Blackwater Expansion Scares Americans

After sparking outrage worldwide over the behavior of its trigger-happy guards, US security firm Blackwater is arousing fears of ordinary Americans over its expansion plans at home, reported.

Blackwater Expansion Scares Americans

"This facility (Blackwater) doesn't belong in our rural community," said Jan Hedlun, a member of the planning group of Potrero in California.

The security firm is planning a 325-hectare (800-acre) training headquarters for its guards on a dilapidated chicken farm in Potrero.

The site will have eight 100-yd carbine ranges, three 50-yd pistol ranges and a 10,000-sq ft armory and a bunkhouse for 360 students.

"We're here by happenstance," said Brian Bonfiglio, Blackwater West's vice-president.

Residents say that Blackwater's arrival will spoil the natural beauty and tranquility of their area.

"I didn't move out here to live next to a shooting range and driving track," said Hedlun, who voted against Blackwater's arrival in Potrero.

"I came out for peace and quiet and for my health," she said.

Cathey Ramsey, a Potrero resident, is also concerned of seeing Blackwater guards in the area.

"My concerns are water, wildlife, traffic, noise, all the firing ranges," said Ramsey, who moved to the area in 1977, while sitting in the town's only shop.

Established 10 years ago by Erik Prince, right-wing son of a multi-millionaire and a former Navy SEAL, the security consulting firm has grown into what US investigative reporter Jeremy Scahill describes as the "world's most powerful mercenary army."

According to Scahill, Blackwater has "more than 2,300 private soldiers deployed in nine countries including the United States."

Riding machine-gun mounted utility vehicles, the armed contractors employed by the North Carolina firm have gained a notoriety for shooting first and not bothering to ask questions later.

Earlier this month, the FBI found in its initial investigation that at least 14 Iraqis were killed without justification in the September 16 shooting involving Blackwater.

In all, 17 people were killed when Blackwater staff opened fire in a crowded Baghdad neighborhood as they protected a State Department convoy.


Residents say their complaints to officials to nix Blackwater's plans fell on deaf ears.

"There's a cronyistic dynasty among the current power structure and then there's everyone else. All of a sudden this has dropped in our lap, and the power structure isn't listening to what the people want," said Hedlun, the member of the planning group of Potrero.

The residents consider the matter a life-or-death issue.

"I've been here 30 years and I've spent most of my adult life working on this property, turning it into my piece of paradise. I'll be damned if I'm going to let them spoil it," said Randel Parks.

"A lot of my neighbors were of the opinion that you couldn't do anything about it.

"But as time went by I found out that we had some supporters. Now there are more people who aren't afraid to come out and speak," added Parks.

Locals will also punish the Potrero planning group which gave approval to Blackwater's arrival.

They will vote in a recall election on December 11 called as a result of a petition by residents to replace the majority of the Potrero planning group.

"I want to make a change. The group has been neglectful of its duties," said William Crawley, who is standing for election to the Potrero planning group. & Newspapers

Güncelleme Tarihi: 01 Aralık 2007, 08:38