Luis Carlos Galan, a favored presidential candidate and outspoken enemy of Colombia’s drug cartels, was assassinated 25 years ago on August 18 during a campaign rally outside Bogota.
At the time of his assassination in 1989, Luis Carlos Galan was predicted in polls to win the 1990 presidential term with 60% of the votes, according to El Espectador newspaper.
Senator Galan had a strong intolerance for the drug cartels penetrating Colombian society and politics. His political movement centered on the rising social concerns regarding the power of Colombia’s drug cartels.
A continued family legacy
The Galan family has a long and powerful history in Colombia. Galan’s father was a president of Colombian oil company, Ecopetrol, and his great grandfather was the commander of the liberation armies on the Atlantic coast during the war for independence, according to his biographers.
Galan studied law, but became a journalist and manager at Colombia’s El Tiempo newspaper in 1965 thanks to his family connections. Throughout his life, Galan was very politically active.
In 1970, Galan was appointed Minister of Education. During his time in the cabinet, Galan managed to pass such reforms as training for teachers, school cooperatives, graduation certificates for high schoolers over 25 years old, promotion of early childhood education, and a tax on cigarettes to fund school sports.
The slain politician’s son, Juan Manuel Galan is also currently serving as a senator.
Enemy of drug cartels, bosses
Galan founded the “New Liberalism” party as an offshoot of the traditional Liberal Party, with the mission of revitalizing it and taking a stronger stance against Colombia’s drug cartels. The creation of this party would be the beginning of Galan’s problems.
The split of the Liberal Party handed the rival Conservative Party the Colombian presidency in the 1982 election, which won Galan resentment from the traditional forces of the Liberal Party.
Most notable among the enemies Galan made was Pablo Escobar, from the Medellin Cartel and the “Extraditables,” a group of drug bosses that operated under the slogan “we prefer a tomb in Colombia to a jail cell in the USA.”
Galan even publicly denounced and humiliated Escobar in front of a crowd of 5,000, which was unheard of and brought down the violent force of the drug cartels onto the political party, according to the New York Times.
Galan was running for the 1990 to 1994 presidential term and had just received the nomination of the Liberal Party on July 23, 1989.
During one of Galan’s last television interview with RCN, he noted that the most influential moment of his political career was an encounter at a political rally in the state of Santander, when two farmers approached him. “One farmer said ‘What do we do? To the guerrillas we are towers of the army and so they mistreat us, and to the armed forces, we are guerilla collaborators, and they too mistreat us,’” Galan told RNC. “At that same meeting, the second farmer, a modest and most humble of farmers, told me, ‘Dr. Galan, before being liberal, I am Colombian. But before I am Colombian, I am a human being.’”
Death threats, murder
Shortly after his candidacy announcement in 1989, Galan began to receive death threats.
Drug kingpin Jhon Jairo Velásquez, alias “Popeye,” one of of the “Extraditables,” testified to the Prosecutor General’s office his role in organizing the Galan hit, according to a 1996 Semana magazine article. In August 1989, an assassination attempt against Galan was thwarted in Medellin when a woman called the police on “suspicious” men in a lot.
The “suspicious men” in question were ex-soldiers contracted by Escobar to kill Galan using a rocket launcher, according to testimony from “Popeye.”
“The polls had [Galan] as the sure winner. Escobar got scared because the ‘Extraditables’ had been intimidating the country for many years for the end of extradition and were hoping for a flexible government to put an end to extradition. If Galan became president, that would be impossible,” said alias ‘Popeye’, adding that, “the persecution would be to the death since the banner of his political campaign was the persecution of the narcos,” according to Semana magazine.
On August 18, 1989, Galan was murdered in a blast of machine gun fire while attending a campaign rally in the municipality of Soacha, just south of Bogota.
The would-be president was killed by a collusion of military officers, intelligence directors, drug kingpins, and paramilitaries.
Those implicated in the Galan murder include:
- Miguel Maza– former director of Colombia’s defunct intelligence agency, DAS. Accused of weakening the presidential candidate’s security detail to allow the crime to take place and being the intermediary between the paramilitaries and the Medellin Cartel, according to El Espectador. According to an eye witness of the assassination (Galan’s photographer, Jose Herchel Ruiz), Galan’s security detail was seriously deficient. “There were three of four armed bodyguards in the fotos and another […] I didn’t see any more bodyguards, I don’t know where the others were. I didn’t see the chief of security anywhere. In the photographs, the chief doesn’t appear,” Ruiz explains, according to Terra news.
- Colonel Oscar Pelaez of the Judicial Police was also investigated for not sending security reinforcements to the president, and imprisoning innocent men for assassination, while the real killers, as seen in Ruiz’s photographs, were killed one by one at the hands of police and military, according to Semana.
- Alberto Santofimio– former Colombian Liberal Party Senator. According to El Espectador newspaper, Santofimio urged Pablo Escobar to kill Galan.
As if predicting his own death, Galan compared himself to populist presidential candidatee Jorge Eliecer Gaitan, who was also assassinated in 1948 right before Colombia’s presidential elections despite overwhelming popular support.
- La imagen que esperó 17 años (Semana)
- Me arrepiento de no tomar la foto de la mini-ussi que me encontré: Fotógrafo de Galán (Terra)
- ASI MATAMOS A GALAN (Semana)
- The Autumn of the Drug Lord (The New York Times)
- Biography- Luis Carlos Galán Sarmiento (Biografias y Vidas)
- Un rompecabezas judicial llamado Luis Carlos Galán (El Espectador)
- Luis Carlos Galán en “Enfoque” (RCN)