The future of more than 1,500 Colombian troops stationed in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) will be back on the agenda after being delayed due to Colombia’s presidential elections, national media reported on Friday.
The two governments will talk about extending Colombian troops’ time in the UAE and about compensation.
Colombian troops were hired out by the United Arab Emirates, after the UAE had hired Colombian mercenaries from a controversial private security firm formally known as Blackwater Worldwide.
In the UAE, Colombian soldiers account for more than 50% of Colombians residing in the country. A Colombian diplomat said that the Colombian troops in the UAE receive higher wages than those serving their homeland, according to national radio station Caracol.
When an agreement was struck, Colombian troops in the UAE made between $2,800 and $18,000 depending on the rank, according to Colombia’s national magazine Semana. In Colombia, a soldier earns $530 a month on average, according to the weekly.
The Colombians’ responsibilities in the UAE “range from urban defense against terrorist attacks to the control of civil uprisings and even be prepared for a possible border conflict with Iran,” said an anonymous ex-colonel to the New York Times last year.
The UAE invested in their military defense because the government “noticed that several threats have made them vulnerable,” the anonymous former official told the Times.
With these investments, the UAE is ranked as the third most peaceful country in the region, according to the 2014 Global Peace Index.
Colombia’s Army becoming a resource
In the last 15 years, an estimated $8 billion from the US has been invested in Colombia, in part to fund a US-backed security initiative for military and police-related training, according to news site Ozy.
According to Jorge Restrepo, director of the Center of Resources for the Analysis of Conflicts (CERAC), Colombian military have faced decades of internal conflict and have been trained by the US, making them in “high demand,” reported Ozy.
“If [military and police officials] can remain for 20 years in the Colombian military and police, with all the stringent controls in terms of human rights, corruption, checks and background checks (they’re routinely checked with polygraphs) … [then] they’ve managed to pass a test,” said Restrepo.
Colombian military experience is swaying countries who seek that level of expertise and advisement. Colombia is no longer the top producer of cocaine with production falling 25% last year, according to United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. The expertise and experience of Colombian soldiers can be carried to the many trafficking centers which have shifted to Central America, Mexico, and the Caribbean, according to Ozy.
Colombian Army Changes Leadership
Earlier this year, President Juan Manuel Santos fired Colombia’s military chief, Leonardo Barrero. Only two weeks before the termination, Santos had suspended two generals in the army’s intelligence unit, according to local media.
The suspension of two generals was tied to allegations of illegal surveillance of the government’s peace talks with Colombia’s largest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Further accusations of embezzlement followed.
Barrero was fired after it was revealed that in a phone call with a colonel facing charges for the killing of civilians, he suggested that the colonel “create a mafia” to steer the prosecution in another direction, according to UK news magazine, The Economist.
This falls under the many cases in Colombia known as “false positives” where civilians are killed and are then claimed to be guerrillas by officials.
In the past, the UAE have hired out their military from Pakistan and Nepal, although in recent years the UAE have drawn out for more trained professionals from countries like Colombia, Panama, and South Korea, according to the New York Times.
In hiring Colombian troops, it follows the UAE policy of not hiring Muslims, who would not be permitted to kill fellow Muslims, according to the Times.
With the military expertise of foreign countries, the UAE ranked 40th in the Global Peace Index, and they are one of the few countries in the Middle East not affected by the so-called “Arab Spring,” a wave of revolution that forced four rulers in the region from power.
- Global Peace Index (Vision of Humanity)
- Colombian Coca Production Falls 25% Peru Spikes to Number 1 (International Business Times)
- Secret Desert Force Set Up by Blackwater’s Founder (The New York Times)
- 1,500 militaries of Colombia integrated in United Arab Emirates (Caracol)
- Ousting Country’s Military Chief May Help Negotiations General Exit (The Economist)
- Colombia’s Security Export (Ozy)