Oaxaca - Canadian tourists aiming for a quick sun fix have recently become painfully aware of the risks and lack of judicial recourse in lawless Mexico. But those of us who report on the social justice movement from there have always understood that there's a bullet with our name on it.
Independent reporter Brad Will travelled 4,000 kilometres from New York to this violence-torn Mexican city to find his. Forty reporters have been murdered in Mexico since 2000. This is how one of them met his fate.
On the afternoon of October 27, Will, an Indymedia video journalist, had been filming confrontations just outside the city of Oaxaca. He was trapped in the middle of a narrow street while gunshots cracked all around him, but he kept filming, looking for the money shot.
And he found it: on his final bits of tape, you see two perfectly framed gunmen, their weapons firing. You hear the fatal shot and experience Will's shudder as the camera finally tumbles from his hands and bounces along the sidewalk.
Photos taken by Mexican newspaper El Universal at the same moments show the same gunmen. The paper, along with other sources, identified them as cops and local officials.
Did Brad Will film his own murder? Given the evil that lurks within the Mexican justice system, no closure will be possible. Two of those pictured officers were arrested and released, and there's every reason to think Will's killers are riding the streets of Oaxaco, free and seemingly untouchable.
Will was once a fire-breathing urban legend on Manhattan's Lower East Side, living for years in a 5th Street squat and getting dragged out of City Hall dressed as a sunflower to rescue community gardens.
He spent most of 2002 and 2003 roaming the bubbling social landscape of Latin America for Indymedia, the Web experiment born during the WTO Battle of Seattle. In the spring of 2006, the lure of action in Oaxaca drew him there. He bought a 30-day ticket from New York with a return on October 28. He never made the plane.
Oaxaca is the country's most indigenous state, with 17 distinct Indian cultures, each with a rich tradition of resistance to the dominant white and mestizo overclass. Oaxaca vibrates with class and race tensions.
On May 15, 2006, National Teachers Day, a maverick militant local of the National Education Workers Union known as Section 22 presented its contract demands. The governor, Ulises Ruiz Ortiz, known as URO, didn't budge. Tens of thousands of teachers took to the plaza and set up a ragtag tent city.
Ruiz retaliated by sending in a thousand heavily armed police. Two days after that monumental battle, 200,000 Oaxacans marched through the city to repudiate the governor's "hard hand." The Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca, or APPO, was formally constituted.
For the next weeks, the APPO and Section 22 would paralyze Oaxaca, but the rest of Mexico took little notice. Instead, the nation was hypnotized by the fraud-marred July 2 presidential election. Millions were in the streets.
But Oaxaca is an international tourist destination, and the APPO and Section 22 had closed down the tourist infrastructure. Ruiz fought back, launching what came to be known as a Caravan of Death, private and government vehicles that rolled nightly, firing on the protestors.
To keep the caravan from moving freely, the APPO threw up barricades. An uneasy lull in the action gripped Oaxaca when Brad Will arrived on October 1. Like most non-Mexican independent reporters, he had no press credentials and was working in the country illegally on a tourist visa.
In its attempts to make Oaxaca ungovernable, the APPO formed mobile brigades. Young toughs armed with lead pipes and boards studded with nails hijacked buses and rode around looking for action.
URO's people checked hostels' guest lists for "inconvenient" internationals. Poison directed at foreign journalists poured out of a local pirate radio station, but whether Will heard the warnings, or understood them, is unclear. Brad Will didn't speak much Spanish.
On October 27, he went out to do interviews on a barricade at Cal y Canto in Santa María Coyotepec. Witnesses say an SUV stopped short and several men jumped out with guns blazing. The APPO people hunkered down behind the makeshift barrier. Then they counterattacked with Molotov cocktails and homemade bazookas.
Will climbed under a parked trailer to shoot the shooters. In the midst of this frenzy, five men in civilian dress appeared at the head of Juarez Street, about 30 metres away, and began shooting at the rebels. Later, Mexican news media and several other sources identified some of them as police officers. You can hear the shot on the soundtrack of Will's video and hear his cries of dismay as a bullet tears through his Indymedia T-shirt and smashes into his heart. A second shot caught him in the right side.
He was loaded into the back seat of a Volkswagen Bug. "You're going to make it; you're all right," he was told - but Will's eyes had already rolled back in his head, perdido (lost), as they say here.
He was dead when he arrived at the hospital, according to a report by coroner Dr. Luis Mendoza. Four others were killed besides Will, but his death was the one that triggered international outrage. The image of the mortally wounded Indymedia reporter lying in a Oaxaca street went worldwide on the Web in a matter of minutes.
In Mexico, the dead are buried quickly. After the mandatory autopsy, Will's body was crated for shipment back to his parents, who live south of Milwaukee. After a private viewing, the family had his body cremated.
On October 29, URO's state prosecutor, Lizbeth Caña Cadeza, announced that arrest warrants were being sworn out for two cops, two of the five men caught on film firing shots, and they were taken into custody. On November 15 she dropped a bombshell: the cops hadn't killed Will, she said; he was shot by the rebels. Will's death, she insisted, had been "a deceitful confabulation to internationalize the conflict." The mortal shot had been fired from less than 2.5 metres away, she said - although there is nothing in Mendoza's report to indicate this.
There's another problem: nobody on the scene saw any of the APPO members, or anyone else except the authorities, carrying guns. Numerous eyewitnesses I have interviewed have all told me the same tale. None of the protestors has been formally charged with the killing.
On November 28, as expected, the two cops were released from custody by Judge Vittoriano Barroso due to "insufficient evidence," with the stipulation that they could not be re-arrested without new evidence.
Coroner Mendoza is otherwise occupied when I stop by the Oaxaca city morgue to ask him for a copy of the autopsy report. I am not the first reporter to request the document. "What paper are you from anyway?" he asks suspiciously, and when I show him my press card he says it doesn't sound like a real paper to him. He waves me out.
I walk into the police commissary under the first-floor stairs of the Santa Lucia del Camino Municipal Palace. The small room is crowded with cigarette-smoking cops. I ask the desk clerk if I can get a few minutes with two of the officers identified in the photos. They are not available, and won't be when I call back a dozen or so times.
In March, Will's family paid a sad, inconclusive visit to Oaxaca. The federal attorney general's office had take over the case from the state, but rather than investigating police complicity, Will's companions are still being blamed for the killing.
See Brad Will's tape: www.youtube.com/watch?v=XYVa1NYaVZM
John Ross has been the Mexico City correspondent for the San Francisco Bay Guardian for 22 years. He is the author of eight books on Mexican politics.