Marcus Tullius Cicero
The Republic of Fiji is not a member of the United States of America's "coalition of the willing" now occupying Iraq. While there are some 224 Fijian soldiers in Iraq, they are there under the auspices of the United Nations, to protect UN officials, not to fight a war.
So how is it that in proportion to the country's population (around 900,000), Fiji has suffered almost double the loss of life in the Iraq occupation than the USA? It's true. In the last two months, fourteen Fijian men have died there, three of them a few weeks ago when a roadside bomb exploded next to their convoy north of Baghdad.
It happens this way. The US is operating with minimum numbers of its own troops on the ground. This is not to save money, far from it. Rather it is to avoid implementing military conscription, which would be politically untenable. However, they cannot meet their recruiting goals, so a lot of security jobs must be done by contract to private enterprise. But every problem presents an opportunity as they say, and there is a lot of money to be made in filling the personnel gap.
So the office of the Vice President, who we all know was previously CEO of Halliburton Inc., gives no-bid contracts to Bechtel (whose board members include former secretary of state George Schulz and Caspar Weinberger, who was Secretary of Defense under Reagan, indicted for perjury in the Iran Contra scandals and pardoned by Bush the Senior) to build stuff in Iraq. Bechtel in turn hires a company called Armour Group Ltd to provide people for duties such as guarding their projects and convoys of trucks. Armour Group gets paid $US7000 per week per guard. (I am ever glad I don't have to pay US taxes anymore). To fill these positions, Armour Group hires a recruiting company by the name of Homeland Security.
Homeland Security goes about finding recruits for these positions. The pay offered is US$1500 per week. Now, that's about four or five times what a US soldier is paid and about three times the US per capital income, but it isn't enough to get most US citizens to risk their lives in Iraq. No way. So they look to lower income countries in Latin America and the South Pacific for recruits. US$1500 per week is a huge sum to someone in Fiji where the per capital income is around US$1850 per year. A guy could sign up for 18 months and come home with a tidy sum - enough to build a house, settle down, take care of his family, do things for his village. About 1,000 Fijians, mostly ex-soldiers and police officers, are working in Iraq and Kuwait for private security companies.
That is exactly what Vilisoni Gauna decided to do when he signed on to protect a Bechtel power plant. He was from Nukuni Village, Ono-i-lau Island, in the Lau group of eastern Fiji. At the end of his first contract in May, he signed up for one more, this time it was for a more dangerous job - convoy security.
Vilisoni is home now, but he won't be building a house, or getting married or any of the other things he had planned. Mr. Gauna, 44 and a bachelor, Penaia Vakaotia, 32, and Mikaele Banidawa, 45 and father of three, were killed in that roadside blast last month.
So, that is how an empire's thirst for resources can bring grief to the people of a peaceful island nation half a world away from the conflict. The question that still begs for a sensible answer is, "why"?