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La Violencia

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La Violencia (literally "The Violence", in Spanish) is a term that refers to an era of civil conflict in various areas of the Colombian countryside between supporters of the Colombian Liberal Party and the Colombian Conservative Party, a conflict which took place roughly from 1948 to 1958 (exact dates vary). [1][2]

Some historians disagree about the dates: some argue it started in 1946 when the Conservatives came back into government, because at a local level the leadership of the police forces and town councils changed hands, encouraging Conservative peasants to seize land from Liberal peasants and setting off a new wave of bi-partisan violence in the countryside. But traditionally, most historians argue that La Violencia began with the death of Jorge Eliécer Gaitán.[3]


Part of a series of articles on
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Persecution in Mexico  · Miguel Pro

498 Spanish Martyrs
Red Terror (Spain) · Dilectissima Nobis
Martyrs of the Spanish Civil War
Martyrs of Daimiel
Bartolome Blanco Marquez
Innocencio of Mary Immaculate

Mit brennender Sorge  · Alfred Delp</div>
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Karl Leisner  · Maximilian Kolbe

Persecution in China · Ad Sinarum Gentem ·
Cupimus Imprimis  · Ad Apostolorum Principis
Ignatius Kung Pin-Mei · Beda Chang
Dominic Tang
Stefan Wyszyński
108 Martyrs of World War Two · Policies
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Invicti Athletae · Jerzy Popiełuszko

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Ita Ford  · Rutilio Grande </div>
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Persecution of Christians
Church persecutions 1939-1958
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Vatican USSR policies
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Terrible Triangle
Conspiracy of Silence (Church persecutions)

During La Violencia, several members of the Colombian Liberal Party and of the Colombian Communist Party organized self-defense groups and guerrilla units, which fought both against those of the Colombian Conservative Party and amongst each other throughout the countryside. The main violent groups were composed of peasants. Some of these were Los Pájaros (the birds) and Los Chusmeros (the mobs). Los Chulavitas were formed mainly of ex-police.

The conflict was especially cruel and violent. Due to the scarcity of guns, killings were frequently carried out with machetes and other crude implements. Torture and rape were common. Groups developed unique and horrific forms of corpse desecration as their signatures. For instance, the Corte Franela (literally "T-shirt cut") was characterized by severed arms and decapitation, the Corte Corbata ("Necktie cut") by a split-open throat and tongue placed over the chest, and the Corte Florero ("Flower Vase cut") by severed arms and legs inserted in the torso, as a crude representation of a floral arrangement.


In September 1949, Senator Amado Gutiérrez murdered Senator Gustavo Jiménez in the middle of a congressional session

The reigning chaos during the years of La Violencia, and especially the lack of security in rural areas, caused an undetermined number of people, estimated in millions, to abandon their homes and properties. Media and news services failed to cover events accurately for fear of revenge attacks. The lack of public order and civil authority prevented victims from laying charges against perpetrators. Documented evidence from these years is rare and fragmented.

The Colombian population at the time was vast majority Catholic. Much press released during the conflict reported support of the Church authorities for the Conservative Party and included unproved accusations against several priests, among others Miguel Ángel Builes, the Santa Rosa de Cabal Bishop, about openly encouraging the people during Mass to murder the political opposition, accusing them of being Masons and Jews and write Pastoral Letters with the same ideas (see Anticlerical conspiracy theory below). However there were no formal charges presented, and there were no official statements, either of Vatican or the Board of Bishops. These events were recounted in the book written by Fr. Fidel Blandon (at the time private secretary of bishop Builes) "Lo que el cielo no perdona" ("What heaven can't forgive"), 1950; and the Eduardo Caballero Calderón book "El Cristo de Espaldas" (Backwards Christ), 1952. After the releasing of the book, Fidel Blandon resigned to his ecclesiastic job and assumed a fake identity as Antonio Gutiérrez. Nevertheless, his true identity was discovered and he was legally charged and prosecuted.

Due to the circumstances, there were no liberal candidates for the presidency, congress, or any public corporations in the 1950 elections. The press accused the government of pogroms against the opposition. Censorship and reprisals were common against journalists, writers, and directors of news services who left the country progressively. Among others, the director of Crítica magazine, Jorge Zalamea fled to Buenos Aires, Luis Vidales fled to Chile, Antonio Garcia to La Paz, and Gerardo Molina to Paris.


Most of the armed groups (called bandoleros, a pejorative term) were demobilized during the amnesty declared by General Gustavo Rojas Pinilla after he took power in 1953. The most prominent bandolero leaders, Guadalupe Salcedo and Juan de la Cruz Varela signed the 1953 agreement (Salcedo was killed in Bogotá years later, in 1959).

In 1954 the students of National University of Colombia confronted the public forces in several riots the 8th and 9th of July, ending with 14 students dead.

Some of the bandoleros did not surrender to the government, which caused intense military operations against them in 1954. One of them, the bandolero leader Tirofijo had changed his political and ideological inclinations from being a Liberal to supporting the Communist Party (PCC) during this period.

When Rojas was removed from power on May 10, 1957, civilian rule was restored after moderate Conservatives and Liberals, with the support of dissident sectors of the military, agreed to unite under a bipartisan coalition known as the National Front, and the government of Alberto Lleras Camargo which included a system of presidential alternation and power-sharing both in cabinets and public offices.

In 1958, Lleras Camargo ordered the creation of the Commission for the Investigation of the Causes of Violence. The commission was directed by the Bishop Germán Guzmán Campos.

The last Bandolero leaders were killed in combat against the Army. Jacinto Cruz Usma a.k.a Sangrenegra (Blackblood) died in April 1964 and Efraín Gonzáles in June 1965.

Historical interpretations

The death of the bandoleros and the end of the mobs was not the end of all the violence in Colombia. One communist guerilla movement, the MOEC, started its operations in 1959.[4] Later other organizations such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN) emerged, marking the beginning of a guerrilla insurgency.

From the point of view of members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the Colombian Communist Party, the Liberal and Conservative elites, though they had instigated the original violence they soon grew to fear the consequences of it, and thus formed a loose alliance to preserve their shared desire for political hegemony from possible revolutionary challenges.

Credence in conspiracy theories as causes of violence

As is common of twentieth century eliminationist political violence, the rationales for action immediately before La Violencia were founded on conspiracy theories that blamed scapegoats as traitors beholden to international cabals. The left were painted as participants in a global Judeo-Masonic conspiracy against Christianity and the right were painted as agents of a Nazi-Falangist plot against democracy and progress.

Anticlerical conspiracy theory

After the death of Gaitán, a conspiracy theory circulating among the left that leading conservatives and militant priests were involved in a plot with Nazis and Falangists to take control of the country and undo the country’s moves toward progress spurred the violence.[5]. This conspiracy theory supplied the rationale for Liberal Party radicals to engage in violence, notably the anticlerical attacks and killings, particularly in the early years of La Violencia. Some propaganda leaflets circulated in Medellín blamed a favorite of anti-Catholic conspiracy theorists, the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), for the murder of Gaitán.[6]

Across the country, militants attacked churches, convents, and monasteries, killing priests and looking for arms, since the conspiracy theory maintained that the religious had guns, and this despite the fact that not a single serviceable weapon was located in the raids.[7] One priest, Pedro María Ramírez, was slaughtered with machetes and hauled through the street behind a truck, despite the fact that the militants had previously searched the church grounds and found no weapons.[6]

Despite the conspiracy theories and propaganda after Gaitán’s killing, most on the left learned from their errors in the rioting on April 9, and typically quit believing that priests had harbored weapons.[8]

Judeo-Masonic conspiracy theory

Conservatives likewise had been motivated to fight against a supposed international Judeo-Masonic conspiracy by eliminating the Liberals in their midst.[9] In the two decades prior to La Violencia, Conservative politicians and churchmen adopted from Europe the Judeo-Masonic conspiracy theory to portray the Liberal Party as involved in an international anti-Christian plot, many prominent Liberal politicians actually being freemasons.[10]

Although the rhetoric of conspiracy was in large part introduced and circulated by some of the clergy, as well as by Conservative politicians, by 1942 many clerics were critical of the Judeo-Masonic conspiracy theory (by this time Jesuits outside of Colombia had already questioned and published disputes of the authenticity of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and the concept of global Judeo-Masonic conspiracy; Colombian clergy were also increasingly influenced in this matter by U.S. clergy; and Pius XI had asked U.S. Jesuit John LaFarge to draft an encyclical against anti-Semitism and racism).[11] Allegations of a Judeo-Masonic conspiracy played most prominently in the politics of Laureano Gómez, who directed the Colombian Conservative Party from 1932 to 1953.[12] More provincial politicians followed suit, and the fact that prominent national and local politicians were voicing this conspiracy theory, rather than just a portion of the clergy, gave the idea greater credibility while it gathered momentum among the party members.

News of atrocities at the outset of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, causing both sides in Colombia to fear it could happen in their country, also spurred the credibility of the conspiracies and the rationale for violence.[13] Catholics everywhere were shocked by the wave of anticlerical violence in the Republican zones in Spain in the first months of that war where anarchists, socialists and communists burned churches and murdered nearly 7,000 priests, monks, and nuns.[13]

Since both camps claimed the existence of some sort of conspiracy, they managed to make the political environment toxic, increasing the animosity and suspicion of the other party.[13]

(see also Catholicism and Freemasonry)


  1. Stokes, Doug (2005). America's Other War : Terrorizing Colombia. Zed Books. ISBN 1-84277-547-2.  p. 68, Both Livingstone and Stokes quote a figure of 200,000 dead between 1948–1953 (Livingstone) and "a decade war" (Stokes)
    *Azcarate, Camilo A. (March 1999). "Psychosocial Dynamics of the Armed Conflict in Colombia". Online Journal of Peace and Conflict Resolution.  Azcarate quotes a figure of 300,000 dead between 1948–1959
    *Gutiérrez, Pedro Ruz (October 31 1999). "Bullets, Bloodshed And Ballots;For Generations, Violence Has Defined Colombia's Turbulent Political History". Orlando Sentinel (Florida): G1. Political violence is not new to that South American nation of 38 million people. In the past 100 years, more than 500,000 Colombians have died in it. From the "War of the Thousand Days," a civil war at the turn of the century that left 100,000 dead, to a partisan clash between 1948 and 1966 that claimed nearly 300,000...
  2. Bergquist, Charles; David J. Robinson (1997–2005). "Colombia". Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia 2005. Microsoft Corporation. Archived from the original on 2009-10-31. Retrieved April 16, 2006. On April 9, 1948, Gaitán was assassinated outside his law offices in downtown Bogotá. The assassination marked the start of a decade of bloodshed, called La Violencia (the violence), which took the lives of an estimated 180,000 Colombians before it subsided in 1958.
  3. Livingstone, Grace; (Forward by Pearce, Jenny) (2004). Inside Colombia: Drugs, Democracy, and War. Rutgers University Press. p. 42. ISBN 0-8135-3443-7. 
  4. Unable to connect to database server
  5. Williford, Thomas J. Armando los espiritus: Political Rhetoric in Colombia on the Eve of La Violencia, 1930–1945 p.218 (Vanderbilt University 2005)
  6. 6.0 6.1 Williford p.277
  7. Williford p.218
  8. Williford p.278
  9. Williford p.217
  10. Williford p. 142
  11. Williford p. 197
  12. Williford p. 178
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 Williford p. 185

See also

Further reading

Template:Colombia conflict Template:Colombia topics Template:Military of Colombiada:La Violenciaru:Ла Виоленсия

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