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Bogotazo (1948)

El Bogotazo (from "Bogota" and the -azo suffix of violent augmentation) refers to the massive riots that followed the assassination in Bogota, Colombia of Liberal leader and presidential candidate Jorge Eliecer Gaitan on April 9, 1948 during the government of President Mariano Ospina Perez. The 10 hours riot left a death toll of 3,000 to 5,000 people and thousands injured, and left much of downtown Bogota destroyed. The aftershock of Gaitan's murder continued extending through the countryside and triggered a period in the history of Colombia known as La Violencia ("The Violence") that lasted until approximately 1958, and laid the foundations for the civil conflict that continues to this day.

General settings

On April 9, 1948 the 9th Pan-American Conference was being held in Bogota and President Mariano Ospina Perez was attending a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State General George Marshall

At the time, Jorge Eliecer Gaitan was the leader of the left wing of the Liberal Party, and the most prominent politician in the country after President Ospina. His office was located in downtown Bogota, on the corner of 7th avenue and 14th street. Gaitan had been working the previous night until 4 a.m. as defense attorney in the trial that declared the innocence of Lt. Jesus Maria Cortes. Gaitan was running in the presidential election, and with massive support among the country's working class, was seen as the candidate most likely to win. Both Conservatives and traditional Liberal elites were very concerned about this prospect.

Murder of Gaitan

The doorman of the Agustin Nieto building, where Gaitan's office was located, said he saw at about 1:00 p.m. an unknown young man waiting outside the office. Gaitan was scheduled to meet that afternoon with the Cubans Fidel Castro, Enrique Ovares and Alfredo Guevara to talk about the Latin American Youth Congress, where they expected Gaitan to give the final Speech, as Castro himself declared years later in an interview with Arturo Alape (1983).

Gaitan left his office, and just outside the building he was shot twice in the head and once in the chest, with a .32 caliber handgun, at 1:15 p.m. He was carried to a local hospital where he died a few minutes later.

The Killer

The man suspected of killing Gaitan ran away heading south. Soon, an angry mob ran after him. Nearby, policeman Carlos Alberto Jimenez Diaz tried to control the situation. According to the police reports, The man surrendered to him and said to Jimenez:

- "No me mate, mi cabo" ''''

In an attempt to avoid the angry mob, Jimenez and the man locked themselves in the Granada drugstore. Some witnesses that were interviewed by local newspapers argue that the man who was taken into the drugstore wasn't the same one who was captured, and that Officer Jimenez was mistaken because of the angry mob and because the other man was also wearing a gray hat. According to the drugstore owner, when he asked the man why he had killed Gaitan, he just said:

- "Ay Senor, cosas poderosas! Ay, Virgen del Carmen, salvame!" ''''

After that, the doors were charged and the man was taken by the mob. His naked corpse was found later, in the Bolivar Square, outside the Presidential Palace. His face was crushed with a brick, and his body was torn. A bystander, Gabriel Restrepo, collected the remains of his clothes where he found some personal documents, which allowed to identify him as 21-year-old Juan Roa Sierra.

However, there have also been other theories about his murder indicating that Gaitan assassination was planned and developed for more people than just Juan Roa Sierra or that he was not even the real killer. He was born in a poor family with a history of mental illnesses among his brothers, and maybe himself. He was seen often in Gaitan's office asking for job, since he was unemployed, but Gaitan never received him. Some people who knew him told that he never learned to shoot a gun, in contrast with the accuracy of the shots that Gaitan received. It has been known that the gun used to kill Gaitan was sold two days before the crime, with not enough time to teach Roa to use a gun. So, it has been theorized that the crime was planned for political reasons and to promote different interest of foreign countries, but it has never been corroborated. Different publications have mentioned among others: the government of Mariano Ospina Perez, sectors of the Liberal party, the Colombian Communist party, Fidel Castro, the CIA and others that may have been involved in his murder.

The riots

Radio Station Ultimas noticias, managed by followers of Gaitan, made the following broadcast some minutes later:

"Ultimas Noticias con ustedes. Los conservadores y el gobierno de Ospina Perez acaban de asesinar al doctor Gaitan, quien cayo frente a la puerta de su oficina baleado por un policia. Pueblo, a las armas! A la carga! A la calle con palos, piedras, escopetas, cuanto haya a la mano. Asaltad las ferreterias y tomaos la dinamita, la polvora, las herramientas, los machetes ..."


"Ultimas Noticiaswith you. Conservatives and the Ospina Perez government have just killed Dr. Gaitan, who fell by the door of his office, shot by a police officer. People: To arms! Charge! To the streets with clubs, stones, shotguns, or whatever is at hand! Break into the hardware stores and take the dynamite, gunpowder, tools, machetes...".

After that, instructions to make Molotov cocktails were broadcast.

People from everywhere in the city rushed downtown. Many were homeless people who had come to Bogota to flee the violent political conflicts of rural Colombia. A large crowd formed outside Clinica Central, the hospital where Gaitan died.

At 1:20 p.m. President Ospina was notified of the murder and called for a council with his cabinet. After dumping the body of Roa outside the Casa de Narino, the crowd attacked the palace with stones and bricks. Many cars, buses and street cars were burned. A few hours later violence exploded in other cities, including Medellin, Ibague and Barranquilla.

The leaders of the Liberal Party decided to nominate Dario Echandia to replace Gaitan as head of the party. From a balcony, he pleaded the crowd to stop the violence, but it was useless. The mobs tried to force entry to the Casa de Narino. They were confronted by the Army, and many were killed. The offices of the government ministry and El Siglo newspaper were set on fire.

Most of the hardware stores were raided, especially in San Victorino district. People armed themselves with pipes, hooks, steel rods, hatchets, saws, and machetes. Some policemen joined the mobs. Others were confused and waited for orders that never came.

About 3:00 p.m, the mobs broke into the police headquarters. The Major in charge, Benicio Arce Vera, came out unarmed to plead with the crowd, and gave orders not to shoot. The mob ran him over and stole weapons and ammunition. According to Arce, in an interview years later to Bohemia magazine, among those who took the weapons was Fidel Castro, . Some writers say that this event influenced Fidel Castro at the age of 21, who had the opportunity to witness the initial violence and take views about the viability of an electoral route for political change. Others view it more darkly since Castro at that age had already been involved in violence in Cuba where he is reputed to have killed, or tried to kill, a number of university rivals (including Rolando Masferrer) by that time .

The leaders of the Liberal party were still in the hospital, next to Gaitan's body, overwhelmed and at a loss as to how the chaos might be controlled. They received a phone call from the presidential palace, inviting them to a meeting to try and resolve their differences and find a solution. However, because of the conflict in the streets, the Liberal leaders were unable to reach the palace - some even received shotgun wounds. Eventually they asked for a military escort, and successfully reached the palace. However, President Ospina was surprised to see the Liberal leaders, since the invitation had been made by some of his ministers without his knowledge. Discussions went throughout the night - but failed to reach an agreement.

Meanwhile, Molotov bombs were devastating downtown Bogota. Fires destroyed the Cundinamarca Government building, the historic San Carlos palace , the Justice Palace, Feminine University, Dominican Convent, St. Ines Convent, Regina Hotel, Veracruz church, La Salle high school, the Vatican Nunciature, and many other important landmarks of the city.

Most stores were looted and the mob's rage increased by the minute. Many of those making up the mobs quickly became intoxicated from stolen liquor and offered little resistance to the Army's counter attack. By 6:00 p.m there were over 3,000 dead and injured and 136 buildings on fire. Prisoners escaped in mass jailbreaks.

Many were killed over struggles for stolen goods. All sorts of merchandise was carried off to the poorer outlying districts. As reported some days later by Semana magazine , people started to sell the stolen objects at extremely low prices, or just exchanged the merchandise for alcohol. In the following days, a market for selling the stolen goods was set up, which was known as the "Feria Panamericana" (Pan-American Fair).

In an attempt to calm the riots, staff of the radio station "Ultimas Noticias" — Gerardo Molina, Diego Montana Cuellar, Carlos Restrepo Piedrahita, Jorge Zalamea, Jorge Uribe Marquez, Jose Mar and others — planned to start a Revolutionary Council. They broadcast information about the constitution of this council and announced severe punishment to those who took advantage of the riots to commit crimes.

The Central Government, after defeating the mobs that were attacking the Justice Palace, showed little interest in the violence over the rest of the city. However, statements broadcast by Ultimas Noticias claiming political power were perceived as a threat. The electricity in that district was shut down, and the Army was sent in to shut down transmission.

By dawn, much of the city was devastated. Waves of unrest and crime spread throughout the country for almost a decade in a civil, bipartisan conflict of mass murder and torture. This period is commonly known as La Violencia, ("The Violence"), during which approximately 200,000 people died.

See also

Operation Pantomime





Guitierrez, 1962,"La rebeldia colombiana", Editiones Tercer Mundo, Bogota.

Laurencio, Angel Aparicio 1973, Antecedentes desconocidos del nueve de abril, Ediciones Universal, Madrid ISBN 84-399-1336-2

Nieto Rojas, Jose Maria 1956, "La batalla contra el comunismo en Colombia", Empresa National de Publicaciones, Bogota.

Ros, Enrique 2003, "Fidel Castro y El Gatillo Alegre: Sus Anos Universitarios", (Coleccion Cuba y Sus Jueces) Ediciones Universal Miami ISBN 1-59388-006-5

el bogotazo

External links

[http://www.elbogotazo.com El Bogotazo - elbogotazo.com - Portal politico cultural inspirado en los hechos del 9 de abril de 1948(in Spanish)

El Bogotazo - Recopilacion de Paul Wolf (in English)

El Bogotazo por Eduardo Galeano (in Spanish)

Asi fue el 9 de Abril (in Spanish)

[[:pt:Bogotazo|Bogotazo]] (in Spanish)

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