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Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2007 07:45 pm

Change of plans

Friends of murdered reporter denounce Bush’s Mexico-aid program

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Brad Will documented clashes between leftists and the government of the Mexican state of Oaxaca. Unwittingly, he taped his own death.
Untitled Document Members of the Friends of Brad Will — the Illinois-born videojournalist killed one year ago — recently disrupted congressional hearings on a new security cooperation initiative between the U.S. and Mexico that President George W. Bush announced in October. Dubbed the Merida Initiative by the White House and Plan Mexico by some detractors (a reference to a similar endeavor, Plan Colombia), the plan is aimed at helping Mexico and Central America combat terrorism, international narcotics trafficking, corrupt local political bosses, as well as to disturb the operations of murderous drug cartels. “This is an important moment in the fight against transnational drug-trafficking and organized crime and one that requires urgent action on the part of all nations involved,” Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Shannon told the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Relations committee. “The governments and citizens of Mexico and Central America have recognized the threat to their own stability and prosperity. They are taking courageous steps to confront these criminal elements and are now seeking U.S. support to ensure a comprehensive and integrated regional effort.”
Several Friends of Brad Will members repeatedly interrupted Shannon’s testimony on Wednesday, Nov. 14, by invoking Will’s story. After a few outbursts, police removed group member Harry Bubbins from the chamber where the hearing was taking place, and a second Will friend, Priya Reddy, was removed later — but their actions succeeded in turning what should have been routine talks on an obscure policy proposal into a hearing on human rights in Mexico, the group says. The proposed aid package, worth $1.4 billion over three years, which Bush requested as part of his Iraq War spending request, would supply the governments in Latin American countries with helicopters, surveillance aircraft, ion scanners, drug-sniffing dogs, tracking software, and other support. Mexico would receive $500 million and Central American nations would receive $50 million during the next fiscal year.
Will, who was born in Kenilworth, just north of Evanston, Ill., traveled to Mexico in 2006 to film ongoing disputes between teachers’ unions and paramilitary forces controlled by local government officials. Despite the identification by eyewitnesses of two policemen as Will’s killers, Mexican prosecutors blamed protesters [See John Ross, “The killing of Brad Will,” Aug. 9]. Two Democratic Illinois lawmakers — U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin and U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky — and several other members of Congress have asked Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to investigate Will’s death. Critics believe that that the provision of military support to the Mexican government may result in more of the same abuses of human rights and press freedom that led to the deaths of Will and four others in Oaxaca on Oct. 27, 2006.
Bubbins says U.S. government officials should send a clear signal that human rights are a priority in Mexico, the second-deadliest nation for journalists last year. That his group sits on the same side of this issue of the Merida  issue as conservative U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., albeit for different reasons, Bubbins adds, is an example of the “unanimous dissent” on several of Bush’s proposals, including the Iraq War. “[Plan Mexico] is definitely not a solution,” Bubbins says. “It’s rewarding the human-rights violators. Rather than giving more aid, we should be cutting it.”

Contact R.L. Nave at rnave@Illinoistimes.com
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