National Geographic : 1970 Aug
Spanish rule. The venerable Plaza de Bolivar is bigger, as befits the stature of the Liberator. Bolivar tried to weld the former Spanish colonies into a union he christened Gran Co lombia. Venezuela and Ecuador dropped out, leaving Colombia weakened. Resistance to attempts to centralize authority led to mur derous political conflict and made a travesty of national life. This and geographical bar riers abetted the rise of cities-today a score exceed 100,000 population-and denied Bo goti the monopoly of wealth and power pos sessed by most Latin American capitals. Not until 1886, after six changes, did the nation finally settle on its current name Republic of Colombia-and write the consti tution that has survived to the present day. Partisan animosity persisted, leading to in surrections and civil wars, including the War of a Thousand Days, from 1899 to 1902, which took 100,000 lives. A period of calm followed, but underlying political dissension erupted again in 1948, when the assassination of a po litical leader during a major inter-American conference in Bogotd incited the bogotazo, an event with cataclysmic significance in Colom bia. Mobs destroyed the business district, provoking an epidemic of carnage. In the provinces partisan villages eliminated one another hideously. Whole families, including infants, were butchered. Rural war lords set up independent "governments." Terrorists like Tiro Fijo (Sure Shot) became local folk heroes to some, folk horrors to most. Dispossessed peasants fled to cities, creat ing slums and swelling Colombia's urban population to more than 50 percent. Count less orphans, called "children of violence," scavenged town and countryside committing mindless vandalism. In less than a decade, "la violencia" brought death to more than 100,000 citizens. Hatred Gives Way to Progress For a dozen years, however, Colombia has had a stable government, and I traveled by day and by night without fear. From Bogota Sue and I ranged north to the Spanish Main and west to the Pacific shores. We followed the Andean ranges northeast to Venezuela and south to Ecuador. We flew into the grass lands covering the eastern third of the coun try drained by the Orinoco River. We canoed into the jungle of the southern third drained by the Amazon. "Energy once wasted on hate has been channeled into growth in recent years," remarked our old friend Marvin Weissman, who heads the Colombian program of the United States Agency for International De velopment. "Exports are catching up with imports. Gross national product is jumping 6 percent a year." In 1958 an elected government replaced the dictatorship of Gen. Gustavo Rojas Pinilla, and Colombia moved rapidly from grisly chaos to laudable achievement. What enabled the republic to attain a dozen years of peace and progress? I asked Alberto Lleras Camar go, twice President of Colombia and for seven years Secretary-General of the Organization of American States, a writer-editor of im mense prestige throughout the Americas. Mark of a vote cast, an in dex finger dipped in indeli ble red ink prevents a citizen from voting more than once. High tension of last April's presidential election shows in the faces of voters as a supporter of Gen. Gustavo Rojas Pinilla casts her bal lot. Her ruana, or poncho, bears pictures of him and his daughter, who managed his campaign. Dictator of Colombiafrom 1953 to 1957,the 70-year-old Rojas gained support by promising jobs, land, cars, lower taxes, and more serv ices. Narrowly defeated by Misael Pastrana Borrero, Rojas claimed fraud and threatened violence. The government temporarily im posed martial law.