Video footage shot as NY journalist Brad Will was gunned down in Santa Lucia del Camino, Oaxaca on Oct. 27, 2006 show police officer Juan Carlo Soriano running with an automatic rifle and Santa Lucia del Camino mayor Pedro Carmona firing a gun. Witnesses say these men along with PRI government official Abel Santiago Zarate and town official Orlando Manuel Aguilar Coello were Will’s killers. Yet now an APPO activist, Juan Manuel Martinez, is in prison charged with Will’s murder.
Video footage and photos shot as New York Indymedia journalist Brad Will was gunned down in Santa Lucia del Camino, Oaxaca on Oct. 27, 2006 show police officer Juan Carlo Soriano running with an automatic rifle and Santa Lucia del Camino mayor Pedro Carmona firing a gun. Witnesses and members of APPO (Asamblea Popular del Pueblo de Oaxaca) say these men along with PRI government official Abel Santiago Zarate and town official Orlando Manuel Aguilar Coello were Will’s killers. However no judicial action has been taken against them, and now an APPO activist, Juan Manuel Martinez, is in prison charged with Will’s murder. Manuel Martinez was arrested on Oct. 17 and reportedly two other APPO activists were arrested shortly after, though the other two have been released on bail. Activists have heard rumors of many more arrest warrants against APPO members connected to Will’s murder.
During a stop in Chicago to discuss the book "Teaching Rebellion," an activist on the scene immediately after Will’s killing, Gustavo Vilchis, said Manuel Martinez’s arrest served two important functions for the Mexican government. "It was because of pressure from the U.S. to solve this case — even though 26 other people were murdered in two months in 2006, and police and paramilitaries are killing people all the time, this was a North American," he said. "And it was a message to activists and media trying to tell the real story that if you take the streets, if you resist, this is what the government is capable of."
He noted Will’s murder was mentioned in the U.S.’s Merida Initiative, signed by President Bush in July, a $400 million military aid plan often referred to as "Plan Mexico" in reference to disastrous Plan Colombia. "The state and Federal investigations into the October 27, 2006, killing in Oaxaca of American citizen Bradley Will have been flawed," a paragraph in the Plan Merida legislation states. "The Secretary of State is directed, not later than 45 days after enactment of this Act and 120 days thereafter, to submit a report to the Committees on Appropriations detailing progress in conducting a thorough, credible, and transparent investigation to identify the perpetrators of this crime and bring them to justice."
Aguillar Cuello and Zarate were briefly detained after Will was killed, but released with the explanation that Will was not killed by the .38 caliber guns they were carrying. However a report by the Mexican national human rights commission, released in September, said Will was indeed killed by a .38, not a 9 mm as the state prosecutor had alleged. "They have total impunity," said Vilchis of the local officials and police believed to be the real killers. In its September 2008 report, the national human rights commission, which does not have binding power, condemned the investigation and demanded accountability hearings regarding the mayor of Santa Lucia del Camino’s refusal to provide information for their investigation.
The report says the "prosecution committed irregularities and omissions during its actions, since it did not allow for the intervention of a criminal specialist, nor did it immediately go to the scene to collect, preserve and package evidence, as well it did not dictate measures to preserve the scene, nor did it complete a chain of custody regarding the blanket the journalist’s body was wrapped in, failing to preserve and take into account the blanket; carrying out, in an inadequate manner, a visual inspection of the scene, as well as the description of the t-shirt worn by Mr. Bradley Roland Will." It found the prosecution also failed to interview key witnesses.
The Mexican government has argued that Will was shot at close range, which would implicate the APPO protesters around him. But eyewitness accounts and investigations by the human rights commission and Physicians for Human Rights’ forensic team contend he was shot at long range. The former Oaxaca state attorney general had said a masked protester shot Will at close range because he was taking photos, then collaborators who took Will to the hospital shot him again while in transit. However photos published in several major newspapers after Will’s killing show two bullet wounds as he was being carried to a taxi, contradicting former state prosecutor Lisbeth Cana’s theory. (The taxi later ran out of gas and Will died before reaching the hospital.)
Will’s parents have decried Manuel Martinez’s arrest and the ongoing impunity of the alleged true killers. Amnesty International issued a report saying Manuel Martinez, being held at the Santa Maria Ixcotel state prison, "is at risk of torture or ill-treatment in order to force him to confess" to Will’s murder. "Amnesty International is also concerned that he may not be granted adequate access to a lawyer of his choice and members of his family," the report says.
An Oct. 21 dispatch from Vilchis and four other activists who had cooperated in providing testimony to the federal attorney general and now think they may be arrested in relation to Will’s killing says, "We are men with great dreams and social activists but that doesn’t make us murderers. Those responsible are other people and there is more than sufficient proof of this."
"We have clearly identified the people who shot Brad Will with photos, video, names," said Vilchis, who is from Guerrero. "The authorities know who they are, the police know who they are, the international community knows who they are."
Vilchis said there is much fear among the populace in Oaxaca since the brutal crackdown in 2006, ongoing repression and the recent arrests. Mexican and US activist journalists and bloggers agree with Vilchis that Will’s murder is being used as part of or an excuse for a broader crackdown on the resistance movement in Oaxaca, which continues to oppose governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz and demands the release of all remaining political prisoners and justice for those killed. As protests and barricades in the wake of Manuel Martinez’s arrest show, the movement is continuing.
"We will be a stone in the shoe of the government," said Vilchis. "We will continue. We will hold those guilty accountable, which means governor Ulises Ruiz, former president Vicente Fox and president Felipe Calderon."