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Fewer Latinos Willing to Die in Iraq

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    Fewer and Fewer Latinos Willing to Die in Iraq Diego Cevallos IPS May 31, 2005 http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=28887 MEXICO CITY, May 31 (IPS) - A total
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 3, 2005
      Fewer and Fewer Latinos Willing to Die in Iraq
      Diego Cevallos
      May 31, 2005

      MEXICO CITY, May 31 (IPS) - A total of 215 Latino soldiers serving in
      the U.S. army have already died in Iraq, but according to anti-war
      activists, this bad news comes with a silver lining: an ever smaller
      number of young people of Latin American descent are enlisting in the
      armed forces.

      "I'm glad that the army is no longer able to recruit as many soldiers,
      and that more people are raising their voices against this criminal
      invasion," said Camilo Mejía, a Nicaraguan-born former staff sergeant
      in the U.S. army who refused to return to his unit in Iraq after
      spending five months stationed there in 2003.

      While Mejía declared himself a conscientious objector, the United
      States deemed him a deserter, and sentenced him to nine months in prison.

      Last year, 9,477 foreign-born residents of the United States signed up
      for the U.S. armed forces - 2,352 fewer than in 2003, according to
      official statistics from the George W. Bush administration.

      "There are so many people dying in this senseless, criminal war that
      going to jail to oppose it or refusing to join the army are not very
      big sacrifices when you compare them to all the innocent people killed
      in the war," Mejía told IPS.

      "I didn't want to die in a war that isn't mine, a war that is unjust
      and immoral. That's why I turned myself in to my superiors," declared
      the soldier-turned-activist, the son of Nicaraguan singer-songwriter
      Carlos Mejía Godoy, whose music served as the "soundtrack" to the 1979
      leftist Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua.

      Since the beginning of the occupation of Iraq in March 2003, a total
      of 1,653 soldiers from the United States have died there. Almost 15
      percent of these casualties were of Latin American birth or descent,
      according to figures gathered by the Guerrero Azteca (Aztec Warrior)
      Project, a U.S.-based group that is demanding the return of the
      soldiers sent to the Middle East.

      The proportion of Latino soldiers who have died in Iraq, most of whom
      were privates, is higher than the proportion of Latinos in the U.S.
      armed forces as a whole, which stands at 9.2 percent.

      To join the U.S. army, it is sufficient to be a legal resident of the
      United States, and not necessarily a citizen. In fact, non-citizens
      are encouraged to sign up by the Bush administration's promises to
      speed up the citizenship process and grant scholarships to those who

      Monday was Memorial Day in the United States, a day for paying tribute
      to the soldiers who have lost their lives in war.

      In his Memorial Day address, President Bush stated that "Another
      generation is fighting a new war against an enemy that threatens the
      peace and stability of the world, and thanks to their efforts, freedom
      is on the march."

      "Freedom - real freedom, not the one sold by Mr. Bush - obliges us to
      say that the invasion of Iraq is a colossal deception, and the best
      thing to do is to get out of there," Mexican-American activist
      Fernando Suárez, the founder of Aztec Warrior, told IPS.

      "More and more Latinos are dying in Iraq, and we weep for these
      deaths, because they are absurd, but thanks to the anti-war movement,
      and the prolongation of the occupation, there has been a major drop in
      willingness to join in the invasion, and that is good news," he stressed.

      Suárez, whose son Jesús joined the U.S. army and died in Iraq at the
      start of the occupation, maintained that the "irrational war" in the
      Middle East is "crumbling under the weight of its own immorality."

      He spoke with IPS by telephone from a public school in California,
      where he was giving a presentation against the occupation. Mejía was
      also interviewed by telephone, but from his home in the southern state
      of Georgia.

      Both are legal residents of the United States, and both are devoting
      themselves to travelling around the country to voice their opposition
      to the war and demand that the U.S. soldiers in Iraq be sent home.

      "Because I have seen the war, because I have seen what the army is
      doing, I feel I have the responsibility and the moral obligation to
      raise awareness, so that people will know what is really going on and
      will try to stop this war," said Mejía.

      "I have received a lot of letters from the families of fallen soldiers
      who were against the war but who went over anyway, because they were
      afraid, or because they didn't feel strong enough to stand up to their
      superiors and say that they didn't want to take part," he recounted.

      "They died while doing something that was against their principles,
      and that is very sad. But I tell their families to support the
      soldiers who are still over there and don't want to be in the war. I
      tell them to tell those soldiers not to be afraid, because going to
      jail for desertion is nothing when you are following your conscience,"
      he added.

      Mejía, like Suárez's son and hundreds of other young people of Latin
      American descent, were drawn to enlist in the U.S. army by the
      promises of assistance and scholarships.

      "At the time (1995), I was looking for somewhere to put down roots,
      because I had lived in Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Cuba and the United
      States, and I wanted to be a part of something," said the former staff
      sergeant , who is now a member of the non-governmental organisation
      Iraq Veterans Against the War.

      But "going to war wasn't what I was looking for, and I was very
      critical of the invasion," he said.

      "I went to Iraq, and being there raised my consciousness to the point
      where I was able to speak out and say that this is a criminal war. And
      the price I paid was a court martial and nine months in jail," he added.

      According to Mejía, who was locked up on a military base in the United
      States until February, dozens of Latino soldiers do not want to be in
      Iraq, but they stay because they are afraid of going to jail and being
      branded deserters.

      Nevertheless, he concluded, "That occupation is going to end, since
      more and more soldiers will dare to speak out, because they can't fool
      us anymore."




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