Tuesday, December 2, 2014

1989, a Fatal Year

Wreckage of the bombed Avianca flight.
On the morning of Nov. 27, 1989, a teenager nicknamed 'El Suizo' disguised as a businessman boarded an Avianca flight from Bogotá to Cali. The youth carried a suitcase which his handlers had told him contained a device to record conversations of enemies of the Medellin drug cartel.

Five minutes into the flight 25 years ago, the young man, whose family survived by picking thru trash for things to sell, obediently pressed the 'record' button. But the suitcase contained explosives, which blew the Boeing 727 out of the sky, killing 107 people on board, including the young man. The wreckage fell on a rural area of Soacha, in south Bogotá, killing three people on the ground.

But the bomb's apparent target, presidential candidate Cesar Gaviria, had not taken the flight.
Aftermath of bombing of the DAS building in Bogotá.

The Avianca bombing was only the most deadly of the terrorist attacks and assassinations which took place in 1989, a quarter century ago. Only nine days later, a truck bomb containing about 500 kg of dynamite exploded beside the Bogotá headquarters of the DAS, Colombia's FBI, killing 52 people and injuring about 1,000.

The bomb was apparently planted by the Medellin Cartel to kill DAS director Miguel Maza Márquez, but he escaped unharmed.

In August of that same year, presidential candidates Luis Carlos Galán was assassinated, by a conspiracy also led by Escobar. Two newspapers, including Bogotá's El Espectador, were attacked with car bombs. And in Antioquia, both the governor and chief of police were assassinated.

Guards react to presidential candidate Galán's shooting.
Perhaps the most perverse crime of 1989 was the massacre of Rochela, Santander, when 12 court experts investigating the disappearance and murder of 19 businessmen were themselves massacred by paramilitaries.

And the most absurd episode may have been the drug-financed murder of a football referee, which forced the cancellation of a national championship game.

And, the next year, leftist presidential candidates Carlos Pizarro and Bernardo Jaramillo would be assassinated by right-wing forces.

Many of these crimes are still under investigation, including the Avianca bombing. Only one person,

'Colombia With Memory.' Relatives of victims
of Pablo Escobar.
one of Escobar's hit men, has been convicted for the bombing. Dandenis Muñoz, nicknamed 'La Quica,' is doing multiple life sentences in the United States because two U.S. citizens were on board the plane. Muñoz denies any part in the plane bombing, and several news reports support his case. But Muñoz unquestionably committed many atrocities during his years as one of Escobar's hit men. Popeye, another Escobar hit man, who was recently released from a Colombian prison, has acknowledged helping plan the bombing. Investigators today are particularly interested in whether public officials collaborated in the bombing.

The Avianca case is just one of many from that era which never seem to die. A few days ago, investigators disinterred the remains of M-19 presidential candidate Carlos Pizarro to test, among other things, whether one of his bodyguards may have killed him.

Escobar hit-man Jhon Jairo Velásquez, alias Popeye.
But, while the late '80s was one of the bloodiest periods in Colombia's history, the victims have not received the same government compensation as have some of those persecuted by leftist guerrillas, right-wing paramilitaries and government forces. That's because narcotraffickers' crimes are not considered political, even tho their victims may suffer just as much and be just as dead. (The Avianca case, however, has been officially declared to be a 'crime against humanity.')

Today, in an attempt to restart the peace negotiations with the FARC guerrillas, the government broached the idea of categorizing narcotrafficking as a 'political crime.' The idea is absurd on its face, but would enable a new level of impunity to the guerrillas, making possible a peace treaty which the FARC leaders could sign.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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