Luis Carlos Galán

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Luis Carlos Galán
Luis Carlos Galán, 1988.jpg
Senator of Colombia
In office
20 July 1978 – 20 July 1989
Colombian Ambassador to Italy
In office
PresidentMisael Pastrana Borrero
Preceded byAntonio Álvarez Restrepo
Succeeded byJaime Castro Castro
Colombian Minister of Education
In office
7 August 1970 – 4 May 1972
PresidentMisael Pastrana Borrero
Preceded byOctavio Arizmendi Posada
Succeeded byJuan Jacobo Muñoz
Personal details
Born(1943-09-29)29 September 1943
Charalá, Santander, Colombia
Died18 August 1989(1989-08-18) (aged 45)
Soacha, Cundinamarca, Colombia
Cause of deathAssassination
Resting placeCentral Cemetery of Bogotá
Political partyLiberal
Other political
New Liberalism (1979–1987)
Spouse(s)Gloria Pachón Castro (1971–1989)
RelationsAlfonso Valdivieso Sarmiento (cousin)
ChildrenJuan Manuel Galán Pachón
Claudio Mario Galán Pachón
Carlos FernandoGalán Pachón
Alma materPontifical Xavierian University

Luis Carlos Galán Sarmiento (29 September 1943 – 18 August 1989) was a Colombian liberal politician and journalist who ran for the Presidency of Colombia on two occasions, the first time for the political movement New Liberalism that he founded in 1979. The movement was an offspring of the mainstream Colombian Liberal Party, and with mediation of former Liberal president Julio César Turbay Ayala, Galán returned to the Liberal party in 1989 and sought the nomination for the 1990 presidential election.

Galán declared himself an enemy of the drug cartels and the influence of the mafia in Colombian politics, in this case the main drug cartel being the Medellin Cartel led by Pablo Escobar and who unsuccessfully tried to become a member of the New Liberalism Movement in his bid to become a member of the Colombian House of Representatives. Galán denounced Pablo Escobar in a public rally, and supported the extradition treaty with the U.S, contrary to the wishes of the Colombian cartels that feared extradition to the U.S. After receiving several death threats, on 18 August 1989, Galán was shot to death by hitmen hired by the drug cartels during a campaign rally in the town of Soacha, Cundinamarca. At the time, Galán was comfortably leading the polls with 60 percent favourable ratings for the forthcoming 1990 presidential election. The investigation into his assassination remains unsolved.


Early life[edit]

Galán was born on 29 September 1943 in the city of Bucaramanga, Santander,[1] northeastern Colombia. He had a happy childhood, with strong family bonds, affectionate and sometimes austere, as he had 12 siblings. His father moved with the whole family to Bogotá in 1949.[citation needed]

In Bogotá, Galán attended middle school in the Colegio Americano in 1950. While a student there and only 8 years old, he joined a rally against Conservative president Laureano Gómez and intended to support the Liberal guerrillas.[2] Two years later he was transferred to another school, the Colegio Antonio Nariño. When he was only a 14-year-old, Galán 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.[3] In 1960 Galán graduated from high school with honors and began studies of law and economics in the Pontifical Xavierian University in Bogotá, it was then that his liberal radicalism cooled off.[2] While a student in 1963, Galán founded Vértice, 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 (who, delighted with Galán's work, decided to write articles for Vértice Magazine) 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 Galán's journalist qualities.[2] Galán began working for the Colombian newspaper El Tiempo in 1965 after graduating from university the same year.[4]


In El Tiempo Galán 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 García Peña. 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 Galán wrote no less than 150 editorial articles, followed by other 150 during his time in El Tiempo newspaper.[2]

In 1977 Galán wrote in one of Nueva Frontera's editorial an article denouncing the existence of narcotics trafficking 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.[5]

It was during an interview with the then recently elected president Misael Pastrana that he was surprised by the president in the middle of the interview who told Galán that he was going to be his Minister of Education.[2]

In 1986 as an anecdote, Galán 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.[6]

Political career[edit]

In 1970 Galán was appointed Minister of National Education during the presidency of Misael Pastrana. His time as minister was marked by his progressive and social policies, but was not considered successful.[2] In 1972 Galán was appointed Ambassador of Colombia to 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 Galán ran for councilman in the small town of Oiba in the northeastern department of Santander. In 1977 and 1978 Galán 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.[citation needed]

On 30 November 1979 Galán founded a party with the name Nuevo Liberalismo and within the Liberal Party.[7]

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

In 1980 Galán was elected as councilman for the capital, Bogotá 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 López Michelsen and then president Julio César Turbay, but voters leaned for the conservative candidate Belisario Betancur. For Galán 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.[citation needed]

In 1982 Medellin cartel boss Pablo Escobar tried to infiltrate Galán's Nuevo Liberalismo Party. Galán publicly rejected him in front of thousands of his fellow men from Antioquia and Colombia.[8]

Galán 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.[9]

It was only until the mediation of former president Julio César Turbay that Galán returned to the party in 1987 and intended to win the party nomination for official candidate. Galán was growing impatient with the violence and the corruption the drug cartels led by Pablo Escobar and Gonzalo Rodríguez were imposing in Colombia, which encouraged him to try to support the weakening government by shifting the balance of power away from his dangerous enemies.[3]

The Nuevo Liberalism joined the government and was given the Ministry of Agriculture headed by Gabriel Rosas Vega and the Liberal Party gained a solid union that consolidated further when Galán won the Liberal Party's popular nomination to be the presidential frontrunner.[3] Galán was becoming popular for his open criticism and denunciation of drug cartel violence, he had promised to extradite drug dealers to the United States.[citation needed] He announced he would run for office on 4 July 1989 in the Tequendama Hotel in Bogotá.[10][11] His popularity rating skyrocketed to 60%.[citation needed]

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


According to accounts the first assassination threats were calls made to Galán's home telephone 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 Galán with an RPG was thwarted while visiting Medellín on 4 August 1989. The assassination attempt was prevented by men working for Waldemar Franklin Quintero, the commander of the Colombian National Police in Antioquia. Accompanying Quintero and Galán was the mayor of Medellín, Pedro Pablo Paláez; both Paláez and Quintero would be killed within a few weeks of the assassination attempt. After these assassinations, Galán and his family restricted their travels, especially at night.[12]

Later on, Galán's staff received information from the Colombian intelligence services advising him of the presence in Bogotá 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 a 1990 FIFA World Cup qualification match in which the Colombian team was going to play. At the last moment, Galán changed his mind and ordered his staff to prepare to go to Soacha.[12] On August 18, 1989, Galán, who was being protected by eighteen armed bodyguards,[13] was killed as he walked onto the stage to give a speech in front of 10,000 people in Soacha. At least ten others were wounded in the gunfire.[14] This created a war that both sides did not want, one side being the Colombian Government and the other The Extraditables. Both sides saw deaths at a record toll.

The Colombian drug cartels were worried about the possible approval in congress of an extradition treaty with the United States, and political enemies feared Galán's increasing power would isolate many of them from the voters. According to John Jairo Velásquez a.k.a. "Popeye" and Luis Carlos Aguilar a.k.a. "El Mugre", former hitmen of Pablo Escobar, the assassination was planned in a farm by Escobar, Gonzalo Rodríguez a.k.a. "El Mexicano", Liberal political leader Alberto Santofimio and others. Velásquez affirmed that Santofimio had certain influence over Escobar's decision making, and he had heard Santofimio say "kill him Pablo, kill him!".[15] Santofimio told Escobar that if Galan became President, he would extradite Escobar to the United States. Other potential perpetrators were mentioned by a demobilized member of the AUC paramilitary group, "Ernesto Baez", who testified that the murder of Galán was organized by the Colombian mafia with the participation of corrupt members of the military and the DAS.[16]

After death[edit]

César Gaviria, who had been Galán's debate chief ("Jefe de Debate") during the campaign, was proclaimed as his successor by Galán's family and his supporters inside the Liberal party. He was elected president in 1990.[17]

In 2004, new information in a letter written by one of the hitmen who had infiltrated his escort suggested that Galán'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.[citation needed]

On 13 May 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 Galán's murder.[18]

According to the newly extended confession of Escobar's former top hitman, John Jairo Velasquez (also known as "Popeye"), Santofimio would have openly suggested Galán's murder during a secret meeting, in order to eliminate a political rival and, should Galán 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. Velásquez, 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.[18]

On 11 October 2007, Alberto Santofimio was convicted to 24 years in prison. He was later released on appeal, but in August 2011 the Supreme Court reinstated the conviction[19] and he surrendered himself.[20]

On 25 November 2010 Colombian prosecutors issued an arrest warrant for the ex-director of the Colombian security agency (DAS), Retired Gen. Miguel Maza Márquez, for involvement in Galán's murder. The prosecutors claimed that Maza intentionally lightened Galán's bodyguard contingent to enable 18 August 1989 assassination.[21] The Supreme Court convicted Maza in 2016 and sentenced him to 30 years in prison.[22]


Son of Mario Galán Gómez and Cecilia Sarmiento Suárez, Galán was one of their 12 children, the others being: María Lucía, Gabriel, Cecilia, Helena, Elsa, Gloria, Antonio, Juan Daniel, Mario Augusto, Francisco Alberto and María Victoria Galán Sarmiento. He was cousin of former Attorney General of Colombia Alfonso Valdivieso Sarmiento. In 1971 he married journalist Gloria Pachón Castro and had three children Juan Manuel, Claudio Mario and Carlos Fernando.[2][3][23]


Galán 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.[2]

«La sensibilidad social del autor, el hombre integral que buscaba y la lucha interna que Kazantzakis padeció y soportó a través de su vida entre el ángel y la bestia, entre la naturaleza interior y superior del hombre, entre el mundo pasional y el espíritu, lo fascinaban dice su padre- la búsqueda de esa trascendencia espiritual y el esfuerzo para realizarlo constituía para Luis Carlos el objetivo de la vida, no solamente en lo individual sino también en lo colectivo».

Once again the Colombian men turn passionate; but their passion is not that of the parties, the one that perverted their spirits and pushed thousands of countrymen to death towards phantoms of selfish ideals. Now our passion is Colombia and we believe in this ideal as the only one capable of uniting the whole country.[24]

- Luis Carlos Galán – Revista Vértice, May 1964.

For Colombia, always forward, not a single step backwards, and whatever is a necessity let it be.[3]

-Galán's campaign slogan

Popular culture[edit]

See also[edit]

References and notes[edit]

  1. ^ Staff, Macmillan General Reference; Publishing, Macmillan (1 October 1998). Latin American lives: selected biographies from the five-volume Encyclopedia of Latin American history and culture. Macmillan Library Reference USA. p. 403. ISBN 9780028650609.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Revista Semana: Luis Carlos Galán Sarmiento (1943–1989) Revista Semana. (in Spanish). Retrieved 28 August 2007.
  3. ^ a b c d e [1] (in Spanish) Luis Angel Arango Library: Galan Sarmiento, Luis Carlos] Luis Angel Arango Library. Retrieved 28 August 2007.
  4. ^ Kline, Harvey F. (2012). Historical Dictionary of Colombia. Scarecrow Press. p. 224. ISBN 9780810878136.
  5. ^ (in Spanish) Revista Semana: Luis Carlos Galán Revista Semana. Retrieved 28 August 2007.
  6. ^ (in Spanish) Revista Semana: Galán por Galán Revista Semana. Retrieved 28 August 2007.
  7. ^ "Luis Carlos Galan". Colombia Reports. 1 April 2017. Retrieved 16 August 2019.
  8. ^ The New York Times: The Autumn of the Drug Lord The New York Times. Retrieved 28 August 2007.
  9. ^ (in Spanish) Revista Semana: La esperanza trunca Revista Semana. Retrieved 28 August 2007.
  10. ^ Cardona, Jorge (27 July 2012). Días de memoria (in Spanish). Penguin Random House Grupo Editorial Colombia. p. PT246. ISBN 9789587581355.
  11. ^ Jaramillo, Alonso Salazar (1 July 2016). Profeta en el desierto (in Spanish). Penguin Random House Grupo Editorial Colombia. p. PT8. ISBN 9789588931494.
  12. ^ a b (in Spanish) Revista Semana: ¿Que se sabe? Revista Semana. Retrieved 28 August 2007.
  13. ^ Marquez, Gabriel (1997). News of a Kidnapping. United States: Alfred A. Knopf Inc. pp. 23. ISBN 0-375-40051-6.
  14. ^ Colombian Presidential Candidate Is Slain at Rally
  15. ^ (in Spanish) Fuerza Aérea Colombiana: Histórico llamado a juicio a ex senador Alberto Santofimio por homicidio de Luis Carlos Galán Retrieved 28 August 2007.
  16. ^ (in Spanish) El Tiempo: Alianza de militares, mafia y DAS decidió asesinato de Luis Carlos Galán, afirmó Ernesto Báez Archived 22 April 2007 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved 28 August 2007.
  17. ^ (in Spanish) Organizacion de los Estados Americanos: César Gaviria Trujillo Retrieved 28 August 2007.
  18. ^ a b "Ex-Colombia minister held for murder". BBC News. 12 May 2005. Retrieved 26 May 2015.
  19. ^ Colombia court reinstates ex-minister's conviction, BBC, 31 August 2011
  20. ^ (in Spanish)Se entregó ante la Fiscalía el ex ministro Alberto Santofimio Botero, El Heraldo, 31 August 2011
  21. ^ The Miami Herald : Colombian ex-police chief charged in killing The Miami Herald. Retrieved 26 November 2010.
  22. ^ "Cómo el archienemigo de Pablo Escobar terminó condenado por el magnicidio ordenado por el jefe del cartel de Medellín". BBC News Mundo (in Spanish). 25 November 2016. Retrieved 9 August 2020.
  23. ^ (in Spanish) Caracol Radio: Hijo de Luis Carlos Galán propone la legalización de la droga Retrieved 28 August 2007.
  24. ^ (in Spanish) Hoy en La Javeriana: Revista Vertice May 1964 Retrieved 28 August 2007.
  25. ^ "Andrés Parra, prisionero en el cuerpo de Pablo Escobar". El Espectador (in Spanish). 18 May 2012. Retrieved 16 August 2018.
  26. ^ Balmaceda, Tomás (14 February 2017). "Juan Pablo Espinosa, el actor de Narcos que debutó como galán de la nueva "Betty, la fea"". La Nación (in Spanish). Retrieved 16 August 2018.

External links[edit]