One of the big unanswered questions in Colombia is what would have happened if Luis Carlos Galán had not been assassinated. Every August 18 for 32 years, newspaper articles insist on a huge exercise of imagination. It must be assumed that the candidate with the most options for the presidency in 1989 was never shot on the wooden platform where he was going to hold a rally in the municipality of Soacha, south of Bogotá. And from there to ponder what could have been the legacy of President Galán. That August afternoon, the man who embodied a unique hope for thousands of Colombians died at the same time that the myth was born. “It was a generational frustration,” summarizes 76-year-old journalist and friend of politician Daniel Samper Pizano.
This 33rd anniversary of the assassination will be different. Justice has resurrected New Liberalism, the party that Galán founded, after a battle fought by his children and some original militants to recover an acronym always linked to the memory of the president who was not. Galán died with almost a year to go before the 1990 elections and almost a year before the 2022 presidential elections, his children now seek to revive his spirit to re-mark Colombian politics. The challenge is immense on a board as fragmented and hyperpolarized as the Colombian one.
“His murder marked the murder of the hope that my dad embodied. This is like a rebirth, that hope reappeared, it is a gigantic responsibility, but we are not afraid of it, “says Juan Manuel Galán by phone. Their children multiply their appearances these days trying to gather around them support that will allow them to play a decisive role in the elections.
The Galán are part of that extended group of Colombians who are convinced that this is the moment of the center and proclaim themselves, like their father, of the center left. The lowest hours of Uribismo, which has been anointing presidents for two decades from the toughest wing of the right, and the overexposure of Gustavo Petro, considered a left-wing radical for much of conservative Colombian society, is perceived today as the great opportunity for a handful of parties and candidates yet to be defined. The New Liberalism wants to make a dent in that map until now, orphaned of leaders.
The goal of the new party is to attract two generations united by frustration. The one that Galán left politically orphaned and the one who starred in the protests that paralyzed the country between April and June. “I propose to open the door to those people we saw in the marches, dissatisfied, who are looking for spaces for participation,” says Carlos Fernando Galán. “The peasants, the women, the youth, the victims, the LGTB movement”, invites Juan Manuel. The journalist María Elvira Samper believes that her great challenge is precisely “that it can become a point of convergence for young people and people who have left the Liberal Party, in addition to showing that politics can be done away from clientelism, corruption and messianism ”.
The challenge is as great as the shadow of the father, murdered when he was 45 years old, is long. “There is no galanism as a moral force. There is a formidable example, but there was not a movement, nor a moral contingent. That flag is unfortunately very deflated ”, explains Daniel Samper. In addition to Galán, other leaders and founders of the party were assassinated in those years, which caused many of its militants and candidates to withdraw from political life or to join other parties.
The New Liberalism was born in 1979 by the hand of Galán, who separated from the Liberal Party. He was the first politician who dared to denounce corruption, patronage and the penetration of narco-terrorism in politics. “He was upright, brave, honest, very intelligent, he just lacked a little bit of evil,” continues Daniel Samper. Pablo Escobar wanted to be part of his party, but Galán closed the door on him. His way of doing politics and his affront to drug trafficking cost him his life in a year to be forgotten in Colombia. In 1989 there were a multitude of attacks, the greatest expression of which was the attack on an Avianca plane in mid-flight that killed 107 people. “Always forward, not a step back and whatever is necessary, whatever it is,” said the politician.
The Galán brothers are, despite their youth – Juan Manuel is 49 and Carlos Fernando 44 – old faces of Colombian politics. Both have held different positions and have concurred under different acronyms over the years. “They are smart guys, ready. But there are few people like his dad. No one can deny that they are his children, and that their conduct is flawless, but I don’t think that a movement will form around them to take him to the presidency, ”says Samper.
Carlos Fernando was a candidate for mayor of Bogotá in 2019 and Juan Manuel was until now a pre-candidate of the Coalition of Hope, the union of parties and candidates that runs the political center. From the left, the presidential candidate Gustavo Petro has invited them to sit down and speak. “There is no longer any chance of a party winning the elections, they have to be coalitions,” says journalist María Elvira Samper. When asked where they will be, the Galán respond that they want to seek their own identity and position themselves as “soldiers” of a party that has yet to be made and that will have to find its leaders.
While they define themselves, they take advantage of their moment and the focus that the judicial decision has given them. “I think my dad is looking at us very carefully, saying watch what they have. I hope you guide us from where you are. We are not just young people who want to do politics, but we also have the responsibility to respect a legacy and defend it, ”concludes Carlos Fernando.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.