Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Mexican Government Tries to Pin New Charges on Juan Martinez in Brad Will Case

The government likely knows that murder charges won’t stick in a fair trial, so it hopes to imprison Martinez for firearms possession

Oaxacan newspaper Quadratín reports that the Federal Attorney General’s Office (PGR in its Spanish initials) has opened a new criminal investigation against Juan Manuel Martinez Moreno in the Brad Will murder case. Martinez is the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO) activist that the Mexican government has charged with murdering Will on October 27, 2006, as he filmed clashes between APPO supporters and paramilitaries affiliated with the Institutional Revolution Party (PRI).

Quadratín reports that Federal Investigation Agency (AFI, the PGR’s police force) Agent Fernando Gómez Monjarraz entered Martinez’s cell yesterday to interrogate him about how he obtained the gun they claim he used to murder Will. Despite significant pressure to answer the questions immediately, Martinez refused to answer without his lawyer present.

The November 25 Liberation Committee, a prisoner solidarity organization in Oaxaca, said that this was an act of intimidation and harassment, and that Mexican law states that any interrogation should have occurred in an interrogation room outside the jail, not in the jail itself.

The November 25 Liberation Committee believes that the government has opened the new criminal investigation against Martinez because it wants to bring more charges against him to ensure that Martinez is not set free.

The government’s case against Martinez and the other eight accused men is not likely to hold water—if the men receive fair and impartial trials, that is. Will’s family and friends, Physicians for Human Rights, Reporters Without Borders, and the Mexican government’s own National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) have contradicted or outright denounced the PGR’s theory that APPO supporters shot Will at close range. All of them claim that all evidence points to a long-range shot, quite possibly shot by local police and local and state government officials. The government’s case, however, relies almost entirely on the testimony of Adolfo Feria, the mayor of Santa Lucia del Camino’s cousin. Feria claims an unidentified person told him that s/he saw a thick man in a pickup truck kill Will. Martinez does not own a pick up truck. He told the Mexican daily Milenio, “I don’t even own a bicycle.”

The government has charged an additional eight APPO supporters of covering up the crime. At least five of the nine accused voluntarily presented themselves to the PGR as witnesses to Will’s murder in March 2007. The PGR is now using their testimony as evidence against them to prove that they were present when Will was murdered. In a statement following the announcement of the arrest warrants, the witnesses said, “We gave statements before the Federal Attorney General, contributing information, we supplied testimony based on the real events, and we presented counter arguments to those of the State Attorney General, given that the information and investigation led by this institution has always been full of irregularities, ambiguities, and omissions…. We are men with great dreams and social activists but that does not make us murderers. Those responsible are other people and there is sufficient proof of this…”

Plan Mexico

At least 19 other people were killed during the 2006 uprising in Oaxaca. The government has not made arrests in any of these other cases. In late October, the head of the CNDH, José Luis Soberanes Fernández, stated his opinion on why that is the case: "It's said that they weren't going to give them [the Mexican government] the Merida Initiative resources if they didn't resolve this case, and therefore they had to clear it up at any cost, and now we see the results." The Merida Initiative, also known as Plan Mexico, is a multi-year military and police aid package from the US government. It is worth well over a billion dollars. An explanatory statement accompanying the law that authorized 2008 Plan Mexico funds required the US State Department to submit a report to Congress "detailing progress in conducting a thorough, credible, and transparent investigation to identify the perpetrators" of Will's murder. It also called for the State Department to work with the Mexican government to assist in the investigation of the case.

Prior to Plan Mexico, it seemed as though the Mexican government was going to allow the Will case to go unresolved just like the other 19 cases. Soberanes pointed out that the federal government dragged its feet for two years investigating the Will case. Then, suddenly, "in 15 days they resolve the case."

The State Department's priliminarly report on the Will murder investigation confirms the Mexican government's continual delays and lack of progress. The report, which outlines the steps the Mexican government has taken to investigate the case over the past two years, only constitutes nine pages written in 12-point font. Two-and-a-half of those pages are commentary from the State Department itself. The report documents repeated requests for information from the US Embassy and the Will family that went unanswered, sometimes for months. And the answer from the Oaxacan prosecutor's office was--when an answer came at all--that the "office was continuing to investigate the case."

Under significant pressure to resolve the case, the PGR needed to make arrests. It was faced with a choice: arrest the police officers government officials shown in photographs and videos shooting at Will around the time of his death, or blame someone else. Given that a bulk of the pressure came attached Plan Mexico--which includes armament and training for police--arresting police officers and government officials for the murder of a US journalist was not likely to grease the way for Plan Mexico funds. So the PGR arrested the witnesses.

While Martinez states that he was not present when Will was murdered, the Mexican government singled him out as the man who pulled the trigger. Martinez was likely chosen because, unlike the men accused of merely covering up the murder, he was a very easy target. During the uprising he supported the APPO as an indivudual, not as a member of an organization like the other witnesses. Martinez became further isolated when he, like some other APPO supporters, took a job working with the Democratic Revolution Party (PRD, Mexico's center-left party) in the local government. The integration of some APPO members caused a division within the movement, with anti-government APPO members showing up at public events to heckle their former comrades who had taken positions within political parties and the government.

Of the nine accused men, only Martinez is in prison. The rest are free thanks to an agreement negotiated between Section 22 of the teachers union (which led the 2006 protests with the APPO) and the state government. Their arrest warrants are on hold, and the men have to report to the local district attorney's office every week. If the men are taken into custody, the teachers union has vowed to shut down Oaxaca yet again.

Digg this submit to reddit


or Comment Using Facebook, Yahoo!, Hotmail, or AOL: