BOGOTÁ, Colombia — “Gentlemen,” the textual content message from the recruiter started, “there is an American company that needs special forces, commandos with experience, for a job in Central America.”
The pay, the recruiter went on to clarify, can be life-changing: between $2,500 and $three,500 a month, many occasions what the veterans earned as retired members of Colombia’s armed forces. And the mission was noble, the recruiter claimed.
“We are going to help in the recovery of the country, in terms of its security and democracy,” the recruiter went on, urging the lads to get match now. “We are going to be pioneers.”
Instead, 18 of the recruits at the moment are in Haitian custody, suspected by Haitian officers of being linked to a plot to assassinate President Jovenel Moïse, who was killed final week in a nighttime assault on his residence.
Three of the recruits are lifeless.
Most seem to have been approached in the months earlier than Mr. Moïse’s dying by a gaggle of businessmen, some based mostly in the United States, who exaggerated their credentials and the scope of their firms. They misled a few of the recruits concerning the undertaking they had been embarking on and broke guarantees to pay them 1000’s of dollars.
The New York Times reviewed time-stamped recruitment textual content messages and interviewed a dozen males who had been approached to participate in the Haiti operation earlier this 12 months however didn’t find yourself going in June — in some circumstances as a result of they had been purported to be a part of a second wave of recruits scheduled to land in Haiti at a later level, they stated.
In interviews, the Colombian veterans stated that they had been instructed by recruiters — in particular person and thru WhatsApp messages later shared with The Times — that they had been going to struggle gangs, enhance safety, defend dignitaries and democracy and assist rebuild a protracted struggling nation.
Behind the trouble, the recruiters claimed, was an essential American safety firm with U.S. authorities funds to again them.
But CTU, the corporate that enlisted the Colombians and whose brand and identify was emblazoned on the black Polo shirts the recruits wore as a uniform, was run from a small warehouse in Miami by Antonio Intriago, a Venezuelan-American with a historical past of debt, evictions and bankruptcies.
Colombian officers have stated that their investigation into their residents’ involvement in the assassination plot is targeted on Germán Alejandro Rivera, a retired captain, who they are saying seems to have been a major contact for the U.S.-based recruiters.
Colombian consular officers nonetheless haven’t had entry to their detained residents, forcing them to depend on the knowledge supplied by the Haitian authorities, Colombia’s deputy international minister, Francisco Echeverri, instructed reporters on Monday.
But in accordance with stories in the Colombian media, citing the nation’s intelligence officers, Mr. Rivera instructed Haitian prosecutors that he was amongst a gaggle of seven retired Colombian troopers who entered the presidential residence on the evening of the assassination.
The stories don’t point out what function he or different Colombians might need performed in the assassination — however they add a layer of doubt to the already murky story and lift questions on how privy some members of the Colombian group might need been to the plot that unfolded in the primary hours of July 7 and left Mr. Moïse lifeless and his spouse injured, however nobody else harm.
The thriller is confounded by the frequent stopovers that the pinnacle of Mr. Moïse’s presidential palace guard, Dimitri Hérard, made in Bogotá in the months earlier than the assassination. Mr. Hérard, who was skilled in neighboring Ecuador, transited by means of town six occasions this 12 months on his option to different Latin American nations, spending at the least two days in the Colombian capital on at the least one event, Colombia’s protection minister stated throughout a information convention on Monday.
The recruitment of Colombians for the mission seems to have begun when Duberney Capador, a former soldier with 20 years of expertise on the pressure, acquired a name in April from a safety firm asking him to place collectively a gaggle that will “protect important people in Haiti,” stated his sister, Yenny Carolina Capador.
Mr. Capador, 40, had retired from the army in 2019 and was dwelling along with his mom on a household farm. He jumped on the alternative, stated his sister.
The textual content message addressed to the “gentlemen,” which described the undertaking as an essential nation-building effort, got here from a cellphone quantity that belonged to Mr. Capador, in accordance with his sister.
Duberney Capador, one of many Colombians killed in Haiti after the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse.Credit…Yenny Carolina Capador
He quickly grew to become a chief recruiter for the operation and commenced messaging his former army buddies. Many of them in interviews stated that they trusted him as a result of he was one in all them: an ex-soldier who had spent years traversing Colombia, preventing left-wing guerrillas and different enemies in rugged circumstances.
Many had been additionally in monetary difficulties. The majority had retired not lengthy earlier than the pandemic, and a few had been rejected from probably the most profitable and desired non-public safety jobs in the Middle East due to their comparatively superior age.
“I’ve been out of the military for four years and I’ve looked for work,” stated Leodan Bolaños, 45, one of many recruits who by no means made it to Haiti. What he had discovered paid too little, he stated.
“Señores,” Mr. Capador wrote in the April textual content message he despatched to at the least one ex-soldier. “We have spent a long time waiting for other projects and nothing, nothing.”
Mr. Capador organized the lads in WhatsApp teams with names like “First Flight,” and urged them to purchase darkish polo shirts and boots and prepared their passports.
The American authorities can be paying their salaries, he promised, and the job would open doorways for work throughout Central America, he promised in at the least one of many messages.
The U.S. authorities has denied any function in the plot.
By mid-May Mr. Capador had flown to Haiti to discover a residence base for the lads and collect provides.
“All we know is that we were going to provide security in an exclusive area under the command of Mr. Capador,” stated one recruit who requested that he not be named to guard his security. “We weren’t interested in how long, or where, or the name of the person we were going to protect.”
But Mr. Capador, who was one of many Colombians killed in the aftermath of the assault on the president, seems to have been only one participant in a much bigger plot.
Colombian authorities say that Mr. Capador traveled to Haiti with one other former ex-soldier: Mr. Rivera, the retired captain who’s on the heart of Colombian authorities’ investigation into the function their residents might have performed in the assassination. They additionally say that Mr. Rivera had contact with Mr. Intriago, the proprietor of the Florida-based safety firm, CTU, and with James Solages, a Haitian-American detained in reference to the president’s dying. Mr. Intriago didn’t reply to a number of requests for remark.
Many of the recruits flew from Colombia to the Dominican Republic in early June, crossing into Haiti by land from the Dominican Republic. Their flights had been paid for by a bank card registered in Miami, Colombian officers stated.
The males stayed collectively at a cottage with a pool, and remained in fixed contact with their relations, a number of of whom spoke to The New York Times.
But relatively than the nation-building they had been anticipating, their days had been comparatively mundane, stuffed with train, English classes and cooking.
On Monday, July 5, they held a barbecue on the compound and a few despatched footage again residence.
A gaggle of the Colombian ex-soldiers at their compound in Haiti in the times earlier than the assassination of the Haitian president.Credit…Duberney Capador, by way of Yenny Carolina Capador
On Tuesday, July 6, the lads believed they’d obtain their first paycheck. But that cash by no means arrived, in accordance with two of their relations.
Then, on Wednesday, July 7, Haitian officers say that a group of attackers stormed Mr. Moïse’s residence on the outskirts of the capital, Port-au-Prince, at about 1 a.m. The gunmen shot him and wounded his spouse, Martine Moïse, in what the Haitian authorities referred to as a well-planned operation that included “foreigners” who spoke Spanish.
As authorities examine the previous troopers’ function, a few of the recruits nonetheless in Colombia stated they felt that that they had been tricked.
“He assured us that it was a good job, that he was not going to get his hands dirty,” stated Mr. Bolaños, a 15-year army veteran, of Mr. Capador. “Our colleagues who are there, all of them were deceived.”
Edinson Bolaños and Sofía Villamil contributed reporting.