The repression began early on the morning of October 27 in Oaxaca, Mexico. Paramilitary forces linked to the local government kidnapped one local resident involved in the popular uprising. Gunmen shot at others.
“We don’t want to live like this anymore. We don’t want to live in a constant state of repression, of blackmail, of murder and shabby deals,” a female protester in Oaxaca told NYC Indymedia journalist Brad Will.
Brad had traveled to Oaxaca to capture the voices of people like this at the center of a grassroots popular movement whose stories weren’t being heard in the media.
He arrived four weeks earlier to report on how striking teachers led a campaign to force out the corrupt local government and police and established the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca or APPO.
On October 16, Brad wrote from Oaxaca: “What can you say about this movement – this revolutionary moment – you know it is building, growing, shaping – you can feel it – trying desperately for a direct democracy.”
It turned out to be the last dispatch Brad ever filed.
On the afternoon of October 27, Brad was murdered by paramilitary forces. He was shot twice in the abdomen as he filmed pro-government gunmen attacking a barricade on the outskirts of Oaxaca. His camera was in his hand. He was wearing an Indymedia t-shirt.
On that day paramilitary forces also killed a teacher named Emilio Alonso Fabian and Esteban López Zurita, a Oaxaca resident. Eleven others were wounded and two disappeared.
Within 24 hours Mexican President Vicente Fox ordered 4,000 federal police into Oaxaca “to restore order.” They arrived on Oct. 29 backed by tanks, helicopters and water cannons. At least two people died in the initial siege.
The Mexican government claimed the police had retaken the city but local residents said the police controlled little more than the city square.
While Fox used Brad’s death as a pretext to invade Oaxaca, human rights activists across the globe have mobilized to condemn the ongoing repression in Oaxaca and Brad’s death.
The Committee to Protect Journalists said it was shocked and outraged by his killing. Reporters Without Borders called for a federal investigation into Oaxaca State Governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz’s continued use of plain-clothed municipal police as a political paramilitary force.
Rodolfo Stavenhagen, a human rights expert at the United Nations, acknowledged receiving reports that Mexican paramilitary groups in Oaxaca were responsible for “the killing and wounding by gunfire of innocent victims, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, illegal searches and breaches of due process.”
No such criticism has come from Washington where President Bush is scheduled to meet with Mexican President-elect Felipe Calderon on Nov. 9.
The U.S. State Department has said it knows of no reports that any human rights violation occurred in Oaxaca. State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack said that there is no need to press the Mexican government to investigate Brad’s death.
“[It] is really going to be up to the Mexican government to… deal with this,” McCormack said.
He also claimed the State Department is not aware that anyone linked to Will’s death has been identified.
However the Mexican press has published a photograph taken at the scene showing the armed men. They have been identified as Pedro Carmona, Juan Carlos Soriano, Manuel Aguilar and Abel Santiago Zárate – all local police officers or government officials.
Initially Mexican officials said the gunmen were detained but it has since emerged that no one had been arrested and that the men have disappeared.
Protests are continuing across the globe over Brad’s death and the ongoing state repression in Oaxaca.
In New York, friends of Brad Will held an emergency vigil outside the Mexican Consulate 24 hours after his death. Two days later, on October 30, more than 200 activists returned to blockade the entrance to the Consulate. 12 people were arrested. The action was organized in response to a call from APPO. Protests were also held that day in 13 other U.S. cities. On Nov. 1, about 75 cyclists rode in a memorial bike ride to the Mexican Consulate (where they read out the names of murdered activists in Oaxaca) and the United Nations.
In Mexico, the Zapatistas responded to the repression on Nov. 1 by blocking three major highways in Mexico in solidarity with the people in Oaxaca. The Zapatistas called for a nation-wide shut down on Nov. 20.
A public memorial for Brad Will is scheduled for Nov. 11 from 1-5 p.m. at St. Marks Church.