Retired Colombian soldiers in demand as cheap mercenaries

Suspects in the killing of the Haitian President included Americans and Colombians. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Suspects in the killing of the Haitian President included Americans and Colombians. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

BOGOTA • Highly trained Colombian soldiers left at a loose end after retirement have frequently been tempted to ply their trade abroad as private military contractors from Iraq to Yemen, military officials and experts said.

At least 17 former members of Colombia's military are among the suspects in last week's assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moise, who was shot on Wednesday at his home by what officials said was a group of foreign mercenaries.

The killing has pitched Haiti into political turmoil amid widespread gang violence. The motive as well as those behind the crime remain unknown.

But for those wanting to hire mercenaries, Colombia is a popular choice. The South American country's nearly 60 years of internal conflict have provided a prolific training ground for soldiers.

For those trained as part of elite counter-terrorism units, retirement can come as early as their 40s, leaving many with only modest pensions and little idea of what to do next.

"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," armed forces commander General Luis Fernando Navarro said. "There are a significant number of Colombian soldiers in Dubai, for example."

The United Arab Emirates has been an important client of former Colombian soldiers, sending them to fight Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen, according to Dr Sean McFate of Georgetown University. Latin Americans charge a fraction of what former US or British soldiers do, he wrote in a 2019 report.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 11, 2021, with the headline 'Retired Colombian soldiers in demand as cheap mercenaries'. Subscribe