CASTRO REVEALS ROLE IN 9 APRIL 1948 COLOMBIAN
BOGOTA EL SIGLO
FIDEL CASTRO REVEALS ROLE IN 9 APRIL 1948 COLOMBIAN UPRISING
Bogota EL SIGLO in Spanish 11 Apr 82 pp 6-7
["Excerpts" of undated interview with Cuban President Fidel Castro, by
journalist and writer Arturo Alape, broadcast over Colombian Cadena Caracol
Radio on 9 April 1982]
[Text] Arturo Alape: How did the notion of the Latin American Students
Congress, and the relations between the FEU [Federation of University
Students] and the Peronists, originate; and why did that relationship
occur? What were the goals of the student congress and, Commander, why did
you travel as a delegate to the congress?
Castro: I want to begin by telling you that 33 years have elapsed since
those events. I believe that I remember everything quite well, but
nevertheless the effect of time must be taken into consideration. These
events occurred in 1948.
It was a period of student agitation in Panama, and a period of agitation
in Venezuela as well, because the overthrow of the tyranny had occurred and
Romulo Gallegos had just been elected president.
At that time, there were already serious contradictions between Peron and
the United States. Hence, we were in this movement which was confined to
the following points: democracy in Santo Domingo, the struggle against
Trujillo; the independence of Puerto Rico; the restoration of the Panama
Canal; and the disappearance of the colonies which still remained in Latin
America. These were the four essential points. This prompted us to make
certain contacts that we might call tactical with the Peronists, who were
also concerned with their struggle against the United States and with their
struggle over some of these issues; because they were also claiming the
Malvinas Islands, which were a British colony. At that time, the Peronists
were engaged in activity, sending delegations to various countries, meeting
with students and distributing their material. So, there was a tactical
agreement between the Peronists and us, and therefore we had a certain
amount of tactical rapprochement with them. In opposition to the meeting of
the OAS in 1948, a meeting promoted by the United States to consolidate its
system of domination here in Latin America, I conceived the notion of our
holding, simultaneously with the OAS meeting, a meeting of Latin American
students backing these anti-imperialist principles and defending the
principles that I have already mentioned, the struggle against the
tyrannies in Latin America, not only that in Santo Domingo, and the other
points comprising the overall struggle for democracy in Latin America.
I conceived the notion of making the students meeting simultaneous with
that of the OAS, and in the same location, Bogota. The idea for organizing
the congress was mine. I began making contacts with the Panamanian students
who at the time had a very active role in the struggle for the return of
the Canal, and also with the Venezuelans. I was familiar with the status of
the various countries. So I planned the trip in this way: first, to visit
Venezuela, where a revolution had just taken place and there was a very
revolutionary spirit among the students; then to visit Panama; and later to
visit Colombia. I intended to propose the idea to these universities, and
ask them for their cooperation. The Argentines, in turn, also pledged to
mobilize the students.
Arturo Alape: But did a Peronist delegation arrive in Cuba at that time?
Castro: We had contacted the Peronist youth delegation in Cuba at the time.
They arranged with us that we would work on certain areas and we on certain
other ones, so that the leftist force of Latin America would organize this
congress of Latin American students.
I left, booking passage for Venezuela; the airlines at that time were a
milk train. I recall the first thing that happened to me was that the plane
took off and landed in Santo Domingo, no less. I took the rash step of
getting off the airplane, and even had the feeling that some individuals
had recognized me, because I began conversing at the Santo Domingo airport.
Fortunately, it was for a short while; then I boarded the plane again, and
Arturo Alape: At the Central University in Caracas?
Castro: Yes, I met with the students at the university. There was a
Democratic Action majority then, so they were from Democratic Action. It
was our intention to talk with the students, ask their support in
organizing the congress, invite them to participate in the congress and
explain all the ideas to them. And this was successful; the Venezuelan
students were in agreement, and decided to send a delegation to the
congress. On that occasion, Romulo Gallegos had already been elected
president. We requested an interview to explain our ideas to him. We went
to La Guaira, where Romulo Gallegos was located, and so we made this
contact, also to request backing for the congress. Later, we flew to
Panama, with the support of the revolutionary Venezuelan students who
comprised virtually the entire university. In Panama, we met with the
student leaders. One of the many shootings at the Canal had just occurred,
and there was a Panamanian student who had been wounded, and was disabled.
He was like a symbol to all the students. I made contacts and visited them.
The Panamanian students were very much aroused and strongly approved of the
idea of the congress. They backed it and decided to send a delegation to
Now we had two major countries. From Panama we flew to Bogota. Of course,
our funds were very meager; we had only enough to stay at the hotel, and we
did not even know what we were going to do later. we stayed at a small
hotel, with two or three floors, which was quite cozy.
At the time, the living was very inexpensive if you brought dollars into
the country (we had a few), because the exchange was very favorable and the
hotel room and meals were very cheap. As soon as we checked into the hotel,
we immediately contacted the university students. There was a liberal
majority, as in Venezuela.
Where there was a vast democratic majority that had just made the
revolution, and in Panama, where the vast majority of students were united
in the struggle for the Canal. In Colombia, the vast majority of students
were leftist and liberal and, at the same time, Gaitan had great prestige
and influence in the universities.
Arturo Alape: In all the research on the events of 9 April, mention is made
of this having been a communist plot. There is even a document which was
published in Colombia, by Blas Roca, a Cuban Communist leader, giving
instructions to the Colombian Communists. Every time there are publications
regarding that date, each year, documents appear claiming that you were a
tool of international communism. Were you a communist at that time?
Castro: At that time I had already come in contact with Marxist literature,
and I had already studied economics. I felt attracted to the fundamental
ideas of Marxism and I was acquiring a socialist consciousness throughout
my university course, as I came in contact with Marxist literature. But at
that time there were only a few communist students at the University of
Havana, and I had friendly relations with them. However, I was not a member
of the Communist Youth, nor a militant in the Communist Party. My
activities had absolutely no connection with the Communist Party at that
time. We might say that I had an anti-imperialist consciousness at that
time. The first contacts with Marxist literature caused me to feel inclined
toward Marxist ideas; but I had no affiliation, no link with the Communist
Party, no association with the Communist Youth, except for friendly
relations with various very hard-working, very stoic, young Communists,
with whom I sympathized and whom I admired. But neither the Communist Party
of Cuba nor the Communist Youth had any thing whatever to do with the
organization of this congress in Bogota. It may actually be claimed that,
at that time, I was acquiring a consciousness, I had initiatives, I was
active and I struggled; but let's say that I was an independent struggling
person at that time.
Arturo Alape: On what day did you arrive in Bogota?
Castro: What was the day of the events?
Arturo Alape: 9 April.
Castro: I believe that I must have arrived about 5 or 6 days earlier.
Perhaps, yes, there is a passport of mine around here. I would have to
search papers and files in order to be able to give the exact date. But if
was about 5 or 6 days before, 7 days at the most; my impression is that I
arrived in Bogota between 5 and 7 days before 9 April.
Arturo Alape: What were your first contacts?
Castro: What we always did was to approach the university students. In this
way, we obtained information to the effect that the left and the Liberal
Party were in the majority at the universities. We immediately sought out
the university leaders, met with them and proposed to them the idea of the
congress; and they were in full agreement.
I shall not tell you all the details about where I had breakfast that day,
because of course I cannot remember all that in the city of Bogota. But I
can tell you how Bogota impressed me. I was greatly attracted; it was the
first time in my life that I was in Colombia, and my first time in Bogota.
The city was typified by something which was not familiar to us: the
streets were divided into streets and highways. The first thing that one
had to understand was that the highways went in one direction and the
streets in another. My attention was also particularly drawn to that
Seventh Highway which was near the hotel, and by the large number of people
on the street all day long. I could not understand, either then or now, why
there was a crowd of people on the street wearing their overcoats. Perhaps
during that season it was colder than it is now. The city had not grown so
much; it was not a modern city, but a rather old city. There were many
coffeeshops shops throughout. It seems to have been a custom, a tradition,
in Colombia to go to the coffee-shops to drink coffee, everyone wearing his
overcoat. To us, the strangest thing was always seeing a large crowd of
people on the street. I imagine that there must have been very extensive
But we were concerned about our congress; the only thing that interested
us, concurrently with the OAS meeting, was the meeting of students with
those proposed goals. Our contacts, the first meetings and the organization
of the congress took place quickly. The congress was supposed to conclude
with a ceremony in a stadium where large-scale events were held, a stadium
or a square. The students immediately told us about Gaitan. At that time,
Gaitan was the most prestigious political figure, with the most popular
support. He was unquestionably regarded as the man who would gain victory
in the next Colombian elections. The Liberal students put us in contact
with Gaitan. We did not make any contact with the Colombian Communist
Party, although there were Liberals and Communists among the people with
whom we met at the university, and the Liberals and leftist forces
participated in the organization of the congress, a notion which greatly
pleased those who received it enthusiastically.
Arturo Alape: According to the information, that was on 7 April.
Castro: It must have been 7 April, and I shall tell you why. We went to
explain to Gaitan all of our ideas, and to ask for his support. Gaitan was
enthusiastic about the idea of the congress, and offered us his support. He
talked with us, there was a discussion and he agreed with the notion of
closing the congress with mass ceremony in the square. He promised us that
he would close the congress in the square. Of course, we were very pleased
and highly optimistic about the congress. He invited us at 1400 or 1425
hours to his office, which I think was located on Seventh Highway; one
climbed a wooden staircase and arrived at his office, We met with him on
the afternoon of 9 April. On that occasion, he gave us various materials,
explained the situation in Colombia to us and, to be sure, gave us a
pamphlet containing his speech on the prayer for peace, which was a
splendid piece of oratory. He gave us pamphlets on various political issues
relating to Colombia, and gave us the prayer for peace. There was great
agitation in Colombia at the time, because 20 or 30 murders were being
committed every day. There appeared on the newspapers' ticker tape every
day the news that 30 peasants had been murdered in a certain place, and 25
had been murdered in another one.
They explained Gaitan's entire role to us, his struggle to find a solution
for this state of violence, the silent demonstration that he had organized
with hundreds of thousands of people, which had been an impressive
demonstration; describing how, on that very occasion, on that silent march
in which scores or hundreds of thousands of people had marched in complete
silence, be had, at the end, delivered the prayer for peace.
Also at that time, there was a very famous trial, that of Lieutenant
Cortes. I believe that an incident had occurred between a soldier and a
journalist. The trial was ending at the time, and the students had told us
about Gaitan, his political image, his political thinking and also his
status as a remarkable, exceptional lawyer. They even invited us, and we
attended, I believe it was the final session of the hearing at which Gaitan
was making the defense for Lieutenant Cortes. The entire trial was carried
on the radio at the time, and virtually everywhere in the country people
were listening to Gaitan's defense over the radio. At that time, this trial
had certainly become a major political issue.
Arturo Alape: There was a committee of the military which had obtained
money for Gaitan's defense. What impression did you have of Gaitan at the
meeting that you held on the conference, and later, when you observed him
as a lawyer?
Castro: I actually had a very good impression of Gaitan. I had it, first,
because of the completely majority views that were included and because of
the admiration of the students who had met with us. I had it from my
conversation with him, a highly intelligent, dark-complexioned, Indian
type. I had it from his speeches, especially the prayer for peace, which
was really the speech of a skilled orator, with a wonderful command of the
language, and eloquent as well. I had it because he was identified with the
most progressive position in the country, opposed to the Conservative
government. I had it also as a lawyer, because of how brilliant he was;
that is, brilliant as a politician, brilliant as a speaker and brilliant as
a lawyer. All those things made a very great impression on me and, at the
same time, we were greatly pleased by his support, the interest that he
took in our ideas on the congress of students and the ease, willingness and
magnanimity with which he backed us. He promised to help us, and to
conclude the meeting with a large mass ceremony; which proved that he was
unquesionably in agreement with the views which we had been upholding, and
opposed to that entire comedy that was being organized with the OAS
All those factors prompted us to have great sympathy for him. We could
clearly see that the vast majority of the people supported him.
They Took Us to Gloomy Offices
The incident which occurred during the time that we were in Bogota, the
meetings with the students, the steps to organize the congress and the
meeting with Gaitan took place as follows:
A festive event was taking place at a theater there. I cannot remember the
name, a very classic and attractive theater; and I think that the festive
event was associated with the conference. After all, I was young then, and
somewhat immature. We had printed some notices, I don't know whether any of
those notices are still around here, they may possibly be around here
somewhere; some notices in which we had stated all the slogans for the
congress. There was the struggle for democracy in Santo Domingo, the
struggle for independence in Puerto Rico, the Panama Canal, the
disappearance of the Latin American colonies and the struggle for
democracy. We had ordered some pamphlets printed, so as to create a little
advertising for our meeting. We took them to the theater, at a festive
event. Perhaps we were, technically, committing an offense, I don't know,
but we did not do so with any intention of breaking the laws, by any means,
but rather to create advertising for our congress. We were later arrested.
It seems that we had been there for only a short time when the secret
police learned that there were students organizing a congress. They learned
something about our activities, as well as our distribution of pamphlets in
the theater; something which seemed to us to be the most natural thing in
the world, which we were accustomed to doing in Cuba. And, as a result of
this, the police arrived, I don't recall exactly where and how they
arrested me, but I think that we were at the hotel.
Arturo Alape: But wasn't it at the theater?
Castro: I am not sure that it was in the theater that they arrested us; I
think that it was at the hotel.
Arturo Alape: The report states that they arrested you at the theater, and
that they later took you to immigration.
Castro: No, no; they reached us, arrested us and took us to some gloomy
offices located there, on a back street, a place with dark corridors. They
took us there with the pamphlets. But I think that they arrested us at the
hotel. I cannot say exactly now whether we left and they arrested us; I
think that our arrest took place later at the hotel. But perhaps the
records can state it more truthfully and more accurately; but I seem to
recall that they rang, and took us in custody. I know that they took us
along back streets to some squalid buildings located there.
Arturo Alape: And whom did they arrest?
Castro: Me and the other Cuban who was traveling with me; there were two of
us. They took us to those buildings and halls, and they seated us there.
They questioned us. To tell the truth, perhaps because of the idealism of a
person in that ardor of youth, we explained to the authorities there who we
were, what we were doing, the matter of the congress, what our goals were
at that congress, the matter of Puerto Rico and the Panama Canal, what was
in the pamphlet and the ideas with which we were organizing the congress.
To tell the truth, we apparently were somewhat eloquent in the conversation
with the detective authorities there. The fact is that I even received the
impression that some of those individuals liked what we had been proposing
there. We had been persuasive with them. Perhaps they realized that we were
not dangerous individuals by any means, and that we were not meddling in
the country's internal affairs. Perhaps because they liked some of the
things that we were proposing, I don't know the reasons, but the fact is
that, after that interrogation, they booked us and all that, and then
released us. We may have been running a greater risk than we imagined, but
at the time we were not aware of it. After the questioning and all that we
simply went to the hotel again, and continued our activities very
Arturo Alape: But were they following you?
Castro: It is most likely that they were following us, but in any event we
were not doing anything wrong. The only thing that we were doing was
organizing a students congress, and we were in contact with one of the
country's leading political figures. At best, they underestimated those
Actually, from an objective standpoint, apart from the ideological issue,
and apart from the goals that we were pursuing, we did not constitute any
type of threat whatsoever to the Colombian state or to the Colombian
Government. What we were doing had nothing to do with the Colombian state;
it was a Latin American idea that we were upholding. We did not meddle in
any way whatsoever in the internal affairs of Colombia. That is the
reality, unless the fact that we met with students and that we met with
Gaitan is considered an aggravating factor, and if we exclude the fact that
we had distributed some pamphlets, which is not considered a criminal
activity in any part of the world, except under a repressive government. We
had, even quite candidly and without any provocative intention, distributed
our notices in the theater. That is the most that could have been regarded
as an offense, but not an offense against the Colombian state; rather, it
was against the United States, in two words, our activity was against the
Arturo Alape: Did you make a manifesto at one of those meetings, or was it
the same one that you issued at the theater?
Castro: I cannot give the details now, but I believe that we made this
manifesto which we sent to the theater. It is possible that we had planned
to issue some more documents, but they were all related to these issues,
which had nothing to do with Colombia's internal policy. I cannot tell you
what we did on 8 April, but we were engaged in organizing the congress.
Arturo Alape: On 11 April the Colombian Government mentioned your stay in
Bogota, after the report from the police who were following you; stating
that you were located near the site where Gaitan succumbed at 1300 hours.
The government's charge of your link with the uprising of 9 April is based
on this claim.
Castro: We had an appointment with Gaitan, for 1400 or 1425 hours. We had
arranged the meeting to continue discussing the congress, and to make
definite plans for the ceremony that was to be held at the end of it, in
which he was going to participate.
Arturo Alape: Is the item on Gaitan's agenda?
Castro: To be sure, that is very interesting; as you can imagine, I am not
familiar with that material. On that day, we had lunch at the hotel, and we
were passing the time before arriving on time for the meeting with Gaitan.
We were at, the hotel. It seems to me that the hotel was not where you
showed it to us on the map, because we left the hotel, went down two or
three blocks, arrived at Seventh Highway and then took a left to reach
Gaitan's location, or to go to the square where the OAS conference was
We were passing the time at the hotel, and it must have been 1325 or 1330
hours when we left the hotel, expecting to arrive at the time when we had
to meet Gaitan. At that time, when we had already gone out on the street,
people began to appear running in various directions; people running like
mad, in one direction or another. That is why I can assure you that no one
organized the incident of 9 April. I want to state this view to you because
I saw it almost from the first moment. I can assure you that the incident
of 9 April was a complete, spontaneous explosion. Perhaps those who
organized the assassination did so to eliminate a political adversary;
perhaps they could imagine the explosion, and perhaps they could not even
imagine it. But the fact is that, after the incident of Gaitan's
assassination there occurred a fabulous explosion in a completely
spontaneous manner. No one can claim to have organized the incident of 9
April, because what the incident of 9 April lacked was precisely
organization. That is the key; it was completely lacking in organization.
They Killed Gaitan! They Killed Gaitan! They Killed Gaitan!
It must have been 1325, 1330 or 1320 hours when we left the hotel to go
closer to that location, taking a walk until the time arrived, which I
think was 1400 hours. We left on foot and were nearing Gaitan's office,
when we saw people beginning to appear running, as if in desperation, in
all directions; one here, another there, another in a different direction,
shouting: "They killed Gaitan, they killed Gaitan!"
There were members of the common people spreading the news: "They killed
Gaitan!" They were running along one street and another, but they were
people who were aroused and angry over a dramatic, tragic situation,
stating what had happened. The news began to spread like wildfire; so much
so that we had walked about two more blocks and we reached a small park,
and then the people began to assume violent attitudes.
We were near Gaitan's office, and continued walking along Seventh Highway,
and people had already entered some offices. I remember that upon reaching
a small park I saw a man trying to break a typewriter, and I said to him:
"Boy, give it to me"; I helped him, took it and threw it away.
We continued walking and, on Seventh Highway, violent demonstrations were
in evidence. We headed in the direction of the park where parliament was
located and the conference was in session. We went along Seventh Highway
and I saw people breaking showcases and things. That began to worry me,
because at that time I had very clearcut, very definite ideas about what a
revolution is, what things should occur in a revolution and what things
should not. I began to see demonstrations of anarchy.
A very great state of exasperation was evident among the masses. On that
street, which was always filled with people, the people were engaged in
breaking showcases. I was concerned, I began to worry about the situation,
because I observed the anarchical situation that was occurring. I began
thinking about what the leaders of the Liberal Party were doing, and I
wondered whether no one had organized this.
I continued walking along Seventh Highway,it must have been between 1330
and 1345 hours; and we reached the corner of the square where parliament is
located. There was someone there talking on a balcony. There were a few
people gathered there, but in particular many people scattered in all
directions, with a spirit of anger and violence, but spontaneous,
completely spontaneous. In parliament there were several dozen people
shouting furiously and,angrily; and they began breaking the lamps in the
park, throwing stones at them, so that one had to be careful, because you
could be hit with a rock as well as with the glass. I proceeded ahead and
when I had nearly reached the middle of the park, near the gates of
parliament, there was a cordon of police who had just been sprucedup and
were very well dressed and very well organized in their lineup. That dozen,
or hundreds of people who had been breaking light bulbs and things there,
were just nearing that gate. They seemed to be demoralized, the police
cordon dissolved and, like an avalanche, all those people entered the
palace. I was in the middle of the park, with rocks flying in all
directions. They entered the parliament, which had three or four floors. We
did not enter, but remained in the middle of the park watching that
outburst, because it was an outburst of people. They went up and, from the
upper level, began throwing chairs, desks, everything. One could not stay
there, because it was a flood coming from above. I tell you, there was a
man trying to deliver a speech on a balcony on a corner near the park, but
no one paid any attention to him; it was a spectacle.
We decided to go and contact the other two Cubans who were not at the
hotel. There was one, Enrique Ovares, and the other, a comrade our ours in
the revolution, Comrade Alfredo Guevara, who was staying at a guest house.
We went to make contact with them, and to find out what they thought about
the situation, and so as to explain to them what was happening. We reached
the guest house, and were talking, and just then a great procession of
people appeared, a river of people coming along the streets which more or
less parallel Seventh Highway. Some were carrying weapons, some had rifles,
others had clubs and crowbars; everyone, because whoever had a club, a
crowbar or anything was carrying it.
When I saw that crowd, I didn't know where they were going. They claimed to
be heading for a police station. Then I went and joined the crowd; I was
about in the first row of that crowd, and I went to the police station. I
realized that there was a revolution under way, and decided to join as
another person. And, of course, I had no doubt that the people were
oppressed, that the people who were revolting were in the right, that
Gaitan's death was a great crime; and I took sides. Up until that time I
had not done anything; until I saw the crowd passing by, after I had
visited the two Cubans, when I saw a great crowd coming, I joined it. It
might be claimed that this was the time when I joined the crowd which was
revolting. We reached the police station; the police were there protecting
themselves above, behind barriers, with their rifles aimed. No one knew
what would happen. The crowd reached the entrance, and the police allowed
them to enter.
I Was Not Dressed for War
Arturo Alape: That was the No 3 station.
Castro: It was a station located not far from parliament.
I saw that the crowd was heading for the station, and I was among the
first. I don't know why, they were aiming their rifles but they did not
shoot. We turned the corner and the entrance was about 30 meters away. The
crowd entered like a cyclone from all directions, gathering weapons and
things. There were policemen who bad joined in all this, policemen in
uniform. That station had a yard in the middle, but there were about two
floors. I don't know whether there were any weapons, they grabbed the few
that were available. Some policemen kept their weapons and joined. I
entered the weapon room, but I did not see any rifles. There were some
shotguns with teargas, with large bullets of about a quarter and a half.
The only thing that I could grab was a shotgun with teargas. I began
filling my cartridge belt with those bullets, putting on 20 or 30 bullets.
I said, "I don't have a rifle, but at least I have something to fire," a
large shotgun with a big barrel. And I said, "But for all this I am wearing
a suit, and these shoes; I am not dressed for war." I found a cap without a
visor, bang, I put on the cap without a visor. But with all this I wore my
shoes, and I was not very satisfied with my shotgun. I went out to the
yard, filled with people, people searching everything. One has to imagine
the scene, everyone going up and down stairs, entering here, there and
everywhere, a mixture of civilians and police.
I climbed a staircase to the second floor, where the police officers' room
was located. I was looking for clothes there, and also trying to find out
whether there were more weapons. I put on some boots, but they were of no
use to me. I remember that amid that dreadful chaos, an officer arrived and
said, "No, not my boots, no." The boots were of no use to me and I told
him: "Yes, sir, keep your boots." I went down to the yard to become
involved in something, and I saw a police officer organizing a squad. I
went, I had no ambitions to be a chief nor to lead anything; I went as a
raw recruit. I arrived with my teargas shotgun and my bullets, and I got in
line. The officer had a rifle, and when he saw me loaded with those bullets
and with the shotgun, he said: "But how, what are you doing with that?" I
told him: "It is the only thing that I could find." And I put on the
shotgun. The man did not seem to be quite decided on what he was doing,
despite the fact that he was organizing a squad. I asked him and he gave me
his rifle with about 12 or 14 bullets. Of course, when he gave me the rifle
a throng of people tried to grab the rifle, and I had to fight hard in
order to keep the rifle. I was left with the rifle and about 14 bullets,
which is what the officer had. From that time onward, I was armed with a
rifle, but there was no organization there, but only people leaving; at the
time they said "leave" in the same way as they had entered. A crowd was
leaving without knowing where they were going. Voices were heard saying
that it was to the palace, or I don't know where. I left the station and
joined that Crowd, without any direction. I observed great disorder and
lack of discipline; there was no organization. We proceeded about three
blocks, when i saw four or five soldiers imposing order. At this point,
since there were many in uniform joining the crowd, I imagined that those
four or five soldiers had joined the crowd, and so I came and started
helping the soldiers impose order. I later learned that they were not rebel
soldiers, but rather soldiers from the Presidential Guard who were there
with their rifles, but not with a hostile attitude; rather, overwhelmed by
that ocean of people and trying to bring order. Religious were shooting
from San Bartolome School. I didn't know who was shooting, I cannot say. I
was incredulous, standing there on the corner. The soldiers had apparently
attempted to make a diversion; I really didn't know whether they didn't
want them to head for the palace, or whether it was the fact that the
shooting had begun at San Bartolome School, where they were diverting the
crowd; because everywhere that I saw the possibility of someone trying to
organize, I attempted to help organize.
We Had Two Rifles With 14 Bullets
Amid that shooting, I took up a position on a corner. I met some students
from the university; we had two rifles with 14 bullets. A car carrying
students passed by; I saw some whom I knew, who were on our side.
A car carrying students went by with loudspeakers, carrying several corpses
on top; they were agitating. It was not an organized agitation, but one of
those things that occur spontaneously. I think that we must have been two
or three blocks from Seventh Highway. Then news arrived that the students
had taken over the radio and were being attacked.
Arturo Alape: The National Radio Broadcasting Company.
Castro: And that they were being attacked. Our situation was difficult,
because there were about 10 or 12 unarmed, and only one or two who had
arms. We decided to go and help the students who were at the National Radio
Broadcasting Company. The crowd had continued in one direction, when we
heard the car announcing that they were attacking the National Radio
Broadcasting Company. To tell the truth, we did not know exactly where it
was located. We took Seventh Highway and headed northward; it might be said
that we headed for the hermitage of Montserrat. On Seventh Highway there
was virtually a throng attacking everything; they were attacking the
buildings and the business establishments, and they were already starting
to loot those establishments as well. We went along that street. There were
people who had been drinking, who came with a bottle of medium colored rum
that you Colombians have, and approached saying: "Drink, damn it!" And they
would come with their bottle and give it to you.
There was a confused situation; no one knew what was going on. Many police
had revolted. At that time the position of the Colombian Army was not
known. Gaitan had sympathy among the military, that could not be
questioned, but the confusion was very great. Many police had revolted, the
Army was neutral, and it was even claimed that some units had joined. We
continued advancing along Seventh Highway, I don't know how many blocks we
covered, seven, eight, ten or twelve; I would have to go there and cover it
all again in order to find out. At that time there were many places
Then we arrived at a place that I later realized was the Ministry of War.
We arrived, I remember that it was toward the north; it was a place where
there was a park to the right and another one to the left.
We saw a battalion of soldiers coming in front of us, toward the south,
with their German helmets, which were the kind that they wore at the time,
I don't know what they wear now, and their rifles. An entire battalion came
marching with some tanks, and kept advancing. But at this point we did not
know on which side the Army was. When we saw the battalion approaching us,
while we were in the middle of the street between the two parks, we took
the precaution of going about 20 meters away, and took shelter behind some
benches, waiting to find out whether those troops were friends or enemies.
I repeat, there were with me about 12 students, and we had two rifles. But
the battalion paid no attention to us then, and continued along the street
in martial formation. I think that there were tanks behind the battalion,
soldiers in front and three tanks moving behind.
We crossed Seventh Highway again, and were in front of the Ministry of War;
I didn't know that it was the Ministry of War, it was separated from the
park by the street.
We crossed the street and I still didn't know on which side that battalion
was, whether with the people or against the people, whether in revolt or in
favor of the government, although there really was no government at that
time. I crossed the street and we headed for the other small park in front
of what was then the location of the Ministry of Defense, which had a small
building, with one or two floors at most. There was a door and some bars,
and a few military. Then I, who also had a revolutionary fever and was
trying to have the largest number of people join the revolutionary
movement, climbed upon a bench opposite the Ministry of War and delivered a
speech to the military who were there in front of the ministry, urging them
to join the revolution. Everyone listened, no one did anything, and there I
was with my rifle making my speech on a bench.
I concluded my speech and went on, because the students were heading in
At the end of the park there was a bus waiting; I noticed that this bus was
enroute there, the students had it. So after I gave my speech we ran to
catch it. The one who was with me remained behind, and I did not see him
I know how many blocks we traveled in the bus, eight or ten. Added to all
this, I also lost my wallet that I was carrying, containing a few pesos,
since we did not have anything. Someone took my wallet, with the little
that I had; they took it from me. We headed for the Radio Broadcasting
Company, and got off at a corner; it was an avenue, a street like a
promenade, which led to the Radio Broadcasting Company. Actually, we got
off on the street. We had only one rifle, mine, to give backing to the
students who were in the Radio Broadcasting Company. when we reached the
avenue, a strange shooting began. When we reached there, they began to fire
at us, I don't know with how many rifles. We managed to take shelter behind
some tanks and things that were there; and, miraculously, they did not kill
us all. We managed to reach the corner again, and followed the group of a
man with a rifle and 10 or 12 unarmed persons. Then we decided, at that
time, that we could not do anything to liberate the National Radio
Broadcasting Company, and we decided to go to the university. It was in the
opposite direction of that leading to the hermitage. We could not do
anything to liberate the radio, and we decided to go to the university,
because insofar as I knew, what was at the Radio Broadcasting Company was a
company of soliders. It was impossible to do anything, and hence we went to
the university to find out if there was anything there; to find out whether
there was an organization there, and whether the students had set up a
command post, or had established any organization.
When we reached the university, there was really nothing organized.
That Was Suicide
Reports were coming and going about events and incidents; there were many
people, everyone unarmed. Not far from the university there was a police
station; so we decided to go and seize the police station in order to
obtain arms, with my rifle and a crowd of unarmed people. It was assumed
that I was the one who would have to seize the station, because I was the
only one who had a rifle. With a crowd of students we set out to seize the
police station; that really was suicide. One had already been seized, and
we intended to seize the second one in order to arm all those people. We
had such good luck that, when we arrived at the station it had already been
seized, there had been a revolt; in other words, when I arrived there, I
introduced myself to the chief of the station, who admitted to being the
chief of the rebel police.
I introduced myself to him, and immediately told him that I was a student
and a Cuban, that we were holding a congress; I explained everything to him
in a few words and the man converted me into his assistant. Apparently,
when I told him that I was a Cuban, that I was involved in a congress, that
I was on the side of the people, and so forth, he replied "stay with me"
and I stayed with him. He was a rather tall man, not too tall but tall; I
couldn't describe him well. He had the rank of commander, or colonel, I
don't remember which.
Then I decided to go to the office of the Liberal Party. What I am telling
you is accurate, exact, about the incredible things that happened on that
day. I boarded the jeep with the chief of the rebel police, and went to the
headquarters of the Liberal Party. I call it the lesser evil because what
concerned me was the lack of organization, the chaos, and not seeing any
element of leadership or organization anywhere. So I was happy when I saw
the chief of police who had revolted.
I noted that he was in contact with the Liberal Party; I noted that he went
there; and I thought that this would start to become organized.
At that time I believed that I was helping to organize the situation which
was so chaotic. We traveled a number of blocks which I don't remember. The
streets did not belong to anyone.
We accompanied the man to the door. I did not enter, but remained outside.
He went in and met with the Liberal leaders who were there. I don't know
who those leaders were, but he met with them. He returned to the station
again, which is near the university, in his jeep. We had two jeeps. He
remained in the rebel station for awhile and again decided to go to the
Liberal Party office, because it was beginning to grow dark. We left in two
jeeps. He rode in the front one, and I in the rear one. But both on the
previous trip and this one, there was a crowd of people, because a throng
of unarmed students were still following along with me. They were boarding
here and there, and the two jeeps were filled as they moved.
On the second trip that we made to the Liberal Party office, I was
stationed forward on the right. This time, everyone who took a car piled in
everyone who was there, and things happened quickly.
I was at the Ministry of Defense twice: once in front, delivering a speech,
and another time, at the side, when I turned over the jeep to the chief of
police. The officer and the men who appeared at the wall did not shoot;
they were also apparently confused. While they were hesitating, I went to
the Fifth Division of Police.
mercoledì, maggio 24, 2006