For­mer Colom­bia leader dies

Ex-pres­i­dent Be­tan­cur’s legacy tar­nished by vi­o­lence.


BOGOTA, Colom­bia — For­mer Colom­bian Pres­i­dent Belis­ario Be­tan­cur, whose bold ef­forts to reach a peace deal with left­ist rebels in the

1980s were un­done by drug-fu­eled blood­let­ting and an ex­plo­sion of vio- lence backed by state se­cu­rity forces, died on Fri­day. He was 95.

Be­tan­cur’s death was con­firmed by Pres­i­dent Ivan Duque, who said on his Twit­ter ac­count that the ex-pres­i­dent’s legacy in Colom­bian pol­i­tics, his­tory and cul­ture would be “an ex­am­ple for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.” Be­tan­cur, who gov­erned from 1982-1986, died in a Bogota clinic af­ter suf­fer­ing kid­ney problems.

His ar­rival to the pres­i­dency in 1982 sparked a wave of en­thu­si­asm that he could de­liver Colom­bians from an armed con­flict rag­ing since the 1960s and that would go on to claim more than 250,000 lives and drive mil­lions from their homes. He moved quickly to ne­go­ti­ate a truce with guer­rilla groups, de­fy­ing mem­bers of his con­ser­va­tive party and with an ev­ery­man’s touch be­gan sell­ing his plan for peace di­rectly to Colom­bians.

But those ef­forts quickly un­rav­eled as thou­sands of mem­bers of the Pa­tri­otic Union — a fledg­ling po­lit­i­cal move­ment tied to the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Armed Forces of Colom­bia — were gunned down by right-wing groups. Later it would be dis­cov­ered that many of the killings were backed by state se­cu­rity forces.

An­other rebel move­ment, the Cuban-in­spired M-19, ac­cused Be­tan­cur of “trea­son” for go­ing back on his peace pledges and in 1985 took control of the coun­try’s supreme court with the goal of hold­ing a rev­o­lu­tion­ary trial against the pres­i­dent.

The heavy-handed re­sponse by Colom­bia’s army didn’t wait. What Colom­bians al­most uni­ver­sally re­fer to as the “holo­caust” played out in the cap­i­tal’s main square as a blaze con­sumed the night sky af­ter troops backed by tanks and bombs stormed the Palace of Jus­tice. More than 100 peo­ple were killed, in­clud­ing 11 of the 24 mag­is­trates of the high court.


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