Thursday, November 17, 2005

Gulf Coast Slaves

Gulf Coast Slaves
By Roberto Lovato

Tuesday 15 November 2005
Halliburton and its subcontractors hired hundreds of undocumented Latino workers to clean up after Katrina - only to mistreat them and throw them out without pay.

Arnulfo Martinez recalls seeing lots of hombres del ejercito standing at attention. Though he was living on the Belle Chasse Naval Base near New Orleans when President Bush spoke there on Oct. 11, he didn't understand anything the ruddy man in the rolled-up sleeves was saying to the troops.

Martinez, 16, speaks no English; his mother tongue is Zapotec. He had left the cornfields of Oaxaca, Mexico, four weeks earlier for the promise that he would make $8 an hour, plus room and board, while working for a subcontractor of KBR, a wholly owned subsidiary of Halliburton that was awarded a major contract by the Bush administration for disaster relief work. The job was helping to clean up a Gulf Coast naval base in the region devastated by Hurricane Katrina. "I was cleaning up the base, picking up branches and doing other work," Martinez said, speaking to me in broken Spanish.

Even if the Oaxacan teenager had understood Bush when he urged Americans that day to "help somebody find shelter or help somebody find food," he couldn't have known that he'd soon need similar help himself. But three weeks after arriving at the naval base from Texas, Martinez's boss, Karen Tovar, a job broker from North Carolina who hired workers for a KBR subcontractor called United Disaster Relief, booted him from the base and left him homeless, hungry and without money...