May 23, 2012

Laura's Blog: Man Arrested in 2006 Brad Will Murder--Finally a Step Toward Justice?

The government of Oaxaca arrested Lenin Osorio Ortega as the murderer of U.S. journalist Brad Will today.

In a press conference, State Attorney General Manuel de Jesus Lopez announced that the Oaxaca City resident had been taken into custody after a lengthy investigation that included analyzing videos and photographs taken on Oct. 27, 2006--the day Will received two bullets while filming a protest march.

In an interview with the clown-host Brozo, Oaxaca Governor Gabino Cue announced the arrest and stated that his government would continue to investigate. The Attorney General declared that the assassin shot Will from a rooftop, which is roughly consistent with independent forensic studies.

But he also asserted that it appeared the man worked alone, which leaves serious questions regarding motive.  Also somewhat contradictory was his statement that Osorio Ortega was not connected to a political party or group, then adding that the man has not been questioned yet and little is known about his background. Lopez did note that Osorio Ortega worked at one time for the state government of Ulyses Ruiz, the PRI governor whose despotism sparked the movement and who was immediately responsible for the repression of the movement.

Will was a journalist and a U.S. citizen, bringing international attention to his murder (for background on his murder, see Friends of Brad Will.) Some 26 Mexicans were also killed during the  violent crackdown on the citizen uprising in Oaxaca that went on for months. The day after the Will assassination, President Vicente Fox--with the tacit approval of President-elect Felipe Calderón-- sent in federal troops to "restore order", intensifying the violence and bloodshed.

Years later, the Will case continues to be a pivotal test of the Mexican justice system. By all measures, that justice system has proved to be corrupt, blocking justice rather than facilitating it.  Independent experts, including Physicians for Human Rights, gathered forensic and medical evidence when it became clear that government investigators could not be trusted to do so. The government investigation of the crime reached the absurd conclusion that members of the protest movement who were walking alongside him shot Will. One man was held in prison for more than a year until national and international indignation forced his release for lack of evidence. The federal Attorney General's Office (PGR) took over the case and essentially buried it until a new state government revived investigations.

U.S. aid to Mexican military and police under the Merida Initiative has included Congressional instructions to solve the Will case. Despite the utter lack of genuine efforts or progress until now, Congress has poured more than $1.6 billion into Mexican security aid under the Initiative.

Since presidential elections are just six weeks away, many will interpret the seeming breakthrough in the Will case as an instance of political parties seeking to position themselves. During campaign season, almost anything that happens here gets an electoral spin. But we'll have to wait and see what evidence is presented and whether it jibes with independent studies.

For now, the arrest seems to represent progress. The major concern is the premise that the assassin worked alone. A common-sense examination of the context would indicate that there is a political motive to the crime in the context of repression of the movement. If that's the case, orders likely came from above.

Without a thorough investigation into possible masterminds behind the sniper attack, we cannot be sure that the wheels of justice are, finally, beginning to turn in the case of the murder of Bradley Roland Will.

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