18/08/1989
Assassination of Presidential Candidate Luis Carlos Galán

Galán received a death sentence for his fight against drug trafficking and for expelling Pablo Escobar from the New Liberalism movement. Photograph: El Mundo.

Pablo Escobar’s first blow to Galán was the assassination of Lara Bonilla in 1984. Photograph: El Espectador.

The Extraditables paid COP 200 million for the assassination of the liberal politician. Photograph: El Mundo.

The hope of millions of Colombians was lost the day that the hitmen assassinated Galán in Plaza de Soacha. Photograph: El Espectador.

"For democracy, for peace, always forward, not a single step backwards,” a slogan of Galán, who is remembered by Colombians. Photograph: El Mundo

After a frustrated attempt to end his life, the presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galán was assassinated in Plaza de Soacha by The Extraditables, who had not forgiven him for expelling Escobar from the liberal movement, nor his actions against drug trafficking and corruption.

On August 18, 1989, at 8 pm, presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galán was assassinated by the hitman Jaime Rueda Rocha when he was going up on stage in Plaza de Soacha for a political event. Minutes later, he was taken to Kennedy Hospital, where he passed away from the mortal wounds caused by the machine gun projectiles.

Strong Declarations

Galán became a target of Pablo Escobar on March 4, 1982, when at his activity “Oigamos a Galán” (Let’s Listen to Galán) in Berrío Park, Medellín, he stated that the member of the Chamber of Representatives Jairo Ortega, who registered Escobar on his list, did not represent his ideology of changing Colombian politics and morals. With this speech, and without the need to name it, he publicly expelled Escobar from the New Liberalism movement he led.

We prefer to lose those votes than to lose our moral authority in order to defend the restoration of democracy in this country, said Luis Carlos Galán.

In the following years, the politician worked on strengthening his position against corruption, clientelism, drug trafficking and all the anti-values that had corrupted politics. This discourse was well received among Colombians, who saw him as the president who would put the country back on track.

The Plan Was to Kill Him

In his statement in court during the proceeding against him, Escobar’s second in command, Jhon Jairo Velásquez, alias Popeye, said that the first hit they made to weaken Galán’s political career was the assassination of Minister of Justice Rodrigo Lara Bonilla in 1984. Also a liberal politician, Rodrigo Lara Bonilla had become his ally in the struggle to demonstrate Escobar’s connections to drug trafficking.

Escobar was afraid that Galán would become president, because it would mean that extradition would be passed. Therefore, in association with Gonzalo Rodríguez Gacha, alias “El Mexicano”, he ordered the first attack to assassinate him.

On August 4, 1989, while Galán was giving a conference at Medellín University, The Extraditables’ hitmen would fire some rocket launchers from a nearby property. However, the plan fell through when a neighbor warned the police that he had seen some strange activity, which meant the criminals had to run away, abandoning a vehicle with hand-grenades and long-range weapons.

After the frustrated attempt, they started a second plan. To avoid any mistakes, they organized the weapon with which they would assassinate him and they chose August 18, 1989, as the day to kill him. At 8 pm in Plaza de Soacha, they achieved their goal.

Colonel Valdemar Franklin Quintero, Police Major of the Antioquia Police, was assassinated on the same day, by a group of hitmen who fired machine guns at him while he was waiting for a traffic light to change on Carrera 80 in Medellín. With these two events that besieged the country, the Extradition Treaty or Law 27 came into force.

They killed not only the present, but also the future of the country. Misael Pastrana Borrero, former President of Colombia.

Colonel Valdemar Franklin Quintero, Police Major of the Antioquia Police, was assassinated on the same day, by a group of hitmen who fired machine guns at him while he was waiting for a traffic light to change on Carrera 80 in Medellín. With these two events that besieged the country, the Extradition Treaty or Law 27 came into force.

The Culprits

Although responsibility for the assassination falls on Escobar and Gacha as the masterminds, and on Jaime Rueda Rocha and Henry de Jesús Pérez as the perpetrators, over the years, with the continued investigations, the list of people responsible keeps growing. This is because the Council of State declared it a crime against humanity in 2016, and so the investigation cannot expire.

Also connected to the assassination, which was possible because of a partnership between drug trafficking and the state, are retired General Miguel Maza Márquez, director of the Administrative Department of Security (DAS, for the Spanish original) at the time, for deliberately weakening the security system of the presidential candidate; paramilitary Carlos Cataño Gil for establishing the attack; politician Alberto Santofimio Botero as a mastermind; and several members of the police who did not fully carry out their duties before, during and after the assassination.

Luis Carlos Galán had become a political phenomenon. Thousands of Colombians considered him a brave person, capable of facing up to drug trafficking to achieve his aspiration to restore democracy, which had been replaced by violence. With his death, the drug traffickers demonstrated that they were prepared to exceed any limit.

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