BOGOTA, Colombia—Carlos Martinez joined the Colombian military at the age of 17, a minor who had to obtain his parents’ written permission to enlist. “I didn’t have many options. There aren’t a lot of opportunities in this country for someone like me who grew up poor,” he said, “but war will always be profitable.”

Martinez spent almost 10 years on active duty in the army, eventually joining an elite special forces unit that fought armed groups and drug traffickers in the Andean countryside. Colombia, which currently boasts some 250,000 active-duty armed forces personnel, produced millions of soldiers like Martínez during its five-decade conflict with guerilla groups, as well as its ongoing campaign on the front lines of the so-called War on Drugs—both efforts heavily subsidized by the United States.

“We are trained to kill,” Martinez told WPR. “There is no other way to describe it.”

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