[News] US contractors hire ex-military from Latin America for Iraq

Anti-Imperialist News News at freedomarchives.org
Thu Nov 3 11:15:40 EST 2005


http://www.commondreams.org/headlines05/1102-02.htm
Published on Wednesday, November 2, 2005 by Inter Press Service

Foreign Veterans, Police Recruited for Iraq by U.S. Contractors

by Ángel Páez


LIMA, Peru - "Piraña", a former Peruvian army sergeant who fought the 
Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) Maoist guerrillas in the jungles of Peru in 
the 1990s, decided at the last minute not to travel to Iraq with around 200 
former members of the military and police recruited by the U.S.-based 
private security firm Triple Canopy.

"My mom convinced me not to go," Piraña told IPS on condition of anonymity. 
"She told me she would prefer to see me poor but alive rather than dead for 
a handful of dollars."

Complaints from the families of former soldiers and police officers hired 
to work as security personnel in Iraq by private military contractors 
triggered a scandal in Peru.

"There is no work here, and when you do find a job, you earn pathetically 
low wages. I'm a factory watchman, and I earn the equivalent of eight 
dollars for a 12-hour day. To work in Iraq they were going to pay me 35 
dollars a day, plus other benefits. It was really tempting, despite the 
risks," said Piraña, 29.

"I have three kids, and my wife helps out selling food in the street, but 
we just don't earn enough. I saw the ad in the newspaper and applied. They 
quickly accepted me because of my combat experience in the army. I went 
through the training and everything, but my mom found out and persuaded me 
to change my mind," he added.

Ads seeking former members of the armed forces and police officers 
interested in working as security personnel in exchange for "excellent 
wages" began to appear in newspapers in Lima last August. Hundreds of 
people applied.

The ads were run by Triple Canopy, a private security and special 
operations firm founded in 2003 in the state of Illinois by former members 
of the U.S. army's elite Delta Force. Thanks to the company's contacts in 
the George W. Bush administration, it quickly won lucrative contracts with 
the State Department.

The firm provides bodyguard and site security services to U.S. 
infrastructure and personnel involved in the reconstruction of Iraq, which 
has been occupied by the United States since March 2003.

The growth of Triple Canopy reflects the boom currently enjoyed by "private 
armies" and the outsourcing of war.

One of Triple Canopy's first contracts was a six-month 90-million dollar 
deal to protect a dozen offices of the Iraqi interim government, which are 
frequent targets of attacks by the resistance to the U.S. invasion and 
occupation.

"We don't hire mercenaries," said Jorge Mendoza, manager of the local 
company Gun Supply, which provided the training to 200 Peruvians on behalf 
of Triple Canopy.

"These are people with experience in security missions, who know how to 
handle weapons, but they aren't going to fight in Iraq. Of course it's very 
dangerous work, but no one forced them to take the job. Triple Canopy 
guarantees them insurance and indemnification in case of accidents, attacks 
or death," he told IPS.

"They are paid in accordance with the job they are going to do. The 
salaries go up to 50 dollars a day," added Mendoza.

Triple Canopy has also hired former soldiers and police officers in El 
Salvador, Colombia and Chile, although they are paid more than the wages 
promised the Peruvians.

That did not deter the 380 Peruvians who have already flown to Iraq, however.

Families of Peruvians recruited by Triple Canopy complained about the terms 
under which their husbands, sons or brothers were hired.

For example, anyone wanting to sue the firm would have to do so in a court 
in Virginia, because the new recruits' contracts were signed under the laws 
of that state, where the company relocated its headquarters in June, "to be 
closer to our main customer, the U.S. government," according to a press 
release on the Triple Canopy web site.

A copy of the contract, obtained by IPS, shows that the Peruvians are being 
hired for one year, from Oct. 15, 2005 to Oct. 14, 2006. It also stipulates 
that neither Triple Canopy nor the U.S. Government are responsible in case 
the employees are injured or killed in the line of duty.

The contract also states that the insurance policy covering the company's 
personnel will not provide coverage in case of an incident that occurs when 
employees are off-duty or outside their place of work. If employees are 
attacked by insurgents at home, for instance, they will receive no 
compensation.

Triple Canopy spokespersons said the Peruvians would be working in the 
heavily fortified "Green Zone" in Baghdad, where U.S. and Iraqi government 
offices are located. The high security area has been targeted by numerous 
rebel attacks.

"I believe the training, of no more than 15 days, was insufficient, but 
nearly all of them went to Iraq anyway," said Piraña.

"They were in a hurry to send the people over, they wanted everything to 
move really fast," said the former sergeant, who returned to his job as a 
watchman.

The complaints by the families of the new private security recruits forced 
the Peruvian Foreign Ministry to act. Ambassador Jorge Lázaro, in charge of 
Offices of Peruvian Communities Abroad, announced that he had launched an 
investigation to determine whether the contracts violated the rights of the 
new recruits.

"Peruvians are free to work wherever they want, but the government must 
ensure that the contracts respect the international agreements to which the 
state is a signatory," Lázaro said in a news briefing.

The press, meanwhile, reported that 200 of the Triple Canopy recruits had 
been trained in FAME, the army's weapons and munitions factory.

According to a contract between the army and Gun Supply, to which IPS had 
access, the army provided the trainers with the ammunition needed for 
target practice.

The army, which has suffered drastic budget cuts, accepted the arrangement 
with Gun Supply, which represents Triple Canopy in Lima, as a means of 
obtaining much needed cash.

The 150,000 dollar deal was approved by army commander General Luis Muñoz, 
who apparently did not consult either the Defense Ministry or the Foreign 
Ministry - a move that could cost the general his post.

A parliamentary commission summoned Defense Minister Marciano Rengifo, who 
admitted that the contract with Gun Supply was a mistake and that he had 
ordered an investigation into the matter to identify who was responsible.

But despite the scandal, the arrangement was not canceled.

Gun Supply's Mendoza told IPS that the firm had been commissioned by Triple 
Canopy to hire another 600 former soldiers and police officers. "That is 
what we have been asked to do. At least for the time being, the army has 
not tried to cancel the contract. If it does, there will be a penalty."

The companies involved in the deal have interesting contacts in Peru. The 
owner of Gun Supply is a state contractor who has sold ammunition to 
President Alejandro Toledo's personal bodyguard detail. He is also the son 
of the security chief at the U.S. Embassy in Lima.

Gesegur, another company contracted by Triple Canopy to recruit security 
personnel in Peru, is also a well-known state contractor, with ties to the 
National Intelligence Service (SIN).

During the regime of Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000), SIN was headed by the 
then president's powerful security chief, Vladimiro Montesinos, who is in 
prison today and facing trial for a number of crimes involving a vast 
network of corruption that he orchestrated during the Fujimori years.

Gesegur also had ties to the National Intelligence Council, which replaced 
SIN after Toledo took office.

"I'm a weapons specialist with several years of combat experience; I was 
perfect for the job," said Piraña. "But if I left and I was killed, my 
children would have been left up in the air. I can ensure you it wasn't 
cowardice. I'm not afraid of war. My mom just made me realize it's more 
important to stay alive."

Mendoza said the government has not ordered Gun Supply to stop training 
Peruvians to be sent to Iraq. "They recognize that it's a job opportunity. 
You take it or leave it, it's as simple as that. One thousand dollars a 
month in Peru is good money."

Copyright © 2005 IPS-Inter Press Service

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