On April 9, 1948, Gaitán was assassinated outside his law offices in downtown Bogotá. The assassination marked the start of a decade of bloodshed, called La Violencia(the violence), which took the lives of an estimated 180,000 Colombians before it subsided in 1958. The violence was difficult for participants and subsequent observers to fully comprehend. Although it reflected social and economic tensions, it revolved around the partisan political concerns that had divided the two traditional parties since the 19th century.
Following the murder of Gaitán, crowds of his supporters took control of downtown Bogotá, burning churches and other symbols of Conservative power and looting many businesses. It was three days before the Colombian army reestablished control of the city. Meanwhile, Liberal partisans deposed government officials in many towns and villages across the country. Government forces quickly reestablished control of urban areas but the Liberal opposition soon organized guerrilla bands in the countryside.
Moderate Liberals and Conservatives sought to quell the escalating violence and form an effective bipartisan government following the events of April 1948.
However, tension between the parties and the upheaval in the countryside undermined these efforts. Liberal members withdrew from the government and boycotted the presidential elections. The victorious Conservative candidate, Laureano Gómez, took office in 1950.
Gómez, the leader of the right wing of the Conservative party, moved vigorously to defeat the Liberal insurrection. His government declared a state of siege and suspended the 1950 session of Congress. In many areas, government police worked closely with paramilitary groups to defeat the Liberal guerrillas and to terrorize the guerrillas’ alleged supporters among the civilian population. Meanwhile, the Liberal Party declared the government illegal soon after Gómez was inaugurated and continued its boycott of elections. In February 1953, right-wing Conservatives proposed a new constitution that many moderates in both parties believed would lead to a totalitarian regime.
In June, with backing from these moderates, a military junta overthrew the Conservative government. General Gustavo Rojas Pinilla was named provisional president of the new military regime, and in 1954 a constitutional convention elected him to a four-year term. Ruling by decree, Rojas offered amnesty to Liberals in revolt and initially succeeded in convincing many to lay down their arms. By 1956, however, violence in the countryside was again on the rise, and moderates of both parties were becoming critical of the authoritarian policies of the Rojas regime.
In 1957, following strikes and demonstrations against the government, another military coup deposed Rojas. Leaders of the Liberal and Conservative parties then arrived at an agreement to share all government offices equally and alternate the presidency between them for a period of 12 years. This arrangement, known as the National Front, was approved in a plebiscite on December 1, 1957, and early in 1958 it was extended to 16 years. "Colombia" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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