"The CIA should know about Gaitán"
Index to Documents
Background of Political Disorders
9th Pan American Conference
The Assassination of Gaitán
The Intelligence Failure
The Cuban Delegation
Aftermath and Civil War
The CIA should know about Gaitán
The assassination of Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, on April 9th, 1948 was followed by days of rioting in Bogotá known as the bogotazo, and in a number of other cities as well. Gaitán was an extraordinarily popular politician who appealed to the common people, and is best remembered for his tremendous oratory abilities.
Gaitán was assassinated in Bogotá during the 9th Pan-American Conference, a meeting led by U.S. Secretary of State George Marshall. In the wake of the bogotazo, the final act of passed by the conference pledged hemispheric solidarity in the fight against international communism, marking the beginning of the cold war in Latin America. The Organization of American States (OAS) was also formed at this meeting.
Besides leading to a ten year civil war in Colombia, which continues in some form today, the murder of Gaitán also sent shock waves through Washington; failure to predict any of this was seen as a serious intelligence failure by the newly created CIA. In defense of his agency, CIA Director Roscoe Hillenkoetter testified before a closed-door session of Congress, and then held a press conference in which he shared intelligence documents showing the the CIA had indeed received warnings of plans to disrupt the conference. According to CIA historians, the "intelligence failure," as it was known, and the apparent success of a small group of communists to capitalize on such an event, is said to have caused great concern, and right at the beginning of the cold war.
Gaitán's murder remains an unsolved mystery. The murderer, Juan Roa Sierra, was killed by an angry crowd, and his motive is not known. According to CIA Director Hillenkoetter, Roa was related to a murder victim in a case Gaitán had successfully tried the day before. Gaitán's client, accused of the murder, was acquitted. However, there seems to be no evidence that Roa was related to the victim. A subsequent investigation of the murder by Scotland Yard detectives did not consider this theory at all -- in their opinion, Roa's delusional state was sufficient to explain the murder, and their limited investigation did not turn up evidence that Roa had been manipulated by someone else.
This research continues, as I've had a Freedom of Information Act case in federal court for the past three years. I am suing the FBI and CIA for their records about or concerning Gaitán, and hope to expand my research into their files.
Copyright Paul Wolf, 2002-2004
Photos from National Archives, Colparticipar, El Espectador, El Bogotazo by Arturo Alape, and the Centro Jorge Eliécer Gaitán.