Anniversary of a Political Murder in ColombiaBy: COHA Senior Research Fellow W. John Green
Pan-Macedonian Association USA responds to Zlatko Kovach’s Allegations on Macedonia: Reaching Out To Win L. American Hearts
Zlatko Kovach, in his Macedonia: Reaching Out To Win L. American Hearts, proves one more time that he is the product of the continuous brainwashing condition and lies, provided by an education system which emerged from a Balkan nation, under Tito’s and Stalin’s tutelage.
Mr. Kovach begins his elaborations, stating: “Macedonia historically and culturally did transcend the country’s current borders. In 1912-13, through two brutal regional wars, Macedonia was forcefully partitioned among Greece, Bulgaria and Serbia. The Macedonians were subject to qualified genocide and many were driven from their land. It is this reality that Greece tirelessly tries to cover up.” Mr. Kovach fails to bring up that during the Ottoman era which lasted for five hundred years and ended in 1912 in that area, there was no use of the term Macedonia (meaning the boundaries of the geographic or ancient Macedonia). Ancient Macedonia was divided in two vilaets, the vilaet of Thessaloniki and the vilaet of Monastiri (Bitola). Skopje was the capital of the Kosovo vilaet and was never included in the so-called geographic Macedonia.
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• Gaitán and the 9 de abril movement
• Colombian democracy sputters rather than soars
The one thing that those living outside of Latin America are likely to know about Colombia, besides its association with the illegal drug trade, is its unremitting violence. The country evokes images of ruthless drug lords, merciless paramilitary killers, and militant guerrilla armies, piles of bloody corpses and despairing kidnapped hostages.
The Colombia of today is directly linked to these antecedents. Colombia is a “managed” democracy,—free, but not necessarily fair—with the far right government of Álvaro Uribe largely trusting its political future to the aid and goodwill of the Bush Administration, as well as acting as a bulwark against the Latin American left-leaning movement led by Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez.
Historians, however, can point out that this Andean template did not always exist. In the 1930s and early 1940s, during the so-called “Liberal Republic,” Colombia stood out as a relatively stable and democratic nation—one of the most respectable in the hemisphere. In fact, Colombia’s political culture spawned a massive populist movement led by prominent labor lawyer and politician on the Liberal left, Jorge Eliécer Gaitán.
Gaitánismo, as the movement came to be called, embodied a powerful call for social justice and increased democracy, and attracted large numbers of progressive Colombians to its banner. Though he was spurned by the Liberal party leadership in the 1946 presidential election (a decision that split its vote and cost the party the presidency), Gaitán outmaneuvered his rivals and became party leader in 1947. At the head of a reunited Liberal party, he would easily have been elected president in 1950.
Yet sixty years ago, three shots from a .38 caliber revolver helped create the chaotic Colombia, scenes of which can be witnessed daily. On April 9, 1948, an assassin murdered Gaitán outside his office in downtown Bogotá as he went to lunch. Over the following two decades, during the aptly-named period known as Violencia, thousands of his supporters and opponents were also killed as Colombia cycled through a vicious civil war pitting Liberal and Communist guerrillas against government forces and rightist partisans of the ruling Conservative party. The pattern of political murders established during the 1940s and 1950s has dominated Colombian politics ever since, and greatly influenced the region’s various other “dirty wars” in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. Political assassinations also blossomed elsewhere in the hemisphere through the indiscriminate employment of bargain basement hit men known in Colombia as sicarios.
The tradition of political murder which Colombia exemplifies to this day is a style of repression that targets all messengers of change—not just armed revolutionaries, but also popular civilian political leaders, labor organizers, intellectuals, journalists, activist lawyers, academics, students, church men and women, and even progressive military officers.
Gunning Down the UP
In the mid 1960s, the old Liberal and Communist guerrilla bands reorganized themselves as the FARC, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, with their membership, leadership, and areas of operation continuing unchanged over the years. While being only one of Colombia’s several “Marxist” guerrilla movements, the FARC always remained the biggest and most successful example of the armed opposition. It is no surprise, therefore, that the FARC’s survival and later successes sparked the rise of a deadly rightwing paramilitary movement, which in recent days has been linked to the presidential palace.
From the early 1980s until the present, paramilitary “blocs” specialized in brutal attacks against the supporters (real or imagined) of guerrilla “fronts” throughout Colombia. Hearkening back to the slaughter of the Gaitánistas in the 1940s and 50s, the most dramatic example of this strategy was the near extermination of UP, the Patriotic Union party in the 1980s and early 1990s. Though affiliated with the FARC, most of the UP militants killed were urban leftists who wanted to demobilize and move their struggle from the countryside to urban areas, into the ante-rooms of conventional politics.
The present government of Álvaro Uribe—whose political party is said to have close ties to them—claims to have dismantled its close ties to the country’s ongoing rightwing paramilitary blocs, but watchdog groups in Colombia, international human rights organizations, and even the U.S. Department of State all affirm their continued existence in new forms. The modus operandi of these ultra-rightwing extremists is to single out anyone thought to have sympathies with the FARC. Therefore, the 9 de abril is a moment of living, if gloomy, history. It reminds us of the continuing threat to authentic democracy in many Latin American countries. But one thing is for certain, from the right and left; the Uribe-led Colombian government is a far cry from the thriving democracy portrayed by the Bush Administration and such backers as Florida Congressional Representatives Connie Mack and Llena Ros-Lehtinen, and several other far-right legislators.
W. John Green, Ph.D., is a Senior Research Fellow with the Council on Hemispheric Affairs in Washington, D.C. He is currently working on a book about political murder in modern Latin America. His Gaitánismo, Left Liberalism, and Popular Mobilization in Colombia will appear this year in a Spanish translation funded by the Colombian Banco de la República