No Comment — August 4, 2007, 6:10 am

Recruiting Contract Soldiers in Latin America

An increasing number of Latin Americans can be found carrying out security tasks in Iraq: Peruvians guard the outer perimeter of a U.S. installation in Basra; Chileans protect the government Green Zone in Baghdad; Hondurans have provided security within the terminal at Baghdad International Airport; and Salvadorans once protected the Green Zone in Baghdad. However, many will be surprised to know that these men are not serving in Iraq as members of allied military forces, but rather are hired by private firms contracted through U.S. government agencies.

As reported earlier this week by Tyler Bridges of the Miami Herald, while Americans are eager to bring the troops home, many Latin Americans are willing to go to Iraq:

The Latin Americans typically served in the military back home—many fought leftist guerrillas in places like El Salvador and Columbia—and were taught by U.S. instructors, making it easier for them to use U.S. weapons and work under American security procedures.

After leaving the armed forces, these soldiers found themselves in low-paying jobs. So they agreed to risk injury or death in Iraq for $1,000 to $1,500 a month, ($5-$7 an hour) a good salary for them, but far below the $10,000-$15,000 monthly pay for American contract employees.

From a market perspective, this makes sense. The Latin Americans hired for these security jobs are making four to five times what they would be earning domestically, while the security firms are paying only a fraction of what they would pay a U.S. citizen to carry out the same work.

Although the Latin Americans are carrying out the same work a U.S. citizen would, they are not provided with the same benefits or personal safeguards. For example, the contracts for Triple Canopy, a firm that has started recruiting in Latin America, stipulate that neither Triple Canopy nor the U.S. Government are responsible in case the employees are injured or killed in the line of duty.

Chilean Sen. Alejandro Navarro said his government has had to cover the costs of workers returning from Iraq with stress-related disorders because the security companies that employed them refused to provide help.

Despite concerns, host countries have done little to prevent recruiting, and the current state of the countries has created pools of men ‘ripe for the picking.’ Latin American countries such as Colombia, El Salvador, Peru and Nicaragua have a long history of military action with large militaries that have been involved in civil wars. Most importantly, their militaries have recently downsized, leaving a population of trained men unemployed with few practical working skills. Working in labor-intensive jobs and making little to no money, these men are eager for gainful employment.

Geoff Thale, a senior associate at the Washington Office on Latin America, argues that allowing Latin America and other less-developed regions to serve as cheap labor pools to recruit people for dangerous jobs that are part of the U.S. military mission is deeply wrong, for both moral and political reasons.

In a democracy, when wars are fought, there are casualties. When a U.S. soldier is wounded or killed in combat, his family, neighbors, and community directly feel the death and the weight of the war. In response, that community makes political judgments about whether the human cost is worth the political cost.

When those who do some of the fighting and dying are not U.S. soldiers, not members of allied military forces, not even U.S. private contractors working for the pentagon, but private citizens of another country, whose injuries and deaths will have no impact on the political debate in the United States, then democracy is being undermined, and war is being fought without a public weighing of the costs.

While both the private firms and the government will argue that these recruited men are not “fighting in Iraq,” others disagree. “The companies say they are private guards, but really they are private soldiers,” said José Luís Gómez del Prado, a Working Group member who is a Spanish human rights professor. “They are provided with military equipment and weapons. You are privatizing war. That is the concern of the international community.”

Leslie Fields contributed to this post.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

Conversation March 30, 2016, 3:44 pm

Burn Pits

Joseph Hickman discusses his new book, The Burn Pits, which tells the story of thousands of U.S. soldiers who, after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, have developed rare cancers and respiratory diseases.

Context, No Comment August 28, 2015, 12:16 pm

Beltway Secrecy

In five easy lessons

From the April 2015 issue

Company Men

Torture, treachery, and the CIA

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

July 2016

American Idle

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

My Holy Land Vacation

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The City That Bleeds

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

El Bloqueo

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Vladivostok Station

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Ideology of Isolation

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Post
"We all know in France that as soon as a politician starts saying that some problem will be solved at the European level, that means no one is going to do anything."
Photograph (detail) by Stefan Boness
Post
Tom Bissell on touring Israel with Christian Zionists, Joy Gordon on the Cuban embargo, Lawrence Jackson on Freddie Gray and the makings of an American uprising, a story by Paul Yoon, and more

Freddie Gray’s relatives arrived for the trial in the afternoon, after the prep-school kids had left. By their dress, they seemed to have just gotten off work in the medical and clerical fields. The family did not appear at ease in the courtroom. They winced and dropped their heads as William Porter and his fellow officer Zachary Novak testified to opening the doors of their police van last April and finding Freddie paralyzed, unresponsive, with mucus pooling at his mouth and nose. Four women and one man mournfully listened as the officers described needing to get gloves before they could touch him.

The first of six Baltimore police officers to be brought before the court for their treatment of Freddie Gray, a black twenty-five-year-old whose death in their custody was the immediate cause of the city’s uprising last spring, William Porter is young, black, and on trial. Here in this courtroom, in this city, in this nation, race and the future seem so intertwined as to be the same thing.

Artwork: Camels, Jerusalem (detail) copyright Martin Parr/Magnum Photos
[Report]
How to Make Your Own AR-15·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Even if federal gun-control advocates got everything they wanted, they couldn’t prevent America’s most popular rifle from being made, sold, and used. Understanding why this is true requires an examination of how the firearm is made.
Illustration by Jeremy Traum
Article
My Holy Land Vacation·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"I wanted to more fully understand why conservative politics had become synonymous with no-questions-asked support of Israel."
Illustration (detail) by Matthew Richardson
Article
The City That Bleeds·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"Here in this courtroom, in this city, in this nation, race and the future seem so intertwined as to be the same thing."
Photograph (detail) © Wil Sands/Fractures Collective

Average speed of Heinz ketchup, from the mouth of an upended bottle, in miles per year:

25

After studying the fall of 64,000 individual raindrops, scientists found that some small raindrops fall faster than they ought to.

The Playboy mansion in California was bought by the heir to the Twinkie fortune, and a New Mexico man set fire to his apartment to protest his neighbors’ loud lovemaking.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Mississippi Drift

By

Matt was happy enough to sustain himself on the detritus of a world he saw as careening toward self-destruction, and equally happy to scam a government he despised. 'I’m glad everyone’s so wasteful,' he told me. 'It supports my lifestyle.'

Subscribe Today