Brad Will (Bradley Roland Will), 36, a photojournalist for New York City’s Independent Media Center (IMC) was fatally shot Oct. 27 when gunmen opened fire on a protest barricade in the besieged capital of Oaxaca state in southern Mexico.
According to a Los Angeles Times account, in the late afternoon, a university radio station controlled by the protesters reported that shots were being fired at a barricade blocking the entrance to the city on Avenida Ferrocarril. Will headed toward the barricade to get video footage. As Will approached the barricade, he was hit in the abdomen by gunfire, and was dead on arrival at a local hospital.
Protest leader Flavio Sosa said a group of some 30 government operatives armed with high-caliber weapons attacked the barricade. State government officials denied any involvement in the shooting. (LAT, Oct. 28)
An account in the Mexican daily El Universal said the incident took place in the municipality of Santa Lucia del Camino, about 10 miles outside Oaxaca City. None of the assailants have been identified or arrested, but the federal Attorney General’s Office said its special division in charge of crimes against journalists will investigate.
Representatives of the Popular People’s Assembly of Oaxaca (APPO) blamed the state’s Gov. Ulises Ruiz for the violence, calling the shootings the latest acts of repression carried out by his clandestine operatives. At least 10 APPO members have been killed since June, with no suspects arrested. “Now they’re going after our barricades,” said APPO spokesperson Antonio Garcia Sanchez.
APPO has demanded Ruiz’s ouster since June 14, when the governor used state troops to try to break a teachers strike. APPO called a “maximum alert” on the morning of the latest shootings after a declaration by spokesman Florentino Lopez that one of the organization’s members had been kidnapped by gunmen in the Puente de Cinco Senores district of the city.
Another APPO spokesperson said Oct. 27 that the body of a teacher had been found about a mile outside Oaxaca City on the highway to Tehuantepec.
In Mexico City, several hundred Oaxacan protesters marched that evening from the APPO encampment near the Senate building to stage a demonstration outside the Government Secretariat. The demonstrators shouted “Ulises, assassin,” and toppled a metal fence meant to keep them away from the building. A phalanx of riot police barred them from proceeding to the building.
Inside, Government Secretary Carlos Abascal met with teachers union leader Enrique Rueda to discuss the conditions for a return to work by Oaxaca’s striking teachers. Rueda, secretary general of Oaxaca’s local Section 22 of the national teachers’ union, said the state’s teachers would continue their talks over the weekend.
Friday Oct. 27 had promised to be a day of tension in Oaxaca City, with APPO calling for a boycott of businesses and the erecting of new barricades if Ruiz had not resigned by then. The boycott was enforced by APPO militants at downtown businesses, with the entrances to chain restaurants blocked and in some cases customers forceibly evacuated. Later in the day, APPO protesters armed themselves with rocks, sticks, machetes, homemade rockets and Molotov cocktails in response to the shootings. (El Universal, Oct. 28)
Despite reports in the national and especially US press that the teachers’ strike might be drawing to a close, the local Noticias de Oaxaca reported Oct. 27 that after a seven-hour discussion, the State Teachers’ Assembly (Asamblea Estatal del Magisterio), meeting without the presence of official union leader Rueda, agreed that they would return to work only when the government meets their demands. (Noticias de Oaxaca, Oct. 27)
Oaxaca Attorney General Lizbeth Cana blamed the violence on the APPO, which she has compared to an urban guerrilla group. She said the armed men were angry residents defending themselves. “The people are fed up with permanent violence, threats and kidnappings,” Cana said.
But even US Ambassador Tony Garza said the armed group may have been police. “It appears that Mr. Will was killed during a shoot-out between what may have been local police,” and protesters, Garza said in a written statement.
Esteban Zurrita, a resident of Oaxaca, was also shot dead in the incident. The third victim was identified as Emilio Alonso Fabian, whose bullet-ridden body was found about two miles from the barricade. Oswaldo Ramirez, a photographer for the Mexico City daily newspaper Milenio was shot in the foot and hospitalized.
Gunfire also erupted that day outside the state prosecutors office, leaving three people injured. The Associated Press account persisted in using the terms “clash” and “shoot-out” despite little evidence that gunfire came from the protesters. (AP, Oct. 28)
By the evening of the 27th, protesters reached by phone by the Houston Chronicle said they were holed up in government offices they had seized weeks ago, with police and pro-government gunmen gathering outside. “We are under siege,” said protester Gustavo Lopez. He said a teacher had been fatally shot in the building and three others were wounded. Mexican media identified the slain teacher as Emilio Alonso.
Will carried credentials identifying him as a photographer for Indymedia, witnesses said. APPO representatives denied any gunfire had come from their side. “They were the governor’s pistoleros,” protester Flavio Sosa told Monitor radio network following the shootings. “Our fight is peaceful.” (Houston Chronicle, Oct. 28)
The new violence comes as President Vicente Fox announced that an “extraordinary” program for the “total recuperation” of Oaxaca will be implemented. (El Universal, Oct. 27)
All above sources archived at Chiapas95
On Oct. 28, the federal Government Secretariat issued a statement demanding protesters “immediately hand over streets, plazas, public buildings and private property” so that federal authorities can “guarantee public order and adherence to the law, as well as preserve respect for the population’s individual guarantees.”
A detachment of Federal Preventative Police are said to be converging on Oaxaca City. AP reports “police in gray uniforms and carrying riot shields poured off of transport planes at Oaxaca’s airport, which was closed to commercial traffic.” An APPO spokesperson estimated the detachment at 4,000 federal police. (AP, Oct. 28)
A statement from the New York IMC put the fatal incident at the municipality of Calicate, on the outskirts of Oaxaca City. It raised fears of an imminent widespread crackdown, saying: “Radio APPO [is] reporting truckloads of armed paramilitaries entering the city. There are also calling for people to reinforce the thousands of barricades that have been constructed for months as part of the statewide teacher strike and popular uprising that has demanded the removal of PRI governor ulisis [sic] Ortiz Ruiz.” (NYC Indymedia, Oct. 27)
UPDATE & QUESTIONS, added Nov. 10:
A slideshow of the fatal incident in Santa Lucia del Camino online at El Universal indicates APPO militants did return fire.
Fotos and text of an Oct. 28 Cronica de Hoy report on an APPO attack on the local state police headquarters in Santa María Coyotepec, another Oaxaca City suburb, the day after Brad Will’s death also indicate use of small arms by APPO militants. The police station was apparently both fired on with pistols and set aflame with Molotov cocktails.
It also appears that Esteban Zurita López, one of the three killed on the 27th, was actually shot in Santa María Coyotepec, not with Brad Will in Santa Lucia del Camino. An Oct. 29 account in El Universal states that his widow and other surviving kin are denying that he was an APPO member, and in fact claim that he was killed by APPO.
Anonymous sources interviewed by journalist Sarah Ferguson for a feature on Brad Will’s slaying for the Nov. 15 Village Voice indicated that Zurita’s family was intimidated into this claim by threats of violence. (The quote was not actually used in the story, but WW4 REPORT’s Bill Weinberg helped conduct the interview by telephone to Oaxaca.)
See our last post on Mexico and the struggle in Oaxaca.