On June 14, 2006 the PRI Governor of Oaxaca Ulyses Ruiz Ortiz authorized a pre-dawn raid of paramilitary police officers on a peaceful protest camp of striking-teachers. A widespread social movement of millions of inhabitants of Oaxaca was launched in response, its ranks swelling because of the notoriety of Ortiz’s corruption and the popular recognition of his having taken the Governorship through fraudulent elections. The movement was shaped around popular democratic assemblies as a stark counterpoint to the feudal cacique system under the Ruiz’s state administration. The Asemblea popular de los pueblos de Oaxaca (APPO) took shape effectively governing the state without corrupt police forces or party functionaries for 5 months. The crime rate reputedly plummeted during this period as the Oaxacan police force was run out of town, no longer able to involve itself in criminal activities.
On October 27, 2006 U.S. Indymedia video journalist Brad Will was murdered while filming a confrontation between APPO activists and paramilitary forces at a street demonstration. His film footage that day showed local police, municipal officials and paramilitaries shooting directly at demonstrators. Two days later 4,500 federal police arrived in Oaxaca brutally suppressing the movement of unarmed and peaceful activists/citizens.
Immediately following Brad Will’s murder an autopsy was conducted; but no police investigation, no gathering of evidence or witness statements at the scene, no attempt to protect the area for later investigation was ordered by the Mexican government officials in charge. Two municipal government officials (among the five in the picture below) were detained 2 weeks later and released shortly thereafter with no charges filed against them.
Multiple witnesses bravely came forward in an atmosphere of state violence, whitewashing and impunity and testified about the paramilitaries firing into the group of demonstrators at the time Brad Will was shot. These paramilitaries are well known to Mexican authorities and are seen in photos shooting towards Will. The paramilitaries are: Juan Carlo Soriano, municipal police officer; Manuel Aguilar, council personnel chief; Able Santiago Zarate; and Pedro Carmona, mayor of Felipe Carrillo Puerto de Santa Lucia del Camino.
Despite this knowledge Will’s murderers have yet to be imprisoned, while witnesses – some of whom helped him when he was shot – are being hounded by the local and federal Mexican government for his murder and an innocent man, Juan Manuel Martinez Moreno remains falsely imprisoned (see below).
Several independent investigations have been concluded, disputing as shoddy and contradictory the Mexican civil authorities’ whitewash: Mexico’s own National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) declared the Attorney General Lizbet Cana’s theory absurd.
At the request of Brad Will’s family and lawyer, the Nobel Prize- winning group of forensic experts, Physicians for Human Rights, reviewed the forensic evidence and determined that Will was shot from long-range, effectively exposing fundamental flaws in the Mexican State and Federal Attorney General’s cover-up theory.
Neither of these reports implicated Moreno as the killer. The government case depends solely on the testimony of 2 “witnesses” who stated they did not see the murder but “heard other people say that APPO supporters shot Brad Will.”
Within days of Brad Will’s murder, the Oaxaca Attorney General Lizbet Canada issued the first official statements promoting a cover-up theory of Brad Will’s murder: Cana accused APPO activists standing near Brad at the time of his murder of killing him.
Two years later, in October 2008, Juan Manuel Martinez Moreno, a 35-year-old baker, father of three and a local activist, was arrested and charged with Brad Will’s murder. There is no evidence against Moreno. 70 witnesses testified to authorities regarding Will’s murder and not one mentioned him, much less singled him out as the gunman.
The Mexican government is desperate for a conviction in this case because its resolution was specifically made a condition of approval of the controversial Merida Initiative (aka Plan Mexico) for which some funding was being held up in the U.S. Congress. On August 4, 2009 Senator Patrick Leahy of the Appropriations Committee refused to approve $100 million (15%) of the lethal aid package because Mexico has “not complied with human rights conditions” of the Initiative.
In September, 2009, Senator Leahy’s opposition to releasing funds that human rights report of for lethal aid vanished mysteriously and the funding was approved.
As of January 2010, Oaxaca activist Juan Manuel Martinez Moreno has been incarcerated for over a year, falsely accused of the murder for U.S. Indymedia photo-journalist Brad Will in Oaxaca in October 2006. There are indications that he may soon be released under instructions by a Federal judge in Mexico.
Nevertheless this case remains a front-page issue in both countries.
UPDATE: Juan Manuel was released on February 18, 2010. Here is an inspiring account of the campaign to free him and what remains to be achieved.
UPDATE 2: With the election of Gabino Cué Monteagudo on July 4, 2010 and his taking office in December of that year, promises were made to pursue justice and obtain accountability for Brad Will’s murder. About a year and a half later and five and a half years after Brad Will was murdered in broad daylight in front of witnesses, Lenin Osorio Ortega, supposedly working alone, was arrested for the 2006 murder, though it is unclear whether he was in fact the murderer.
Since then, Lenin Ortega, now a defendant, has changed lawyers a number of times. And no further arrests have been made despite the lack of accountability for multiple apparently similar murders of innocents as outlined here and despite the fact that a number of suspects were witnessed shooting as is evident from the picture taken at the time posted above.
The serious irregularities in the Mexican government’s response to Brad Will’s murder have yet to be investigated. But we are insisting on accountability and full transparency and demanding that the US government take more effective steps to obtain these on behalf of a US journalist murdered working on an important story – Brad Will.