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History, World War II and the Postwar Era

Vichy government of France, Mariano Ospina Perez, Laureano Gomez, Conservative cabinet ministers, united stand

During World War II Colombia severed diplomatic relations with Japan, Germany, and Italy in 1941. In 1942 the country severed relations with the Vichy government of France, which was controlled by Nazi Germany. In 1943 the Colombian Senate declared a state of belligerency with Germany, and the republic signed the charter of the United Nations (UN) in June 1945, becoming one of the 51 original members.

The postwar era was one of severe political crisis for Colombia, as antagonism deepened between Liberal and Conservative factions. During the election of 1946, the Liberals were so split that they presented two candidates, the left-wing Jorge Eliecer Gaitan and the more conservative Gabriel Turbay. Because of the split, victory in the presidential race went to a moderate Conservative, Mariano Ospina Perez. The Liberals had a large majority in Congress, and the new president attempted to govern with a coalition cabinet that included Liberals. However, antagonisms grew sharper as extremists in both parties inflamed the situation. In 1947 Perez excluded Liberals from the cabinet, whereupon the Liberals decided to take a united stand and support Gaitanís candidacy in the 1950 elections. Gaitan had stirred many poorer Colombians with his vision of a transformed Colombian society.

In April 1948, while many high-ranking foreign dignitaries were in Bogota for the Ninth International Conference of American States, Gaitan was assassinated. The assassination sparked a nationwide uprising against the Conservative government; some 1,500 people were killed, and more than 20,000 were injured. The rebellion, known as la violencia, disrupted the conference. However, the conference succeeded in completing the draft of the charter of the Organization of American States, a regional organization for nations of the western hemisphere. The government brought the rebellion under control with the help of the army. The government then reorganized to include an equal number of Liberal and Conservative cabinet ministers.

Tension and violence mounted steadily during the late 1940s. Liberal members withdrew from the government after a decree was issued banning meetings and parades. The Liberal Party withdrew its candidate from the presidential elections of 1949, charging the government with election law violations. As a result, the Conservative candidate, Laureano Gomez, a political leader and newspaper editor, won the November elections without opposition. He was inaugurated in August 1950.

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