Jun 17, 2019

U.S. border media official reports harassment

U.S. border media official reports harassment

Courtesy photo of border wall by KRQE.Com

In the aftermath of a Twitter exchange with proponents of a U.S.-Mexico border wall, the spokesperson for a U.S. government agency charged with administering U.S.-Mexico boundary and water issues reports being the target of personal attacks, hate mail and threats.
Lori Kuczmanski, spokesperson for the El Paso-based U.S. section of the International Boundary and Water Commission (USIBWC) says she has been the subject of memes and the recipient of hostile e-mails and phone calls, some coming in at 2 a.m. 
"They yell and scream. They're very unwilling to listen," says Kuczmanski. 
The reported intimidation follows an unusual exchange last weekend posted on the Twitter account of Brian Kolfage of We Build the Wall Inc., a Florida-based organization that constructed a half-mile-long, 18-foot steel bollard fence mainly on privately-owned land at Mt. Cristo Rey just feet from the Mexican border in Sunland Park, New Mexico, earlier this month. The addition of a gate on USIBWC property, however, sparked a dispute with the federal agency.  
On Twitter, Kuczmanski accuses the group fronted by Kolfage, a U.S. Air Force veteran triple amputee, of propagating lies and frauds about the Sunland Park project and the USIBWC's relationship to it.
Kuczmanski stresses that she posted the messages as a private citizen and not in her official capacity as the USIBWC public affairs officer. But Kuczmanski describes being fed up with an organization that she contends is spreading misinformation while soliciting money online to fund privately-built sections of the border wall.
"And the American people following them, believe it. It's fake news..," Kuczmanski asserts. "Anybody who questions them, they attack. Then they have a mass attack on you. It's not American, (or) working cooperatively."
An official USIBWC statement dated June 11 states: 
"A private organization, We Build the Wall, built a gate on federal land in Sunland Park, N.M., near El Paso, Texas, without authority, and then locked the gate closed on June 6, 2019. The private gate blocks a levee road owned by the U.S. Government. After repeated requests to unlock and open the private gate, the United States Section of the International Boundary and Water Commission (USIBWC), accompanied by two uniformed law enforcement officers from the Dona Ana County Sheriff’s Office, removed the private lock, opened the gate, and locked the gate open pending further discussions with We Build the Wall. 
The gate was also opened so that USIBWC employees can conduct maintenance and operations at American Dam.
 The USIBWC did not authorize the construction of the private gate on federal property as announced on We Build the Wall’s Twitter page. The USIBWC is not charged with securing other fences or gates as reported by We Build the Wall.
The international border fences are not on USIBWC property. The USIBWC did not open any other gates in the El Paso area as erroneously reported. Other gates and the border fence are controlled by other federal agencies.
An incomplete application permit from We Build the Wall was submitted to the USIBWC on Sunday, June 2. 
The USIBWC responded to the initial permit request on June 6 with questions and requests for additional information. The USIBWC has not yet received a response from the private organization regarding the Agency’s initial response to their permit request.
The USIBWC is concerned about the safety and security of our employees and the infrastructure at the American Dam, which is next to the privately-constructed gate. Despite USIBWC requests to locate the gate further from American Dam, the private gate was constructed in a way that may channel undocumented immigrants into the American Dam area. When the proper documentation is received for the permit, USIBWC will continue to process the permit application."
It should be noted that the American Dam on the Rio Grande is located in a river that has experienced recent high and swift flows from the release of irrigation water stored at Elephant Butte Reservoir about 100 miles to the north in New Mexico. 
The Rio Grande, as well as nearby canals that channel the irrigation water, are dangerous waters, as has been tragically evidenced this month.
El Paso media and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CPB) have so far in June reported the recovery of eight bodies, likely those of migrants who drowned in waterways, including a little girl.
Back on Twitter, Kolfage tags Kuczmanski as the purveyor of misinformation, tweeting June 15, that "IBWC PR Rep @lkuczmanski75 goes ROGUE! Gave media all week false statements! The IBWC commissioner has been great to us and it was only this person stirring the pot the entire time!"
Kolfage's Twitter account includes additional attacks on Kuczmanski by others and contains a photo of her prominently displayed. She is also an issue on We Build the Wall’s Facebook, with some posters even referring to her as a traitor or as a paid “cartel” dupe and demanding that she be fired.   
Initially, as the dispute with USIBWC thickened, calls for an investigation of USIBWC Commissioner Jayne Harkins, who was appointed to the post late last year by President Trump and is the first woman to head the agency, appeared on Kolfage’s Twitter page.  
Ultimately, an agreement was reached between the USIBWC and We Build the Wall that the gate would be unlocked during the day and locked at night, according to Kuczmanski.
Kolfage then softened his tone around Harkins in the lead up to the flare-up with Kuczmanski. Nonetheless, We Build the Wall’s Facebook still contains a link to a petition demanding Harkins’ firing.
Another target of We Build the Wall supporters is the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, which sent a petition to the USIBWC opposing the Sunland Park fence on federal property.
The civil liberties group has posted a video that shows one of its staff members being blocked June 7 from traveling on the road that skirts the Rio Grande and Mt. Cristo Rey and leads up to Monument One, a historic site and the international boundary marker where the U.S. states of Texas and New Mexico meet the Mexican state of Chihuahua.
A man on the other side of the fence is shown threatening to call the police, yelling at the ACLU to “Get the F…out!,” and denouncing “liberals.” 
A posting on Kolfage’s Twitter account insists the ACLU lied about the incident, but ACLU attorney Kristin Love refuted the writer, saying her group’s staffer was only able to pass hours later after much “back and forth” with the USIBWC.
Kuzcmanski's Twitter tussle with We Build the Wall supporters follows on the heels of death threats and personal attacks Sunland Park Mayor Javier Perea told media he received after his administration temporarily suspended construction of the private fence because of permitting irregularities in late May. 
On May 29, after the deluge of angry messages and threats, the City of Sunland Park building inspector signed a permit, major construction soon resumed and was finished by June 5.
After last weekend's war of words on Twitter, Kuczmanski says she is done with posting messages on the social media service about We Build the Wall, and has taken measures to block and monitor new rounds of harassment. 
"It's a no-win situation with them," she sighs. Unfortunately, the dispute moved from the "professional" to the "personal" realm, the border media specialist says.
[ Journalist and author Kent Paterson is a regular contributor to the Digie Zone Network.]


Mar 31, 2019

Panelist reports threats prior to Canadian film screening that highlights Mexico violence

DZN: Panelist reports threats prior to Canadian film screening that highlights Mexico violence

Image is a poster for the film by Julian Elie.

The Digie Zone Network
March 29, 2019

An activist who was granted U.S. asylum after receiving an onslaught of death threats for denouncing women's murders in Mexico, was threatened recently in connection with her scheduled appearance as a panelist for the April 3 screening of "Dark Suns" in El Paso, Texas.

Marisela Ortiz, the activist, is co-founder of Nuestras Hijas de Regreso a Casa, an advocacy organization that was devoted to exposing women's murders in Juarez, Mexico.

She confirmed that she received messages via social media, and plans to report them to the police. "I can't make it anyway, but I wish the film producers every success ," said Ortiz, who is based in El Paso.

Filming for the monochrome documentary "Dark Suns"/"Soleils Noirs/"Soles Oscuros" already took place in various regions of Mexico and in West Texas and Southern New Mexico.

The film garnered Grand Prize for Best Canadian Feature at the 2018 Montreal International Documentary Festival. IMDB.com describes the film as "An epic investigation into countless murders in Mexico. Presented in chapters, the film unfolds methodically through unsettling testimonials, sketching a portrait of an entire country transformed into a gigantic mass grave thanks to a climate of impunity established by both criminal gangs and state authorities."

It also won the 2019 F:ACT Award at the Copenhagen International Documentary Film Festival. The jury stated:

“The F:ACT AWARD goes to a film that gives voice to people who have suffered unbearable losses and have been neglected and ignored and forgotten by their government and authorities. In fact, the film convincingly suggests that those very authorities are themselves deeply involved in the immense tragedy that has been quietly unfolding through more than 20 years."

Dark Suns trailer 

Director Julien Elie said his staff is taking all the necessary safety precautions for the upcoming screenings in El Paso, Texas and Juarez, Mexico. 

The screening, which is free to the public, is set for 6 p.m., April 3 at the University of Texas at El Paso Union Cinema Theater. 

A conversation will take place afterward with Elie and guests author-journalist Diana Washington-Valdez and criminologist Oscar Maynez.

Other screenings in the region:

Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico, 8 p.m., April 4, Teatro Experimental Octavio Trias, CCPN / (*Función y Conversatorio)

Chihuahua City, Chihuahua, Mexico 4 p.m., April 4, Cineteca Chihuahua, Plaza Cultural Los Laureles.