Belisario Betancur ceased to be president of Colombia 32 years ago, when I was 63. Just to die at 95, perfectly lucid, at least until the last time I saw him, less than a month ago, when he made a speech warm and scholar at the Embassy of Spain in Bogota. He spoke of Spanish grammar and lectured on various Greek philosophers. Seeing him was always a delight and a learning experience. I kept reading to the young writers of the country and, as a joke, said that he liked always to learn something new, as to Socrates, who is waiting to take the hemlock wanted to learn to play a piece for flute. In doing so he admitted that he was quoting from an essay by Italo Calvino.

When the majority of the colombian people elected him president, in 1982, I knew not to Belisarius, nor voted for him. Although he was gifted with a sympathy overwhelming and showed a sincere spirit of wanting to make peace with the colombian guerrillas, he was of the conservative party, and in a family of liberals like mine the votes were divided between Alfonso López Michelsen, and Luis Carlos Galán (a dissident faction of the liberalism that he would be killed years later). The least conservative of the conservatives, Betancur, came to the presidency thanks to the division of the liberals. His presidency was very hard, especially by two natural tragedies (the earthquake of Popayán and the disaster of Armero after the eruption of the nevado del Ruiz), and a tragedy to policy: the violent overthrow, by terrorists of the M-19 Palace of Justice and its wild echoes, by the Army (with the death of almost the entire leadership that the country’s judicial, from the president of the Supreme Court), using tanks and cannons of war at discretion.


Dies Belisario Betancur, the president that opened the way for peace in Colombia, The cult of the Spanish exmandatario The Menéndez Pelayo rewards the humanism of Belisario Betancur

over ten years Ago, when I had already made a friend of the former president Betancur, I had the opportunity to discuss with him something that he had written for the presentation of a book, The palace without masks, Germán Castro Caycedo, on the dead and the disappeared of the Palace of Justice:

“of course, they also left many people living in the Palace of Justice. 96 were killed, including more than twenty guerrillas, and between two hundred and three hundred were saved. But what is more serious is that some of the people who left with life -supposedly saved – there was also tortured, harassed, finished off with shots of grace and missing, among them a magistrate. Out of the picks up bloody, no mercy for the hostages, who were clamouring for a cease-fire, already out of the Palace also took place inhuman acts, in the beginning in the Museum of the Vase, and then in several military garrisons.

What happened with the civil power, it is also not less alarming. The Military Forces were not only the Palace of Justice, but also took the Palace of Nariño (the presidential house), leaving to the President many times isolated from the situation, almost as a hostage, with no access to Ultrabet the people who wanted to talk with him, without obeying fully the few orders that reached to teach, giving partial information, that they spoke of the salvation of the hostages, when in reality it was doing nothing or almost nothing to protect them, with such quickly resolve the battle.

I have Always felt respect for president Betancur. I know that he would never leave the order to torture people, to finish off or disappear to anyone. But you committed a sin of omission, or at least of character: left in the hands of the military resolution of a problem that may have had an outcome very different by the way of civil dialogue. And if you do not dialogue, by way of tiredness. Not had such a hurry to enter tank, to shoot, to bombard. I’m not talking about the claudication of the right or of the subjection of the institutions, but of the intelligent dialogue with the terrorists, leaving time to the fatigue natural, which could have led to an outcome less tragic in terms of human lives. The impression remains that this was what I least wanted to the military, fearful that the M-19 could get so out-an output do not say worthy, but even unworthy of the Palace. Not the wanted performed wanted dead. And, I must say, neither the guerrillas wanted to surrender: preferred to be done killing.”

The conversation on this matter was strained and difficult. The former president, about this, did not want to talk, even though his wife, Dalita Navarro, encouraged him to tell everything openly. Merely say, as in an act of christian contrition (Betancur was a catholic, very devout, and even a senior advisor to ethical issues in The Vatican), that he personally had to assume all the responsibility, without download it on anyone else. How much personal blame he could be? I believe sincerely that very little, as is not already noted on the lack, not of action but of inaction. It is not impossible that he has left any written posthumously about it.

But president Betancur should not go down in history as the man’s tragic that you could not resolve without violence, making terrorist in the Palace of Justice and picks up bloody. It is not fair to limit his presidency to this tragedy, however serious it has been. He was also the president that with more ardour and tenacity sought peace with the Farc and with the same M-19. Even got to sign for them to a cease-fire and an amnesty that would allow them to negotiate with the government. This is opposed harshly by the Army and all the right colombian. “The enemies in wait of the peace”, as said by one of his ministers and best friends, Otto Morales Benitez. How many dead, how many were kidnapped and how much suffering we would have avoided if he had signed the peace of Belisarius in 1984. We had to wait 34 more years for that dream to be fulfilled, with Juan Manuel Santos.

And out of the foregoing, whether as president as a former president, Belisario Betancur was the ruler, and the politician who supported with more decision (and with resources, first the State and then own) the culture in Colombia. It was he who devised the Law of the Book, that brought to Colombia of the late publisher and many writers of the misery. He was the patron of musicians, poets, filmmakers, from the pianist Teresita Gómez to the poet Leon de Greiff. Created the embryo of the ministry of Culture, to strengthen like no one before to Colcultura. He was editor, director of Santillana Foundation, member of the Colombian Academy of the Language, and protector of a wonderful colonial town: Barichara, in the Santander department. And it was also a good father of a family (he is survived by two daughters and a son), a husband loving and the best friend of their friends, so we don’t tosane at all. And this last, with all the pride and with all the affection that I had and I have, what I can sign.

Héctor Abad Faciolince is a colombian writer