“There will be a lot more Mapiripans. Who wants to destroy CCAJAR?”

Viernes 18 de noviembre de 2011, por Prensa - Colectivo

“…every night, through cracks in the wall, I watched kidnapped people go by, with their hands tied behind their backs and gagged, to be cruelly murdered in the slaughterhouse of Mapiripán. Every night we heard screams of people who were being tortured and murdered, asking for help [...].”

Informe especial: caso Mapiripán |

This is how the municipal judge in Mapiripán, Leonardo Iván Cortés Novoa, described the horror of the torture and the suffering experienced by those who were dismembered. In order not leave any evidence, body parts were disposed in the Guaviare River. Other corpses were left in the municipality and thrown at those who tried to escape. The teacher’s dog was even strangled by “Mochacabezas” as an example of what paramilitary chief Carlos Castaño called “the greatest combat activity in all the history of the self-defense groups,” when he admitted to murdering 49 people in Mapiripán.

When the paramilitaries arrived to the town, Judge Cortés made desperate calls for help to the authorities. Due to their accents from the Caribbean Coast and Antioquia, the judge assumed these paramilitaries had come from the region of Urabá. He spoke with Army Major Hernán Orozco Castro, who had taken over the command of the “Joaquín París” Battalion from Colonel Ávila Beltrán who had recently gone on vacation. Orozco Castro immediately sent a warning by radio and in writing to his direct commander, General Uscátegui Ramírez, recommending “a quick and immediate airlift to Mapiripán with personnel and equipment from the Mobile Brigade Number 2 (three battalions in Barrancón and 3 helicopters; there are no gunships), which could include the Anti-Narcotics Police.”

“[…] [I]f the paramilitaries had come from so far away, I believe that it was not exactly to enjoy the local landscape. Over the next few days, I expect a series of killings and murders to be perpetrated against the inhabitants of the previously mentioned city.” This was Officer Orozco Castro’s warning. However, he was not only prevented from taking any action, but the general also forced him to change the original communication he had sent.

How had these paramilitaries from Córdoba and Urabá come to San José del Guaviare? They came on two airplanes that took off from Urabá, where they had been protected by troops from the 8th Brigade under the command of General Rito Alejo del Río. When they landed in San José del Guaviare (Guaviare), other military forces also protected them so they could begin their trip of death.

The Mapiripán Massacre was not just another massacre. It was the beginning of the expansion of paramilitarism throughout the country. As part of a counterinsurgent strategy employed by the Armed Forces, it would extend the bloodbath to every corner of the country. Millions of crimes against humanity were perpetrated, including extrajudicial executions, acts of torture, forced disappearances, massacres, sexual violence, land seizures, and forced displacement.

The criminal investigation led to the first conviction against senior Army officers in Colombia. Nonetheless, all of the responsible parties have not been investigated and all of the victims have not yet been identified. In 2005, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights convicted the Colombian State for these acts, demanding that the State fully comply with the duty to investigate and punish the responsible parties and recognize and compensate the victims.

Over the last week, the Prosecutor General’s Office identified false victims who had been compensated by the Colombian State. This unleashed a media campaign and the announcement of exemplary sanctions against those undermining the credibility of the Inter-American System of Human Rights. President Santos even accused those allegedly behind these acts of deception as being “crafty” and “corrupt.”

However, in 2008, and in some cases even several years earlier, the Colombian State had already identified several of these alleged false victims. Why has this only recently been revealed?

The media coverage has attempted to show that the massacre was not as serious as previously reported, since there were fewer victims. The Justice and Peace Unit of the Prosecutor General’s Office has recognized 13 murder victims and 68 people who were forcibly displaced. These figures have been used to create the sensation of “injustice” over the rulings issued. Consequently, the Inspector General announced that he would request a review of the conviction against General Uscátegui. There are even voices demanding impunity for the perpetrators.

It must be specified that Colombian State recognized the victims of the Mapiripán Massacre. The victims first made statements before the Social Solidarity Network and the Prosecutor General’s Office, long before requesting legal representation from CCAJAR, which accepted in good faith the circumstances of time, method and place in which their family members had been disappeared.

Economic compensation is just one aspect of the reparations to which the victims have a right. In order to prevent “more Mapiripans,” CCAJAR has also attempted to achieve the disciplinary and criminal punishment of the responsible parties of the crimes, in addition to guarantees of non-repetition. In this respect, it must be clarified that no member of our organization receives any economic considerations from the victims or any compensation from the resulting indemnities in the cases we represent. In all of the criminal cases in which we participate as the civil party, we also renounce any economic compensation resulting from the establishment of criminal responsibilities. In the cases where indemnities have been ordered, the institution does receive economic compensation, which is used to support our activities in defense of human rights and especially victims’ rights.

The fraud against the State has served as a pretext to destroy the victims’ credibility. This fraud was perpetrated by people who passed themselves off as victims and took advantage of the uncertainty over the identification of those who were dismembered and disappeared. It has also extended a shroud of doubt on the cases against members of the State security forces and has attempted to weaken the Inter-American System of Human Rights. Lastly, this fraud has continued the smear campaign against CCAJAR and all of the human rights organizations in Colombia representing cases before national and international courts and legitimately demanding truth, justice and reparations for the victims of grave human rights violations.

For over thirty years, CCAJAR has exhibited transparent and unyielding commitment in the fight against the impunity of crimes against humanity. CCAJAR members have risked their lives —and will continue to do so— in their representation of thousands of victims.

We have never purchased testimony. We never “buy convictions.” We do not resort to fraudulent maneuvers to achieve judicial decisions. We do not search for false victims. We have never employed irregular practices to sanction the State. We fight to achieve a democracy, which deserves such a name, and a society, which loves life and defends its dignity and rights.

We reaffirm that all of the members of CCAJAR are willing to go before any criminal or disciplinary investigation.

With respect to the confidence that the victims have entrusted in us, we will continue to believe in their testimony. It is preferable to be mistaken in good faith than weave doubt over the millions of victims of socio-political violence who demand truth, justice, and reparations, guarantees of non-repetition, and the achievement of peace.

We speak with clarity to the national and international community. CCAJAR has been the victim of a conspiracy of vast proportions that aims to destroy our organization. The Uribe Vélez administration pursued this same objective through the Administrative Department of Security (DAS), which considered us to be a primary target. At that time, our moral heritage, constructed through exemplary commitment with the victims, was under attack. The goal was to destroy us as a human rights organization in order to favor the principal human rights violators in Colombia and consolidate an impunity that encourages the persistence of the crimes.

It is not a coincidence that this campaign has been unleashed in the midst of an attempt to fully re-establish military criminal jurisdiction. In the case of the Palace of Justice, an appeals court is also about to review the conviction against retired Colonel Luis Alfonso Plazas Vega (who the new commander of the military forces considers to be a “national hero”). The Supreme Court recently upheld the conviction against retired General Jaime Humberto Uscátegui and the Prosecutor General’s Office is formally investigating him for the massacre in San Carlos de Guaroa. The case of Santo Domingo has also been sent to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Lastly, investigations have begun reach senior military commanders in the thousands of cases of “false positives” in which military members allegedly murdered civilians and later presented the victims as guerrilla members killed in combat.

The investigations and prosecutions against the DAS have also begun to focus on former President Uribe Vélez’s closest advisors. Nonetheless, President Juan Manuel Santos recently came to the defense of María del Pilar Hurtado and Bernardo Moreno, former DAS director and presidential secretary general, respectively.

Colombian society has the right to truth. Those who have committed fraud against the State and committed this deception should answer for their crimes. We demand justice in re-establishing our good name. We demand respect for the victims of Mapiripán.

We demand full justice with respect to the principal instigators of the many Mapiripans that continue to be perpetrated in Colombia.

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