Jorge Eliécer Gaitán

Jorge Eliécer Gaitán
Jorge Eliecer Gaitan (1936).jpg
5th Minister of Labour, Health and Social Welfare of Colombia
In office
October 8, 1943 – March 6, 1944
PresidentAlfonso López Pumarejo
Preceded byAbelardo Forero Benavides
Succeeded byMoisés Prieto
16th Minister of National Education of Colombia
In office
February 1, 1940 – February 15, 1941
PresidentEduardo Santos Montejo
Preceded byAlfonso Araújo Gaviria
Succeeded byGuillermo Nannetti Cárdenas
746th Mayor of Bogotá
In office
June 1936 – March 1937
Preceded byFrancisco José Arévalo
Succeeded byGonzalo Restrepo Jaramillo
Member of the House of Representatives of Colombia for Cundinamarca
In office
1 March 1929 – 1 February 1931
Personal details
Jorge Eliécer Gaitán Ayala

(1903-01-23)January 23, 1903
Cucunubá or Manta,[1] Cundinamarca, Colombia
DiedApril 9, 1948(1948-04-09) (aged 45)
Bogotá, D.C., Colombia
Cause of deathAssassination
Political partyColombian Liberal Party (until 1933, 1935 - 1948)
National Leftist Revolutionary Union (1933-1935)
Spouse(s)Amparo Jaramillo Jaramillo (1936-1948)
Alma materNational University of Colombia (LL.D.)
Sapienza University of Rome (J.D.)

Jorge Eliécer Gaitán Ayala (January 23, 1903 – April 9, 1948) was a politician, a leader of a populist movement in Colombia, a former Education Minister (1940) and Labor Minister (1943–1944), mayor of Bogotá (1936) and one of the most charismatic leaders of the Liberal Party. He was assassinated during his second presidential campaign in 1948, setting off the Bogotazo[2] and leading to a violent period of political unrest in Colombian history known as La Violencia (approx. 1948 to 1958).

Early life and education

Born in Bogotá to parents who were rank-and-file members of the Liberal Party, Gaitán and his family had a tenuous hold in the middle class.[3] His birth date is given variously as 1898 and 1903.[4] Gaitán was born in a house in Las Cruces, a neighborhood situated in the center of Bogotá, Colombia. The house, now with a plaque commemorating Gaitán as a legendary caudillo, were featured in a 1993 article of the newspaper El Tiempo.[5]

Gaitán had a humble upbringing and he was exposed to poverty growing up in a neighborhood in the center of Bogotá called Egipto. Though he lived under these circumstances, he was the son to parents with white-collar occupations. His parents were Eliécer Gaitán and Manuela Ayala de Gaitán. His father was a history teacher, sold second-hand books, and was a journalist.[6] In reading tales about Colombian history throughout his childhood, his father garnered Gaitán’s interest in Colombian culture and politics.[7] Manuela Ayala de Gaitán, a graduate from a teaching institute, taught her son to read and write. Her liberal and feminist tendencies ostracized her from many social environments, but she eventually taught at a school where her views were not persecuted. Gaitán’s mother held great respect to higher education and encouraged her son to pursue it.[8] However, Gaitán’s father wanted him to work a practical job. He did not want him to pursue higher education, which became a contentious topic that strained their father-son relationship.[8]

Gaitán entered into formal education at the age of 12. His disdain towards conventional authority began during his time at school. He was unreceptive towards strict discipline and traditional curricula. Gaitán was expelled from a school for tossing an inkwell at a teaching Christian Brother. Later in 1913, Gaitán received a scholarship to attend Colegio Araújo, a liberal school whose students were predominantly upper-class offspring of members of the liberal party. The school was founded by Simon Araújo who was a champion of progressive views. He provided the medium for students to receive a liberal education in a country dominantly conservative at the time. In 1918, Gaitán drafted a letter to Colombian newspaper, El Tiempo, emphasizing the importance of higher education. He was advocating for teaching the disadvantaged populace subjects outside of traditional curricula, including topics such as hygiene. These classes were to be held at a Sunday school and provided a medium to further provide education to a wider range of people.[9] Through his student leadership roles and intellectual ambitions, Gaitán shaped his dreams of becoming Colombian President to combat political, social, and economic equality. Gaitán transferred from Colegio Araújo because it did not possess the necessary accreditations to ensure success in his academic and career ambitions. Gaitán graduated as one of the top students in his new school, Colegio of Martín Restrepo Mejía in 1919.[7]

Against the wishes of his father, Gaitán enrolled in the National University in Bogotá. With a group of fellow students, he founded the University Center of Cultural Propaganda in May 1920.[9] He drew inspiration from university students in Lima, Peru who were successful with their attempts for an educational extension program formulated for workers.[8] As President of the University Center, Gaitán traveled throughout the city expressing the goals of the organization, focusing on social and proletariat apprehensions. Following the feminist rhetoric of his mother, Gaitán made speeches urging the uplift of the role of women in Colombian society. Moreover, he extended the Center’s work to rural workers, public school children, and education for prisoners.[10]