Thursday, May 3, 2012

Attack on the Palace of Justice in Bogota, Colombia (1985)

My wife had traveled to Bogota in November 1985 to visit her family. At the time she was expecting our first child. I was back home in Philadelphia working but I expected to join her in two weeks. During those two weeks two unspeakable tragedies took place in Colombia. The first was the M-19 guerrilla group's attack on the Palace of Justice in Bogota, which faces the Capitol and the Cathedral along the Plaza de Bolivar. The second was the eruption of the Nevado del Ruiz volcano in the center of the country (about 100 miles away from Bogota), which claimed the lives of more than 20,000 people. You can imagine how worried I was, but my wife was well out of harm's way in both cases. When I finally did arrive in Bogota, I had occasion to visit the ruins of the Palace of Justice with my father-in-law. The angle of the picture isn't so hot, but in the back you can see the scaffolding where the army drove one of its armored vehicles into the Palace of Justice as part of its attempt to rescue the hostages and retake control of the building. There is a related article in Wikipedia at
Two years later, my wife, daughter and I had moved to Bogota and rented an apartment. To sign the lease, I went into the building to the left of the Palace in this photo to meet with the lawyer representing the owners. While there, I asked him about his recollections of the attack. He had some opinions regarding the conduct of the guerrillas and the army, but the part I remember most was that he and others were trapped inside his office while the hostilities played out in the plaza. He said to his colleagues something to the effect of: "Well, we can't go anywhere the rest of the day. I have a bottle of whiskey, so let's finish it off."