Steven Taylor notes that there is new information concerning the assassination of Colombian presidential “pre-candidate” Luis Carlos Galán, which took place twenty years ago yesterday.
As Steven notes:
He was a reform-minded member of the Liberal Party who was practically a shoe-in to win the 1990 election. He was considered by many in Colombia to be an extraordinary politician of the type who inspires a certain level of hope in the population. Of all the assassinations and murders in Colombian history, of which there are a horrendous number, two are perhaps the most prominent: the murder of Jorge Eliécer Gaitán on April 9, 1948, which sparked riots in Bogotá and is normally considered the beginning of the civil war know as La Violencia and the killing of Galán.
I was in Bogotá at the time of the killing, and will always remember vividly when my host came in to wake me up and tell me that Galan was dead. My host was a political activist, and was with a different Liberal pre-candidate, but that did not matter. This was a great national tragedy. And it meant scary times. Would there be mass riots again, as in 1948?
The next day, moving around the city was not easy, with checkpoints and military vehicles and heavily armed police on all major corners and in front of many buildings.
After my host engaged in numerous consultations with various contacts, we went ahead the upcoming weekend with our planned drive to Villa de Leyva, one of the most beautiful places in the very beautiful nation of Colombia. There were numerous checkpoints and a few searches on the roads outside of the capital, but not much traffic! And we had the colonial town of Villa de Leyva practically to ourselves. In fact, it was idyllic, in stark contrast to the crisis the country was living at that moment.
Following the assassination, César Gaviria took on the galanista campaign as his own, and became the Liberal nominee and President, elected in 1990. Above is a photo of a billboard for him, taken in my subsequent trip to Bogotá, for the March, 1990, elections (for congress and other offices, as well as a Liberal presidential primary).
Gaviria practically ran as Galán, with the martyred leader’s image looming far larger than the actual candidate’s. But Gaviria was no Galán.
Galán was a charismatic and passionate advocate for cleaner government and political reform. Gaviria, much more technocratic and hardly inspiring, followed through on the reformist push. He was the president at the time that a Constituent Assembly was elected in 1991 to re-write the constitution in ways that have substantially improved the country’s democracy.
The “new information” is that the former head of Colombia’s state security agency, the DAS, has been implicated in the murder. Some of my Colombian friends at the time suspected that, I recall, although the official story has always been that it was Medellin Cartel drug traffickers (and the possibility that it was a joint job is very real). There has never been any official resolution of the crime, at least up to now.
Some days after the assassination, I participated with some of my political-activist friends in the funeral march. (Somewhere I have lots of photos, but I seem not to have ever scanned any of them.) It was a massive outpouring of civic action and revulsion at the violence that has so long afflicted the country–and still does. There were no riots or other disturbances, yet it was a bit scary to be a foreigner marching behind large red banners in such a tense moment in Colombian history.* It was a travel/research experience that I certainly never will forget.
*My friends were with a legal but self-declared revolutionary leftist organization that worked with mainstream party candidates; some of the members of this organization, MOIR, are now in congress).