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Murder Cover-up in Mexico

Chris Anderson Dec 17, 2006

Nearly two months after Brad Will was gunned down on the streets of Oaxaca City while chronicling a popular revolution against the State governor, and more than two weeks after that uprising suffered a brutal wave of repression, the investigation into the murder of the NYC Indymedia journalist appears to be hostage to internal Mexican politics.

In the weeks following the Nov. 25 arrest or disappearance of dozens of leaders of the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO), the umbrella organization coordinating protests against governor Ulises Ruiz (see the article at right), Mexican authorities announced they were federalizing the investigation into Will’s murder. The original investigation, controlled by Oaxacan Prosecutor General Lizbeth Caña Cadeza, had become the subject of controversy following a bizarre Nov. 15 press conference in which Caña and other forensic officials alleged that the IMC journalist was murdered by members of APPO, the very group Will had traveled to Oaxaca to help.

The theory put forward by the Prosecutor General contradicts on-scene media footage and eyewitness testimony indicating Will was killed by paramilitaries aligned with Governor Ruiz. APPO officials were quick to dismiss the allegations. “It seems a very clear fabrication and a stupid way of trying to blame the protesters,” charged APPO spokesperson Florentino Lopez on Nov. 16.

Independent journalist John Gibler has gathered extensive evidence which seems to support APPO’s position. “I’ve interviewed several people directly connected to the investigation, as well as the doctor who conducted Brad’s autopsy, and I’ve gotten a lot of evidence that they [the Oaxaca state government] has lied in multiple cases,” Gibler told Democracy Now! on Dec. 6.

Nevertheless, on Dec. 1 Oaxacan authorities quietly released the only two men charged with Will’s murder, citing a lack of evidence against them. Both men, local PRI officials, had been photographed carrying automatic weapons and firing into the crowd at the barricade where Will was killed.

Now that the Mexican Government has, at least temporarily, smothered the uprising in Oaxaca City, federal officials are moving to give the appearance of an impartial investigation into the killing. The San Jose Mercury News reported on Dec. 6 that “amid pressure from U.S. diplomats and family members of slain filmmaker Brad Will, federal prosecutors in Mexico are taking over the investigation into the American’s death.”

On Dec. 8, the newspaper El Universal reported that Federal Police (PFP) had stormed Cana’s office, detaining five policemen, seizing weapons, and sending dozens more State troops fleeing. A high level official with the PFP told El Universal that “the confiscated firearms would be tested for possible connections to shootings” that have left anywhere from nine to 19 persons involved in the protests dead.

But developments in the murky world of Mexican politics, little understood by many Americans, also appear to be driving events in Oaxaca. On Dec. 8, El Universal reported that State legislators from the PRD and PAN, often at odds, walked out of the state congressional chamber as Prosecutor Caña was giving an address. “The two parties claim Caña has been tapping their phones, and they called for her resignation,” the paper reported.

Americans close to Will appear to be of two minds about the recent developments. “From our standpoint, to get an impartial investigation it needs to move to the federal level,” Will’s sister, Wendy Will, told the San Jose Mercury News on Dec. 6.

But other activists see little reason to cheer. “There’s no way the Mexican government is ever going to properly investigate the death of a man who was probably killed by figures close to that very government,” one local activist told The Indypendent. “And even if they do, the investigation could last only as long as the next political compromise. The only justice Brad would have wanted is the success of the Oaxaca rebellion. And the situation in Oaxaca is incredibly grim.