Tuesday, August 31, 2010

One Family's Return Trip: Plaza Bolívar North Side

A quote from Colombian Founding Father, Fransico de Paula Santander, is what greets you at the front of the PALACIO DE JUSTICIA (PALACE OF JUSTICE). It reads:

"Colombianos las armas os han dado la independencia, las leyes os darán la libertad"
(Colombians arms have given you independence, laws will give you freedom!)
However, the site of Colombian Justice has a relatively short and tragic history. In it's short history, there has actually been three different buildings that have occupied the spot. The first was built in the 1920's. It stood until the Bogotazo of 1948.

The story of the Bogotazo should really be a blog of it's own, and it will have to be. But, here is the condensed version. On April 9, 1948, a political candidate -- Jorge Eliecer Gaitán -- was assassinated. This led to protests, violence, repression, disorder, and the start of a period known as La Violencia in Colombia.

In Bogotá, one of the acts of defiance on April 9 was the burning of the Palacio of Justicia. The building was completely destroyed and the lot remained in ruins often serving as a parking lot until the 1960's, when a new building was errected.

That building was destroyed in November 1985. In an event known as the Toma del Palacio de Justicia (The Taking of the Palace of Justice). Again, this topic deserves its own post, but here is a brief summary.

On November 6 of 1985, a guerilla group known as the M-19 (Movimiento 19 de Abril) sent comandos to take over the Palacio de Justica. They took 350 hostages. They wanted to judge the President Belisario Betancur for curruption and the army's Human Rights abuses. The President refused to negotiate and his communications officer, Noemí Sanín, fearing destabilization, ordered a soccer game be broadcast instead of coverage of the event.

The government moved the army into place and went in guns blazing. Numerous people were killed, including the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and 11 Chief Justices. In total, there were 55 deaths and 11 "disappearances".

In 2005, Colombia established a truth commission to determine what had really happened and who was responsible for the deaths. It was determined that the Colombian Army had had a "disproportionate reaction to events" which resulted in more deaths than were necessary. It was also determined that it was the Army itself that was responsible for the fire that destroyed the building. They were also found responsible for the violation of the Human Rights of those that "disappeared."

The ruins of the building were left untouched for four years until construction of the building that now stands on the site was begun.


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