At the beginning of this month, the last Salvadoran troops serving in Iraq came home, ending a five and a half year involvement in the war in Iraq. For the last four years, El Salvador was the only Latin American country that continued to send troops to Iraq after Honduras and the Dominican Republic pulled out in 2004. Many Salvadorans were angry at their government for involving Salvadoran citizens in the war, believing that the five Salvadoran troops who were killed and the 20 who were injured suffered needlessly. In 2004, a New York Times reporter interviewed the mother of a Salvadoran soldier who was killed in the war, and Ms. Herminia Ramos cried, "I got through our war [the Salvadoran civil war] without losing any of my family, and now my son was sent to fight in someone else's war."
Although the Salvadoran Army will no longer participate in the war in Iraq, private contracting companies will continue to recruit Latin Americans to be a part of their security forces. In 2005, there were 338 Salvadoran soldiers on the ground in Iraq, but there were twice as many Salvadorans working for private contracting companies. One Salvadoran police officer, Sgt. Arturo Lopez (pictured above) says he was offered six times his normal salary to work for a contracting company as a security guard in Iraq. Many worry about the motives of private contracting firms that are recruiting police and military officials from Latin America, especially from countries who have had recent wars like El Salvador and whose officers were trained in the infamous School of the Americas. There is real concern that these firms are recruiting known human rights violators.
The SHARE Foundation celebrates the return of Salvadoran troops from Iraq, but we also remain wary of the Salvadoran government's embrace of militarization both in country and abroad. Let us hope that if President Obama escalates the war in Afghanistan, Salvadorans will not be sent there as well.
- Sara Skinner, US Grassroots Coordinator