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Blackwater Recruited Colombian Soldiers; Paid $34/Day

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Bill Sizemore of The Virginian-Pilot has a new article out today that puts a spotlight on some of the behind-the-scenes operations of Blackwater USA, a private security firm co-founded by a major Republican donor from an extremely wealthy and politically well-connected family.

About three dozen former Colombian soldiers are engaged in a pay dispute with Blackwater USA, saying their salaries for security work in Iraq turned out to be one-quarter what they had been promised by recruiters in Bogota.

According to stories published by the Colombian paper Semana and London’s Financial Times, the thirty-five Colombians are "mostly seasoned counter insurgency troops." These soldiers say they were promised salaries of $4,000 a month when they were only paid $34 a day, or roughly $1,000 a month.

"We were tricked by the company," one former Colombian army captain was quoted as saying in the Financial Times.

American contractors can earn $10,000 a month or more working for Blackwater and its competitors in Iraq.

Blackwater offered an explanation.

Chris Taylor, a Blackwater spokesman, was quoted by the Financial Times as saying the dispute sprang from a change in contract terms.

"One contract expired, another task order was bid upon, and so the numbers are different," he said.

Taylor also told the Financial Times that the Colombians alleging that they had been hired under false pretenses were offered a release from their contracts, but only two accepted.

Quoted in the story is Doug Brooks, spokesman for the International Peace Operations Association (IPOA), of which Blackwater is a member, and talked about the reasons for such differences in pay. (I still can’t get over that. Blackwater makes its money off war and conflict. International peace is not exactly good for them.)

The pay dispute highlights one of the realities of the private military industry’s globalized work force, said Doug Brooks, president of the International Peace Operations Association, a Washington-based trade group of which Blackwater is a member.

"People from some countries get paid less than others," Brooks said. "In Iraq, I think the scales are very much related to what they do, the level of risk and their capabilities."

Americans enjoy a natural advantage because they are likely to have better English language skills and higher security clearances, Brooks said.

Foreign nationals working in Iraq is not new. Many of the companies in Iraq import foreign labor to lower costs; even during times of high unemployment rates. However, "former soldiers from Chile, South Africa, the Philippines and a variety of other countries have turned up on the payrolls of private military companies in Iraq, sometimes resulting in political repercussions in their home countries."

Sizemore writes that the Philippines has already banned its citizens from operating in Iraq following deaths in an insurgent attack. South Africa has legislation in Parliament that would "prohibit South Africans from participating in any armed-conflict areas without the permission of their government."

As this story develops, I hope we hear more about these practices. It would be interesting to see what unsavory characters PMCs like Blackwater are recruiting from around the globe. (Which is not to say that the Colombians mentioned in the article are "unsavory" since we know nothing about them specifically. However, when a company searches the globe to recruit mercenaries, one must question what are the minimum specifications for employment.)

With the armed forces struggling to meet recruitment numbers, the chickenhawks cannot be asked to ruffle their feathers and dirty their hands a bit.

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