This story is about politics, history, and the trolleys in Bogotá; it is also brought to you in part by my grandma. Whenever she talked about the political situation the name Gaitán always came up, “after Gaitán nothing has been the same.” She spoke of him as if he had been some kind of messiah, or at least supposed to be. He never got the chance to be one and apparently we have been paying for this ever since. The man I’m referring to is none other than revolutionary party creator, mayor of Bogotá in 1936 Jorge Eliécer Gaitán Ayala. According to my grandma this man was going to save the country, he was going to give the power to the common people.
Some background history might be useful here. Many of you might remember the “man responsible for the independence of Latin America” (note the quotes), Simón Bolivar. Well, after the independence in the 1820s there followed a period of civil war and just overall unstable governing. When they finally reached some stability the guy in charge was booed off and then the conservatives began the conservative hegemony which lasted from 1886-1930. Yeah, I know a long time. Of course this made the liberals super angry and when they took over they ruled with revenge. The common people were all but forgotten. Gaitán wanted nothing to do with these two selfish parties, so he started his own party around the same time that the Communists started their own party. He did some other good stuff between 1935-1945 which you can read on wikipedia. The important part was that he tried to run for president in 1945 for the Liberal Party under the pretense that he was “the people’s candidate”. You can imagine that didn’t make the other parties happy (especially the Communists). That’s O.K. because he didn’t win that election. He kept gaining more followers and was going to run for president again in 1950, but he was assassinated in 1948 probably because he had too many followers and would have won the election (I say probably because most of it is rather speculative, you can read all the different versions, which range from CIA to USSR involvement, on his wiki). He was killed a couple of days after leading some protests in different cities.
And then the big riot started. I mean these people were already angry and Gaitán’s assassination was like the straw that broke the camel’s back. Thus began a period of extreme violence and death called “The Violence” which didn’t end (if you can say it really ended) until 1958. That day of Gaitán’s assassination though, April 9, 1948, the people went so crazy that they set some trolley wagons on fire.
The government used the destruction of these wagons as an excuse to stop the trolley system, but they probably just wanted to use that money for corrupt ends. You can actually see some of the railway that they never paved over in the center.
The history of Colombia that followed the assassination of Gaitán is pretty interesting, but that’s for another day.