Saturday, June 12, 2010

1985 Comes Back to Haunt

In 1985, the M-19 guerrilla group stormed the Justice Palace, on Bogotá's Plaza Bolivar, and took the whole Supreme Court hostage.

The military counterattacked, actually parking tanks on the plaza and firing into the building. In the end, the building was destroyed and about 100 people died, including guerrillas, building employees and all but one of the Supreme Court justices. Some of the dead had apparently been brought out alive by soldiers from the palace and executed in the neighboring Casa del Florero (House of the Flower Pot), because the military suspected them of having collaborated with the guerrillas. Apparently, too, cocaine king Pablo Escobar helped to finance the attack.

The episode has become known as the Holocaust of the Justice Palace, and its legacy continues haunting Colombia in various ways. A few years after the attack, the M-19 demobilized and became a political party. Today, some ex-leaders of the M-19 are in Congress, and one, Gustavo Petro, ran for president on the Polo Democratico party's ticket.

That was an ironic turn-around. Then, a few days ago, a court sentenced Alfonzo Plazas Vega, the general who had commanded the palace's retaking to 30 years in prison for the extra-judicial executions.

That's a huge turn-around for the country: The guerrillas who took the palace now in Congress, and the general who drove them out in prison.

This blog written by Mike Ceaser, of Bogota Bike Tours

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