One late afternoon in late June, Mauricio Javier Romero, a decorated 20-year-old Colombian military veteran, received a call from a former comrade in the army. The friend wanted to recruit him for a “legal” and “secure” job that would send him abroad, according to Romero’s wife, Giovanna.
“This person told him that he would have no problem,” she said, “that it was a good opportunity for professional growth, economic growth, and how I knew my husband was a great professional. , I wanted him to be part of the team. “
A month later, Mauricio Romero, 45, passed away. He was one of the many men killed in Haiti after the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse last week, and one of some 20 Colombian Haitian authorities involved in the case that plunged the Caribbean country into chaos.
At least 18 of the Colombians are in detention in Haiti, and at least two have died. But while the acting prime minister and members of his cabinet have presented the Colombians as the centerpieces of a well-organized plot by “foreign mercenaries” to kill Moses, critical questions remain as to their role. played in the assassination.
A potential clue of the Colombian presence emerged on Sunday evening, when Haitian officials said they had arrested a Haitian-born, Florida-based doctor whom they described as a central figure in the murder plot. The doctor, Christian Emmanuel Sanon, 63, allegedly hired the Florida private security company which recruited at least some of the Colombians.
“He arrived by private plane in June for political purposes and contacted a private security company to recruit the people who committed this act,” said Haitian national police chief Léon Charles.
The country’s top prosecutor has also started examining the role Haitian security forces may have played in the operation that killed the president and injured his wife, but did not target anyone else at the president’s home nor personal safety.
In the streets of Haiti, there is widespread skepticism about the government’s official line, and many people wonder how the attackers managed to break into a fortified compound defended by Haiti’s security forces without doing anything. more deaths.
And in Colombia, some relatives of detained Colombians say they went to Haiti to protect the president, not to kill him, adding to the nebulous and often contradictory claims surrounding the assassination. “Mauricio would never have lent himself to this operation,” said Giovanna Romero, 43, “no matter how much money he was offered”.
Colombia, which has endured decades of internal conflict, has some of the best trained and best funded soldiers in Latin America, long aided by the United States. As a result, Colombian veterans are highly sought after by global security companies, who have used them even in Yemen and Iraq, sometimes paying up to $ 3,000 per month (R $ 15,750) each – a substantial amount per month. compared to the wages that could earn. in Colombia.
Mauricio Romero had joined the forces in his early twenties, at a time when left-wing guerrillas and paramilitary groups terrorized much of the country. When he retired in 2019, he was a first sergeant who had served across the country and earned the distinction of “Expert Launcher,” specialized training for elite troops similar to the Ranger program of the US Army.
Giovanna Romero described her husband as someone who follows the rules. “If you do the right things”, he said, “life will be good”. He was adjusting to civilian life, she said, and at times he said he lacked the camaraderie and sense of purpose he had with the military.
The call he received in June came from his friend Duberney Capador, 40, another retired soldier who trained in special forces. Capador had also left the force in 2019 and was living 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 brothers spoke frequently and Duberney told Yenny that his team was training and was responsible for protecting a “very important” person. “What I’m 100% sure of is that my brother wasn’t doing what they said, he was going to hurt someone,” Yenny insisted. “I know my brother went to take care of someone.
Duberney sent his sister photos of him in a uniform – a black polo shirt with the logo of a Florida security company called CTU, which Haitian officials said Sanon had hired for the plot. CTU is headed by a man named Antonio Intriago. He did not respond to messages seeking comment and the CTU office was closed when a reporter was there on Saturday (10).
Now Capador was trying to convince Mauricio Romero to come with him. Giovanna said she and her husband talked about it that night in June and decided it was a good opportunity to get ahead financially. They had a mortgage to pay and two children to raise, and Mauricio’s military pension covered only the basics. “If you do this,” Giovanna told her husband, “I will support you as I have for the 20 years that we have been together.”
Mauricio arrived at the airport in the Colombian capital, Bogotá, on Saturday, June 5, where he bought a plane ticket and headed for the Dominican Republic, neighboring Haiti. Giovanna said the last time she spoke to him was Tuesday (6). He said he was protecting a man he called “the boss” who had limited phone connections but wanted to break the news. “I’m fine,” he told her. “I love him so much.” “We’ll talk about that later,” he continued.
It was rushed, but Giovanna wasn’t worried.
The next day, however, she learned on the reports that the President of Haiti had been killed and that there might be Colombians involved. When she could not contact her husband, her head started to spin. Last Friday (9), the Colombian Defense Ministry released the names of 13 Colombians found in Haiti. Her husband was one of them.
The ministry also said it was investigating four companies it said recruited Colombians for jobs in Haiti.
Shortly after, Giovanna Romero’s 20-year-old daughter received a message with a video showing a man’s body. It looked like it was her father. “Mami, is it true that isn’t him?” The girl asked. “Isn’t it Mami? It can’t be.” But Romero recognized the rosary hanging from the chest of the corpse. It was her husband.
Haitian authorities said a group of assailants broke into Moise’s house on the outskirts of the capital, Port-au-Prince, last Wednesday (7) at around 1 a.m., shooting him and injuring him. his wife, Martine Moise, what authorities described as a well-planned operation, which included “foreigners” who spoke Spanish.
In videos shot from nearby buildings and synced by The New York Times, people who appear to be arriving to assassinate the president have shouted that they were part of a US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) operation. The ministry said it was not involved.
It is not known what the Colombians participated in the operation. Later Wednesday morning, Yenny Capador said she had started receiving phone calls and texts from her brother, Duberney. He told her he was in danger, surrounded by a house, with bullets flying around him. Yenny could hear gunshots in the background. She said her brother told her he had come “too late” to save the “important person” he claimed he was hired to protect. Haitian police have also detained at least two Americans of Haitian descent in connection with the president’s death.
Local authorities have produced little evidence linking suspects to the crime. In an interview, Judge Clément Noël, who is involved in the investigation, said the two Haitian-Americans said they only worked as interpreters in the operation and that they met the other participants in an elegant hotel in Port-au-Prince. suburb of Pétionville, to plan the attack. The aim was not to kill the president, they said, but to take him to the National Palace.
Days after the murder, Steven Benoit, a former senator and leading opposition figure, was among those who said they found it difficult to believe Colombians were responsible for the murder. “The story just doesn’t end,” Benoit said in a telephone interview from Port-au-Prince. “How is it possible that no security guard in the presidential compound was hit or even scratched?”
Benoit also asked why the Colombians at the scene of the murder did not immediately attempt to flee the country after Moise’s death. Instead, they stayed behind and were either killed or captured.
On Saturday, Giovanna Romero announced to her 6 year old son that “Daddy is not coming back”. She said she had not yet been contacted by Colombian or Haitian investigators, but urged them to speak the truth quickly so that the families of those involved “can have some peace.”