Half Time History: England v Colombia

This first knockout match for England leads Half Time History delving into the past of Colombia.

As we prepare to watch the second half of this first knockout match for England at the 2018 World Cup, we’ll take a brief look at the history of their opponents tonight, Colombia. Famous for many things, especially notorious criminals and the narcotics trade, it is also well known for a series of violent uprisings in the country.

This is most notable in the late 1940s up until the late 1950s, in what quickly became a civil war in the country, between the two political parties, the Colombian Conservative Party and the Colombian Liberal Party. The ten-year conflict, would become known as La Violencia (The Violence), in which nearly 200,000 people would perish.

The violence that is often accredited with sparking this ten-year conflict is known as El Bogotazo, taking place in the Colombian capital, and largest city in the country, of Bogota (with -azo meaning violence).

Jorge Eliècer Gaitán was a Columbian politician, who had held senior positions, including education minister and also mayor of Bogota in 1936. As well as this, he was one of the most influential and well-respected members of the Colombian Liberal Party. On 9th April 1948, during his second presidential campaign, Gaitán left his office whereupon he was fatally shot on the sidewalk. Theories over who murdered Gaitán were relatively straightforward and a mob murdered the alleged gunman Juan Roa Sierra, but the theories over who was behind the assassination were complex and plentiful.

Regardless of who was behind the assassination of the Liberal presidential candidate, the Colombian people erupted into a series of riots that stretched out for around ten hours, which saw most of Bogota completely destroyed.

After news of Gaitán’s murder was spread amongst his supporters, the Liberal-run radio station Ultimas noticias broadcast a message calling for violence against the conservative government, who had apparently orchestrated the assassination, this included calling for petrol bombs, dynamite and Molotov cocktails to be assembled.

The rioters took the body of Juan Roa Sierra to the doors of the Casa de Nariño, the official residence of the Colombian president, and attacked the palace with rocks and bricks, before trying to force entry to the palace itself. This led to shots being fired by the Colombian Army, leading to some rioters ending up dead.

As violence in Bogota grew, it began to bubble over in other cities throughout the country, which saw the national newspaper offices being destroyed by fire and the interior ministry offices being destroyed also.

Rioters began to arm themselves with anything they could get their hands on, including sewage pipes, crow bars and machetes and began to raid shops and residential homes. Some police officers, in the confusion, joined the mobs, while others still expected orders to come from above which never came. As such, there was very little law enforcement on the streets during the riots.

The mobs eventually took control of the police headquarters, seizing weapons and ammunition. Amongst the crowd, it is reputed that Fidel Castro, aged 21, was one of those in amongst the violence and apparently influenced his views on the use of violence.

The conservative party and liberal party held negotiations in the palace but no agreements could be met, as a result, the violence continued, with over 100 buildings being completely destroyed and many being killed after arguments began to break out amongst rioters over stolen goods.

Eventually, after over ten hours of rioting, and after the army was sent in to try and restore order, the violence began to subside, however, the political ramifications of the violence still existed, and would lead to the ten-year civil war until 1958. In the violence and uprisings after Gaitán’s murder, up to 3,000 people were killed, with around another 500 in hospitals as a direct result of the violence.

At the time of writing, it’s very difficult to know whether we will have another post in the ‘Half-Time History’ series – let’s hope so!

Read my previous Half-Time Histories here.

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