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The Assassination of Gaitán

Public Life and Urban Violence in Colombia

Herbert Braun

Publication Year: 1986

Drawn in part from personal interviews with participants and witnesses, Herbert Braun’s analysis of the riot’s roots, its patterns and consequences, provides a dramatic account of this historic turning point and an illuminating look at the making of modern Colombia.

Braun’s narrative begins in the year 1930 in Bogotá, Colombia, when a generation of Liberals and Conservatives came to power convinced they could kept he peace by being distant, dispassionate, and rational. One of these politicians, Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, was different. Seeking to bring about a society of merit, mass participation, and individualism, he exposed the private interests of the reigning politicians and engendered a passionate relationship with his followers. His assassination called forth urban crowds that sought to destroy every visible evidence of public authority of a society they felt no longer had the moral right to exist.

This is a book about behavior in public: how the actors—the political elite, Gaitán, and the crowds—explained and conducted themselves in public, what they said and felt, and what they sought to preserve or destroy, is the evidence on which Braun draws to explain the conflicts contained in Colombian history. The author demonstrates that the political culture that was emerging through these tensions offered the hope of a peaceful transition to a more open, participatory, and democratic society.

“Most Colombians regard Jorge Eliécer Gaitán as a pivotal figure in their nation’s history, whose assassination on April 9, 1948 irrevocably changed the course of events in the twentieth century. . . . As biography, social history, and political analysis, Braun’s book is a tour de force.”—Jane M. Rausch, Hispanic American Historical Review

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix

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pp. xi-xiii

Year after year a story is told in Bogot

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pp. 3-11

This is the story of the violent death of Jorge Eli

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1. The Dialectics of Public Life

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pp. 13-38

Alfonso L

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2. The Making of a Man in the Middle

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pp. 39-55

Jorge Eliécer Gaitán was born on January 23, 1898—a year before the War of the Thousand Days broke out—in Las Cruces, an impoverished Bogotá neighborhood known as the "barrio of the fallen aristocracy."1 The once-respectable if not fashionable barrio was sufficiently close to the center of the city to allow Jorge Eliécer's proud parents to bypass their own parish of Santa...

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3. Encounters on the Middle Ground

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pp. 56-76


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4. The Expansion of Public Space

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pp. 77-103

Early in March 1944 on a small farm outside of Bogot

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5. The Pressures of Power

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pp. 104-131

By the end of 1945 the Liberals were in hopeless disarray. The jefes had little choice but to rely on Gabriel Turbay to stop Gait

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6. The Middle Ground Disappears

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pp. 132-154


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7. The Crowd

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pp. 155-172

Although violent, the first actions of the crowd followed traditional lines. The first protesters had partisan aims. They marched on the palacio to seek justice from a Conservative government for the death of a Liberal. Others followed Liberal leaders who walked to the presidential residence in search of a political solution to an infraction of the moral order. The first targets were...

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8. The Demise of Convivencia

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pp. 173-199

On the afternoon of April 9 the traditional hierarchies of public life were turned upside down. The crowd took center stage. The traditional leaders, with hardly enough time to respond to events, became spectators. The Conservatives in government were relegated to the gallery. The Liberals turned their backs on the crowd, squinting for a glimpse of their Conservative...

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pp. 200-204

What is remembered? Colombians recall different pasts. Memories are so vivid that it is difficult to believe that these events occurred more than thirty years ago. It is as though Gaitan and the bogotazo, known in Colombia more historically and simply as "el nueve de abril,"1 had taken place just yesterday, as though the long Violencia of which few wish to speak had not taken place...


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pp. 207-256


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pp. 257-271


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pp. 273-282

E-ISBN-13: 9780299103637
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299103644

Publication Year: 1986