The cold case of Brad Will

Pub date October 9, 2007
WriterJohn Ross
SectionNews & OpinionSectionOpinion

OPINION Oct. 27 marks the first anniversary of the assassination of New York Indymedia photojournalist Brad Will by police in Oaxaca, Mexico, under the thumb of a corrupt and tyrannical governor.

Will was gunned down just outside Oaxaca City while filming a pitched battle between supporters of Governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz and members of the Oaxaca Peoples Popular Assembly (APPO). Will, 36 at the time of the killing, was the only American among 26 victims shot by Ruiz’s police and paramilitary operatives during protests in that state in 2006. No one has been held accountable for any of these murders.

A year after Will’s death, those who killed him are walking the streets. No charges have been filed against them, despite graphic evidence of their culpability. Will, true to his profession, never let go of his camera; he inadvertently filmed his murder, and photos of five cops firing their weapons at him appeared in major Mexican newspapers the day after the killing.

Indeed, the Guardian and 25 other member newspapers of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies published a startling photograph of his killers on their front pages Aug. 8 along with a 5,000-word investigative report I wrote probing the circumstances of the independent journalist’s death.

Yet although there have been repeated public denunciations of the killing by such international human rights watchdogs as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, neither the Mexican government nor, more pertinently, the US State Department has demanded justice for Will. The case now molders in the cold-case file, and despite street protests on both sides of the border, a barrage of e-mails to both governments demanding a thorough investigation of the murder, and even a visit to Oaxaca by his bereaved family, no authority has been animated to revisit this travesty.

The failure of the US government to demand accountability from Mexican president Felipe Calderón and Governor Ruiz is appalling. During the past year the US embassy in Mexico City under the direction of George W. Bush crony Tony Garza has been conspicuously silent about Will’s killing. In fact, the embassy’s only response to this murder since last Oct. 27 has been to warn American tourists about visiting Oaxaca.

The night Will was killed, Garza used the opportunity to condemn the popular movement in Oaxaca, thereby green-lighting then–Mexican president Vicente Fox to send in federal troops to crush the rebellion.

Will was one of 20 journalists working in Mexico to have disappeared or been killed since 2000. According to a count kept by Reporters Without Borders, 81 journalists were killed worldwide in 2006. Murdering the messenger continues to be the modus operandi of repressive governments and their security forces.

Will did not work for the New York Times. He was an independent voice on the front line of social protest in Latin America, and he paid a terrible price for his valiant and necessary reportage. In Mexico and elsewhere, when those who work for social change are so martyred, we do not concede their deaths, because their work is always with us. A year after his as-yet unresolved murder, Will is still present.

"Brad Will, presente!"

John Ross

John Ross has been the Guardian‘s correspondent in Mexico for the past 22 years.