Jorge Eliécer Gaitán: Biography And Works

Jorge Eliécer Gaitán (1903 – 1948) was a Colombian lawyer and politician, known for being a leader of populist movements and revered as a martyr after his assassination.

Gaitán was one of the charismatic leaders of the Liberal Party; Furthermore, he managed to create his own party with a Marxist tendency called “Unión Nacional Izquierda Revolucionaria.” He also served as Mayor of Bogotá in 1936, Minister of Education in 1940, and Minister of Labor from 1943 to 1944.

History Credential Magazine [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Jorge Eliécer Gaitán is remembered for his concern for the education and welfare of the poor; He insisted on proposing and developing a series of programs for the underprivileged. On the other hand, he was characterized by being an excellent speaker capable of causing a stir in popular groups in Colombia.

After his assassination during his second presidential campaign in 1948, an armed conflict broke out in Colombia known as “El Bogotazo”, which later spread to become “La Violencia”.

Article index

  • one

    Biography

    • 1.1

      Birth and family

    • 1.2

      Basic studies

    • 1.3

      Secondary studies and undergraduate

    • 1.4

      PhD in Rome

    • 1.5

      Participation in the banana workers’ strike

    • 1.6

      Revolutionary Left National Union

    • 1.7

      Mayor of Bogotá

    • 1.8

      Minister of Education

    • 1.9

      Road to the presidency

    • 1.10

      Murder

    • 1.11

      The Bogotazo

  • two

    Plays

    • 2.1

      Sunday classes

    • 2.2

      Gaitan’s Plan

    • 23

      Support to workers

    • 2.4

      Social reforms

    • 2.5

      Support for social media

  • 3

    References

Biography

Birth and family

Jorge Eliécer Gaitán Ayala was born in Las Cruces, a neighborhood located in the center of Bogotá, Colombia. However, many historians claim that he was born in Cucunubá in the department of Cundinamarca, Colombia.

As for the date of his birth, it is not entirely clear. Although his birth certificate shows the date January 30, 1903, his citizenship card and information from the Royal University of Rome reflects January 26, 1903 as his date of birth. The veracity of the information has not yet been confirmed.

He was the son of Eliécer Gaitán and Manuela Ayala de Gaitán. His father was a history teacher, in addition to selling second-hand books and working as a journalist.

His mother graduated from a teaching institute, so she devoted herself to teaching. In fact, Jorge Eliécer Gaitán’s early education is due to the discipline of his mother, who taught him to read and write during his early years.

Her mother had problems working in many institutions in the country due to her liberal and feminist political tendencies, to the point of being excluded from many educational institutes. However, she managed to teach in schools where she was not judged for her opinions.

Basic studies

Gaitán had a humble upbringing and, along with his family, was exposed to poverty. His first years were spent in a neighborhood in the center of Bogotá called Egypt. Since he was little, his father read him stories about the history of Colombia, which captured Gaitán’s interest in politics and culture.

The debate between his parents about the future and the education of Gaitán began to grow. His mother was in favor of formal education and encouraged her son to follow her; otherwise, his father promoted him to take up practical jobs.

At the age of 12 he entered formal education and was characterized by his indiscipline; in fact, he was expelled from a school for throwing an inkwell at one of his teachers. However, in 1913, he received a scholarship to attend Colegio Araújo, a liberal ideology college.

The Araújo School ensured that the students received a liberal education within a country where conservative ideology prevailed, which made the liberal mentality take hold in Gaitán’s beliefs.

Secondary studies and undergraduate

In 1918, he wrote an article for the Colombian newspaper El Tiempo, in which he highlighted the importance of higher education. From that article, his approach to disadvantaged people was discovered.

He proposed a series of political ideas where his wishes for the presidency could be reflected. By his own decision, he transferred from the Araújo School to the Martín Restrepo Mejía School a year later, obtaining the best grades at that school.

Later, he enrolled to study law and political science at the National University of Bogotá in 1919 and together with a group of colleagues founded the Centro Universitario de Propaganda Cultural in 1920. As president of the center, he traveled throughout the city exposing the objectives and proposals from the center.

In addition, he became involved in protests against Colombian President Marco Fidel Suárez that same year. Four years later, he presented his thesis entitled Ideas socialistas en Colombia , which he used to declare himself a socialist with a Marxist tendency.

Inspired by his mother’s feminist discourses, Gaitán included in his rhetoric the elevation of Colombian women within society.

PhD in Rome

In 1926, he moved to Rome, Italy, for his doctorate in jurisprudence at the Royal University of Rome. The following year, he presented his thesis entitled The Positive Criterion of Premeditation; By introducing it, he was able to earn his degree by graduating magna cum laude .

During his stay in the Italian city, he was impacted by the oratory skills of the Italian military man Benito Mussolini, to the point of imitating him in his political ideals and incorporating them as soon as he arrived in Colombia.

Participation in the banana workers’ strike

The workers of the United Fruit Company – an American multinational company – lasted several months of inactivity as a form of strike against the abuses of President Miguel Abadía Méndez. The workers union sought to guarantee a better quality of work for the employees.

A large number of workers (approximately 26,000) refused to continue their activities within the company, one of which was cutting bananas. The United States had threatened the Colombian government to invade if they did not stop abuses against the United Fruit Company.

However, President Suárez ordered the assassination of more than 1,500 workers of the North American company. Such a decision resulted in a heavy slaughter between the soldiers and the strikers.

After the massacre ended, Gaitán used his skills as a lawyer and politician to demand accountability from those involved in the massacre to defend the rights of the strikers.

Gaitán managed to increase his popularity throughout the country after the bloody events and positioned himself as an opponent towards the Conservative government.

Revolutionary Left National Union

Gaitán was characterized by his populist rhetoric, which primarily appealed to the country’s unions and low-income Colombians.

In 1933, Gaitán decided to create a party called “Unión Nacional Izquierdista Revolucionaria”, which sought to defend the Colombian popular sector. From that moment on, he began to divide Colombian society into oligarchy and people.

For Gaitán, the oligarchy was synonymous with corruption, while the people were admirable, worthy and deserving of restoration. The ideas of the project were based on the improvement of the education of the workers, as well as their quality of life.

Among the party’s proposals was the parcelling of land, agrarian credit, and the intention of a solid state capable of intervening in the country’s economy.

Yet the United States had seen both Gaitán and his party at risk because of their communist ideals. The United States feared that more communist groups would unite and rebel through Gaitan’s rhetoric.

Mayor of Bogotá

After the loss of the 1934 council elections, Gaitán’s party lost a significant role in Colombian politics. Possibly it was due to the abandonment of the party with the workers and its incorporation into the Liberal Party in 1935.

Thanks to the political position that he had won within the Liberal Party, he was elected mayor of Bogotá in June 1936; He held this position for eight months. While in office, he tried to implement a series of social programs for Bogota citizens.

However, his reforms were not achieved due to the different political pressures for some Gaitán decisions, such as unifying all bus drivers and taxi drivers.

Since he began to interact in Colombian politics, he began to criticize certain positions. He was critical of the fact that politics was only exercised by a small group of “oligarchs”, as he called them.

After several initiatives with little approval from the workers, for example, banning the use of ruanas and espadrilles, they increased the pressure and the people themselves asked him to resign as mayor.

Minister of Education

In 1940, under the presidency of Eduardo Santos Montejo, he was appointed Minister of Education for his experience in the political field. In that position, he implemented his desire to reform certain ideas of education, in addition to adding other elements for schools and colleges.

After an intense political life, Gaitán began to feel the differences with the Liberal Party, considering them the oligarchy that he criticized so much. Finally, Gaitán broke all kinds of relationship with the Liberal Party. Both parties considered him incompetent to govern.

Road to the presidency

In 1945, Gaitán was proclaimed as the people’s candidate in a public square. For the presidential elections of 1946, the Liberal Party was divided between Gabriel Turbay, who was supported by one of the party’s sectors, and Gaitán, supported by the popular sectors.

After the division of the Liberal Party, Mariano Ospina Pérez took the opportunity to present himself with the Conservative Party, winning the elections and proclaiming himself president of Colombia.

In the legislative elections of 1947 the entire Liberal Party obtained many more votes than the Conservative, so they thought of electing Gaitán as the sole head of the Liberal Party.

In early 1948, a radical conservative group massacred several liberal supporters in many cities across the country. When Gaitán found out, he organized a massive march called “the march of silence” to ask President Ospina to intercede against the attacks of the conservatives.

The march has been known in the history of Colombia for the silent hours of a large crowd of people where only the flapping of flags and banners was heard.

Murder

On April 8, Gaitán celebrated the triumph of a case to which he had dedicated several hours of work. The next day, he was invited by a group of political friends for lunch while he waited for the afternoon meeting he would have with Cuban student leader Fidel Castro and Venezuelan politician Rómulo Betancourt.

Before their meeting, he was at the entrance of the building where he had his office when Juan Roa Sierra shot him at his clothes with a revolver. He was then transferred to the Central Clinic where he died in the afternoon.

As the population learned of the murder, outraged, they searched for the murderer. When they found him, a large group lynched him and later walked the body to the Casa de Nariño.

The Bogotazo

The death of Jorge Eliécer Gaitán brought as a consequence the beginning of a popular revolt in the streets of Bogotá known as “El Bogotazo”. This event marked the beginning of a period known as “La Violencia”, a time marked by violent conflict between liberals and conservatives.

This violence led to massive migrations to the main cities of Colombia, which facilitated the emergence of the communist guerrillas that exist today. Since Gaitán’s assassination, he has been remembered as a liberal martyr.

The conflict finally ended 10 years later and had been in the hands of paramilitaries, guerrilla groups, drug cartels, and local criminal gangs.

Plays

Sunday classes

When Gaitán began his political life from his student leadership and concerned about education like his mother, some Sunday classes were taught in schools in order to provide education to a wide range of people.

Hence, Gaitán longed to one day become president of Colombia to combat political, social and economic equality.

Gaitan’s Plan

Gaitán created a purely socialist program in which he reflected part of what was his undergraduate thesis Socialist Ideas in Colombia along with other ideas that he developed over the years. It was based on the elaboration of political, economic and social missions as initiatives to restore the Colombian State.

For Gaitán, the political system of the time fostered political and economic monopoly for the elite. For this reason, he designed a series of reforms with the intention of involving lower and middle class farmers and peasants in politics.

One of the main points of attention was the Central Bank of Colombia. The plan was based on expanding the bank’s capacity and regulating the financial market.

Support to workers

In 1929, Gaitán led a debate as a congressman with the aim of defending the workers of the American multinational United Fruit Company; The number of murders by the Colombian government at the time had not yet been determined.

The workers demanded better working conditions, as well as fair treatment, so Gaitán decided to participate.

Social reforms

While he was mayor of Bogotá, he carried out social reforms in favor of the city: he promoted the municipalization of public services and established some school canteens.

When he was appointed Minister of Education, he began a literacy campaign for children in popular areas, donated shoes for schools, continued to open new school canteens, opened educational cinemas, and carried out cultural programs, as well as created the National Hall of Artists. .

Support for social media

Jorge Eliécer Gaitán also contributed to the creation of alternative social communication media to the ones they were. To do this, he created the newspaper Jornada, founded with his friend Luis David Peña.

References

  1. Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, Wikipedia in English, (nd). Taken from Wikipedia.org
  2. Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, editors of Encyclopedia Britannica, (nd). Taken from britannica.com
  3. Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, Website United Fruit Historical Society, (nd). Taken from unitedfruit.org
  4. Jorge Eliécer Gaitán Facts, Portal Your Dictionary, (nd). Taken from biography.yourdictionary.com
  5. The massacre of the banana plantations, when the strike was not a right, Portal Notiamerica, (2017). Taken from notimerica.com

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