WASHINGTON – The U.S. military helped train a "small number" of the Colombian suspects who have been arrested in connection with the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse, a Pentagon spokesman said Thursday.
“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,” Lt. Col. Ken Hoffman, a Pentagon spokesman, said in a statement.
The news was first reported by the Washington Post.
Colombian officials have said 13 Colombians implicated in the attack are retired members of the country's military, 11 of them have been arrested and two were killed as Haitian police conducted a manhunt for the killers. The commander of Colombia’s Armed Forces, Gen. Luis Fernando Navarro, said the 13 Colombians left the military between 2018 and 2020.
Moïse was murdered in his private residence on July 7 in a shocking assault that has jolted the Caribbean country and sowed political chaos among its leaders. Haitian officials have said Moïse was killed by a team of foreign "mercenaries" that included the Colombian suspects and as many as three Americans of Haitian descent.
Colombia has been a major beneficiary of U.S. military assistance for decades, with Washington spending millions of dollars annually to train and equip the country's armed forces. The U.S. funds have gone to helping the military stamp out Colombia's drug trade, battle leftist guerilla fighters and increase security.
The Pentagon regularly trains thousands of troops from allied countries in South and Central America and the Caribbean, Hoffman said.
“This training emphasizes and promotes respect for human rights, compliance with the rule of law, and militaries subordinate to democratically elected civilian leadership,” Hoffman said.
But some critics have taken issue with the U.S. role in training foreign militaries that go on to engage in human rights abuses.
And U.S.-trained Colombian soldiers have been recruited by private security firms in global conflict zones because of their experience in a decadeslong war against leftist rebels and powerful drug cartels.
“In the criminal world, there is the concept of murder for hire and this is what happened: they hired some members of the (army) reserve for this purpose and they have to respond criminally for the acts they committed,” said retired Colombian army Gen. Jaime Ruiz Barrera.
On Sunday, Haitian police arrested a 63-year-old Haitian man who lived in Florida, Christian Emmanuel Sanon. Officials said Moïse’s alleged killers were protecting Sanon and that he wanted to be president of Haiti. Sanon identifies himself as a doctor and has accused Haitian leaders of corruption.
The Biden administration sent a team of U.S. law enforcement officials to Haiti on Sunday and the FBI has said it is assisting Haitian officials in the investigation.
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Contributing: Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Haiti assassination: US military trained some Colombian suspects