Department Publication

The Assassination of Gaitán

Public Life and Urban Violence in Colombia

Herbert Braun

Associate Professor
( Wisconsin, March 1986 )

On April 9, 1948, Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, then a popular political leader likely to become the next president of Colombia, was shot and killed by a drifter whose motivations remain obscure. Gaitán's death touched off a spontaneous riot, known as the Bogotazo, and left hundreds dead, razed the center of Bogotá and had far reaching consequences.

Drawn in part from personal interviews with participants and witnesses, Herbert Braun's analysis of the riot's roots, its patterns and consequences, provides a dramatic account of this historic turning point and an illuminating look at the making of modern Colombia.

Braun's narrative begins in the year 1930 in Bogotá, Colombia, when a generation of Liberals and Conservatives came to power convinced they could kept he peace by being distant, dispassionate, and rational. One of these politicians, Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, was different. Seeking to bring about a society of merit, mass participation, and individualism, he exposed the private interests of the reigning politicians and engendered a passionate relationship with his followers. His assassination called forth urban crowds that sought to destroy every visible evidence of public authority of a society they felt no longer had the moral right to exist.

This is a book about behavior in public: how the actors—the political elite, Gaitán, and the crowds—explained and conducted themselves in public, what they said and felt, and what they sought to preserve or destroy, is the evidence on which Braun draws to explain the conflicts contained in Colombian history. The author demonstrates that the political culture that was emerging through these tensions offered the hope of a peaceful transition to a more open, participatory, and democratic society.

Drawn in part from personal interviews with participants and witnesses, Herbert Braun's analysis of the riot's roots, its patterns and consequences, provides a dramatic account of this historical turning point and an illuminating look at the making of modern Colombia.



Corcoran Department of History
University of Virginia
Nau Hall - South Lawn
Charlottesville, VA 22904



Contact:
tel: (434) 924-7147; fax: (434) 924-7891
office: M-F 8 am to 4:30 pm
contact page