A “small number” of the retired members of the Colombian military arrested last week in connection with the assassination of Haiti’s president have received training by the U.S. military, the Pentagon said Thursday.

In a statement to the Washington Post, Pentagon spokesperson LTC 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 department routinely conducts training for thousands of military men and women representing partner nations from South America, Central America, and the Caribbean,” Hoffman added.

“[The training] emphasizes and promotes respect for human rights, compliance with the rule of law, and militaries subordinate to democratically elected civilian leadership.”

In fact, in May, a Colombian counter-narcotics unit traveled to Fort Polk, Louisiana to train alongside U.S. National Guard forces at the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC). The partnership between the two units goes back to 2012.

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Colombian and U.S. troops training together in June at JRTC in Fort Polk, LA. (DVIDS)

Although the Pentagon has not yet specified how many of the suspects received training from the U.S., according to Colombian officials, 13 out of 15 of the men had served in the Colombian military.

That the former Colombian troops received training from the U.S. is hardly news. In no way does it provide a “smoking gun” tying the assassination to any nefarious U.S. intent on overthrowing the Haitian government.

A Strong Partnership Forged Through Adversity

Colombia has been one of the United States’ staunchest allies in Latin America for several decades. The United States helped start a program called “Lancero” in Colombia in the 1950s based on the U.S. Army Ranger School. The U.S. has retained liaison officers and NCOs in the country ever since.

Since 1964, the country had fought insurgencies against guerrilla groups such as the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), the M-19 movement, the Popular Liberation Army (EPL), and the Movimiento Armado Quintin Lame (MAQL). The insurgencies lasted until a peace deal was signed in August of 2016. 

During that period, the narco-traffickers in Colombia also put a drain on the Colombian government and military. In its darkest periods, the country almost became a failed state. But the U.S. State Department and Pentagon spent decades and hundreds of millions of dollars and helped the Colombians pull the country back from the precipice. 

Therefore, in the past 60 years, tens of thousands of Colombian soldiers have received training from the U.S. both in Colombia and in the United States. During the 1980s and 1990s, the U.S. routinely had hundreds of Special Operations troops teaching counter-insurgency tactics to the Colombian Amry, and advising counter-narcotics forces along with a large contingent of DEA and FBI advisors. 

Green Berets receive an award from the Colombian Army.
Green Berets from 3rd Bn. 7th SFG(A) receiving an award from Colombian troops. Green Berets have had decades of close cooperation and training with Colombian troops. (U.S. Army photo)

Colombian Veterans Are Highly Sought After as Mercenaries

Former Colombian soldiers are very often employed as private contractors or mercenaries. This is because the Colombian military has decades of experience fighting against guerillas and drug traffickers. This experience and training are well sought after, as the Colombian military is now considered one of the best in Latin America. 

Further, Colombian soldiers are still young when they retire and their retirement pensions are not enough to live on. In a recent interview on W Radio, Col. John Marulanda, who heads up an association for former Colombian troops said that retired military members can easily fall “prey to better economic opportunities” after retirement, being hired as mercenaries or contractors around the world.

Troops in Colombia are paid less than $400 a month. While working around the world they make much more than that a week, usually around $90 a day.

The head of the Colombian military, General Luis Fernando Navarro said last week, “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.”

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“There are a significant number of Colombian soldiers in Dubai, for example.”

The U.S. was among the first to hire former Colombian soldiers. Before the Global War on Terror, American senior project managers routinely hired many ex-soldiers to protect their facilities from the FARC and narco-terrorists. 

Back in 2011, the New York Times reported that the United Arab Emirates had recruited dozens of ex-Colombian troops posing as construction workers. The troops traveled to the U.A.E. to join an army fighting in Yemen under the security contractor Blackwater, now known as Academi. 

Most Colombian veterans work for legitimate contractor roles. However, some have been enticed by the lure of big pay working for criminal enterprises, such as the Mexican drug cartels.