Gustavo Rojas Pinilla

(b. 1900)

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(b. Tunja, Boyaca, Colombia, 12 Mar. 1900; d. Bogotá, 17 Jan. 1975)

Colombian; President of Colombia 1953–7 Rojas attended the Military Academy in Bogotá, and later studied engineering in the USA. He worked as a road engineer for a while, and then rejoined the army in 1932. He became Commander of the 3rd Brigade in Cali during the uprising in Bogotá, the Bogatazo, the wave of riots which hit Bogotá after the assassination of the populist Liberal leader, Jorge Eliecer Gaitan. Rojas remained in Cali for most of the years of the Colombian civil war, known as la violencia, which followed. In 1949 Rojas was promoted to lieutenant-general, and in 1952 he became Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, Minister of Communications, and member of the Inter-American Defence Board.

On 13 June 1953 Rojas overthrew the then unpopular Conservative President of Colombia, Laureano Gomez, in a bloodless coup. He promised to end la violencia and establish political peace. His initial actions, like granting an amnesty for the Communist and Liberal guerrillas, were well received by almost everyone. His first Cabinet consisted almost entirely of Gomez's moderate opponents within the Conservative Party. However, he failed to establish full political peace. And in response Rojas became increasingly authoritarian, attempting to establish his own political party, which he described as ‘Christian and Bolivarist’. He attempted to woo organized labour in the style of General Juan Perón of Argentina. But these political moves alienated the two main Colombian political parties, the Liberals and the Conservatives, and worried both the Catholic Church and the business community. When Rojas secured a constitutional amendment to stand for a second term, and indicated he would not allow free elections, the above groups persuaded the heads of the armed forces to pressure him to go into exile. He did so on 10 May 1957, when it was clear that he had very little support in the country. He was replaced by a provisional military junta which in turn gave way to a ‘National Front’ government of Conservatives and Liberals.

Rojas later returned to Colombia in spite of being convicted of abuses of power by a national tribunal. In 1960s he established himself as leader of ANAPO, the populist and nationalist National Popular Alliance. He opposed the National Front, and narrowly lost the 1970 presidential elections. Many claim he was only deprived of victory through fraud. After his death his daughter became head of ANAPO, but the movement fell into insignificance.

Subjects: Politics.

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