By Nancy Conroy
In San Diego County, California, a firestorm has erupted over plans to build a Blackwater mercenary training camp in the hills behind Potrero, a remote area east of the city. The residents of San Diego are opposing the idea on the grounds that firing ranges are noisy and mercenaries would be undesirable neighbors. So far the controversy has been a localized, "not in my backyard," type of debate involving planning commissions and citizen's action groups.
Americans tend to think in an American way, and therefore nobody seems to have noticed that the location of this camp is right on the US-Mexico border, just a few miles from Tecate.
From an international perspective, there are a number of geopolitical reasons that could explain why this border location was selected. This is probably not merely an issue for the local planning commission, given that the idea of mercenaries along the border has broader international implications.
Blackwater USA is a private army based in Louisiana that has received billions of dollars in US government contracts to assist with the Iraq war. These "contractors" are highly trained ex-military specialists, many of whom come from foreign countries with poor human rights records.
Blackwater, at its website, identifies itself as "... not simply a 'private security company.' We are a professional military, law enforcement, security, peacekeeping, and stability operations firm who provides turnkey solutions."
The presence of Blackwater in Iraq has generated controversy over the concept of an "outsourced" war, using mercenaries instead of regular US troops. The mercenaries do not answer to US military commanders, their conduct is not governed by the Geneva Convention, and they answer only to the people who are signing their paychecks.
Critics often compare them to the Nazi brownshirts.
A Blackwater camp on the border may be a covert attempt to militarize the border without going through congressional oversight or public debate. A so-called "training camp" could probably also function as an operational base. Perhaps Blackwater will obtain government contracts to patrol the border, gradually edging out US agents and putting border security into the hands of a private army away from public scrutiny.
And Blackwater could run immigrant detention camps using the same methods they use in the Middle East. Even if this is not the plan, the Mexicans would have good reason to suspect this motivation.
The proposed training camp is located near international drug supply routes controlled by the Sinaloa Cartel. The remote, mountainous terrain is like Afghanistan, where Blackwater has years of experience running covert operations.
Six miles from the proposed Blackwater camp, northern Mexico has a serious problem with "Men in Black" who coincidentally look, dress, and act just like the Blackwater people. In Mexico, the Men in Black are kidnappers, corrupt police officers, fake federal agents, or Zetas, a narco-paramilitary group. Although Americans may still be swallowing the argument that Blackwater is a "military auxiliary" outfit, the Mexicans are not fooled about who the Men in Black are, what they do, and who they work for. That these same people are now camped out on the US border, or are somehow involved in border enforcement, will lack credibility in Mexico.
Since the Iraq war, business at Blackwater has been booming, which is why they need the new "Blackwater West" facility. Most of Blackwater's contracts come from the US government, at least those that are publicly disclosed. But, Blackwater is a private army that is available to run "corporate security" missions for anyone that can afford it. This suggests another possible motivation for the border location: to serve emerging markets in northern Mexico.
There are surely plenty of possible clients with money in the Baja California area who need special operations. Since Blackwater personnel look just like the Mexican Men in Black, they should have no trouble blending in.
Another possible reason for the border location is the potential to perform "extraordinary renditions" into Mexico. "Extraordinary renditions" is a euphemism for off-the-record prisoner processing, the subjects of which are known in Latin America as "los desaparecidos" ("the disappeared"). Blackwater conducts extraordinary renditions in the Middle East, quietly transferring prisoners to third countries where interrogation techniques are not monitored. From their new border location, Blackwater could perform extraordinary renditions into northern Mexico far away from prying eyes.
Blackwater has said that the reason for the site selection is to be close to the San Diego area, where many branches of the US military need extra training. Still, the location so close to the US-Mexico border raises international issues that local San Diego citizen's groups are not aware of and generally do not think about. Americans should consider the possible international dimensions, and responsible Mexican citizens should evaluate the potential impact of this camp on their own country.
As well, if Mexicans were more informed about this issue, the specter of mercenaries along the border has the potential to create an international controversy.