Private Military Firms Find Golden
by Tim Rogers
Z magazine, March 2005
As 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
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 Iraqi," 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 coalition.
"President Bush's claim of a 'Coalition
of the Willing' might be renamed the 'Coalition of the Billing',"
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
"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
Tim Rogers is editor of the Tico Times,
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