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Behind the Haiti Assassination, Colombia’s Growing Mercenary Industry

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The bulk of the war has been fought by the country’s rank-and-file servicemen, who often come from rural and working-class backgrounds. But upon retirement, typically around age 40 and after 20 years of service, many have said that they were given few tools to succeed in civilian life.

The $400 monthly retirement pension offers little more than subsistence living in cities like Bogotá. The signature education component of the military’s reintegration program is a year of technical training in industries like cooking and construction. But after losing those military benefits, many soldiers are forced deep into debt to pay for homes for their families.

A 2019 veterans’ law, supported by President Iván Duque, was intended to address some of those issues. It created a fund that grants credits to soldiers who seek higher education, among other benefits.

Mr. Molano, the defense minister, defended the program.

“Of course more can always be done,” he said. “But compared to other Colombians,” he added, the veterans’ treatment is “adequate.”

Many former soldiers, though, said they needed more, now. Some leave the military without knowing how to read or write. Others lack basic computer skills.

Over the last decade, the veterans’ desperation has collided with a ballooning global demand for private security, particularly in the Middle East, said Sean McFate, an expert on the mercenary industry and a professor at Georgetown University.

In recent years, Colombian soldiers have gone to Iraq and Afghanistan to work for U.S. contractors, and to the United Arab Emirates, where many became hired guns for the country in its intervention in Yemen. Some Colombians have killed and others have been killed during these missions, said Mr. McFate.

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