GRANADA, Nicaragua – As the U.S.war in Iraq becomes increasingly outsourcedto private military firms, impoverishedand war-torn Central America maybecome the next hotspot for recruitment oflow-paid soldiers.Triple Canopy, a private U.S. securityand special operations firm contracted bythe U.S. Department ofState, has already set upshop in El Salvador andis actively recruiting privatesecurity forces to besent to Iraq, according tocompany spokesman JoeMayo.Regional militaryexperts tell The TicoTimes that another privateIsraeli security firmallegedly is recruitingsoldiers in Guatemala, and several othersare operating in nearby Colombia, accordingto the Brookings Institution, a U.S.think tank that specializes in militaryissues.Although Nicaraguan security andmilitary insiders consulted this week byThe Tico Times said they didn’t know ofany private firms currently operating inthis country, they acknowledgedNicaragua is vulnerable to recruitment byaggressive military firms looking for newand impoverished applicant pools.DURING a press conference inManagua last Friday, U.S. Secretary ofDefense Donald Rumsfeld said he didn’tknow anything about private securityfirms recruiting Central Americans to goto Iraq, and vehemently rejected a questionby this reporter suggesting the socalledCoalition of the Willing is becomingunglued.“The coalition is not becomingunglued,” he insisted. “We have a largenumber of countries that are participating.”The numbers, however, tell a slightlydifferent story about participation levels.“OVER 60 firms employ more than20,000 private personnel carrying out militaryfunctions (in Iraq),” P.W. Singer,National SecurityFellow at theBrookings Institutionand author ofthe book “CorporateWarriors,” toldThe Tico Times thisweek. “To put thisinto context, suchnumbers mean theprivate military industryhas contributedmore forcesto Iraq than any other member of theU.S.-led coalition.“To be more accurate then, (U.S.)President Bush’s claim of a ‘Coalition ofthe Willing’ might be renamed the‘Coalition of the Billing’,” Singer added.According to the Brookings Institution,private forces have also suffered thebrunt of military casualties in Iraq.By September 2004, private contractorshad suffered an estimated 150 killedin Iraq, and as many as 700 more wereinjured.“These numbers are more than the restof the coalition combined, and more thanany single U.S. Army division,” Singersaid.OF the Central American countriesthat joined the coalition, only El Salvadorstill has troops in Iraq. Brigades fromHonduras and Nicaragua have beenrecalled because of lack of funds and publicsupport.Triple Canopy’s Mayo told The TicoTimes this week, during a phone interviewfrom corporate headquarters in Illinois,that his company recently started recruitingin El Salvador because it is still anactive member of the coalition, andbecause of its “effective and high talentpool.”Mayo said the Salvadorans employedby Triple Canopy will work as bodyguardsand site security guards. He declined tooffer any more details about the number ofrecruits hired during the two months thecompany has been in El Salvador, or onthe conditions of the contracts offered.The Salvadoran daily, El Diario de Hoy,reported Oct. 6 that the Triple Canopyrecruiter in San Salvador is offering applicants$1,700 a month for site guards, and$100 a day for bodyguards, cigarettesincluded. Those monthly salaries arealmost as much as security guards in ElSalvador make in an entire year.The article quoted one applicant whotold the reporter he already had friendsworking in Iraq who were “living betterthan any rich person in El Salvador does.”MAYO said his company is not currentlyoperating in any other CentralAmerican country, and he isn’t aware ofother private firms that are.But, with similarly low wages, highunemployment numbers and a populationfamiliar with war and guns, it may beonly a matter of time before the militaryfirms migrate to Nicaragua, where some40 private security companies employ9,650 guards, paying them an average of$125 a month.The salary alone is enough to enticeNicaraguans to consider the dangerouswork in Iraq.“It’s a good offer. I would have tothink about it,” said Mario AntonioMendoza, a 43-year-old bank guard inGranada with leading Nicaraguan securityfirm Ultranic.“I would go, but I am too old,” says hispartner, 47-year-old Francisco JoséRamirez. “I could send my son though,he’s only 22.”“Yeah, I’d go for the money,”Mendoza said.Apparently, 30 seconds was all heneeded to think about it.