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Murder Puzzle: What Did Colombian Military Vets Do In Haiti?

BOGOTÁ, Colombia – One evening in early June, Mauricio Javier Romero, an excellent 20-year veteran in the Colombian military, received a call from an old army comrade.

The friend wanted to recruit him for a job – “legal” and “safe” work that would send him abroad, according to Mr. Romero’s wife Giovanna Romero.

“This person told him he wasn’t going to get in trouble,” she said, “that it was a good opportunity for professional growth, for economic growth – and knowing what a quality professional my husband was, he wanted him part of it was The Crew. “

One month later, Mr Romero, 45, is dead, one of several men killed in Haiti following the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse last week and one of at least 20 Colombians implicated in a murder by Haitian officials, who plunged the Caribbean nation into chaos.

At least 18 of the Colombian men are in Haitian custody; at least two are dead.

Recognition…Giovanna Romero

But while the interim prime minister and members of his cabinet have portrayed the Colombians as the centerpiece of a well-organized “foreign mercenary” conspiracy to assassinate Mr. Moïse, questions remain about their role in the murder.

One possible clue to the Colombian presence landed late Sunday when Haitian authorities said they had arrested a Florida-based Haitian doctor whom they identified as a central figure in the plot.

The doctor, Christian Emmanuel Sanon, 63, is said to have hired the private security company in Florida, which has recruited at least some of the Colombians.

“He arrived in June on a private plane with political objectives and contacted a private security company to recruit the people who had committed the crime,” said chief Leon Charles of the Haitian National Police.

But Chief Charles did not provide any evidence that Dr. Connected Sanon to the crime, and it was not clear what the doctor’s intent or motives would have been.

The country’s chief prosecutor has also begun investigating the role Haitian security forces may have played in an operation that killed the president and injured his wife but did not harm anyone in the president’s household or security entourage.

Skepticism about the official line of government is widespread on the streets in Haiti, and many wonder how the attackers got through such a paved area, which was defended by Haitian security forces and had no other deaths.

And in Colombia, some family members of the incarcerated Colombians say the men went to Haiti to protect the president, not to kill him, adding to the many obscure and often contradicting allegations related to the murder.

“Mauricio would never have signed up for an operation like this,” said Ms. Romero, 43, “no matter how much money he was offered.”

Colombia, which has suffered from internal conflict for decades, has one of the best trained and best financed military in Latin America, long supported by the United States. Because of this, Colombian veterans are in great demand with global security companies that have deployed them as far as Yemen and Iraq, sometimes paying each person up to $ 3,000 a month – a sizeable sum compared to salaries of several hundred US dollars. Dollars a month you could expect in Colombia.

Mr Romero had joined the military in his twenties, at a time when left-wing guerrillas and paramilitary groups were terrorizing much of Colombia. When he retired in 2019, he was a first sergeant who had served across the country and earned the “Expert Lancer,” specialty training for elite troops similar to the US Army Ranger program.

Mrs. Romero described her husband as a follower of the rules. “If you do things right,” he used to say, “life will be fine.” He’d got used to civilian life, she said, and at times she said he missed the camaraderie and sense of purpose he enjoyed Military got.

The call he received in June was from his friend Duberney Capador, 40, also a retired military man with specialty training. Mr. Capador also left the army in 2019 and lived with his mother on a family farm in western Colombia.

According to his sister, Yenny Carolina Capador, 37, he left the farm and traveled to Haiti in May after receiving a job offer from a security company. The siblings spoke often and Mr. Capador told his sister that his team was training and was tasked with protecting a “very important” person.

“I am 100 percent sure that my brother did not do what he said he hurt someone,” emphasized Ms. Capador. “I know my brother went to look after someone.”

Mr. Capador sent his sister pictures of himself in his uniform, a dark polo shirt with the logo of a Florida security company called CTU, the company that Haitian authorities say Dr. Sanon had hired for the act.

CTU is run by a man named Antonio Intriago. He did not respond to messages asking for comment and the CTU office was closed when a reporter stopped by on Saturday.

Now Mr. Capador was trying to convince Mr. Romero to join him.

Ms. Romero said that she and her husband discussed this that June night and decided that it was a good opportunity to move forward financially. They had a mortgage to pay and two children to look after, and Mr Romero’s army duck only covered the bare minimum.

“If you do,” Ms. Romero said to her husband, “I will support you as I have done in the 20 years that we have been together.”

Mr Romero arrived at the airport in the Colombian capital, Bogotá, on Saturday 5th June, where he picked up his plane ticket and drove to the Dominican Republic, Haiti’s neighbor.

Ms. Romero said the last time she spoke to him was last Tuesday. He told her that he was protecting a man he referred to as “the boss” and that he had limited cellular connectivity but wanted to check in.

“I’m fine,” he told her. “I love you so much.”

“We’ll talk again,” he went on.

It was rushed, but Mrs. Romero was not worried.

However, the next day she learned on the news that Haiti’s president was dead and that Colombians could be involved. When she couldn’t reach her husband, her head began to turn.

Last Friday, the Colombian Ministry of Defense published the names of 13 Colombians found in Haiti. Her husband was among them.

The Department of Defense also said it was investigating four companies it believed had recruited Colombians for jobs in Haiti.

Not long after, Ms. Romero’s daughter, 20, received a message with a video showing a man’s limp body. It seemed to be her father.

“Mommy, am I right that it isn’t him?” Asked her daughter. “Right, mom? That can not be.”

But Mrs. Romero recognized the rosary hanging on the dead man’s chest. It was her husband.

Haitian officials say a group of attackers stormed Mr. Moïse’s home on the outskirts of the capital Port-au-Prince at around 1 a.m. last Wednesday, shot him dead and wounded his wife Martine Moïse. planned operation involving “foreigners” who spoke Spanish.

In videos filmed from nearby buildings and dubbed by the New York Times, people who appeared to be arriving to assassinate the president shouted that they were part of a US drug agency operation.

The DEA has stated that it is not involved.

It is unclear what role the Colombians played in the operation.

Later on Wednesday morning, Ms. Capador said she started receiving calls and text messages from her brother Duberney. He told her that he was in danger, that he was holed up in a house and that bullets were flying around him. Mrs. Capador could hear the gunshots in the background.

Ms. Capador said her brother told her he was “too late” to rescue the “important person” he was supposed to be protecting.

Haitian authorities have also arrested at least two Haitian Americans in connection with the president’s death.

Haitian officials have produced little evidence linking suspects to the crime.

In an interview, Judge Clément Noël, who was involved in the investigation, said the two Haitian Americans had alleged that they only worked as interpreters during the operation and that they met with other participants in an upscale hotel in the Pétionville suburb of Port-au-Prince Plan attack.

The goal was not to kill the president, but to bring him to the National Palace.

Days after the murder, Steven Benoit, a former senator and prominent member of the opposition, said he could hardly believe that the Colombians were responsible for the attack.

“The story just doesn’t fit,” said Mr Benoit in a telephone interview from Port-au-Prince. “How is it that not a single security guard was shot on the presidential compound with a scratch?”

Mr Benoit also asked why the Colombians who were at the site of the attack did not try to leave the country immediately after Mr Moïse was killed. Instead, they stayed around and were killed or captured.

On Saturday, Ms. Romero announced to her six year old son that “Daddy would not be returning”.

She said she hadn’t heard from Colombian or Haitian investigators, but urged them to find out the truth so that the families of everyone involved could “find some peace”.

Julie Turkewitz reported from Bogotá, Colombia, and Simon Romero from Albuquerque, NM. Reporting was contributed by Sofía Villamil in Cartagena, Colombia; Anatoly Kurmanaev in Mexico City; Edinson Bolaños in Bogotá, Colombia; Ernesto Londoño in Trancoso, Brazil; Mirelis Morales Tovarin in Doral, Florida; and Catherine Porter and Frances Robles in Miami. Jack Begg contributed to the research.

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