Friday, August 22, 2014

And If Galán Had Lived?

Luis Carlos Galán's assassination 25 years ago this past Sunday was one of many such political killings during the 1980s and '90s - but is still the most iconic.

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.
which produced the humanist Constitution in force today, might not have happened at all. That's because it was Galán's assassination which motivated the convention's organization.

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


Ricky Rutledge said...

An interesting article. It´s fascinating to ruminate on the what-if's of significant historical events, and for Colombia, none more significant than the tragic assassination of Luis Carlos Galan.
I get the feeling you are right in what you say about him not being able to drastically change the course of this Nation, as great an Orator and true of moral compass, as he was. After all the most pressing concerns, the 'Devils Horns' of Corruption and Violence, have been firmly entrenched here since before the days of the Liberator.
I'm from New Zealand, and I have a theory about Australians and their historically criminal genetic make-up (modern immigration aside). I also believe we can apply this theory, in some measure, here in Gran Colombia, after all, the very 'Conquerors' where of similar criminal stock, were they not?

Miguel said...

Gaitán's assassination was another which arguably changed history. Or did not.

I just happen to be reading an essay by Gabriel Garcia Marquez in which he says that many of the conquistadores were criminals shipped off to the New World's. New Zealand's and Australia's settlement - originally - by criminals suggests that environment and ubringing trump genetics. Otherwise, why would these be two of the planet's least--violent nations? Mike

Ricky Rutledge said...

Yes, absolutely, Colombus', and subsequent voyages, were mainly crewed by Criminals and convicts, who were given the chance of freedom, to sail into the unknown, and probable oblivion. Neither they, nor the Spanish Monarchy, had anything to lose - the inhabitants of the New World, however.....

You're right that Australia was originally used as a Penal Colony for the overcrowded Jails of Britain. New Zealand , though, was a different matter altogether. She was originally colonised by people lured by the promise of unfettered fertile lands, freedom from oppression, and a sense of adventure. The British desire to colonise New Zealand was based on her fertility, her virgin forests, and monster trees used as Spars to supply the all conquering fleet....Products and supplies. America, after all, was becoming an upstart, and Australia is basically a Desert Island.

I believe Australia's genetic legacy lies in rampant Racism, Bigotry, Sexism, and love of Gambling, to name but a few.

coolcoil said...

Thanks for a particularly interesting article. It has inspired me to finally take an interest in Colombia's history. Though I do not agree with all of your positions, I really enjoy this blog and appreciate all of the original (and prolific) work.

Miguel said...

Thanks Coolcoil. I always appreciate your comments, especially when they disagree with my posts.