Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Peruvians in Baghdad

There are more than 1,600 Peruvian recruits in Iraq, making it the largest Latin American contingent operating in that country. (1,200 in Baghdad, 400 in Basra)
The second being Chile with 1,200.

In Baghdad many carry out security work in and out of the Green Zone, some doing searches on cars.

They’re working as military guards and get given military training and arms. The training lasts four days. In Basra there are accounts of Peruvians being given orders to repel attacks from insurgents. So goes the so-called passive guarding role given to Peruvians who fill the void in military enforcement. The companies involved are Triple Canopy and its Peruvian subcontractor Defion.

Most recruits are former soldiers and police officers, many with experience fighting leftist rebels. They are paid $1,000 a month - less than a tenth the salary paid to American mercenaries.

Miraculously so far only a dozen Peruvian guards have been injured by "indirect fire" (mortar shells or rockets). The noncombat casualties included one man who died of a heart attack and another Francisco GutiĆ©rrez, 38, who succumbed to leukemia shortly after being sent home. His wife received 6 thousand dollars after nine months as compensation, the equivalent of six months work her husband was expected to have completed. It is widely suspected in Peru that Gutierrez’s leukemia was the result of exposure to high levels of uranium in Iraq.

Another Peruvian, Martin Jara Hichard, 40, was killed in Kabul, Afghanistan. To this day it remains unclear how he died. Like Gutierrez, he had signed on with a US recruiting firm to guard US installations.

Gregorio Calixto, 27, lent his services for more than 13 months in a British military camp in Basra. In a bid to save more money Calixto accepted to extend his contract by four months. Until then everything was going well; he’d been able to evade continuous mortar attacks and the death threats given to him by Iraqis. All until, a little moment after a change of guards, a huge mortar attack fell onto his position. Calixto ran for cover, but was caught by shrapnel, injuring his leg, his right arm. His hearing was also seriously affected.

He was taken to a British Military Hospital, a few days later being sent to an American hospital in Baghdad. In view of his non-improving recovery he was sent Lima.

Triple Canopy sent Calixto to Peru on a commercial flight without medical attention. That is to say they risked the condition of man with an open wound with an exposed bone to sit for three days on a commercial flight from the Middle East to Lima.

He is now an unemployed street vendor, renting a spartan room and struggling to recover physically and emotionally from his wounds.

Since his return to Peru Calixto says he has problems getting help. The U.S. Defense Base Act requires that contractors such as Triple Canopy provide coverage, including disability, for work-related injuries. Claims, however, are reviewed by the U.S. Labor Department and are administered by a U.S. insurance company.

Calixto describes a frustrating process of telephoning representatives in the United States and finding no one who speaks Spanish; of frequent trips to downtown Lima, the capital, to speak with representatives of Triple Canopy; pleading for reimbursement for clinic bills, medicine, taxis, international phone calls and other expenses. He only irregularly attends physical therapy sessions, he says, because of delays in getting reimbursed.

He lives on $492 in monthly disability checks provided through the Triple Canopy insurance. But he says he doesn't know how long that's going to last. Nor does he consider it sufficient: The injury has severely limited his prospects in a country where the maimed can often end up begging in the streets.

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