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Latino Youth Targeted as Recruitment Falls Short

Between the Lines Q&A
A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints
on national and international issues
under-reported in mainstream media
for release June 10, 2005
http://www.btlonline.org/btl061005.html

Latino Youth Targeted as U.S. Military Falls Short of Recruitment Goal

- Interview with Marela Zaccarias, of Latinos Contra la Guerra Latinos Against the War, conducted by Melinda Tuhus

Listen in RealAudio:
http://www.btlonline.org/zaccarias061005.ram
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The Pentagon invoked a mid-May stand-down of military recruiters in order to reorient them in the legal requirements of their job, since many were carrying out illegal activities in their ever-more desperate efforts to meet recruitment quotas. As U.S. casualties have continued to mount in Iraq, with no end to the conflict in sight, both the Army and the Marines have failed to meet their quotas over the past several months.

According to Pentagon officials as of April 30, the Army had achieved only 85 percent of its recruitment target for the first five months of the fiscal year, which began Oct. 1, 2004. This shortfall has come despite offering the largest enlistment bonuses in Army history. Recruiters have stepped up their contacts with high school students to a degree that in many cases can only be described as harassment.

Between The Lines' Melinda Tuhus spoke with Marela Zaccarias, who works with the Connecticut-based group, Latinos Contra la Guerra or Latinos Against War. She describes how the war in Iraq has disproportionately affected Latinos, in part because low-income Latino youth are more vulnerable to military recruitment as they have fewer employment and educational opportunities.

MARELA ZACCARIAS: The war has a lot of effects on the Latino community, and even though a lot of things are happening that relate to the war, the Latino community wasn’t too involved in the anti-war movement. We felt we needed to have an organization that was catered specifically to Latinos where we could create a safe and positive environment where people could express their views, where we could speak Spanish at the meetings and we could really address how the war affects our community. And so that’s why we started it, reaching out to youth, to older people, to people from all parts of Latin America and the Caribbean, and it grew very rapidly.

BETWEEN THE LINES: What are some of the ways that the war has affected the Latino community in particular?

MARELA ZACCARIAS: Well, first of all, a lot of money’s being spent on the war. Just from Hartford, $80 million is being spent on the war. So all this money is being spent on the war in Iraq, when the money for programs for education, for health care, for housing, are being cut. This obviously affects the poor the most, the poor and the working class, and these happen to be a lot of African American and Latino people. And another thing that is happening is the military needs a lot of young people to be soldiers in the war, and they’re coming to our high schools and colleges to recruit, and again, in the same way that people who are wealthy and have enough money to send their kids to college -- they don’t have to go to the military for this thing, so the military really tries to go to schools where there are a lot of kids who might not have enough money to go to college, who might not have as many opportunities to get jobs.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Have you seen over the past year any change in the community in terms of the numbers of young people who are joining the military? Has it dropped at all?

MARELA ZACCARIAS: It has, it has dropped dramatically in all branches of the military. It started with the National Guard, and it’s sort of an obvious thing to happen, because the National Guard usually is people who have other jobs and who join with the promise of just going once a month and training once a month. And because of all the people being sent to war, and they were not expecting there to be a war, less and less people are joining the National Guard. But then we find people from places like the Marines. The Marines had a history of actually sending people away because they didn’t have enough spaces for people, because everybody wanted to be a Marine. And for the first time, in January, they couldn’t make their goals. And the same thing is happening in all the branches of the military. They’re using their reserves, meaning people who signed up and deferred their entrance for a year or two, and these people are being used right now because they don’t have enough. I know that among African Americans recruitment has gone down a lot. People in the African American community don’t believe in the war for the most part, and are not willing to send their children to it. However, the recruiters are really targeting the Latino community -- they’ve said so in the paper -- because the Latino community is growing and it’s a very poor and working class community. So, it has dramatically gone down, and because of that the military has doubled the amount of money that they’re spending on recruitment. They’ve doubled the number of recruiters they’re sending to the schools, they’re using a lot more money for advertisements, in magazines, and for the gear, and promises, you know.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Opponents of the war are starting to organize around the fact that the No Child Left Behind law allows military recruiters’ access to students personal information, like home phone numbers. Do you talk to Latino students and their parents about that?

MARELA ZACCARIAS: We do. That’s one of the first things we tell the students when we go into the schools. We explain to them that because of NCLB, their information is being shared with military recruiters. And we have a form that they can fill out and give to their principal to remove their names from the list of the recruiters. However, you know, this is something that the schools should be doing, and if you talk to some of the principals, they say at the beginning of the year they send a letter to the parents that explains they can remove their kids’ names from the recruiters’ list. But I have talked to hundreds of students and parents, and no one has ever seen this. It’s probably buried in a lot of letters or very tiny letters in some paper. So the students don’t know about it, so we definitely … we’ve filled out … the kids just grab them from us and give them to their friends, because a lot of these kids are really sick of being called constantly or having people come to the house, or being harassed by the recruiters.

Contact the Latinos Contra la Guerra or Latinos Against War, part of the Alternatives to Military Recruitment coalition at (413) 210-7374 or visit their website at http://www.afsc.org/youthmil

Related links:

"Fewer and Fewer Latinos Willing to Die in Iraq," by Diego Cevallos, Inter Press Service, May 31, 2005

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Melinda Tuhus is a producer of Between The Lines, which can be heard on more than 35 radio stations and in RealAudio and MP3 on our website at http://www.btlonline.org. This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines for the week ending June 10, 2005. This Between The Lines Q&A was compiled by Melinda Tuhus and Anna Manzo.

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