Biography of Jorge Eliécer Gaitán (1898-1948)

Colombian political leader whose assassination on April 9, 1948 resulted in the popular movement known as the Bogotazo. Jorge Eliécer Gaitán was born on January 23, 1898, in a modest family formed by a progressive teacher and an old bookseller in the Bogota neighborhood of las Cruces. Expelled from several schools by the liberal affiliation of his father, he managed to complete his studies at the Colegio Araujo (1913), after which he entered the Faculty of law of the Universidad national, where he graduated in 1924 with a dissertation on "The Socialist ideas in Colombia". She wondered whether his country was ready for socialism. He was after lawyer and travelled to Rome, where he studied criminal law together with Enrico Ferri, maximum figure of legal positivism (former Socialist and supporter at the time of fascism). After her graduation in Italy few months he traveled in Europe and returned to Colombia in 1929. Elected representative in the Chamber, he faced the Conservative Government for the massacre of the banana, swamp when the army killed the "United Fruit Company" striking workers. Gaitan traveled to the coast, spoke with workers and defended their rights in Congress. Whereas narrow the margin of change of liberal ideology, founded in 1933, along with Carlos Arango Vélez, the National Union left wing revolutionary (U.N.I.R.), defending Socialists, liberal ideas and even fascists, since it proposed principles as the price control to real estate leases and brakes to the speculative market, the progressive taxation pursuant to the capital, nationalization of the credit, the limitation of the private property, State social security, representation of workers and employers in Congress, legal equality of men and women, implementation of the divorce, abolition of discriminatory differences between legitimate and illegitimate children, etc. In the elections of 1935 to the departmental assemblies Gaitan won only 3,800 votes, which showed him that the Colombian people remained liberal or conservative. For this reason, he returned to liberalism, willing to use its organization and strength to make a social revolution. The Liberals then was named Mayor of Bogotá (1936). Its management was positive; It opened canteens for the construction workers did not have to eat on the streets, built urinals in the Center, ordered civil servants to wear shoes (handed out les more than 9,000 pairs so that they pay them in comfortable instalments), imposed the sweepers were neat and calzaran boots, vendors of the square using white aprons, which are placed a lamp in front of each House, etc. Gaitan was a kind of alcalde-gendarme. His most unfortunate Decree was that ordered the use of uniforms by taxi and bus drivers, abolishing the traditional "poncho" or poncho. The drivers refused to accept the imposition and the National Association of drivers (ANDEC) ordered the strike. President López was considered then appropriate to relieve the Mayor. In 1940 Gaitán was named Minister of education by the liberal President Santos. It lasted only eight months in office, as his ideas of secularization of education ran into the power of the Church. In 1943 President responsible Darío Echandía appointed him Minister of labour, office where he failed to try to harmonize the interests of employers and workers. In 1944 it was presented as a candidate for the Presidency of the Republic. Orthodox liberalism suspicious of him, and endorsed as a candidate for Turbay (1945). The "gaitanismo" then gained momentum to come into contact with the Bogota popular groups, which were invited to parades of vehicles, concentrations in the plaza de Bolívar and a procession of torches with 5,000 supporters. She followed a Convention in the Plaza de Toros, with an attendance of more than 40,000 people. Liberal division allowed the triumph of conservative, as in the elections of May 5, 1946 Mariano Ospinawon 565.260 votes, the ruling liberal Gabriel Turbay 440.591, and Gaitan 358.957. Turbay went into voluntary exile in Paris, Ospina to the presidential Palacio, and Gaitan was launched to the rostrum ready to snatch the "Goths" or Conservative Government.

In the elections for the Congress of 1947 Gaitan organized a device similar to the 1945 and received 448.848 votes, while the pro-Government Liberals of Saints only managed 352.952. Gaitan was thus recognized as head of the party liberal and forced to defend it from the conservative official persecution, which reported continuously since then. In July he was elected President of the Congress and in September was proclaimed the candidature of Gaitan to the Presidency of the Republic. On January 29, 1948 Gaitan put in the hands of Ospina the Memorial of grievances of the Liberal Party and on 7 February organized a demonstration of silence with flags bereaved. Some 100,000 supporters attended the Plaza de Bolivar wearing black crespones for the dead of official violence. The gaitanistas kept a disciplined silence, something never seen in a Colombian partisan manifestation. Gaitan led them a short speech in which called on the President that he return to the country the public tranquility. It was in his best political time and was without a doubt the most charismatic leader of Colombia. A month later, on April 9, 1948, he was killed by a disturbed mental, which resulted in the so-called "Bogotazo". It was the end of hope. The fundamental principles of its political ideology can be found in the Plan Gaitan (1947), the manifestation of silence (1948) and the prayer for the humble, of the same year.


OSORIO LIZARAZO, José Antonio: Gaitán: life, death and permanent presence, Bogotá, Carlos Valencia Editores, 1982.

Rodriguez GARAVITO, Agustín: Jorge Eliecer Gaitan (biography of a shadow), Bogotá, Tercer Mundo, 1979.

vILLAVECES, Jorge: the best speeches of Gaitán, Bogotá, Editorial Jorvi, 1968.