When news first emerged last week that some two dozen Colombians had been arrested by Haitian police in connection with the assassination of the country’s president Jovenel Moïse, reactions in Colombia ranged from embarrassment to shock. One headline in Colombia’s largest newspaper, El Tiempo, read, “Colombian mercenaries: trained, cheap and readily available.” Several days later, doubt has been cast on the alleged role and responsibility of Colombians in the murder.
Might they have been framed? According to General Luis Fernando Navarro, the commander of Colombia’s armed forces, 17 of the suspects had retired from Colombia’s army between 2018 and 2020, including some with experience in counterterrorism. Several written and audio Whatsapp messages from the Colombians to their wives and relatives seem to suggest that they were hired by a US-based security company to act as bodyguards, not assassins. US and Colombian law enforcement and top intelligence officials are travelling to Haiti this week to help unravel the mysteries, motives and masterminds behind the killing.
Whatever their role, Colombians weren’t surprised to hear about former military members providing security services; the country’s long conflict and war against drug cartels means that its well-trained soldiers are highly sought-after abroad, particularly in Dubai and other parts of the Middle East. But their involvement has spurred a broader debate. Here in Bogotá, defence minister Diego Molano (pictured, centre, with Navarro on left) has promised an investigation focusing on the firms that hired Colombian ex-military officials and what exactly they knew about the work they were contracted to do. General Navarro told journalists that there was no law against their involvement but others say that there’s a need for more oversight of the foreign firms hiring Colombian mercenaries, along with better pensions and job opportunities for former military members to discourage them from earning dollars for private contractors abroad in the first place.
Anastasia Moloney is Monocle’s correspondent in Bogotá. For more from her on this story, listen to ‘The Briefing’ on Monocle 24.