad
Will could disaffect the PRI and put a kibosh on the deal.
It is not easy to imagine Brad Will as being a pawn in anyone’s
power game, but as the months tick by and the killing and
the killers sink into the morass of memory, that is exactly
what he is becoming.
Reporters Without Borders lists 81 confirmed kills of journalists
around the world during 2006. That represents a 29-percent
increase over 2005 (63) and is the highest since 1994, when
revolutions were roaring in Sri Lanka and Algeria. Killing
the messenger is becoming more and more popular.
story was commissioned by the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies
and edited by one of its member papers, the San Francisco
Bay Guardian. More than 20 AAN member papers in the United
States and Canada are running the story this week. The reporter,
John Ross, has been the Mexico City correspondent for the
Bay Guardian for 22 years. He is the author of eight
books on Mexican politics and has lectured extensively on
Latin America on college campuses from Harvard to the University