Those 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 the violence-torn Mexican town of Oaxaca, 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 automatic weapon fire on the flimsy barricades erected by masked rebels. Hundreds were killed, wounded or imprisoned.
Will, a New York Indymedia video journalist, felt he had to be there.
Xenophobia was palpable on the ground when Will arrived. Foreign journalists were attacked as terrorists by the governor's sycophants in the press: "Si ves un gringo con camera, matanlo!" the radio chattered. "If you see a gringo with a camera, kill him!"
For much of the afternoon of Oct. 27, Will filmed 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 money shot. 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 at the same time by the Mexican newspaper El Universal show the same gunmen -- and they're perfectly identifiable.
By all visible evidence, Brad Will filmed his own murder. (See Will's last film on You Tube: http://youtube.com/watch?v=dxlwcfldxlw. There also is a narrative about will that includes some of his footage on Esquire Magazine's Web site: http:www.esquire.com/dont-miss/wifl/finalframes0807.) Will's apparent killers continue to travel the streets of Oaxaca -- free and, it seems, untouchable.
Curiously, the murder of a U.S. reporter in Mexico has drawn minimal response from Ambassador Tony Garza, a Bush crony. Why the lack of interest?
Will was once a fire-breathing urban legend on Manhattan's Lower East Side. Whether perched atop the 5th Street squat where he had lived for years, 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 Center's Twin Towers were destroyed 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 in 1999. With his long hair neatly tied back and parted down the middle, granny glasses, a fringe beard and a fierce commitment to building community, Will seemed to have emerged whole from a more Utopian time in America.
An independent journalist, Will was 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 movements and injustice. He wore no credential from any major news organization.By using outlets such as 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, then a neophyte journalist, met Brad in the elevator coming down from the WBAI studios in the South Street skyscraper that Amy Goodman used to broadcast soon after the terrorist attack.
"We walked down the piles. They were still smoking," she remembered during a phone call from Humboldt County, Calif. "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 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 near the city of Goiana in Perembuco 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 with his camera. Will was savagely beaten and held by 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. When his money ran out, he flew back to New York to figure out how to raise enough scratch for the next trip south. He was hooked.
Like a moth to the flame, he was back in early 2006, tracking Subcomandante Marcos and the Zapatistas' Other Campaign through the Mayan villages on Mexico's Yucatan peninsula. In the spring of that year, Will returned to New York but tracked the Other Campaign and the incipient rebellion in Oaxaca on the Internet from Brooklyn.
After awhile, the lure of the action in Oaxaca pulled him in. He bought a 30-day ticket and flew south on Sept. 29. His return was set for Oct. 28. He never made the plane.
A mountainous southern Mexican state traversed by seven serious sierras, Oaxaca is 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 erupt cyclically into uprisings and repression.
The Party of the Institutional Revolution, or PRI, ruled Mexico from 1928 through 2000. The corrupt organization was dethroned in that last year by the right-wing National Action Party (PAN) and its presidential candidate, Vicente Fox, former president of Coca Cola-Mexico.
In Oaxaca, however, the PRI never lost power. While voters all over the country were throwing off the PRI yoke, in Oaxaca one PRI governor has followed another for 75 years. In the latest installment, Ulises Ruiz Ortiz, known as URO, a protg 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 been unresponsive to the demands of the popular movements for social justice. He turned a deaf ear when a maverick militant local of the National Education Workers Union known as Section 22 presented its contract demands on National Teachers Day, May 15, 2006. A week later, 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. 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 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. Two days after that battle, 200,000 Oaxacans marched through the city to repudiate the governor's "hard hand." The march was said to extend 10 kilometers (more than 6 miles).
John Gibler, who covered the Oaxaca uprising as a human rights fellow for Global Exchange, writes that the surge of the rebels on June 14 soon transformed itself into a popular assembly. The Oaxaca Peoples Popular Assembly or APPO was formally constituted on June 21. The APPO would have no leaders but many spokespersons, and all decisions had to be taken in popular assemblies.
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 July 2 presidential election in which a right-wing PANista, Felipe Calderon, had been awarded a narrow victory over leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO), the candidate of a coalition headed by the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD). Lopez Obrador was quick to cry fraud, pulling millions of people into the streets, the most massive political demonstrations in Mexican history.
Oaxaca still seemed like small potatoes. But it 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, Gov. Ruiz announced 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.
By the first weeks in August, Ruiz launched what came to be known as a Caravan of Death -- a train of 30 or 40 private and government vehicles that rolled nightly and fired on protestors. 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, burned-out cars and buses to create the barricades, which soon took on their own life. Murals were painted on the barriers with the ashes of the bonfires that burned all night. 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 Oct. 1 and found himself a cheap room for the night. The break wouldn't last long.
Like most non-Mexicans who style themselves as independent reporters, Brad Will had no Mexican press credential and therefore was in the country illegally. He was working on a tourist visa and was susceptible to deportation. To obtain some credential other than his Indymedia press card to hang around his neck, Will got himself accredited at Section 22 and wore the rebel ID assiduously.
On Oct 14, APPO militant Alejandro Garcia Hernandez was cut down at a barricade near the downtown corner of Simboles Patriotas, which translates to "patriotic symbols." 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 2, the Day of the Dead, when he can sit with his loved ones again to share food and drink and song. ... One 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 on Oct. 21 that narrowly carried amid charges of sell-out and pay-offs. If the teachers went back to work, the APPO would be alone on the barricades and even more vulnerable to Ruiz's gunmen. Backing down, however, is not in the Popular Assembly's dictionary, and the APPO voted to ratchet up the lucha (struggle) and make Oaxaca completely ungovernable.
Mobile brigades were formed of young toughs armed with lead pipes and boards with nails driven through them. They hijacked what buses were still running in the city, forced the passengers off and rode around looking for action. Later, the buses were set afire. The barricades were reinforced to shut down the capital beginning Oct. 27.
The escalation proved to be a terrible miscalculation. In Mexico City, the post-electoral turmoil had subsided and the PAN was ready to deal with the PRI. Bailing out the Oaxaca governor was the PRI's price of admission.
It wasn't a good time for inexperienced foreigners. Ruiz'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 if they got caught up in the maelstrom.
To add to this malevolent ambience, a new pirate radio station popped up at 99 on the FM dial Oct. 26. Radio Ciudadana, or Citizens Radio, announced it was broadcasting "to bring peace to Oaxaca" and to celebrate the honor of "our macho, very macho governor." The announcers let loose with a torrent of vitriol, stuff like, "We have to kill the mugrosos (dirty ones) on the barricades." The extranjeros, the radio claimed, 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 camera, mantanlo!" -- literally "If you see a gringo with a camera, kill him!"
This poison spewed out of local radios all day Oct. 26 and 27. It is unclear whether Will heard the warnings -- or if he knew what they meant if he did hear them. Brad Will didn't speak much Spanish.
On Oct. 27, Will went out to conduct interviews on a 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 to the next barricade at La Experimental to check out the action.
Shortly after Will 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," recalls Miguel Cruz, an activist with the Council of Indigenous People of Oaxaca (CIPO). 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, slingshots and homemade bazookas that fired bottle rockets. Most of the mob had melted away, and as the gunmen retreated, 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 3 p.m. Will climbed under a parked trailer to videotape 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 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. 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 break 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 in white -- appeared at the head of Juarez Street and began shooting at the rebels. The two red shirts 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 white shirts 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 white shirts were identified 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 of the film and Will's cries as the bullet tears through his Indymedia T-shirt and smashes into his heart. A second bullet caught him in the right side and destroyed his innards. There was little blood, the first slug having stopped his heart from pumping. On film that Gustavo Vilchis and others shot, the entrance wound looks like a deep bruise. The second shot is not recorded on the soundtrack and may have been fired simultaneously with the first.
Other people also 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 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.
"Ambulance! 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 alongside where Will was laid out on the pavement in his underwear.
Leonardo and Gustavo loaded a dying Brad Will into the backseat. Vilchis performed mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. "You're going to make it ... you're all right," they kept telling him, but Will's eyes had receded to the back of his head, perdido (lost) as they say in Mexico.
The car ran out of gas, and it began to rain hard as the three frantic young men found themselves stuck in the middle of the Cinco Senores crossroad. 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 pick-up truck and laid Will out in the bed. The journalist was dead when he arrived at the hospital, according to a coroner's report by Dr. Luis Mendoza.
Oct. 27 was the bloodiest day of the Oaxaca uprising. Four others besides Will were killed: Emilio Alonso Fabian, Estevan Ruiz, Estevan Lopez Zurita and Eudacia Olivera Diez.
Unlike their murders, Will's death triggered international outrage. Because he was so connected and much of the episode was recorded on film, the image of the mortally wounded Indymedia reporter lying in the middle of a Oaxaca street went worldwide on the Web in a matter of minutes. There were instant vigils on both coasts in the United States. On Oct. 30, 11 of Will's friends were busted trying to lock down the Mexican Consulate off Manhattan's Park Avenue. Anarchists splattered the San Francisco consulate with red paint. Subcomandante Marcos sent his condolences and called for international protests. Amy Goodman did an hour-long memorial.
Government 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 commented on the "senseless death of Brad Will" and how it "underscores the need for a return to the rule of law and order.
"For months," he said, "violence and disorder in Oaxaca have worsened. Teachers, students, and other groups have been involved in increasingly violent demonstrations ..."
The next morning, Saturday, Oct. 28, 4,500 Federal Preventative Police, an elite force drawn from the military, were sent into Oaxaca. The next day, 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, Will's body was crated up for shipment back to his parents, who now live south of Milwaukee. After a private viewing, the family had Brad Will cremated.
Killing a gringo reporter in plain view of the cameras (one of which was his own) cries out for some kind of accountability. On Oct. 29, URO state prosecutor Lizbeth Cana Cadez announced that arrest 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. They were subsequently taken into custody.
However, Cana dropped a bombshell at a press conference on Nov. 15, when she contended the cops hadn't killed Will, the rebels had. The journalist's death, she said, had been "a deceitful confabulation to internationalize the conflict" and was "the product of a concerted premeditated action." The mortal shot had been fired from less than two-and-a-half meters away, she said, although there is nothing in the coroner's report to back up the claim. The real killers were "the same group (Will) was accompanying," Cana said.
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 rematadfo (finished off) with a slug to the heart on the way to the hospital in Gualberto's car. The prosecutor was immediately challenged by the APPO. "The killers are those who are shown in the film," Florentino Lopez, the Assembly's main spokesperson, said at a meeting that night.
This reporter's detailed investigation found no 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 the prosecutor says he was 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. Numerous eyewitnesses all 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 when he addressed Lizbeth Cana's allegations, he pounded vehemently on the kitchen table.
"The companeros had no guns," he said. "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."
If Cana has proof of her allegations, she has not used it to justify filing charges. None of the protesters or Will's companions has ever been formally charged with the killing. Governor Ruiz's prosecutors have never publicly presented the murder weapon. On Nov. 28, Judge Vittoriano Barroso released El Chapulin and Manuel Aguilar from custody due to "insufficient evidence" and stipulated that they cannot be rearrested without 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 Ruiz's Secretary of Government, Heliodoro Diez, who in turn reported directly to Ruiz, leading this reporter to believe that the state prosecutor's accusations of murder against Will's comrades -- and the determination of innocence for the apparent killers -- came from the top.
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.
"Will 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. He doesn't have time to look for the autopsy report. I am not the first reporter to ask him about the document. "I know what I'm doing. I worked as a coroner in your country," he says 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 Will's photo. Carmona is described as prepotente (a thug with an attitude), who is always packing. 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. The desk clerk studies my press ID. "Que lastima! (What a shame!)," he says. The supervisor won't be back until after 6 o'clock and the comandante is off, he tells me. When I call back after 6 p.m., El Chapulin still is not available. Nor were he or Aguilar available the dozen or so times I called back.
In March, Will's family visited 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 trip was a traumatic, eye-opening journey through the Mexican justice system.
The federal attorney general's office (PGR) had taken over the case from the state in December and was pursuing Lizbeth Cana's allegations, blaming Will's companions for the killing.
Gustavo, Gualberto, Leonardo and Miguel Cruz were summoned to testify and the Wills attended. Testifying was a risky venture, as those giving statements 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 Will's films but their own companeros from among sometimes masked people who appeared on tape shot by Televisa, the Mexican TV giant. They refused.
When de los Santos accompanied the Wills to a meeting with Cana, the prosecutor touted her investigation and promised them a copy of it, but she refused to allow the family to view Will's Indymedia T-shirt and the two bullets taken from his body. Cana explained that those items were under the control of Judge Barroso, the same judge who cut the cops loose.
There are larger geopolitics at work here.
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 about a political deal between Calderon's PAN and Ruiz's PRI: Save URO's ass, and the PRI would support the president's legislative package. Indeed, the PRI's 100 votes in the lower house of congress will guarantee Calderon 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 expropriated and nationalized Mexico's petroleum industry from Anglo-American owners, the U.S. 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 university (UNAM.)
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 Washington's horse in the fraud-marred race.
In order to accommodate Washington, Calderon needs a two-thirds majority in the Mexican congress -- and the once-ruling PRI's votes in the lower house are crucial to passing the constitutional amendment. "Without the PRI's votes, PEMEX will not be privatized," Professor Saxe Fernandez says. "That is why Calderon has granted Ulises Ruiz impunity."
Washington, whose interests in Mexico are represented by Garza, 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 cast a pall on the deal.
It's not easy to imagine Brad Will as being a pawn in a U.S. power play, 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.
John Ross has been the Mexico City correspondent for the San Francisco 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 UC Berkeley.
SIDEBAR Killing by the numbers Brad Will is the latest victim in a continuum of U.S. reporters who have traveled to Mexico to document the struggle for justice there and who have wound up in a shallow grave or on the receiving end of an assassin's bullets under enigmatic circumstances.
One of the first was Ambrose Bierce, author of The Devil's Dictionary, who came to Mexico on assignment for the Hearst papers in 1913 to ride with Pancho Villa and cover his revolution. "The Old Gringo," as Carlos Fuentes dubbed him in a novel of the same name, disappeared at the Battle of Ojinaga.
Will made other lists, too. He was one of 26 people to die on the barricades of Oaxaca from May to January 2006-2007 and the ninth reporter working in Mexico to be killed or disappear during the past year, most under the guns of the narco gangs. Forty have been slain since 2000, and 63 in the past two decades, according to the Inter-American Press Association (IAPA).
Reporters Without Borders lists 81 confirmed kills of journalists around the world during 2006. That represents a 20 percent increase over the 2005 figure of 63 and is the highest since 1994, when revolutions were roaring in Sri Lanka and Algeria. -- Ross
- the Will family
- This photo from the Mexican newspaper El Universal, taken just as Brad Will was killed, shows clearly identifiable Oaxaca polkice officers firing at the crowd: (L-R) Juan Martinez Soriano, aka "El Chapulin," Comandant Manuel Aguilar, Pedro Carmona and Abel Santiago, aka "El Chino."