POLITICS
03/28/2008 02:45 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Private Iraq Contractors Employing Latin American Poor

Sometimes he wakes up with a shudder, thinking he needs to take cover, fast. At other moments he dreams he's running and the mortar shell strikes again, fiery shards of metal ripping through his flesh.

"I take pills to help me sleep," Gregorio Calixto says, proffering a box of cheap over-the-counter medication, the only kind he can afford.

In the United States, Calixto might be under treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder from his time in Iraq, receiving daily physical therapy and counseling. Here he's an unemployed street vendor, renting a spartan room and struggling to recover physically and emotionally from severe shrapnel wounds.

He is one of several thousand Latin Americans who have taken jobs with U.S. contractors as security guards in Iraq and Afghanistan. About 1,200 Peruvians are in Iraq, mostly guarding sites in Baghdad's Green Zone. Chileans, Colombians, Salvadorans and Hondurans have also served as part of the polyglot assemblage providing "conflict labor" in U.S. war zones.

Although most appear to have returned to Latin America safely and with enough cash to buy houses, taxis and businesses, others, such as Calixto, have been unlucky: seriously injured in Iraq and left to negotiate a labyrinthine and what he terms inadequate U.S. insurance system.

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