Friday, October 07, 2005

Sigmund Solares: No press allowed at FEMA business forum

FEMA Coverup? YES or NO???:
Today I attended a Back to Business Forum hosted by Mayor Nagin's office. Many in the press have focused on the chaos that ensued when business owners mobbed the main stage to ask questions.

Right now I will cover only the issue of contractors from outside Louisiana obtaining the largest contracts and how the Department of Homeland Security may be trying to thwart the freedom of press to cover up the truth for major corporations.

When I arrived at the auditorium at 7:30 am I walked straight to the front row and I obtained a seat about 20 feet from the central podium from which I could take pictures. Immediately as I sat down an agent from FEMA / Homeland Security approached me and asked, 'What newspaper are you with?' As I handed him one of my business cards I replied, 'I am with Intercosmos Media Group, Inc., here is one of my business cards.' He replied, 'We are just keeping track of the press.' I thought it was strange that they were tracking the press. But, throughout the morning sessions I took pictures without any further questions being asked.

One of the main recurring themes of the morning sessions was general discontent by Louisiana business owners that believe too much of the money in the rebuilding process is being spent on contracts with out of state companies and the out of state companies are relying on out of state workers. The audience was told time and again by panel members that the audience would have an opportunity to obtain work as subcontractors from the large companies from other states that already had contracts for restoring Louisiana.

In fact, in the afternoon there were four sessions scheduled with each of eight major contractors who received the large contracts. The goal of the sessions was to identify the types of work subcontractors were needed for and explain how Louisiana businesses could apply to perform subcontract work.

As I proceeded to walk into one of the sessions with one of the major contractors I was stopped by Homeland Security. I was told that press would not be allowed in these sessions. I was told that I could only enter without the camera as an individual and without “doing your reporter thing.” I was also told to tell my “compadres” about the rule. I slowly started to put the camera up. The agent from Homeland Security continued to stand between me and the door until I put the camera away. I do want to emphasize that this individual was very polite and just doing his job. What I don’t understand is why his job was to track the press and prevent the press from taking pictures in the sessions with the major contractors.


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