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Luis Carlos Galan

Luis Carlos Galan Sarmiento was a Colombian journalist and liberal politician who ran for the presidency of Colombia on two occasions, the first time representing the Liberal Party in 1982 which he lost to Belisario Betancur. These adverse results encouraged him to focus his aspirations in his political movement called "Nuevo Liberalismo" (New Liberalism) that he had founded in 1979. The movement was initially the offspring of the mainstream Colombian Liberal Party but, with the mediation of former president Julio Cesar Turbay, Galan returned to the party in 1987 and intended to win the party nomination for official candidate.

Galan declared himself enemy of the dangerous and influential Colombian drug cartels, mainly the Medellin Cartel led by Pablo Escobar (who had been part of his New Liberalism Movement) and Gonzalo Rodriguez aka "El Mexicano", that were corrupting the Colombian society at all levels. Galan supported an extradition treaty with the United States.

After receiving several death threats, on August 18, 1989 Galan was shot to death by hitmen hired by the drug cartels during a public demonstration in the town of Soacha, Cundinamarca. At the time he was comfortably leading the polls for the forthcoming 1990 Presidential election. His murder investigation remains partially unsolved.


Early life

Galan was born on September 29, 1943 in the city of Bucaramanga, Santander, northeastern Colombia. He had a happy childhood, with strong family bonds, affectionate and sometimes austere, as he had 12 siblings. When he was only 6 years old, his father Mario Galan suffered political prosecution, along with many others, for being a Liberal during the tumultuous events of the late 1940s, with the assassination of the Liberal, Jorge Eliecer Gaitan and the partisan civil war known as La Violencia (The Violence) period. His father moved with the whole family to Bogota in 1949.

In Bogota, Galan studied middle school in the Colegio Americano in 1950. While a student there and only 8 years old, he attended a rally against Conservative president Laureano Gomez and intended to support the Liberal guerrillas. Two years later he was transferred to another school, the Colegio Antonio Narino. When he was only a 14 year old, Galan participated in the students protests of 1957 against the dictatorial regime of Gustavo Rojas getting arrested and spending the night in a jail despite his age. In 1960 Galan graduated from High School with honors and began studies of law and economics in the Pontificia Universidad Javeriana in Bogota, it was then that his liberal radicalism cooled off. While a student in 1963, Galan founded the Vertice Magazine, a university focused magazine to express his Liberal tendencies in a university that was predominantly Conservative and also became his first experience with journalism. He was able to meet prominent Colombian leaders like former Liberal president Carlos Lleras and Colombia's main circulation newspaper El Tiempo owner and also former Liberal president of Colombia Eduardo Santos during an interview in which Santos was impressed by Galan's journalist qualities. In 1965 after graduating this same year, he started working for the Colombian newspaper El Tiempo.


In El Tiempo Galan turned himself into a well known journalist and columnist, effort that earned him the director's assistant position and later the membership of the Executive Directorate in the newspaper with the support of Eduardo Santos and then director Roberto Garcia Pena. He was also active with the Nueva Frontera weekly magazine founded by former president Carlos Lleras, which he directed in 1976 after arriving from Italy. [*] As a journalist Galan wrote no less than 150 editorial articles, followed by other 150 during his time in El Tiempo newspaper.

In 1977 Galan wrote in one of Nueva Frontera's editorial an article denouncing the existence of narcotrafficking mafias and that they were influencing the social structure of Colombia. He also denounced the clientelist politics, moral values corruption and collective values loss, this seen as a premonition for Colombia's future.

It was during an interview with then recently elected president Misael Pastrana that he was surprised by the president in the middle of the interview and told him he was going to be his Minister of Education.

In 1986 As an anecdote, Galan wrote his autobiography under the pseudonym "Cleo Tilde", but it was only until 1994 that the identity was revealed. He described detailed facts, events and encounters with prominent figures as well as an approach to his personal point of view and thoughts.

Political career

In 1970 was appointed Minister of Education during the presidency of Misael Pastrana. His time as minister was marked by his progressive and social policies, but was not considered successful. In 1972 Galan was appointed Ambassador of Colombia in Italy and later in 1974 while still ambassador, was appointed Colombian representative to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Under the influence of former president Lleras and after directing the Nueva Frontera Magazine for seven years, in 1976 Galan ran for councilman in the small town of Oiba in the northeastern department of Santander. In 1977 and 1978 Galan became very active and supportive of Carlos Lleras reelection as president of Colombia while he ran for the Senate. The reelection never occurred, however, he got elected as Senator of Colombia representing the Santander Department.

On November 30, 1979 Galan founded a party with the name Nuevo Liberalismo and within the Liberal Party.

During the 1980s Colombia went under critical siege by violent drug cartels, specially the Medellin Cartel that had gained a great amount of influence by bribing or killing officials. Galan saw this as disastrous for Colombia and its society.

In 1980 Galan was elected as councilman for the capital, Bogota to be named the following year, in 1981 as possible candidate for the presidency of Colombia amid divisions in the Liberal Party that intended to challenge the majorities of the party led by Alfonso Lopez Michelsen and then president Julio Cesar Turbay, but voters leaned for the conservative candidate Belisario Betancur. For Galan it had been a positive outcome despite losing, his party Nuevo Liberalismo had gained a 10% of the total votes winning 21 of the 23 Department Assemblies and getting reelected as Senator but he had been criticised by the Liberal Party for creating divisions among them and indeed losing the Presidency.

By 1982 Pablo Escobar, a man then known for being a very wealthy Antioqean but of unknown background, was initially a member of Galan's Nuevo Liberalismo Party. Galan found out about his illegal activities and publicly rejected him in front of thousands of his fellow men from Antioquia and Colombia.

Galan continued with his ascendant career, absenting himself from the 1986 presidential race to prevent Liberal Party divisions and running his party as an offspring he was reelected once again as a Senator. This allowed the Liberal Party to regain the Presidency with the election of Virgilio Barco but at a terrible cost for his party that lost 50% of the votes gained in the previous election.

It was only until the mediation of former president Julio Cesar Turbay that Galan returned to the party in 1987 and intended to win the party nomination for official candidate. Galan was growing impatient with the violence and the corruption the drug cartels led by Pablo Escobar and Gonzalo Rodriguez were imposing in Colombia, and by trying to support the weakening government he was trying to balance the balance of power against his dangerous enemies.

The Nuevo Liberalism joined the government and was given the Ministry of Agriculture headed by Gabriel Rosas and the Liberal Party gained a solid union that consolidated further when Galan won the Liberal Party's popular nomination to be the presidential frontrunner. Galan was becoming popular for his open criticism and denounce of drug cartel violence, he had promised to extradite drugdealers to the United States. He announced he was would run for office on July 4, 1989 in the Tequendama Hotel in Bogota. His popularity rating skyrocketed to 60%.

Meanwhile Escobar found some support in Tolima's political chief Alberto Santofimio affiliated also with a faction of the Liberal Party led by Alfonso Lopez Michelsen and with a movement called Movimiento de Renovacion Liberal (Liberal Renovation Movement) getting himself elected to the Chamber of Representatives as second runner up for Santofimios' congress candidate Jairo Rojas.



According to accounts the first assassination threats were phonecalls made to Galan's home phone number after the Liberal Party Convention to nominate an official candidate. Flyers were left in the mailbox threatening to kill or kidnap his children. An attempt to kill Galan with an RPG was thwarted while visiting Medellin on August 4, 1989. The assassination attempt was frustrated by Waldemar Franklin Quintero's men who got tipped off. Quintero was the commander of the Colombian National Police in Antioquia and along with him and Galan was the Mayor of Medellin, Pedro Pablo Palaez, both of these men were killed weeks later after the assassination attempt. After this event Galan and his family restricted their travels especially during the night time.


Later on Galan's staff received information from the Colombian intelligence services advising him of the presence in Bogota of a group of hitmen with the intention to kill him. His staff advised him not to travel to the town of Soacha and that the trip to Valledupar was more suitable since he was also scheduled to attend a football match in nearby Barranquilla for the 1990 FIFA World Cup qualifications and in which the Colombian team was going to play. At the last moment Galan changed his mind and ordered his staff to prepare to go to Soacha.


The Colombian drug cartels were worried of the possible approval in congress of an extradition treaty with the United States and political enemies feared Galan's increasing power would isolate many of them from the votes.

According to John Jairo Velasquez aka "Popeye" and Luis Carlos Aguilar aka "El Mugre", Escobar's former hitman, the assassination was planned in a farm by Pablo Escobar, Gonzalo Rodriguez aka "El Mexicano", Liberal political leader Alberto Santofimio and others. Velasquez affirmed that Santofimio had certain influence over Escobar's decision making and he had heard him say "kill him Pablo, kill him!".

Other potential perpetrators were mentioned by a demobilized member of the AUC paramilitary group, "Ernesto Baez", who testified that the murder of Galan was organized by the Colombian mafia with the participation of corrupt members of the military and the DAS.

Galan's suit

At the time of his assassination, Galan was wearing a Dark Blue 2 button pinstripe suit by Italian men's wear maker Ugo Pellegrini paired with a burgundy tie. These pieces of clothing are nowadays kept and guarded by the curators of the Colombian National Museum located in Bogota - Colombia.

After death

Cesar Gaviria, who had been Galan's debate chief ("Jefe de Debate") during the campaign, was proclaimed as his successor by Galan's family and his supporters inside the Liberal party. He was elected president in 1990.

In 2004, new information in a letter written by one of the hitmen who had infiltrated his escort suggested that Galan's assassination was executed with help of corrupt Colombian policemen and some of his own bodyguards, who had been bought off by the drug cartels, including Pablo Escobar and other drug lords. Most of the arrested presumed hitmen were killed in jail or shortly after their release, allegedly to silence them.

On May 13, 2005, a former Justice minister (1974) and congressman of the Colombian Liberal Party, Alberto Santofimio, known for his open connections to Pablo Escobar during the 1980s (Escobar joined Santofimio's political movement), was arrested and accused of being the intellectual author of Galan's murder.

According to the newly extended confession of Escobar's former top hitman, John Jairo Velasquez (also known as "Popeye"), Santofimio would have openly suggested Galan's murder during a secret meeting, in order to eliminate a political rival and, should Galan ever be elected president, also prevent Escobar's likely extradition. Santofimio had been previously questioned and mentioned during the investigation and his involvement was widely rumored, but apparently no direct testimonies of his role had been acquired until recently. Velasquez, currently serving a jail sentence, told the Colombian press that he had initially denied Santofimio's participation due to his existing political power at the time. Other new and unspecified evidences would also have contributed to building the case against Santofimio.

On October 11, 2007, Alberto Santofimio was convicted to 24 years in prison.


Son of Mario Galan Gomez and Cecilia Sarmiento Suarez, Galan was one of their 12 siblings with; Maria Lucia, Gabriel, Cecilia, Helena, Elsa, Gloria, Antonio, Juan Daniel, Mario Augusto, Francisco Alberto and Maria Victoria Galan Sarmiento. He was cousin of former Attorney General of Colombia Alfonso Valdivieso. In 1971 he married journalist Gloria Pachon Castro and had three children Juan Manuel, Claudio Mario and Carlos Fernando.


Galan was largely influenced by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin's ideas and Nikos Kazantzakis's books. His father Mario described him as a person fascinated with spirituality, a man with integrity, an individual struggle for knowing one's self between good and evil and that the effort to achieve it consisted in the main objective in life, not only individually, but collectively.

La sensibilidad social del autor, el hombre integral que buscaba y la lucha interna que Kazantzakis padecio y soporto a traves de su vida entre el angel y la bestia, entre la naturaleza interior y superior del hombre, entre el mundo pasional y el espiritu, lo fascinaban dice su padre- la busqueda de esa trascendencia espiritual y el esfuerzo para realizarlo constituia para Luis Carlos el objetivo de la vida, no solamente en lo individual sino tambien en lo colectivo.

- Luis Carlos Galan - Revista Vertice, May 1964.

-Galan's Campaign Slogan

External links

Spanish Language News Report on the hitman letter

Video of the assassination (Requires quicktime)

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This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article Luis Carlos Galan

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