WASHINGTON - Some of the Colombian nationals detained by the Haitian National police in connection with the assassination of President Jovenel Moise took part in "U.S. military training and education programs," a Pentagon spokesperson confirmed in a statement emailed to VOA.
The information came to light during a review of training databases, Lt. Col. Ken Hoffman said, without specifying when or where the training took place.
"Our review is ongoing, so we do not have additional details at this time," Hoffman said. The development was first reported by The Washington Post.
The U.S. Defense Department says it trains thousands of military people from South America, Central America and the Caribbean each year.
Hoffman said the training is focused on "respect for human rights, compliance with the rule of law and militaries subordinate to democratically elected civilian leadership."
Thursday, Colombia’s president told a local radio station that most of the detained Colombians had been duped into thinking they were to provide bodyguard services for the Haitian leader.
“Once they were over there,” Ivan Duque said, “the information they were given changed,” and the men ended up as suspects in an assassination plot.
Haitian National Police Chief Leon Charles said police have arrested 18 Colombians in connection with the assassination.
U.S. President Joe Biden said on Thursday, during a joint news conference with visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel, that he was not open to U.S. military involvement in the country, but that he would send troops to fortify the U.S. Embassy in Haiti.
"We're only sending American Marines to our embassy," Biden said. "The idea of sending American forces to Haiti is not on the agenda."
Last week, Haiti Elections Minister Mathias Pierre said that a request that U.S. troops be deployed to the country was made during a July 7 discussion between Haiti's interim prime minister, Claude Joseph, and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Pierre said Joseph made a request for U.N. troops with the U.N. Security Council on July 8.
Moise was shot and killed in the pre-dawn hours of July 7 at his private residence in a wealthy suburb of Port-au-Prince. His wife, Martine, was injured in the attack and is recovering from surgery at a Miami, Florida, hospital. Interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph told reporters he has spoken to the first lady multiple times and that she is doing well.
Biden condemned the assassination and dispatched a special U.S. delegation to Haiti to assist with the investigation. The delegation includes officials from the State Department, Homeland Security, the Justice Department and the National Security Council.
In an exclusive interview with VOA, Juan Gonzalez, the National Security Council senior director for the Western Hemisphere, who traveled to Port-au-Prince on Sunday, discussed how the U.S. is assisting in the investigation.
“Right now, we have a team of eight FBI agents on the ground. They are supporting the investigation, and a number of officials from the Department of Homeland Security that are helping on everything from tracing the weapons to the body armor and the cellphones that were being used and do everything possible to get to the bottom of who was involved and who is responsible for the assassination,” Gonzalez said.
Several FBI agents were seen by a VOA Creole reporter Thursday afternoon in the Pelerin 5 neighborhood of the capital, the location of Moise's private residence.
Haitian police have arrested two Haitian Americans in connection with the killing. Gonzalez told VOA the U.S. is prepared to prosecute them if they are found guilty.
"We have full commitment by the Department of Justice to be fully supportive of this," Gonzalez told VOA. "And as the details come to light, it's something that we're committed to — not just supporting the work of the Haitian National Police and the investigation. But if there are any sort of links to U.S. law, we will prosecute them to the fullest extent."
Gonzalez said Florida law enforcement is also working with investigators.
"To that extent, the Southern District of Miami is involved from the criminal division, the national security division — they are actively involved. There is a resolve directed by the president of the United States to have the U.S. government be as supportive as possible and make sure that justice is served in the assassination of Moise," Gonzalez said.
In New York, Colombia's Vice President and Minister of Foreign Affairs Marta Lucia Ramirez denounced the involvement of Colombian nationals in the Moise assassination after a United Nations Security Council meeting Tuesday.
"Let me say that the Colombian government, but also the judiciary system, is working with the Judiciary and intelligence from other countries in order to help the Haitian state to identify all the responsibilities in this crime — in this major crime," Ramirez told reporters, adding that her country also is working with the International Criminal Police Organization, Interpol.
Dimitri Herard, head of security at the National Palace, was taken into custody Wednesday. Police chief Leon Charles told reporters Thursday that Herard has been placed in isolation and has been relieved of his duties. Charles said Herard will remain in isolation until he is questioned by investigators. He did not specify where Herard is being held.
The chief said police are interrogating 23 suspects — two Haitian Americans, three Haitians and 18 Colombians. Three others who participated in the attack on the president were killed, he said.
According to Charles, 27 people have been interrogated so far, and information gleaned from those interrogations found no connection between Joseph, the interim prime minister, and the alleged murderers.
Earlier, Haiti's National Police announced the arrest of two additional suspects in connection with Moise’s assassination.
Police identified them as Haitians Reynaldo Corvington and Gilbert Dragon. Police say they found a cache of weapons at the homes of both suspects, including AR-15 rifles, automatic weapons, pistols and hunting rifles. Three hand grenades were found at Corvington's residence, a police statement said.
Additionally, National Police issued a new arrest warrant for Désir Gordon Phenil. A statement posted on the National Police official Facebook page said Phenil was responsible for renting cars, coordinating meetings with the "mercenaries" and buying equipment.
Haiti is trying to figure out how to deal with the political void.
A commission composed of representatives of all sectors of Haitian civil society had planned to meet Thursday to sign a political accord that would name a new president. The effort, led by Ted Saint Dic, was to include the 10 Haitian senators whose terms have not expired -- Haiti’s Parliament is currently out of session because the terms of most of its members expired before elections could be held to renew or replace them.
The meeting has now been rescheduled for Saturday, the group announced.
Laura Lochman, the State Department’s acting deputy assistant secretary for Western Hemisphere affairs, told VOA in an exclusive interview on Wednesday that the U.S. will support an inclusive, credible Haitian government.
“It’s up to the Haitians to come up with the solution to this political process at this point, so we rely on them and give them all the support that we can to work conclusively, to work together, to form a consensus government. And the United States will definitely, along with our international partners, support an inclusive, credible government,” Lochman told VOA.
Gonzalez shared that view.
“The solutions to Haiti's challenges are not in Washington, they are in Port-au-Prince. That said, the commitment of the United States is to support a broad and inclusive political dialogue. Haiti's institutions have been suffering significantly. Over the last year, Moise has been governing by decree. But also following his assassination, the lack of clarity over the legislature (is also a problem),” he said.
Renan Toussaint, Matiado Vilme in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, U.N. correspondent Margaret Besheer, and State Department correspondent Nike Ching contributed to this report.