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The Americas 60.4 (2004) 668-670

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Gaitanismo, Left Liberalism and Popular Mobilization in Colombia. By W. John Green. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2003. Pp. xiv, 365. Illustrations. Notes. Bibliography. Index. $59.95 cloth.

At last, a study of Gaitanismo that is national in scope and in which the struggles and beliefs of the multitudes that imbued it with life and meaning are not subsumed by an exclusive focus on its leader, Liberal populist Jorge Eliecer Gaitán. Green [End Page 668] traces the origins of Gaitanismo back to a tradition of "left-liberal" thought—recurrent, radical notions that drew inspiration from nineteenth-century Liberal political figures such as Rafael Uribe Uribe but also from the cumulative memory of contestation and negotiation around land, political rights, and freedom of expression that fed Colombian popular political imagination and action. Green challenges the notion that the brutal counter-revolutionary efforts of a threatened political elite embodied in la Violencia should be understood as indicating the absence of a tradition of Colombian popular political resistance. The author's insistence that "ideas of democracia and justicia social . . . were intrinsically related in the minds of the pueblo," that "popular Gaitanista ideology originated in popularly held notions of Colombian social reality" (p. 265) is perhaps the most important aspect of this study.

This book is the product of painstaking research in a variety of national and regional newspapers, Gaitán's correspondence with provincial supporters, oral interviews (conducted by the author or by labor historian Mauricio Archila), and selected United States records such FBI and other reports housed in the National Archives. The result is a richly documented look at the debates and discourse of a wide variety of Liberal citizens during the decades of the 1930s and 1940s. Green succeeds in placing Gaitanismo within a broad tradition of intra-Liberal factionalism and in drawing out the complicated ideological and temporally contingent issues that shaped a tradition of popular contention in the larger Colombian political arena as a whole. Two aspects of this book are particularly notable: the inclusion of marvelous visual material and the author's sophisticated and novel examination of the role women played in Gaitanismo.

Green does a remarkable job of tracing Gaitanismo's support and impact well beyond the confines of Bogotá, but he sometimes makes claims based on a too narrow or insufficiently subtle reading of sources. Passages composed of linked quotes taken from four or five different sources that initially appear to provide a picture of overwhelming support for Gaitanismo, seem less persuasive or coherent when parsed into their discrete parts (p. 67-69; p. 99; Chapter 6). Green may also overstate matters when he assumes that the fact that the working and "middling" classes in Colombia were not far apart in income meant that they had more in common with each other than either did with the elite, and that this proves conclusively the pluralistic nature of Gaitanismo and its broad appeal (p. 132). Such is the case when Green argues that the only explanation for the low number of votes cast in Gaitán's favor in Medellín during the presidential election of 1946 is "massive" fraud (p. 174). An alternative explanation is that dependence on state patronage jobs controlled by the traditional Liberal leadership and its allies in the CTC inhibited workers otherwise sympathetic to Gaitán from voting for him in 1946. As Froilan Montoya Mazo's extensively excerpted letter to Gaitán makes clear, it was easiest to subvert the electoral process in small towns. Indeed, the towns in Antioquia where Montoya Mazo noted fraud had been most pronounced or where Gaitán enjoyed great support but garnered few votes were all towns where public works and railroad workers (in patronage positions controlled by Liberal brokers in 1946) constituted a critical part of the electorate (p. 182). [End Page 669]

These quibbles aside, Green's study of Gaitanismo is the single most complete and thorough work on the topic to date and marks an important contribution to the study of twentieth-century Colombian politics...


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