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.