Hasta Siempre Sally Grace: Another US Activist Murdered in Oaxaca

By Kristin Bricker

Republished from her blog, "My Word is My Weapon"

Friday, September 26, Mexican police transferred Omar Yoguez Singu, 32, to the Oaxacan attorney general's custody for murdering 20-year-old Marcella "Sally" Grace Eiler. The Associated Press reports that he claims he had consensual sex with Sally, then killed her with a machete during an argument.

Yoguez Singu was captured thanks to the quick action of Oaxacan activists who publicized her murder internationally.

Yoguez Singu raised his friends' suspicions when he returned to Mexico City from a recent trip to San Jose del Pacifico, where locals discovered Sally's decaying and mutilated body in a cabin. They noticed that he was injured and that his two dogs were missing, so they asked him what happened. Yoguez Singu reportedly told them that one of his dogs bit a child in the community, so locals tried to kill the dog with a machete. He allegedly told them that he was injured attempting to save the dog.

Thanks to the widely disseminated statement signed by Oaxacan organizations that Sally worked with, people in Yoguez Singu's circle of friends knew that a woman was murdered in San Jose del Pacifico while Yoguez Singu was there. They called activists in Oaxaca to confirm Yoguez Singu's story about his dogs.

Townspeople from San Jose del Pacifico denied Yoguez Singu's story. They said both of the dogs were still with them because Yoguez Singu had left without them. They also reportedly said he was the last person they saw with Sally before she disappeared.

When Yoguez Singu's friends confronted him about his lies, he reportedly confessed to them. His friends kept an eye on him while Oaxacan activists made the trip to Mexico City to obtain an arrest warrant.

When the arrest warrant was finalized, activists reportedly arranged to meet police in a supermarket to hand over Yoguez Singu. The AP reports that he was arrested on Wednesday, September 24.

Activists were quick to place Sally's murder in the context of rampant unchecked violence against women in Oaxaca. They note that aggressors are hardly ever punished for their crimes. "There is no justice in Oaxaca," said a spokesperson for the Popular Indigenous Council of Oaxaca - Ricardo Flores Magon (CIPO-RFM).

***

In my memories of Sally Grace, she looks just like the photograph of her that her friends published along with the communique denouncing that she was raped and murdered - laughing and smiling with a camera in her hand.

Sally told me she was a wanderer who had her strongest ties to Arizona. When she arrived in Oaxaca in the summer 2007 to help out local organizations in the popular struggle against Gov. Ulises Ruiz Ortiz, she published her photos, updates, and translations from the Popular Indigenous Council of Oaxaca and the APPO on Arizona Indymedia. When she went back to Arizona for a visit in March, she organized fundraising events and report-backs at which she showed photos and videos from the streets of Oaxaca and sold artisanry woven by CIPO women.

Sally's friends in numerous organizations say that she helped out wherever needed, be it painting banners or murals, performing Arabic dances, organizing punk shows to raise money for the organizations she supported, teaching women's self-defense classes, or translating and teaching English. She also served as an international human rights observer, accompanying activists who felt threatened by the government or paramilitaries in Oaxaca.

Most recently, Sally accompanied family members of a witness in the case of murdered Indymedia journalist Brad Will. She lived in their home and accompanied them as they went about their daily lives. However, a family member decided that the situation put Sally's life in danger, too. For example, the mysterious people following the family didn't leave them alone, even if Sally was around. So the woman encouraged Sally to go off with some friends who were uninvolved in the movement.

***

Sally and I met in Oaxaca during the November 2007 commemorations and protests that marked the anniversary of Brad Will's murder. We woke up early on the morning of the gathering that aimed to re-erect the barricades in the place where government agents shot Brad to death. Someone went out to check out the meeting spot. He came back pale.

"There's police there. They're masked and they're grabbing everyone who shows up. We can't go."

So we stayed hidden where we were, and Sally and I chatted about who we were and what we did. She talked about the neighborhood where she lived; she said it was dangerous because it was teeming with PRI members, supporters of the despised Gov. Ulises Ruiz Ortiz.

Hours later, Sally left with other companeros and companeras to participate in and take photos of a huge march called by the Section 22 teachers union and other APPO members. I stayed behind, using the excuse of other work that had to be done behind the scenes. Sally came back hours later and got to work uploading her photos of the march to Arizona Indymedia and her Flickr album. She worked all night while we slept.

We stayed holed up where we were for a few days. When a friend and I decided that the situation on the streets had sufficiently cooled down, we decided to venture outside to run errands downtown and find a new place to stay. Knowing that tattoos, dark clothing and anything else "suspicious" would be more than enough reason to snatch us, we borrowed light clothing that covered our tattoos and bade farewell to Sally and the rest of the companeros there. Then my friend and I walked out into the streets for the first time in days.

I knew that being a reporter in Mexico entailed risks. Mexico is, after all, the most dangerous country in the hemisphere to be a reporter, and second in the world only to Iraq.

This point was driven home when I was working in Sonora in late October 2006. I was covering a Day of the Dead celebration with Subcomandante Marcos when everyone's cell phones began to ring. Those of us who answered got the bad news: They'd killed a gringo Indymedia reporter in Oaxaca. His name was Brad Will.

***

Sally's raped and decaying body turned up in a cabin 20 minutes outside of San Jose del Pacifico. A neighbor noticed the smell and called the police.

According to the friend who identified the body, her face was unrecognizable: It was black as if it had been burned, and all of her hair was gone as if it had been ripped out. But Julieta Cruz recognized Sally's tattoos.

Sally's murder may have passed as yet another case of sexual violence, completely unrelated to her political work with some of the most persecuted organizations in Oaxaca. But Sally's friends in Oaxaca City know that she was being followed as a result of her human rights work and her associations with CIPO and other Oaxacan organizations for whom political violence is a daily fact of life.

While Sally's friends can't say for sure that her murder was politically motivated, they are certain that the government is not doing enough to seek justice in her case. A CIPO spokesperson says CIPO simply doesn't have the resources to thoroughly investigate the case, and the government won't share information with anybody who isn't family. Therefore, they have to resort to pressuring the government to do its job and investigate the murder of Sally Grace.

***

Sally was not by any means a central figure in Oaxacan activism. She was not an organizer. On the contrary, she did the only thing a foreign activist can do: She helped out here and there as she could. And through her translations and report-backs, she kept the lines of communication between the US and Oaxaca open. Long after international attention and outrage had fizzled in Oaxaca, Sally stayed and accompanied activists whose safety no longer mattered to the international community. She didn't protect them and she didn't get involved - she just watched and listened.

So why would someone take the trouble to follow and then brutally murder someone like Sally?

My friend Sister Dianna Ortiz was disappeared and tortured in Guatemala in 1989. Sister Dianna taught Spanish to indigenous children - hardly a revolutionary or insurgent undertaking. She hadn't been in Guatemala long before she was disappeared. But they chose her.

Years later in her memoirs, Sister Dianna notes that torture and political violence aren't just intended for the individuals who physically suffer a violent act. Torture and political violence are meant to terrorize an entire population. When the attackers grabbed Sister Dianna - probably one of the least prominent or powerful people in her mission, and one without any connection whatsoever to the resistance - they sent a message to everyone: No one is safe.

If they'd grabbed a priest, a bishop, a social leader, or an insurgent, everyone else would have been able to explain it away, "Well, he was an insurgent, and she was a leader. I'm neither. I'm safe."

But when they grab someone who operates on the periphery, like Sister Dianna or Sally, they succeed in terrorizing everyone: foreigners, locals, leaders, rank and file, neighbors, activists, punks, journalists, women... No one is safe.

***

Brad Will died a martyr. He died on the job. He died in the streets during an uprising. He filmed his own murder. He died surrounded by companeros and witnesses. Despite this and other damning evidence, the Mexican government still tries to explain away his murder. As if using his murder as justification for a violent police invasion of Oaxaca City weren't enough, the day Sally's body turned up the government announced that it will yet again seek arrest warrants for APPO members and supporters in relation to Brad Will's murder.

Sally, on the other hand, died in the worst way: scared, tormented and alone. There's no video or photographic evidence. There was no uprising providing an obvious motivation for murdering her. On the contrary, her murder leaves open the question of whether it was politically motivated or a random act of sexual violence. This could have been intentional on the part of her attacker or attackers to hide their true aims.

***

Shortly after publishing my article exposing the identities of the private contractors who led torture trainings for police in Leon, Guanajato, people followed me. It happened at least twice. The first time I was with a friend and the person drove off after a few blocks.

The second time I was alone. A gray pick-up started following me very slowly, keeping pace behind me as I walked. I stopped and asked him what he wanted. He didn't respond. He just stared. I kept walking.

After what seemed like forever, I stopped a second time. "What do you want?" I yelled in Spanish. He rolled down his window a bit. "Tell me what you want or leave me alone!" He just stared. "WHAT DO YOU WANT!" He stared.

I stomped off. He kept following. I called someone for help. My friend came out into the street. The gray pick-up drove off.

I never denounced it because I still don't know if the motivations behind it were political or perverted. That's the double-bind of being a female social fighter. We suffer violence as activists, and we suffer violence as women. The violence is almost always linked. But political violence can be used as a cover for sexual violence, and sexual violence is used as a cover for political violence.

Table of Contents