A man with ties to New Mexico working in Iraq as a security coordinator for a subsidiary of Halliburton was severely beaten last week by a group of fellow employees reportedly called the "Redneck Mafia."
And, the victim's father says, it might have been because his son had raised concerns about security problems at the Baghdad airport, where he works for Kellogg, Brown and Root , a subsidiary of the Houston-based corporation.
Ronald Chavez, 40, was attacked, his family says, by eight co-workers on Easter Sunday at the airport. He was flown out of Iraq to Germany, where he is recovering, wife Patti Chavez said Thursday.
"We're hoping that he'll be able to travel and to come home to the U.S.," Patti Chavez said. "We're just anxious to have him come home."
U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman's office investigated the incident for several days.
In a prepared statement last week, Bingaman,D-N.M., said, "My office has been in close contact with the Chavez family. On the family's behalf, I contacted Kellogg, Brown and Root and urged them to ensure that Mr. Chavez was getting proper care for his injuries. I also asked them to get to the bottom of exactly what happened to Mr. Chavez."
A spokeswoman for KBR said the company fired three men over the incident, which she characterized as a "fight at work." She said Ronald Chavez wasn't seriously injured and was being treated as an outpatient in Germany.
Eli Chavez is a former agent of the federal Drug Enforcement Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency.
Last year, he ran an unsuccessful campaign for the Democratic nomination for the District 1 congressional seat representing the Albuquerque area.
He spoke about his son's beating in an interview on Amy Goodman's Pacifica radio program Democracy Now!
Halliburton -- the world's largest oil field-services company, for which Vice President Dick Cheney worked as CEO before becoming vice president -- has been a lightning rod for criticism stemming from no-bid contracts totaling billions of dollars for work in Iraq.
Eli Chavez told Goodman he suspects his son was beaten because of a memo his son had written to KBR officials about security at the airport.
His son Ronald "was meeting a lot of resistance on the memorandum that he produced to Halliburton in regards to the security of the airport," Eli Chavez said. "He felt that the security of the airport was not secure.
He felt that American lives were at stake and that he wanted to save those lives, and especially anybody that's in that airport. He wanted to make sure everything was fine."
The elder Chavez said his son's memo angered some higher-ups in the company.
Another possibility, Eli Chavez said, is that someone was upset about e-mails he had been sending home.
In one December e-mail, read on Democracy Now!, Ronald Chavez said, "I have been working very hard to secure the airport, and it is a dangerous place. The company that runs the security is undermanned and when you have people in your perimeter, it's almost impossible to secure. Plus, all the attitudes and perceptions people seem to have -- I feel it's not if a bomb will hit, but when. I am trying to persuade people we need to move the operation to our own facility."
In an e-mail he sent his father two weeks later, also read on the radio show, Ronald Chavez spoke of alleged corruption in the Iraqi government. That missive spoke of a private security company that, Ronald Chavez said, had threatened to walk off the job because employees hadn't been paid in several weeks.
"The Iraq government was taking the money from the U.S. and not giving it to (the company)," Ronald Chavez's e-mail said. "The money is probably in a Swiss account somewhere. These people are the most corrupt bunch I've ever seen. Everyone is on the take."
Eli Chavez also said ethnic prejudice could have something to do with the beating.
"While Ronald was in Albuquerque on R & R, he advised me that his boss did not like him because Ronald is Hispanic, and that the 'Redneck Mafia' ran the operation for Halliburton at Baghdad Airport," Eli Chavez said in the radio interview.
The alleged "Redneck Mafia" is made up of KBR employees from around Leesville, La., where, Eli Chavez said, KBR does heavy recruiting.
Eli Chavez told the radio audience that he has written to the U.S. Justice Department about the beating.
He didn't return several telephone messages from The New Mexican left last week at his home in Albuquerque and at the home of his daughter-in-law, Patti, where Ronald Chavez lives.
Jennifer W. Dellinger, a KBR public relations officer, said in an e-mail, "An investigation is currently under way regarding the incident, so it would be premature to comment on any aspect of the investigation at this time."
She said she couldn't name the three fired employees or talk about possible reasons for the attack.
Dellinger said the company has been in "close communication" with Chavez's wife since the beating occurred, and "the company is continuing to keep the family informed of his condition and the medical treatment he is receiving. KBR personnel have maintained an open line of communication 24 hours a day if the Chavez family needs any assistance at any time."
According to Dellinger, Chavez was "immediately" taken to a combat-support facility at the project site in Baghdad, where he received appropriate medical treatment from KBR medical personnel. Mr. Chavez was then transferred to a larger military combat-support hospital in Balad, where he continued to receive medical treatment while he waited for an available flight to Germany.
In answer to questions about why it took three days for Ronald Chavez to be taken out of Iraq, Dellinger wrote, "The most seriously injured (this includes members of the military who have been injured in combat) take priority in being flown to Germany for treatment."
Ronald Chavez, she said, left Iraq and arrived at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany on Wednesday.
"He was evaluated by doctors at Landstuhl and was released as an outpatient to a nearby facility in Germany, as Mr. Chavez's condition is such that it is not necessary for him to be hospitalized. Today, Mr. Chavez was transferred to a nearby hotel, where he will have more privacy and be much more comfortable."
Ronald Chavez, she said, "will continue to receive follow-up treatment at Landstuhl and doctors there will then determine if Mr. Chavez is able to directly return to his work site in Iraq or if it is necessary for him to return to the United States for further treatment before returning to Iraq."
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