Tuesday, September 16, 2008

American protesters target Blackwater facilities

Protests stopped Blackwater from opening its planned facility in Potrero, Calif., east of San Diego (Rick Greenblatt | SW)Protests stopped Blackwater from opening its planned facility in Potrero, Calif., east of San Diego (Rick Greenblatt | SW)

ACTIVISTS DEMONSTRATED against the Blackwater mercenary company in four U.S. cities on September 13 and 14 to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the Nisour Square massacre, in which company operatives killed 14 Iraqi civilians and wounded dozens more.

Protests were held in North Carolina, Illinois, Idaho and California, each targeting an existing or planned Blackwater site.

In San Diego, some 125 protesters marched and rallied across the street from Blackwater’s new training facility and base in the Otay Mesa district, just yards from the U.S.-Mexican border.

Pedro Rios of the American Friends Service Committee spoke at the rally to highlight Blackwater’s presence at the border as part of “a process of militarization that has impacted our community.” Rios, who grew up close to the Blackwater site, said:

I know what it is to see Border Patrol chasing after people, detaining them and beating them up. I know what it is to see checkpoints where people are randomly searched and asked questions.

We now have two additional checkpoints that are leading to the Border Fields State Park area. I know what it is to have our civil liberties called into question. And so, when we add the component of a paramilitary mercenary group along our border, then we are really calling into question what’s at stake. And what’s at stake is our basic principles for democracy.

Rep. Bob Filner (D-Calif.), whose congressional district includes Otay Mesa, addressed the San Diego rally by phone from his Washington office. There was also a phone report from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, describing the opposition to Blackwater’s attempt to set up a new training facility in northern Idaho.

To end the San Diego rally, a local imam read the names of the Nisour Square dead. A bell was rung once for each of the victims. Neither Blackwater nor its contractors have been prosecuted for the killings.

In the face of broad public opposition from residents, Blackwater failed in its initial attempt to establish a base in the rural San Diego country town of Potrero. Operating under front companies with different names, however, Blackwater was able to get a permit to open its current facility in an Otay Mesa industrial park.

The San Diego City Attorney has sued in federal court to overturn Blackwater’s permit to use the warehouse facility as a military training base. But the absence of a broad public mobilization against the military contractor will make it difficult to reverse the current foothold that Blackwater has established in San Diego.

In North Carolina, Blackwater’s home state, a demonstration was held outside the Winston-Salem office of the company’s main lobbying firm, Womble, Carlyle, Sandridge and Rice. In Chicago, a rally was held on Michigan Avenue to bring attention to the new Blackwater base in Mount Carroll, Ill., 100 miles south of the city.

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