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COLOMBIA: Three in a Match

2 minute read

From the high green Andean plateau to the water-splashed lowlands, oratory was stilled. A week before election day, dignified, democratic Colombia, third most populous of the South American republics, wound up a garrulous campaign. Next Sunday, May 5, some 1,500,000 Colombian males would vote for a new President.

It had been exactly the kind of campaign that suited Colombians: lots to argue about, but no issue that really mattered. Both Conservatives and Liberals favored close collaboration with the U.S. On domestic policy, the Conservatives had caught up with a Liberal Party that after 16 years in office, fat, flush and divided, had endorsed not only Colombia’s advanced labor code but the principle of the annual wage as well. What had caused most of the campaign excitement, and all the Conservatives’ glee, was the Liberal split.

The official Liberal candidate, 45-year-old bachelor Dr. Gabriel Turbay, had held practically every office except the presidency, could debate and orate in the most admired fashion, but had the political misfortune of being born (in Colombia) of Syrian parents. His detractors called him “el Turco.” He had the backing of the powerful Colombian Confederation of Workers.

The independent Liberal, Dr. Jorge Eliécar Gaitan, a rabble-rousing labor lawyer, was so far from the elegant Colombian political tradition that he perspired when he talked, mussed his hair, and even ripped off his collar after the first hour. No one knew what his popular support was, except that it lay in the unwashed social stratum tapped so successfully by Juan Perón.

With two Liberal candidates in the field, the Conservatives stood their best chance of regaining power since they lost it in 1930 by just such a division. Their nominee: coffee-rich Mariano Ospina Pérez, whose uncle and grandfather had been Colombian Presidents. Put up at the last minute by wily old Conservative Leader Laureano Gomez, ultra-respectable Candidate Ospina Perez had shrewdly sat tight in Bogota, made a few well-bred radio speeches, and waited for the divided Liberals to knock themselves out.

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