Private Military Firms Find Golden Goose




A

s
the U.S. war in Iraq becomes increasingly outsourced to private
military firms, impoverished and war-torn Central America may become
the next hotspot for recruitment of low-pay soldiers. 


Triple
Canopy, a private U.S. security and special operations firm contracted
by the U.S. Department of State, has already set up shop in El Salvador
and is actively recruiting private security forces to be sent to
Iraq, according to company spokesperson Joe Mayo. 


Regional
military experts claim that another private Israeli security firm
allegedly is recruiting soldiers in Guatemala. Several others are
operating in nearby Colombia, according to the Brookings Institution,
a U.S. think tank that specializes in military issues. 


While
Nicaragua security and military insiders claimed they didn’t
know of any private firms currently operating in their country,
they acknowledged that Nicaragua was vulnerable to recruitment by
aggressive military firms looking for new and impoverished applicant
pools. 


During
a press conference in Managua last November, U.S. Secretary of Defense
Donald Rumsfeld said he didn’t know anything about private
security firms recruiting Central Americans for Iraq and vehemently
rejected a reporter’s comment that the so-called Coalition
of the Willing was becoming unglued. “The coalition is not
becoming unglued,” he grumbled. “We have a large number
of countries that are participating.” 


The
numbers, however, tell a different story about participation levels.
“Over 60 firms employ more than 20,000 private personnel carrying
out military functions [in Iraq],” said P.W. Singer, National
Security Fellow at the Brookings Institution and author of the book

Corporate Warriors

. “To put this into context, such
numbers mean that the private military industry has contributed
more forces to Iraq than any other member of the U.S.-led coalition. 


“President
Bush’s claim of a ‘Coalition of the Willing’ might
be renamed the ‘Coalition of the Billing’,” Singer
added. 


According
to the Brookings Institution, private forces have also suffered
the brunt of military casualties in Iraq. By September 2004, private
contractors had suffered an estimated 150 killed in Iraq and as
many as 700 more were injured. 


“These
numbers are more than the rest of the coalition combined, and more
than any single U.S. Army division,” Singer said. Of the Central
American countries that belong to the coalition, only El Salvador
still has troops in Iraq. Brigades from Honduras and Nicaragua have
been recalled due to lack of funds and public support.



Triple
Canopy’s Mayo said during a phone interview from corporate
headquarters in Illinois that his company recently started recruiting
in El Salvador because it was still an active member of the coalition
and because of its “effective and high talent pool.” 


Mayo
said the Salvadorans employed by Triple Canopy will work as bodyguards
and site security guards. He declined to offer any more details
about the number of recruits hired during the two months the company
has been in El Salvador or on the conditions of the contracts offered. 


The
Salvadoran daily,

El Diario de Hoy

, reported last October
that the Triple Canopy recruiter in San Salvador was offering applicants
$1,700 a month for site guards, and $100 a day for bodyguards, cigarettes
included. Those salaries are almost as much as security guards in
El Salvador make in an entire year. The article quoted one applicant
who told the reporter he already had friends working in Iraq who
were “living better than any rich person in El Salvador does.” 


Mayo
said his company is not currently operating in any other Central
American country and isn’t aware of other private firms that
are. But, with similarly low wages, high unemployment numbers and
a population familiar with war, and guns, it may only be a matter
of time before the military firms migrate to Nicaragua, where some
40 private security companies employ 9,650 guards for an average
$125 a month. 


The
salary alone is enough to entice Nicaraguans to the dangerous work
in Iraq. “It’s a good offer, I would have to think about
it,” said Mario Antonio Mendoza, a 43- year-old bank guard
in Granada with leading Nicaraguan security firm Ultranic. 


“I
would go, but I am too old,” says his partner, 47-year-old
Francisco José Ramirez. “I could send my son, though,
he’s only 22.” 


“Yeah,
I’d go for the money,” Mendoza said. Apparently, 30 seconds
was all he needed to think about it.







 





Tim Rogers is
editor of the



Tico Times



, Granada, Nicaragua.