From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
La Violencia
Murder of Jorge Eliécer Gaitán
El Bogotazo
Political Parties
Liberal Party
Conservative Party
Colombian Communist Party
Presidents of Colombia
Mariano Ospina Pérez
Laureano Gómez
Gustavo Rojas Pinilla

El Bogotazo (from "Bogotá" and the -azo suffix of violent augmentation) refers to the massive riots that followed the assassination in Bogotá, Colombia, of Liberal leader and presidential candidate Jorge Eliécer Gaitán on 9 April 1948 during the government of President Mariano Ospina Pérez. The 10-hour riot left 3,000 to 5,000 dead and thousands injured, with much of downtown Bogotá destroyed. The aftershock of Gaitan's murder continued extending through the countryside and escalated a period of violence which had begun ten years before, in 1930, and was triggered by the fall of the conservative party from government and the rise of the liberals. The 1946 presidential elections brought the downfall of the liberals allowing conservative Mariano Ospina Pérez to win the presidency. The struggle for power between both again triggered a period in the history of Colombia known as La Violencia ("The Violence") that lasted until approximately 1958, from where the civil conflict that continues to this day grew.

General settings[edit]

On April 9, 1948 the 9th Pan-American Conference was being held in Bogotá. The Cold War was at its very beginnings. The Soviet Union had just taken over eastern Europe without firing a shot and Washington was eager to set a position against communism through a statement forewarded by General George Marshall the U.S. Secretary of State and head of the American delegation, which was to be backed by the foreign ministers of the Latin American nations.

At the time, Jorge Eliécer Gaitán was the leader of the Liberal Party, and the most prominent politician in the country after President Ospina. His office was in downtown Bogotá, on the corner of 7th avenue and 14th street. Gaitán had been working the previous night until 4 a.m. as defense attorney in the trial that declared that Lt. Jesús María Cortés was innocent. Gaitán 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 Gaitán[edit]

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

Gaitán 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[edit]

The corpse of Juan Roa was displayed by the mob in the Bolívar Square

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

- "No me mates, mi cabo" (Don't kill me, my corporal)

In an attempt to avoid the angry mob, Jiménez and the man locked themselves in the Granada drugstore. Some witnesses that were interviewed by local newspapers (El Tiempo and El Espectador, issues from April to May, same year) argue that the man who was taken into the drugstore was not the same one who was captured, and that Officer Jiménez was mistaken because of the angry mob and because the other man was also wearing a gray hat.[1] According to the drugstore owner, when he asked the man why he had killed Gaitán, he just said:

- "¡Ay Señor, cosas poderosas! ¡Ay, Virgen del Carmen, sálvame!" (Powerful things, Sir! Our Lady of Carmen, save me!)

After that, the doors were charged and the man was taken by the mob. His naked corpse was found later, in the Bolívar 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 identified him as 26-year-old Juan Roa Sierra.

There have been other theories about Gaitán's murder showing that his assassination was planned and developed by 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 Gaitán's office asking for a job, since he was unemployed, but Gaitán 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 Gaitán received. It has been known that the gun used to kill Gaitán 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 interests of foreign countries, but it has never been corroborated. Publications have mentioned among others: the government of Mariano Ospina Pérez; sectors of the Liberal party; the Colombian Communist party; Fidel Castro; the CIA; and others that may have been involved in his murder.[2] [3][4]

The riots[edit]

Radio Estación Últimas noticias, managed by followers of Gaitán, made the following broadcast some minutes later:

"Últimas Noticias con ustedes. Los conservadores y el gobierno de Ospina Pérez acaban de asesinar al doctor Gaitán, quien cayó frente a la puerta de su oficina baleado por un policía. ¡Pueblo, a las armas! ¡A la carga! A la calle con palos, piedras, escopetas, cuanto haya a la mano. Asaltad las ferreterías y tomaos la dinamita, la pólvora, las herramientas, los machetes ..."


"Latest news with you. Conservatives and the Ospina Pérez government have just killed Dr. Gaitán, 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...".[citation needed]

After that, instructions to make Molotov cocktails were broadcast.[citation needed]

People from everywhere in the city rushed downtown. Many were homeless people who had come to Bogotá 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 Nariño, the crowd attacked the palace with stones and bricks. Many cars, buses and streetcars were burned. A few hours later violence exploded in other cities, including Medellín, Ibagué and Barranquilla.[citation needed]

The leaders of the Liberal Party decided to nominate Darío Echandía to replace Gaitán 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 Nariño. They were confronted by the Army, and many were killed. The offices of the government ministry and El Siglo newspaper were set on fire.[citation needed]

Most 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.[citation needed]

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, (La Habana, April 21, 1983, issue 16). 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, some university rivals (including Rolando Masferrer) by that time (Ros, 2003).[5][6][7][8][9][10]

The leaders of the Liberal party were still in the hospital, next to Gaitán'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 to resolve their differences and find a solution. However, because of the conflict in the streets, the Liberal leaders could not reach the palace - some 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 Bogotá. Fires destroyed the Cundinamarca Government building, the historic San Carlos Palace (containing the oldest portrait of Simón Bolívar, painted by Gill in London, 1810), the Justice Palace, Feminine University, Dominican Convent, St. Inés 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. By 6:00 p.m there were over 3,000 dead and injured and 136 buildings on fire[citation needed]. 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 (issue #78, April 24/1948), 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).

Trying to calm the riots, staff of the radio station "Últimas Noticias" — Gerardo Molina, Diego Montaña Cuéllar, Carlos Restrepo Piedrahita, Jorge Zalamea, Jorge Uribe Márquez, José 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 Últimas 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[edit]


  • Guitiérrez, 1962,"La rebeldia colombiana", Editiones Tercer Mundo, Bogotá.
  • Laurencio, Angel Aparicio 1973, "Antecedentes desconocidos del nueve de abril", Ediciones Universal, Madrid ISBN 84-399-1336-2
  • Nieto Rojas, José María 1956, "La batalla contra el comunismo en Colombia", Empresa National de Publicaciones, Bogotá.
  • Ros, Enrique 2003, "Fidel Castro y El Gatillo Alegre: Sus Años Universitarios", (Coleccion Cuba y Sus Jueces) Ediciones Universal Miami ISBN 1-59388-006-5

External links[edit]