The Colombian military tried to “cover up” the responsibility of a high-level commander in the 1997 Mapiripan massacre by falsely implicating a lower-ranked official, the state department said in a declassified 2003 letter.
The declassified letter is part of a series of documents regarding the controversial massacre obtained by The National Security Archive, a non-profit organization aimed at declassifying U.S. government documents.
In the letter, the State Department said that former Army Lieutenant Colonel Hernan Orozco “was blocked” in trying to obtain reinforcements to prevent and stop the massacre “by his chain of command and that he was subsequently charged by military authorities of complicity in the massacre in an effort to confuse and cover up the responsibility of others.”
The State Department said in the letter they believed Orozco, who had claimed he warned his superior, General Jaime Uscategui, on the first day of the massacre, but was pressured by the general to omit parts in a letter warning about the impending massacre by members of paramilitary organization AUC in which dozens were killed over five days.
The U.S. Embassy in Colombia and the Department of State have followed
Orozco's case in great detail since the June 1997 Mapiripan massacre. We
are convinced that Orozco comported himself with great courage and honor
under constant threat of death for his principled actions ... If he had
any role in the Mapiripan massacre, he would not have been eligible to
receive refugee status in the U.S. As a result, he is generally considered
a hero in the human rights community.
Orozco, who granted refugee status by the U.S. in 2003 and is currently working as a security guard in Florida, was initially convicted by a military tribunal together with Uscategui and later again charged for complicity in the massacre by then-Prosecutor General Luis Camilio Osorio, who himself is currently facing accusations of ties to the AUC.
Following the charges, the State Department reported to U.S. Congress in 2004 it was “pleased that trial proceedings continue” against Uscategui but “concerned” about the indictment of Orozco, who was “widely considered to have been the ‘whistle-blower’ in this incident.”
Then-Under Secretary of State Marc Grossman went as far as expressing the State Department’s concern to Colombia’s then-President Alvaro Uribe and then-Minister of Defense Juan Manuel Santos personally in a meeting later that year.
Despite the U.S. diplomatic pressure and Orozco’s refugee status in the U.S., a Bogota court sentenced both Orozco and Uscategui to 40 years in prison.
Jose Jaime Uscategui, the son of the convicted general, told Colombian national television last year that his family was seeking the extradition of Orozco because what the State Department considered “the whistleblower” in the case “has told a bunch of lies about my father” and “should be facing the victims like General Uscategui did.”
Caracol TV reported that Orozco, who is working as s security guard at a Miami gated community, “was surrounded by luxury.”
In response, the U.S. ambassador to Bogota, Michael McKinley, said his government was studying the family’s request for extradition.
The Mapiripan massacre has been the center of international controversy following the testimony of one local who said she fraudulently claimed to be a victim. Colombia’s Prosecutor General’s Office has since claimed that only ten people were killed, while Colombia’s Supreme Court later convicted AUC leader Salvatore Mancuso for having plotted the masacre that according to the sentence had 77 victims.
Michael Evans of the National Security Archive said his organization will release more U.S. documents regarding the Mapiripan massacre in the coming days as part of the massacre’s 15th anniversary.