Who killed Brad Will? - Page 7

And why has the murder of an American journalist in Mexico gone unpunished?
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photo by Raul Estrella for El Universal

After once again warning Americans that they traveled to Oaxaca "at their own risk," Ambassador 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."

Garza's statement sent 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 officers from the 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, dignity, and a free media are respected but to break the back of the people's rebellion and keep Ruiz in power.

On Oct. 29 the troops pushed their way into the plaza despite massive but 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 the obligatory autopsy, Brad's body was crated up for shipment to his parents, who now live south of Milwaukee. After a private viewing, the family had him cremated.

SHAM ACCOUNTABILITY

Killing a gringo reporter in plain view of the cameras (one of which was his own) requires a little sham accountability. On Oct. 29 the state prosecutor, Lizbeth Caña Cadeza, announced that arrest warrants were being sworn out for Santiago Zárate and Aguilar Coello, two of the five cops caught on film gunning Will down, and they were subsequently taken into custody.

The scam lost currency two weeks later when, on Nov. 15, Caña Cadeza dropped a bombshell at an evening news 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, Caña Cadeza said — although there is nothing in the coroner's report to indicate this. The real killers, she said, 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 on the street, then rematado (finished off) with a slug to the heart on the way to the hospital in Francisco's vochito.

The prosecutor's plot was immediately challenged by the APPO. "The killers are those who are shown in the film," Florentino López, the assembly's main spokesperson, asserted at a meeting that night.

And in fact our detailed investigation shows that there is very little evidence to support Caña Cadeza's theory. Photos from the scene, some published in the Mexican media, show Will's body with a bloody hole in his chest on the street near where he fell — indicating that his fatal heart wound 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 APPO members, or anyone except the authorities, carrying guns. This reporter has talked to numerous eyewitnesses, and all told the same tale: the rebels at the barricade that day had no firearms with which they could have shot Will.

Miguel Cruz, who spent much of Oct. 27 with Will, first at the Council of Indigenous People of Oaxaca, of which he is a member, and then on the barricade at Cal y Canto and on Juárez Street, is a soft-spoken young Zapotec Indian, but he pounded vehemently on the kitchen table when he addressed Caña Cadeza's allegations.

"The compañeros had no guns. What gun is she talking about? They had slingshots and Molotovs but no guns.