30/04/1991
Assassination of Former Minister Enrique Low Murtra

For Amalia Low Nakayama, the piano and children’s stories have been part of her mourning after the assassination of her father, Enrique Low Murtra

Former Minister of Justice Low Murtra was one of the main defenders of extradition, and exhausted several legal avenues to achieve it. Photograph: El Espectador.

After returning to Switzerland, where he escaped from a terrorist attack, the former minister of justice and ambassador, Enrique Low Murtra, was assassinated by Pablo Escobar’s hitmen. The struggle to achieve the Extradition Treaty and impart justice on the drug traffickers led to his death.

On April 30, 1991 at 8 pm, a hitman at Pablo Escobar’s service shot the former minister of justice and former ambassador of Colombia in Switzerland, Enrique Low Murtra, five times while he waited for a taxi outside Universidad de la Salle in Bogotá, where he was the Dean of the Faculty of Economics.

The attacker fled on a motorbike that waited for him while he committed the crime. With the help of several students, the 52-year-old man was taken to San Ignacio Hospital where he arrived dead.

In the Extraditables’ Sights

In 1987, during the government of Virgilio Barco, Low Murtra was appointed as Minister of Justice. Months later, they appointed him to the Colombian Embassy in Switzerland as a way of protecting him from the growing threats from the drug trafficker Pablo Escobar because of the actions he took against crime.

My voice may waver but my morals will not,” said Enrique Low Murtra to Colombian Congress.

However, the drug lord had no limits and his desire to murder him crossed borders. In May 1990, the Fourth Brigade of the Colombian Army reported that during a raid it had found a cassette tape with a conversation between Pablo Escobar and his lawyer Guido Parra. The tape revealed that the drug lord had hired the ETA terrorist group to kill Low Murtra in any part of the world.

Days after this announcement, a member of the ETA was detained on the border between Switzerland and France with a load of dynamite that would be used for an attack on the Colombian Embassy in Bern, Switzerland.

His Return to Colombia

The Chancellor’s Office for the incoming government of César Gaviria Trujillo sent a letter to Low Murtra asking him to resign from the embassy and to handover his position to another former minister of justice, Enrique Parejo. He acted appropriately and requested to be appointed to another embassy, but he did not receive any reply. For this reason and despite the risk he was taking, he returned to Colombia in January 1991.

The next day, he went to the Chancellor’s Office to request a vehicle for his protection. This request was denied, because according to what he was told, the institution did not have this resource at the time. Believing that the threats against him had now ended, Low Murtra decided to live his life peacefully and soberly, even using public transportation.

Defense of Social Values

From October 1, 1987, when he became Minister of Justice, Low Murtra committed himself to combating wrongdoing and with that, drug trafficking. He stated that, “The slavery that drugs produce in the mind and spirit of the people who form our society not only harms their human rights, but also destroys them (…)”

Drug trafficking cuts short and diminishes the moral strength of our values.” Enrique Low Murtra.

From November 9 of that year, he started to look for ways to reestablish extradition. With this aim, he sent the records of several drug traffickers to the Supreme Court of Justice. Days later, arrest warrants were issued for the extradition of the three Ochoa brothers: Jorge Luis, Juan David and Fabio, as well as Gonzalo Rodríguez Gacha and Pablo Escobar. Despite the importance of this event, the Council of State suspended these proceedings arguing legal grounds.

Weeks before, the minister had said to the media that the investigation on the assassination of presidential candidate Jaime Pardo Leal concluded that Gonzalo Rodríguez Gacha was the mastermind.

The lack of protection of Minister Low Murtra led to an investigation on the alleged culpability of the Presidency, Chancellor’s Office, Administrative Security Department (DAS, for the Spanish original) and the National Police. The Administrative Court of Cundinamarca acknowledged that there was a failure to protect the former minister. An appeal was filed against the decision and in June 1997, the Council of State confirmed the ruling, making it clear that those who risk their life to face a struggle of the state at least have the right to have their lives protected.

The resolve and integrity with which he addressed issues of drug trafficking and extradition, added to the lack of the Colombian state’s support, cost the life of the minister and ambassador Enrique Low Murtra.

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