Colombian mercenaries: cheap, lethal and "fashionable" labor

Former Colombian military personnel have also been hired to fight in Yemen or work in the United Arab Emirates. Photo Archive

They fight in Yemen or Afghanistan, monitor pipelines in the United Arab Emirates and even plot in Haiti. Hardened in half a century of internal conflict, retired Colombian soldiers and illegal combatants feed the sinister market of mercenaries in the world.

Twenty-six Colombians are accused by Haitian authorities of having participated in the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse at dawn on Wednesday at his residence.

Bogotá said that at least 17 of its former military personnel are allegedly involved in the attack, 15 of whom were captured and while two were killed by Haitian forces.

The actions of Colombian mercenaries reveal a lucrative transnational market.

"There is great experience in terms of irregular warfare (...) the Colombian soldier is trained, has experience in combat and is also a cheap labor force," Jorge Mantilla, investigator of criminal phenomena at the University of Illinois, told AFP. In Chicago. 

It is not only retired soldiers who cross the borders of Colombia, the world's leading cocaine exporter, to carry out violence for hire.

In May 2004, Venezuelan authorities arrested "153 Colombian paramilitaries" whom they accused of being part of a plan to assassinate then-President Hugo Chávez, and in 2020 the Government of Nicolás Maduro dismantled Operation Gideon, which had been planned and trained in Colombia and tried to invade the coasts of La Guaira and Aragua.

Trained, impoverished and numerous

Colombia is an inexhaustible pool of soldiers. Some 220.000 soldiers make up the Armed Forces and thousands of them are retiring due to lack of promotion opportunities, misconduct or because they have completed 20 years of service.

Every year "between 15.000 and 10.000 soldiers leave our army ranks (...) it is a very difficult human universe to control," noted Colonel John Marulanda, president of the Colombian Association of Retired Officers of the Military Forces (Acore), in interview with W Radio.

They retire relatively young with low pensions and that makes them "prey to better economic opportunities," added the retired official.

In his opinion, what happened in Haiti is a "typical case of recruitment" of former Colombian military personnel by private companies to carry out operations in other countries.

According to Colombian authorities, four companies were involved in the assassination of the Haitian president. A woman who introduced herself as the partner of Francisco Eladio Uribe, one of the captured Colombians, said that a company made her husband an offer of $ 2.700 to join the command. 

Uribe retired from the army in 2019 and is linked to a judicial process for the scandal known as "false positives", in which uniformed men executed more than 6.000 civilians between 2002 and 2008 to pass them off as combat casualties in exchange for benefits .

Global business

In May 2011, The New York Times newspaper revealed that a plane with dozens of former Colombian soldiers landed in Abu Dhabi to join an army of mercenaries hired by the US firm Blackwater to guard important assets for the United Arab Emirates.

The same newspaper revealed, in 2015, that hundreds of Colombians were fighting Houthi rebels in Yemen, now hired directly by the Emirates.

For Mantilla, for a decade "there has been a boom in that industry."

At that time, the United States began to replace its troops in the Middle East with "private security companies because they involve a lower political cost in terms of casualties and a gray area in international law."

In the event of possible human rights violations, "the legal responsibility will be assumed by the material authors" and not by the State or company that hired them, the analyst notes.

Today there is a global market where American, English, French, Belgian or Danish companies recruit mercenaries mainly in Latin America or in countries with armed conflicts such as Zimbabwe and Nepal.

"The companies are legal, but this does not mean that all the activities that these people do are strictly legal", concludes Mantilla.




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