By Wesley O. Doggett, Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus of Physics
North Carolina State University
July 30, 2011
This is the story about the Rebellion known as El Bogotazo in Bogotá that began on April 9, 1948 immediately following the assassination at 1:15 PM of the very popular presidential candidate Jorge Eliécer Gaitán. Leonor (Nana) was studying as a sophomore on a four-year government-sponsored full fellowship in bacteriology at the residential Colegio Mayor de Cundinamarca (major state college) that required practice at the Hospital Universitario La Samaritana in San Cristóbal, Bogotá. When she heard the news of the assassination, she immediately went by street car to the American Embassy to escort her friend "Mimi" Koeford to their common living quarters. Mimi was spending a year in Bogotá working on her Master's thesis about the life of a former President of Colombia. When they were coming down in the elevator at the Embassy, a US General in the elevator greeted them with a salute. Mimi later told Leonor that he was General George Marshall. When Leonor and Mimi left the embassy, pandemonium had erupted on the streets. The street cars were burning, and they had to walk back home amid the riot street scenes described and shown below. This rebellion is totally responsible for Leonor leaving Bogotá and arriving in the US at Los Angeles on June 30, 1948 en route to Mimi's home in Santa Barbara. She then went to the University of California at Berkeley to continue her BS studies in bacteriology starting in January, 1949 and graduating in June, 1952. If this rebellion had not occurred, Leonor would not have come to the US to study at Berkeley, and our family would not exist!
The following article on the web and in history books describes the horrible events starting on that day. Be sure to read the last section on The Riots that Leonor witnessed first hand that fateful day and view the photos on the web site cited after the article.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
El Bogotazo (from "Bogotá" and the -azo suffix of violent augmentation) refers to the massive riots that followed the assassination in Bogotá, Colombia of Liberal leader and presidential candidate Jorge Eliécer Gaitán on April 9, 1948 during the government of President Mariano Ospina Pérez. The 10 hour riot left 3,000 to 5,000 dead and thousands injured, with much of downtown Bogotá destroyed. The aftershock of Gaitan's murder continued extending through the countryside and enhanced a period of violence which had begun in 1930 triggered by the fall of the conservative party from government and the rise of the liberals. The 1946 presidential elections brought the downfall of the liberals allowing conservative Mariano Ospina Pérez to win the presidency. The struggle for power between both again triggered a period in the history of Colombia known as La Violencia ("The Violence") that lasted until approximately 1958, from where the civil conflict that continues to this day grew.
On April 9, 1948 the 9th Pan-American Conference was being held in Bogotá. The Cold War was at its very beginnings. The Soviet Union had just taken over eastern Europe without firing a shot and Washington was eager to set a position against communism through a statement forwarded by General George Marshall the U.S. Secretary of State and head of the American delegation, which was to be backed by the foreign ministers of the Latin American nations.
At the time, Jorge Eliécer Gaitán was the leader of the Liberal Party, and the most prominent politician in the country after President Ospina. His office was located in downtown Bogotá, on the corner of 7th avenue and 14th street. Gaitán had been working the previous night until 4 a.m. as defense attorney in the trial that declared the innocence of Lt. Jesús María Cortés. Gaitán was running in the presidential election, and with massive support among the country's working class, was seen as the candidate most likely to win. Both Conservatives and traditional Liberal elites were very concerned about this prospect.
The doorman of the Agustín Nieto building, where Gaitán's office was located, said he saw at about 1:00 p.m. an unknown young man waiting outside the office. Gaitán was scheduled to meet that afternoon with the future leaders of the Cuban revolution Fidel Castro, Enrique Ovares and Alfredo Guevara to talk about the Latin American Youth Congress, where they expected Gaitán to give the final Speech, as Castro himself declared years later in an interview with Arturo Alape (1983).
Gaitán left his office, and just outside the building he was shot twice in the head and once in the chest, with a .32 caliber handgun, at 1:15 p.m. He was carried to a local hospital where he died a few minutes later.
The corpse of Juan Roa was displayed by the mob in the Bolívar Square
The man suspected of killing Gaitán ran away heading south. Soon, an angry mob ran after him. Nearby, policeman Carlos Alberto Jiménez Díaz tried to control the situation. According to the police reports, The man surrendered to him and said to Jiménez:
- "No me mate, mi cabo" (Don't kill me, my corporal)
In an attempt to avoid the angry mob, Jiménez and the man locked themselves in the Granada drugstore. Some witnesses that were interviewed by local newspapers (El Tiempo and El Espectador, issues from April to May, same year) argue that the man who was taken into the drugstore wasn't the same one who was captured, and that Officer Jiménez was mistaken because of the angry mob and because the other man was also wearing a gray hat. According to the drugstore owner, when he asked the man why he had killed Gaitán, he just said:
- "¡Ay Señor, cosas poderosas! ¡Ay, Virgen del Carmen, sálvame!" (Powerful things, Lord! Our Lady of Carmen, save me!)
After that, the doors were charged and the man was taken by the mob. His naked corpse was found later, in the Bolívar Square, outside the Presidential Palace. His face was crushed with a brick, and his body was torn. A bystander, Gabriel Restrepo, collected the remains of his clothes where he found some personal documents, which identified him as 26-year-old Juan Roa Sierra. However, there have also been other theories about his murder indicating that Gaitán assassination was planned and developed for more people than just Juan Roa Sierra or that he was not even the real killer. He was born in a poor family with a history of mental illnesses among his brothers, and maybe himself. He was seen often in Gaitán's office asking for job, since he was unemployed, but Gaitán never received him. Some people who knew him told that he never learned to shoot a gun, in contrast with the accuracy of the shots that Gaitán received. It has been known that the gun used to kill Gaitán was sold two days before the crime, with not enough time to teach Roa to use a gun. So, it has been theorized that the crime was planned for political reasons and to promote different interest of foreign countries, but it has never been corroborated. Different publications have mentioned among others: the government of Mariano Ospina Perez, sectors of the Liberal party, the Colombian Communist party, Fidel Castro, the CIA and others that may have been involved in his murder. 
Radio Station Últimas noticias, managed by followers of Gaitán, made the following broadcast some minutes later:
"Últimas Noticias con ustedes. Los conservadores y el gobierno de Ospina Pérez acaban de asesinar al doctor Gaitán, quien cayó frente a la puerta de su oficina baleado por un policía. ¡Pueblo, a las armas! ¡A la carga! A la calle con palos, piedras, escopetas, cuanto haya a la mano. Asaltad las ferreterías y tomaos la dinamita, la pólvora, las herramientas, los machetes ..."
"Latest news with you. Conservatives and the Ospina Pérez government have just killed Dr. Gaitán, who fell by the door of his office, shot by a police officer. People: To arms! Charge! To the streets with clubs, stones, shotguns, or whatever is at hand! Break into the hardware stores and take the dynamite, gunpowder, tools, machetes...".
After that, instructions to make Molotov cocktails were broadcast.
People from everywhere in the city rushed downtown. Many were homeless people who had come to Bogotá to flee the violent political conflicts of rural Colombia. A large crowd formed outside Clinica Central, the hospital where Gaitan died.
At 1:20 p.m. President Ospina was notified of the murder and called for a council with his cabinet. After dumping the body of Roa outside the Casa de Nariño, the crowd attacked the palace with stones and bricks. Many cars, buses and street cars were burned. A few hours later violence exploded in other cities, including Medellín, Ibagué and Barranquilla.
The leaders of the Liberal Party decided to nominate Darío Echandía to replace Gaitán as head of the party. From a balcony, he pleaded the crowd to stop the violence, but it was useless. The mobs tried to force entry to the Casa de Nariño. They were confronted by the Army, and many were killed. The offices of the government ministry and El Siglo newspaper were set on fire.
Most of the hardware stores were raided, especially in San Victorino district. People armed themselves with pipes, hooks, steel rods, hatchets, saws, and machetes. Some policemen joined the mobs. Others were confused and waited for orders that never came.
About 3:00 p.m, the mobs broke into the police headquarters. The Major in charge, Benicio Arce Vera, came out unarmed to plead with the crowd, and gave orders not to shoot. The mob ran him over and stole weapons and ammunition. According to Arce, in an interview years later to Bohemia magazine, among those who took the weapons was Fidel Castro, (La Habana, April 21, 1983, issue 16). Some writers say that this event influenced Fidel Castro at the age of 21, who had the opportunity to witness the initial violence and take views about the viability of an electoral route for political change. Others view it more darkly since Castro at that age had already been involved in violence in Cuba where he is reputed to have killed, or tried to kill, a number of university rivals (including Rolando Masferrer) by that time.
The leaders of the Liberal party were still in the hospital, next to Gaitán's body, overwhelmed and at a loss as to how the chaos might be controlled. They received a phone call from the presidential palace, inviting them to a meeting to try and resolve their differences and find a solution. However, because of the conflict in the streets, the Liberal leaders were unable to reach the palace - some even received shotgun wounds. Eventually they asked for a military escort, and successfully reached the palace. However, President Ospina was surprised to see the Liberal leaders, since the invitation had been made by some of his ministers without his knowledge. Discussions went throughout the night - but failed to reach an agreement.
Meanwhile, Molotov bombs were devastating downtown Bogotá. Fires destroyed the Cundinamarca Government building, the historic San Carlos palace (containing the oldest portrait of Simón Bolívar, painted by Gill in London, 1810), the Justice Palace, Feminine University, Dominican Convent, St. Inés Convent, Regina Hotel, Veracruz church, La Salle high school, the Vatican Nunciature, and many other important landmarks of the city.
Most stores were looted and the mob's rage increased by the minute. Many of those making up the mobs quickly became intoxicated from stolen liquor and offered little resistance to the Army's counter attack. By 6:00 p.m there were over 3,000 dead and injured and 136 buildings on fire. Prisoners escaped in mass jailbreaks.
Many were killed over struggles for stolen goods. All sorts of merchandise was carried off to the poorer outlying districts. As reported some days later by Semana magazine (issue #78, April 24/1948), people started to sell the stolen objects at extremely low prices, or just exchanged the merchandise for alcohol. In the following days, a market for selling the stolen goods was set up, which was known as the "Feria Panamericana" (Pan-American Fair).
In an attempt to calm the riots, staff of the radio station "Últimas Noticias" - Gerardo Molina, Diego Montaña Cuellar, Carlos Restrepo Piedrahita, Jorge Zalamea, Jorge Uribe Márquez, José Mar and others - planned to start a Revolutionary Council. They broadcast information about the constitution of this council and announced severe punishment to those who took advantage of the riots to commit crimes.
The Central Government, after defeating the mobs that were attacking the Justice Palace, showed little interest in the violence over the rest of the city. However, statements broadcast by Últimas Noticias claiming political power were perceived as a threat. The electricity in that district was shut down, and the Army was sent in to shut down transmission.
By dawn, much of the city was devastated. Waves of unrest and crime spread throughout the country for almost a decade in a civil, bipartisan conflict of mass murder and torture. This period is commonly known as La Violencia, ("The Violence"), during which approximately 200,000 people died.
For photos showing street cars on fire and more history see web page: The Bogotazo, 9th Pan American Conference.
Colombian "Magnicidio" Remains a Mystery After 60 Years, by Paul Wolf, Counter Punch, April 9, 2008.
By Nydia Tisdale
Leonor Pinzón Doggett and Wesley Osborne Doggett reminisce at home in Raleigh, North Carolina on Friday, November 25, 2011.
Leonor and Wesley share their stories with daughter Nydia and son-in-law Cooper Tisdale the day following Thanksgiving.
“Because we felt a little bit of it here,” Leonor talks about the ground shaking during the Virginia earthquake on August 23, 2011.
Leonor Pinzón was born in Bogotá, Colombia, South America on July 3, 1927.
Leonor survived El Bogotazo revolution that followed the assassination of presidential candidate Jorge Eliécer Gaitán on April 9, 1948. The riot left much of downtown Bogotá destroyed and catalyzed her emigrating to the United States to earn her Bachelor’s degree in Bacteriology (1952) at the University of California at Berkeley.
Wesley Doggett was born at home on the family farm on Doggett Road in Brown Summit, North Carolina on January 24, 1931.
Wesley earned two Bachelor’s degrees in Nuclear Engineering (1952) and Electrical Engineering (1953 in absentia) at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. He completed his coursework for two sheepskins, but the University withheld one because policy precluded one student from earning two degrees simultaneously. The policy was subsequently changed, and dual degrees are allowed.
Wesley and Leonor wed at Saint Mary Magdalen Catholic Church in Berkeley, California on June 14, 1953 and bore eight children.
Wesley earned his Master’s and Ph.D. in Plasma Physics in three-and-one-half years from the University of California at Berkeley.
Wesley survived the Venezuelan coup d'état on January 23, 1958, when the dictator Marcos Pérez Jiménez was overthrown. The coup precipitated his acceptance of a professorship to teach Physics at NC State University.
Wesley and Leonor celebrated their sixtieth wedding anniversary with their six sons in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico in 2013.
Wesley passed away peacefully in his sleep with his bride at his side at home on Oxford Road in Raleigh, North Carolina on December 22, 2013.
Leonor, 90, resides at Sunrise Senior Living community, Brighton Gardens of Raleigh.
UPDATE: Leonor passed away, early Christmas day, and rests with Wesley in the Columbarium in Raleigh.