Is Blackwater ‘Fire Relief’ Part of Larger PR Campaign to Win Hearts and Minds and Timed to Influence Local Voters?
Citizens Oversight (2007-11-01) Raymond Lutz, Carol Jahnkow
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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
November 1, 2007
Is Blackwater 'Fire Relief' Part of Larger PR Campaign to Win Hearts and Minds and Timed to Influence Local Voters?
Potrero Residents/Fire Victims Speak-Out in Wake of Up Coming Recall Election - Referendum Could Put End to Blackwater West Project Deadline to Mail Ballots to Voters in Just Two Weeks
Conflict of Interest Questions Raised as Mercenary VP Allowed Through Sheriff's Blockade With Supplies While Community-Based Relief Efforts for Potrero and Immigrant Residents of Surrounding Area Were Thwarted or Delayed
EAST SAN DIEGO COUNTY, CA (Nov. 1) --Earlier this week, just a few miles from the US/Mexico border, nearly 350 residents of the small rural town of Potrero, near the proposed site of the Blackwater West training camp, were trapped by the Harris/Potrero Fire suffering from lack of power, fuel, food and relief supplies.
It was Blackwater VP Brian Bonfiglio, aided by local politicians, who was able to get through the sheriff's blockade to enter area and hand out supplies and Blackwater-logo pins to hungry and newly homeless residents from the back of his white Hummer, all while community-based relief efforts were thwarted and delayed by local law enforcement.
Potrero residents' battle against Blackwater's plans for a mercenary training camp include a recent large protest and an upcoming recall election for members of their local Community Planning Group who initially greenlighted the project. They put aside their differences aside momentarily. "I don't care if Hitler came out of his grave and donated stuff to us, we'd take it," Thell Fowler told the San Diego Union Tribune.
"While no one in distress can be faulted for accepting help from any source, Blackwater has a clear conflict of interest,"; said Carol Jahnkow, Executive Director, Peace Resource Center of San Diego and a co-organizer of last month's Stop Blackwater West rally. "Blackwater is among the many corporations providing relief aid, but they are the only ones with a critical issue on the table that will be voted on this month, both by the citizens of Potrero in their recall vote of the Planning Board, and also by the County Board of Supervisors on their land use permit application."
"We need to keep in mind that this is a self-serving move by a corporation with millions of dollars at their disposal to buy votes through the influence of money," said Carl Meyer, a Potrero resident, running to replace Gordon Hammers on the Potrero Community Planning Group. "Locals will hopefully see through this disaster capitalism. When we talk to people door-to-door it does not seem to change their minds about Blackwater--they see right through this."
"I did not need to accept any relief supplies, but if I did, I would take it, even from Blackwater, but it would not change my vote," said Helen Kramer, Potrero resident who was evacuated but did not lose her home. "The fact that they were working to supply relief and curry favor does not change the fact that their project is wrong for this area. They have a real PR problem on their hands."
According to Adrian Del Rio, a volunteer from one of the many community groups attempting to bring in aid and relief supplies to Potrero, a sheriff - who has spoken publicly in support of Blackwater West Project -tried to prohibit their caravan from entering Portrero, asking, "Why do you need to go to Potrero? There are not too many people--just a bunch of drug addicts." His assistant added, "They received burritos and sandwiches yesterday."
.org discovered that relief supplies were in fact available, but they just weren't getting into Potrero. "We plan to investigate to find out why Blackwater was the only option for relief supplies,"; said Raymond Lutz, Citizen's Oversight coordinator. "It's not appropriate for local politicians to allow this sort of activity just weeks before the recall ballots go out on November 13th, for an election which is becoming a referendum on the Blackwater West project." Lutz and fellow volunteers delivered about eight tons of food and supplies to Potrero using a U-Haul moving van after locating surplus relief supplies at the Escondido Church of Christ disaster response warehouse.
State Sen. Dennis Hollingsworth (R-36th District) announced today that Blackwater Worldwide is setting up a "tent city" in nearby Barrett Junction to provide lodging for up to 200 displaced residents.
"This is wrong. Where is FEMA and National Guard? Isn't this a task that they should be organizing?" Lutz said. Many of the residents that will be voting on the upcoming election related to the Blackwater West project may be directed to stay in Blackwater's tent city.
Five of the six members of the Potrero Community Planning Group facing recall on December 11th - with ballots going out in mail by November 13 - are proponents of the Blackwater West project. Jan Hedlun, the only member against the project, is not facing recall. If the community votes to recall all the proponents, this would send a clear message that the community is solidly against the project.
In the weeks before the fire, after hiring Burson-Marsteller, a publicly-traded global public affairs firm, Blackwater's CEO Erik Prince has been prominently featured in a media blitz of national press, including The Washington Post, Newsweek, and CBS’ "60 Minutes." A week ago, Blackwater sent out a letter asking Blackwater "family" to write letters to elected officials supporting the company, and in the wake of the first protest outside Blackwater's headquarters in North Carolina, reportedly secretive meetings have been held in attempt to appease local community members.
The Harris Ranch Fire started on October 21 at Harris Ranch Road and Highway 94 in Portrero in San Diego County and destroyed 211 homes and 262 outbuildings, burning 90,440 acres. The first fatality of the fire occurred in the area, and four firefighters were caught in in the raging firestorm. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.
Donations to assist Harris Fire residents can be made to the Heartland Foundation,1235 Shafter St #310, San Diego, CA 92106. Phone: (619) 593-3924 or go to www.heartlandfdn.org.