M-19 Terrorism in Colombia 1972-1991

[ 1972 - 1991 ]

The 19th of April Movement (Movimiento 19 de Abril -- M-19) traces its origins to the allegedly fraudulent presidential elections of April 19, 1970, in which the populist party of former military dictator Rojas Pinilla, the National Popular Alliance (Alianza Nacional Popular--Anapo), was denied an electoral victory. Although Anapo--which was subsequently led by Rojas Pinilla's daughter, María Eugenia Rojas de Moreno Díaz, following the dictator's death in 1975--denied all links with the M-19, the organization proclaimed itself to be the armed branch of the party. During the early 1970s, Carlos Toledo Plata and Jaime Bateman Cayón distinguished themselves as the M-19's principal leaders and ideologues. Toledo, a physician, was an Anapo representative in Congress. Bateman served as the M-19's principal commander for military operations. Both these men died during the 1980s--Toledo in a shooting by two men believed linked to the MAS and Bateman in an airplane crash. By mid-1988 Carlos Pizarro León-Gómez had emerged as one of the group's principal decision makers.

The M-19's ideological orientation was a mixture of populism and nationalistic revolutionary socialism. This orientation often led the group to seek political support from Nicaragua and Cuba, but the M-19's leadership also claimed that it resisted forming permanent foreign ties.

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On January 1, 1979, guerrillas of the Movement of April 19 (M-19), which got its name from the date in 1970 when its notorious hero Gustavo Rojas Pinilla (1900-75) lost the presidential election, captured more than 5,000 weapons from the main military arsenal in Bogota, the capital. Hundreds of suspected leftist rebels were arrested and imprisoned; some were reportedly tortured... 

In 1980, M-19 guerrillas seized 15 diplomats and others in a raid on a diplomatic reception at the Dominican Republic embassy in Bogota. They demanded the release of 311 political prisoners and a $50 million ransom payment for setting free their hostages. A settlement was negotiated after 61 days, and the guerrillas fled to Havana, Cuba, with 12 hostages, who were then freed. [M]any M-19 leaders were killed or captured in a violent shoot-out with Colombian army troops (March 18, 1981)...

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By mid-1985, when the number of active members was estimated at between 1,500 and 2,000, the M-19 had become the second largest guerrilla group in Colombia. According to the IISS, the size of the M-19 in 1987 was estimated at 1,500 militants. A member of the Barco administration who was in charge of the government's peace efforts, however, calculated that the organization had only 500 armed militants nationwide. By the mid-1980s, the M-19 had eclipsed all other guerrilla organizations in urban operations. The M-19 reportedly established columns (units) in each of Colombia's major cities. These columns were in turn organized into independent cells.

Although the M-19's early operations, begun in 1972, were limited to bank robberies, it quickly gained national attention through the 1974 theft of Simón Bolívar's sword and spurs from the exhibit in the liberator's villa. Two years later, the group kidnapped and subsequently murdered a Colombian trade union official the M-19 accused of having ties to the United States Central Intelligence Agency. In 1977 the M-19 began a campaign of economic sabotage. The following year, government offices and police stations became the targets of numerous attacks. In addition, the offices and representatives of United States-based multinational corporations were repeatedly targeted in an effort to drive the foreign interests from the country. Kidnappings of prominent individuals continued, some of which resulted in the deaths of the abductees. In 1980 the seizure and occupation, for sixty-one days, of the Dominican Republic's Bogotá embassy gained the group international attention.

The M-19's increasingly bold activities, coupled with evidence of Cuban training and logistical support, prompted a hardening in the policies of the Turbay administration during its final year in office. In 1982, however, the newly installed Betancur administration offered political amnesty in exchange for the M-19's agreement to a cease-fire. In July 1984, government officials and guerrilla leaders signed a cease-fire agreement at Corinto in Cauca Department.

By late 1985, however, the accord unraveled. Charging the government with, among other things, a systematic violation of the truce provisions and failure to implement key political reforms that were part of the cease-fire agreement, the M-19 returned to armed struggle. In October 1985, guerrillas wounded then-Commanding General of the Army Samudio. By far the most spectacular operation of the M-19 came the following month, when commandos seized the Palace of Justice in Bogotá. The ensuing battle between the M-19 and the military left over 100 dead, including 11 Supreme Court judges.

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On November 6,1985, M-19 guerrillas seized the Palace of Justice in Bogota; government forces stormed the building the next day, and 106 persons died in the battle, including 11 Supreme Court judges and all the rebels...

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After the Palace of Justice operation, the M-19 reduced its activities, leading some analysts to surmise that its membership base had declined. In early 1986, the M-19 reportedly attempted to establish a common guerrilla front with members of Peru's Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso) and Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (Movimiento Revolucionario Tupac Amaru) and with Ecuador's Alfaro Lives, Damn It! (¡Alfaro Vive, Carajo!) group. The March 1987 killing of Alvaro Fayad, the M-19's top political and military strategist, was believed to have dealt the organization a severe setback, however.

In May 1988, the M-19 again burst into public prominence by kidnapping Alvaro Gómez Hurtado, a two-time presidential candidate and Conservative Party leader. Gómez Hurtado's release was obtained two months later in exchange for the government's agreement to meet with M-19 leaders at the papal nunciature in Bogotá. The meeting was to have paved the way for a national summit to include representatives of the country's principal guerrilla groups. Barco subsequently announced, however, that he would not send an official representative to the preliminary peace talks.

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...M-19 had disbanded along with two other rebel organizations after a new constitution went into effect in 1991, ratifying the non-extradition of Colombians to face trial abroad.

Related Conflicts

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