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2.20.2005

 

Who killed Gaitan?


Jorge Eliecer Gaitan was shot in the back by an assassin as he stepped out of his office building on April 9, 1948. Gaitan was the populist candidate who was most likely to become president of Colombia. His death sparked "El Bogotazo" -- massive riots in Bogota and then in other cities. For two days Gaitan's followers held power in Bogota, until the Colombian army was unleashed on its own people, killing as many as 5,000 civilians. The years of violence that followed claimed the lives of more than 200,000 Colombians and gave birth to the country's current and ongoing political crisis.

Whodunnit? Conspiracy theories abound. One popular theory says that the CIA did it. The records show the agency was expecting armed demonstrations by Colombian leftists coinciding with a visit by U.S. General George Marshall for the signing of the charter of the Organization of American States. What's more, the U.S. believed that Gaitan was receiving funding from the Soviets. (We may never know the full story, as a number of CIA documents about the Gaitan case were destroyed in 1972.)

Some people believe that a Cuban student who was in Bogota at the time was somehow involved. He is pictured above, left. His name was Fidel Castro.

Author Gabriel Garcia Marquez a vivid and personal account of this tumultuous time in his memoir, Living to Tell the Tale.

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