The charismatic, incorruptible Galán would almost surely have won the 1990 presidential election. But an assassin's bullet killed him on the evening of August 18, 1989 while campaigning in Soacha. Galán's death and his popularity shared a common cause: His uncompromising opposition to the corrupting influence of the drug trade.
Galán was shot by an assassin who fired upward from his hiding place beneath the speaker's stage. Cartel kingpin Pablo Escobar and right-wing paramilitaries had planned the killing, but a quarter-century later investigators continue looking into corrupt collaboration by Galán's security detail.
What if the assassination had failed? Most likely the assassins would have tried again - they had already tried and failed once before, after all. And Escobar later bombed a passenger airline out of the sky in a failed attempt to kill Galán's successor, Cesar Gaviria. Gaviria, who would go on to win the presidency, had not taken the flight.
But if Galán HAD become president, history could have taken different turns. Galán's support of the practice of extraditing Colombian drug traffickers for trial and imprisonment in the United States - the punishment they most feared - could have made Colombia's drug war even more bloody and violent than it in fact was. But it might have been shorter, as well.
On the other hand, one of the signal events of recent Colombian history, the 1991 constitutional convention
|Security guards scramble Aug. 18, 1989 in the |
plaza of Soacha after Galán was gunned down.
On the other hand, a President Galán's strong moral compass might have reduced the cynicism and disillusionment with politics which many Colombians continue to feel today. At least, that could have been true if Galán had become a successful president. That was far from assured, since, according to at least one opinion, his lack of willingness to compromise had earlier made him a terrible minister of education.
But if Galán had been an effective president, the consequences could have been limitless. A stronger, respected and less corrupt state could have reined in the cocaine economy and weakened the guerrillas. The right-wing paramilitaries which rose up in response to the guerrillas might never have appeared at all. Perhaps the failed 1998 negotiations with the FARC would have gone differently - or not been needed at all. In a more secure, successful Colombia, the election of hard-line Pres. Alvaro Uribe, with all its consequences in corruption and human rights violations, might not have taken place.
But I'm dubious about all of this. Unless you believe in the 'Great Man' theory of human history, there are broader forces which determine events. Colombia was able to beat back the cocaine cartels and waken the guerrillas not because of any one leader, but because of changes such as the end of the Cold War, which enabled the United States to direct money and attention toward other issues, such as Colombia's crisis.
Galán might have been an excellent, honorable president. And, today's Colombia might be better thanks to him. But I doubt he could have fundamentally changed the nation's course.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours