A “small number” of the retired members of the Colombian military arrested last week in connection with the assassination of Haiti’s president were trained by the U.S. military, the Pentagon said Thursday.
In a statement to the Washington Post, Pentagon spokesperson Lt. Col. Ken Hoffman said, “A review of our training databases indicates that a small number of the Colombian individuals detained as part of this investigation had participated in past U.S. military training and education programs, while serving as active members of the Colombian Military Forces.”
The Pentagon has not yet said how many of the suspects received training from the U.S., but according to Colombian officials, 13 out of 15 of the suspected Colombians served in their country’s military.
Many retired Colombian soldiers turn to mercenary work in other countries because they frequently retire young and are given low pensions. Colonel John Marulanda, who leads an association for former Colombian military members, said on W Radio that retired military members can easily fall “prey to better economic opportunities” after retirement, becoming mercenaries around the world, the AFP reported. Marulanda said that each year, 10,000-15,000 soldiers leave the Colombian military, usually due to a lack of opportunity for promotion, misconduct, or because they have reached 20 years of service.
“The recruitment of Colombian soldiers to go to other parts of the world as mercenaries is an issue that has existed for a long time, because there is no law that prohibits it,” General Luis Fernando Navarro, who leads Colombia’s military forces, said last week. “There are a significant number of Colombian soldiers in Dubai, for example.”
The United Arab Emirates sent hundreds of mercenaries from Colombia to fight in Yemen in 2015. And in 2011, the New York Times reported that “dozens” of Colombian mercenaries traveled to the UAE, posing as construction workers, to join an Emirati mercenary army put together by security contractor Blackwater, now known as Academi.
The mercenaries are often paid much more than they earned serving in the military. While employed as a soldier in Colombia, they make around $375 per month, but as a mercenary working in the Middle East, they can earn as much as $90 per day. Colombian troops are also valued more highly than those from other countries because of their experience with guerilla warfare.
In addition to the mercenaries, Haitian officials have arrested Christian Emmanuel Sanon, a doctor and pastor who police believe is the mastermind behind the assassination plot. “[Sanon] came with the intention to take over as President of the Republic,” Haitian National Police Director General Leon Charles said on Sunday, adding that one of the men allegedly involved in the assassination called Sanon first after it took place. Sanon, however, says he is innocent. Two other suspects are Walter Veintemilla, who runs a Florida financial services company, and Antonio Intriago, who owns a private security company that hired the Colombian mercenaries and brought them to Haiti.