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Juan Roa Sierra

Topics: Colombian murderers

Juan Roa Sierra was a Colombian known for assassinating Colombian Liberal leader and presidential candidate Jorge Eliecer Gaitan on April 9, 1948. After he shot Gaitan three times, mortally wounding him, a mob chased him down and killed him. The assassination of Gaitan triggered El Bogotazo, riots that partially destroyed Bogota and led to the La Violencia, a period of violence that lasted until approximately 1958.


Roa was 20 years old at the time of the Gaitan assassination and his own subsequent death. He was the son of Encarnacion Sierra and Rafael Roa. According to a memoir by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, His mother was a Gaitan follower, and was home preparing her grieving dress, when she heard on the radio that her son was the assassin. Gabriel Garcia Marquez's book, Vivir para contarla, expressed doubts about Roa's guilt.

Days before the assassination

The last visit to Gerat occurred on April 7, two days before the assassination. Gerat declared that Roa had had a dream about a treasure in two indigenous towns not too far from Bogota and that he felt destiny was going to give him something important. Gerat suggested that he not go alone, but Roa rejected this. On this same date Roa purchased the weapon and the next day he bought the ammunition. Two witnesses said they had heard Roa say he was going to serve as bodyguard for two foreigners who were going on a trip to a desolated land. One foreigner, Rafael del Pino was known to have been in contact with Roa ninety minutes before the assasination, according to police reports. Del Pino was traveling with another Cuban that the police felt also deserved a "well-grounded suspicion" for this assassination, Fidel Castro, who was also observed in the immediate vicinity of the assassination. These two Cubans immediately fled to the Cuban Legation just in time to avoid arrest..

According to the assistant of Jorge Eliecer Gaitan, Cecilia de Gonzalez, Roa went several times to the office two months before the assassination, but she never gave him the opportunity to see him.

The day of the assassination Roa visited the office at 9:30 AM. Gaitan had arrived a little before 8 AM even though he had been awake until late because he attended the trial of Lieutenant Jesus Maria Cortez Poveda, his client. The building security guard saw him with another person but Roa solicited the interview alone.

The angry mob grew in front of the drug store where the police had taken him for refuge, finally the situation was so menacing that the iron shutters of the drugstore were opened. Roa's was then kicked and stabbed by a massive mob until he was "an almost shapeless corpse"; then his body was left in front of the Presidential Palace.

Other versions of the story

According to a translation made by the United States embassy of an article published on April 16, 1948 by Colombian newspaper El Tiempo [*], Roa was 25 years old at the time of his death. He was baptized in the church of the Egipto Neighborhood in Bogota and was the youngest of 6 brothers. He lived for some time in the Ricaurte Neighborhood also in Bogota more exactly in the address Calle 17-S No.16-52 and was working as a paintor. Roa then began to suffer from Schizophrenia [*] and was interned in a clinic in Sibate.

According to a Scotland Yard report dated July 20, 1948 [*] Roa said he was one of 14 children of the same mother, and that his father had passed away. He said he had not married, but had had an affair with a married woman named Maria de Jesus Forero with whom he had had a child. Apparently the woman denied Roa's affirmations, and after a psychological chiromancy test in front of a mirror, Roa began to act as if he were the 19th century Colombian military and political figure, Francisco de Paula Santander. Apparently, Roa ended the relationship with the woman a years before the assassination. Four months later his mother noticed he had become more quite and weird. Scotland Yard affirmed he was the 13th of the 14 siblings. Scotland Yard also mentioned that Roa admired Gaitan but this admiration may had changed after a commentary made by the candidate.

In the book "Vivir para contarla" (2002) Gabriel Garcia Marquez has some issues with the Scotland Yard report with the number of siblings and mentions that in the documents found in Roa's pocket, his address was located on Calle 8 No. 30-73 differing from that of El Tiempo newspaper.

Scotland yard report also said that Roa had illusions of being mighty, egocentric and was usually spaced out. His behavior might have changed after getting involved with the Rosicrucianism, which was introduced to him by a German named Umland Gerat 18 months before the assassination of Gaitan. Apparently Roa's mother noticed this and went to speak to Gerat about his son's issues and told him her son believed he himself was Jimenez de Quesada, the founder of Bogota. She also mentioned that Roa was at Gaitan's office applying for a job. [*]

The theory that Roa did not assasinate Jorge Eliecer Gaitan

Nathaniel Weyl documents the assasination claims then made by Rafael Azula Barrera and the President of Colombia Mariano Ospina Perez that Gaitan was assasinated as part of a Cold War conspiracy led by the USSR to increase Soviet influence in the Caribbean. The violent disruption of the 1948 Inter-American Conference and the violent deaths of a thousand people was alleged to also have been part of a Cold War conspiracy by agents of the USSR that allegedly included the then low-level Soviet agent Fidel Castro. According to police records Fidel Castro was suspected of personally of assasinating Gaitan, as his Cuban travelling companion, Rafael del Pino was seen with the fascist former mental patient, Juan Roa, an hour and a half before the assasination. Castro had attempted to recruit Gaitan earlier to his cause, but Gaitan had repeatedly declined and was assasinated because he was too politically influential and would have countered the Cold War objectives of the USSR in the Caribbean.

Weyl documents the claim by the Colombian President Mariano Ospina Perez and others, that Roa was influenced by others and perhaps did not commit any crime at all. He discusses the questions of Milton Bracker of the New York Times and U.S. Ambassador Willard L. Beaulac if Roa had acted on his own. Ambasador Beaulac then speculated that Roa was simply used to cover the identity of the real assasins. The President of Colombia Mariano Ospina Perez and the Columbian General Secretary Rafael Azula Barrera considered the evidence that the revolver Roa had carried was incapable of accurate fire, that Roa was not thought to have any firearms training, the assasination had been committed at some distance, and that no eyewitness saw Roa anywhere near the assasination, that he was first seen between two policemen. From this evidence the government of Colombia concluded that the improverished Roa with his diminished mental capacities had been paid to stand near the event with a recently fired revolver.


icdc.com - wire

icdc.com - El Espectador May 1950

Colombialink.com Jorge Eliecer Gaitan Assassination

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article Juan Roa Sierra