The Assassination of Gaitán
Public Life and Urban Violence in Colombia
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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Year after year a story is told in Bogot� and throughout Colombia. It recounts the life of one man and the experiences of those who lived through the day of his death. So much has been added to and taken from the story that it now has a fictional, almost fantastic, character. "Novels aren't written to recount life," the realist Peruvian author Mario Vargas Llosa has told us, "but...
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This is the story of the violent death of Jorge Eli�cer Gait�n, and of the crazed, fleeting passions of the crowd that took to the streets of Bogota, Colombia, on the afternoon of April 9, 1948, to avenge his murder. In a few hours downtown Bogota was in flames, its public buildings bombed and ransacked, its stores looted...
1. The Dialectics of Public Life
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Alfonso L�pez rose slowly. Standing before his Liberal colleagues, he declared that in just one hundred days, on February 9, 1930, one of their own would be president of Colombia.1 Bemused, the older statesmen of the party must have recalled their own naivet� and the brash statements of their younger years. They had been out of power since before they lost the War of...
2. The Making of a Man in the Middle
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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...
3. Encounters on the Middle Ground
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Gait�n set out in 1925 along a winding, often tortuous path. He rose confidently to powerful positions more than once, only to fall back silently into his private law practice, his reputation seriously damaged. When his public actions brought the crosscurrents of conflict swirling around him, he disappeared from public life to gather strength and surface anew once the storms...
4. The Expansion of Public Space
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Early in March 1944 on a small farm outside of Bogot�, surrounded by his closest friends and associates, Gait�n decided finally to take the plunge and run for president.1 The decision came in the middle of L�pez's crisis-torn term of office, two full years before the election. The president himself was being widely accused by El Siglo of having approved the July 15, 1943...
5. The Pressures of Power
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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�n. But Turbay was a turco, as Colombians of Middle Eastern background were pejoratively known. The son of poor Syrian-Lebanese immigrants, who had settled in Bucaramanga just months before he was born in 1901, Turbay was the only...
6. The Middle Ground Disappears
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Gait�n liked the streets of Bogot�. He found safety in public. When he walked out of his office, the shoeshine boys stood at attention. He knew many of them by name, and talked easily with the lottery vendors. Women waited to give him flowers. In his favorite cafe the waitress rushed to serve him. His 1947 dark-green Buick was easily recognized, and small crowds gathered...
7. The Crowd
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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...
8. The Demise of Convivencia
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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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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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Publication Year: 1986