Who killed Brad Will? - Page 9

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

Those who direct this sort of mayhem from their desks in the statehouses and municipal palaces — the "intellectual assassins," as they are called — are never held accountable for their crimes.

A VISIT FROM HOME

In March, Brad's parents, Kathy and Howard Will, and his older brother and sister paid a sad, inconclusive visit to Oaxaca. They had hired Miguel Ángel de los Santos Cruz, a crackerjack human rights lawyer who has often defended Zapatista communities in Chiapas. Gibler, the Global Exchange human-rights fellow, was the translator.

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 had taken over the case from the state in December, but rather than investigating police complicity and culpability, it was pursuing Caña Cadeza's dubious allegation blaming Will's companions for his killing.

Gustavo Vilchis, Gualberto Francisco, Leonardo Ortiz, and Miguel Cruz were summoned to give testimony, with the Wills in attendance. Testifying was a risky venture, as the witnesses could have been 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 they were repeatedly questioned about and asked to identify not the cops who appear on Will's film but their own compañeros, some masked, who appeared on tape shot by Televisa, the Mexican TV giant. They refused.

When Los Santos accompanied the Wills to a meeting with Caña Cadeza, she touted her investigation and promised them a copy of its results. But she refused to allow the family to view Will's Indymedia T-shirt and the two bullets taken from his body. They were, she explained, under the control of Barroso — the judge who had cut loose the cops.

THE POLITICS OF OIL

There are larger geopolitics at work here.

The US Department of State has a certain conflict of interest in trying to push first-year Mexican president Calderón to collar Will's killers. The crackdown in Oaxaca was all about a political deal between Calderón's PAN and Ruiz's PRI: if PAN saved the governor's ass, the PRI would support the president's legislative package.

Indeed, the PRI's 100 votes in the lower house of the Mexican Congress guarantee Calderón the two-thirds majority he needs to alter the constitution and effect the change that's at the top of his legislative agenda — opening up Petróleos Mexicanos, or PEMEX, the nationalized petroleum corporation and a symbol of Mexico's national revolution, to private investment, a gambit that requires a constitutional amendment.

Since then-president Lázaro Cárdenas expropriated Mexico's petroleum industry from Anglo and American owners and nationalized it in 1938, the United States has been trying to take it back. "Transnational pressure to reprivatize PEMEX has been brutal," observed John Saxe Fernandez, a professor of strategic resource studies at Mexico's autonomous university, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México.

During the run-up to the hotly contested 2006 presidential elections, candidates Calderón and López Obrador debated the privatization of Mexico's national oil corporation before the American Chamber of Commerce in Mexico City; former US ambassador Jeffrey Davidow moderated the debate. When the leftist López Obrador insisted that he would never privatize what belonged to all Mexicans, the business leaders stared in stony silence. The conservative Calderón's pledge to open PEMEX to private investment drew wild applause.