The American model is a form of state capitalism in which the great corporations of the military-industrial complex fatten on the largess of the state, while the poor and disadvantaged get a firm dose of laissez-faire.
Michael Ignatieff, writer and broadcaster
During the Civil War, it was legal on the Union side to pay commutation to be excluded from war, eventually that practice was eliminated in favor of knowing someone who could pull strings for you.
For the Iraq war, the latest practice, and it seems just as odious or even more so, is going to other countries to recruit the poor to fight our battles. This came to my attention from a bilingual friend, who was reading a Salvador newspaper. He found an editorial deriding the United States for this practice. The editorial also references a Dec. 9, 2004 article by Kevin Sullivan in the Washington Post.
…hundreds of Salvadoran men, and even a few women, are jumping at the chance to pursue what the news media here call the "Iraqi Dream." With the U.S. military unable to meet security needs in Iraq, private U.S. firms are now providing thousands of armed guards for diplomatic installations, oil wells, businesses and contractors there.
These firms are aggressively recruiting in El Salvador, a member of the U.S.-led military coalition in Iraq, viewing it as an ideal source of guards. The country has low wages, high unemployment and a large pool of men with military or police experience -- many of whom were U.S.-trained -- from the 12-year civil war that ended in 1992.
But the heavy recruitment campaign -- through newspaper ads that offer salaries of as much as $3,600 a month -- has raised concerns among human rights officials, who say they believe the companies are exploiting the poor
"This is the equivalent of a poverty draft," said Geoff Thale of the Washington Office on Latin America, a rights and policy group, speaking from his office in Washington. "The United States is unwilling to draft people, so they are recruiting people from poor countries to be cannon fodder for us. And if they are killed or injured, there will be no political consequences in the United States."
How far is too far for private enterprise? We think the Bush administration has crossed the line. Here is a translated version of the editorial Published in the “Clarin,” the leading newspaper in Argentina:
Cheap Military Labor
By Geoff Thale, Washington Office for Latin America (WOLA) Spokesman
In Iraq, United States security companies are recruiting people from the poorest countries in Latin America to handle the riskiest work. These companies are hoping to dilute the political cost of U.S. casualties.
If the United States officials learned anything in the Vietnam War, it was that as American casualties grew, homeland opposition to military intervention abroad grew. Officials have found a way around this problem: In Iraq, United States security companies are recruiting people from the poorest countries in Latin America to handle the risky work.
With the rise in United States military missions over the past decade, the Pentagon has been seeking a way to wage war successfully with minimal American casualties. Where possible, the Pentagon wages war from the air, using warplanes to bomb strategic enemy targets and weaken moral. When ground fighting is unavoidable, U.S. troops are equipped with the latest technology.
An article published December 9, 2004 in The Washington Post revealed that two private U.S. security companies with Pentagon contracts are recruiting people from El Salvador to handle Iraq security work. The Colombian newspaper El Tiempo has also published articles about the recruitment of Colombian ex-military.
Salvadorans and Colombians are selected to guard embassies and other public buildings in Baghdad, and to protect pipelines and gas lines. These perilous tasks were previously the work of the Marines and other U.S. soldiers.
According to the articles, the firms are hoping to expand their operations. Pentagon contractors believe there is an immense pool of people with military backgrounds who would enthusiastically accept the opportunity to earn higher salaries for this type of work, even if the first recruits come from countries where the militaries have a history of human rights abuse.
The economic logic of this strategy cannot be denied: The U.S. armed forces transfer elements of their security operations to private companies; the private companies recruit Latin Americans to fill low-paying positions, thereby maintaining their profit margins; the Latin American recruits are poor people looking for work who will receive relatively high salaries when compared with salaries in their home countries.
This strategy is profoundly wrong for moral reasons. Latin America and other underdeveloped regions should not be a source of cheap labor for the duties of the U.S. military in Iraq.
This strategy is also wrong for political reasons. Political and military officials and civil officials are hoping to avoid political costs of the war at home by recruiting poor Latin Americans to fight and die in the place of U.S. citizens.
What is certain about the war in Iraq is that the U.S. forces should assume the burden of combat in a war their country started. If U.S. allies have the freedom to join the U.S. or choose not to send troops to support the missions, U.S. companies contracted by the Pentagon should not be recruiting Latin American civilians to face the bullets of a U.S. military mission.
In a democracy, it is imperative that the citizenry share the burden and the impact of U.S. military missions abroad, and the decision on whether those missions are worth the cost of carrying them out.
When those dying in combat are neither U.S. soldiers, nor private Pentagon consultants, but citizens of other countries — whose injuries or death has no impact of any kind in the political debate in the U.S. — the democracy is undermined, and war is waged without the citizens participating in the debate on its costs.
The countries in this hemisphere should oppose this practice. Although it should surprise no one that in economies with low salaries, high unemployment, and even higher underemployment, there are people who are eager to accept this risky offer. Keep in mind that according to a recent report by the United Nations Latin American and Caribbean Economic Commission, 224 million people, or 43% of the entire population of Latin American, live in poverty.
Latin America should not become a source of cheap labor to handle the work of the U.S. armed forced in Iraq. Moreover, Latin America should not be a smoke screen for the U.S. to avoid the political cost of its own wars.
A link to an interview with the author on the same topic.