More than one million march for peace in Bogotá, thousands more in other cities
More than an estimated one million Colombians took to the streets Tuesday on the anniversary of one of the darkest days in their nation´s bloody history to express their hunger for peace.
According to Canal Capital, more than a million protesters filled the streets in Bogotá alone to support the peace negotiations between the national government and the FARC, Colombia´s largest guerrilla group. Reports of progress in the negotiations in Havana, Cuba have given Colombians more optimism for peace than they have known in some 50 years. Most Colombians living today have never known anything other than bloody, terrifying conflict.
Opponents of the march argued crowd sizes were much smaller, and that demonstrated a lack of support for peace negotiations.
The worst of it started 65 years ago, on April 9, 1948, when presidential candidate Jorge Eliécer Gaitán was assassinated in the streets of Bogotá, setting off an orgy of violence that shocked even this historically, violent country. The frenzy of bloody retribution became known as the Bogotazo, and Colombia has never really known an extended period of peace since.
Bogota´s current Mayor Gustavo Petro described Tuesday´s march as a “Bogotazo for Peace.”
Petro understands how guerrilla groups can give up arms and achieve political change that is impossible to achieve with rifles, land mines and car bombs. He was once one of the leaders of Colombia´s M-19, a guerrilla group which negotiated peace with the government, but continued to battle for social revolution in elections.
Gaitán was a wildly charismatic speaker who made his political mark denouncing the massacre of the banana plantation workers Gabriel Garcia Marquez would later immortalize in his internationally acclaimed One Hundred Years of Solitude.
Many believed the then leader of Colombia´s Liberal Party would have won the presidency if not for the assassination which forever changed Colombian history.
Colombia now uses the anniversary of Gaitán´s assassination to remember the victims in the 65 years of violence which have followed his shocking death.
That more than one million persons took to the streets of Bogota and many more in other Colombian cities demonstrates how badly Colombians want to end the conflict that has ripped the country apart for generations.
A festival like atmosphere reigned in La Plaza Bolivar. People danced, sang and listened to speeches. A few short blocks from the plaza, endless tears were shed on the street in front of where Eliécer Gaitán fell to the ground some 65 years ago. With him died the hopes for peace and the right to escape the poverty that has been the inescapable reality for generations of Colombians.
The half century of violence has left an estimated 600,000 dead, tens of thousands disappeared and some four million homeless.
Now, many believe that could all change.