Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Blackwater is Back and Badder Than Ever

Full disclosure: I work for the Courage Campaign

Cross posted at the Courage Campaign blog

Just when we thought we had won, Blackwater snuck in the back door and set up shop in San Diego with hardly anyone noticing. Citizen Oversight Projects started spreading the word today that Blackwater will be opening a 61,600 square foot training facility in Otay Mesa, just a block from the U.S./Mexico border. It's also about 4 miles from the Otay Mesa border crossing and about 6.5 miles from the San Ysidro border crossing. This is an indoor facility and obviously much smaller than the 824-acre project Blackwater had pursued in Potrero, but no less nefarious.

This comes at a time when national legislation to block Blackwater and other mercenaries is gaining steam. And perhaps this incident demonstrates that without a major shift at the federal level, we'll just be chasing Blackwater around in macabre version of whack-a-mole into eternity.

Ray Lutz, one of the key figures in the defeat of Blackwater in Potrero, visited the new site and reported back with pictures, impressions and particular points of concern. He notes 20 truck bays and its position not only near two major border crossings but also the Tijuana International Airport. And if there's any doubt about the facility being used to train more mercenaries (and pretty clearly in the art of desert AND border tactics), note the word from Kelly Broughton, director of the city of San Diego's development services department:

Broughton said the building was already permitted for use as a vocational trade school, and Blackwater's training activities would fall within that category.

Vocational trade school. That's what we're calling it. If ITT Tech and a career in medical transcription isn't for you, check out Blackwater West. However, I don't think I'd have the same concerns about a bunch of crazy dental-assistants-in-training being planted within four miles of five schools (including three elementary schools) as I do about mercenaries.

The new facility is within the City of San Diego proper, which means that city regulations- not just county regulations- are potentially at play. And that, of course, brings into the mix a number of political figures who might actually be moved on this issue. The site of the facility is in the 8th District represented by Councilmember Ben Hueso. The City Council President is Scott Peters who is termed out and in the middle of a contentious race for City Attorney. Councilmember Brian Maienschein is also termed out and running for City Attorney. Mayor Jerry Sanders has a heckuva battle brewing for re-election against Steve Francis [name corrected], a Republican dressing himself in progressive clothing to run from both directions. And that's before we (potentially) get Donna Frye agitated.

At this point though, the permit has already been applied for and granted (more than a month ago). Which means that opportunities for local recourse is likely limited unless and until something can be placed on the ballot. That is, what worked last time (wildly successful recall) is unlikely to be at play this time. What's particularly interesting about this process though is that Blackwater submitted its application for this Otay Mesa facility in February but didn't pull out of Potrero until March 9. So, at least in principle, it was after both spots at the same time. Or, more likely, it knew that the ship had sailed on Potrero weeks before actually pulling out, and dragged the process along in order to distract from its move on Otay Mesa.

The history of Blackwater and government-funded mercenaries doesn't need a full rehash here, we know the score. What we're getting here are better trained, federally funded Minutemen living in the shadow of the border fence and a couple minutes from the busiest land border crossing in the world. They're here to operate with impunity outside of the government doing the things this administration wishes it could be doing itself. And it won't stop unless and until we get the sort of systemic changes that can only come from the federal level. This battle of local citizens vs. the mercenaries funded by our own tax dollars isn't sustainable. Local action won in Potrero but here we are again. We'll mount up and take the fight to them again, but real change won't happen until this country dumps Blackwater and those like it once and for all.

No comments: