56. Riddles in Colombia during 1930-1940
AUG. 18, 2022
Join the boys as they head into South America for this puzzling podcast, where Pete posits three devilishly trick-some riddles about Colombia in the thirties.
Riddle in Colombia between 1930 and 1940
The name of the Republic of Colombia was derived from the last name of the Italian navigator Christopher Columbus, although if you don’t want to annoy the locals, don’t forget to spell it with an ‘o’ not a ‘u’.
This South American nation is just underneath Panama, and borders Venezuela, Peru, Brazil and Ecuador. It’s1,138,910 sq km, about twice the size of France, and has a population of 51million, 16 million fewer than France.
Official languages are Spanish, which most people speak, then there are over 65 additional local indigenous languages.
Colombia is the second most biodiverse country in the world, after only Brazil which is 10 times its size. It features rainforest, highlands, grasslands and deserts and is one of only 17 “megadiverse” countries.
It has the highest amount of species by area in the world, including more species of bird than all of Europe and North America combined.
Colombia is the world’s leading source of emeralds and is It is also the home of Tejo, the Colombian national sport. This is similar to bowls or cornhole, and players lob a large metal disc at a target, scoring points for getting near or on the target.
Players stand at one end of a tossing lane that is about 18.5 meters. At the other end of the court is a one meter by one meter board covered with clay and set at a forty-five degree angle. Players lob metal discs at the board, trying to hit a little tube in the middle. Around the tube, for bonus points are mecha - little triangle shaped envelopes filled with gunpowder!
Colombia is also famous for its stimulant drug – we’re talking about coffee of course. In 2022, Colombia exported 13.5 million bags of coffee, a total 810 million kilos. Coffee cultivation accounts for 7 to 8 percent of the gross domestic product of Colombia and it is the third largest exporter of coffee in the world after Brazil and Vietnam.
History of Colombia
In Colombia around 18,000–8000 BCE are the earliest signs of human habitation. Eventually hunter gatherers move start to settle down into settlements and grow things, in the period between 5000 and 1000 BCE. Notable societies were the Muisca and the Tairona – trading and interconnecting and generally getting on with life wondering if some sudden and dramatic change might appear in their lives at some point.
About 1500 saw the arrival of the first exploring Europeans, including Christopher Columbus and in 1510, Vasco Núñez de Balboa took an expedition to the area and founded the town of Santa María la Antigua del Darién – the first stable European settlement on the continent.
The area was christened Kingdom of the New Granada. Gradually more and more adventurers arrived from Europe, drawn in by tales of enormous wealth, gold beyond measure and El Dorado, the mysterious city of gold.
In 1542, the region of New Granada, became part of the Viceroyalty of Peru, which was basically all Spanish territory in South America. Then the population got a boost in the the 16th century, when European slave traders had begun to bring enslaved Africans to the Americas.
In 1717 The Viceroyalty of New Granada was established, covering what is now Colombia, Ecuador, Panama and Venezuela and 1810 saw the Colombian Declaration of Independence. Their first president was a man called Simon Bolivar.
The nation became Gran Colombia, which actually included Ecuador, Panama, and Venezuela and formed the first constitutional government in South America.
The unified nations did not last long. 20 years after independence in 1831 Gran Colombia was dissolved due to regional tensions and broke into the successor states of Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela.
The country of Colombia (which still included Panama at this point) had 2 main political parties, Conservative and Liberal – and tensions between the two descended into civil war in what became known as the Thousand Days war – which ended with the Conservatives in charge.
the Liberal and Conservative parties, founded in 1848 and 1849, respectively, are two of the oldest surviving political parties in the Americas and have dominated the region for an enormous length of time.
With the building of the Panama Canal, that bit of central America became very important and the USA was very keen to have access to the area .A rebellion by Panamanian nationalists, began on November 3, 1903 and the U.S.-administered railroad in Panama removed trains from service stranding the Colombian troops who were sent to crush the insurrection. Also a U.S. warship called Nashville just happened to show up in the area.
On November 6, the United States recognized the Republic of Panama and on November 18 the Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty was signed with Panama, granting the United States exclusive and permanent possession of the Panama Canal Zone. What a coincidence.
So Colombia lost Panama, but it didn’t stop them being friendly with the US, supported America after Pearl Harbour.
From the late 1940s and the early 1950s, is the period known as La Violencia ("The Violence"). Its cause was mainly tensions between the two political parties, which was ignited after the assassination of the Liberal presidential candidate Jorge Eliécer Gaitán on 9 April 1948.
Eventually in a bid to stop the violence, the Conservative and Liberal Party agreed to create the National Front, a coalition that would jointly govern the country. Whilst this ended La Violancia, it may have started other problems as, locked out of governing by the two main parties, rebels on both the left and the right turned to violence. Guerrilla groups were created such as the FARC, the ELN and the M-19.
Low level guerrilla fighting by the various groups on various ends of the political spectrum marred life in Colombia since the 1960s and it wasn’t until 2016 that the government and Farc reach a peace accord that, after some false starts, formally brings to an end to over 50 years of armed conflict.
More recently, the 19 June 2022 election run-off vote ended in a win for former guerrilla Gustavo Petro, taking 50.47% of the vote. He has promised to tackle Colombia's social and economic inequalities by boosting spending on anti-poverty programs and increasing investment in rural areas.
We’ll see how it goes. Good luck Colombia.
What is a riddle?
At it’s most simple, ‘riddle’ is a synonym for a puzzle or a mystery.
More specifically, it is “A question or statement intentionally phrased so as to require ingenuity in ascertaining its answer or meaning, typically presented as a game.
It’s often a question with an unexpected answer, either lateral thinking, metaphor or a form of wordplay, such as, “What can you hold in your right hand, but never in your left hand? Answer: Your left hand.” Or “poor people have it. Rich people need it. If you eat it you die. What is it? Answer: Nothing.”
The oldest riddle on record is believed to be from about 5000 years ago in Ancient Sumer. “There is a house. One enters it blind and comes out seeing. What is it? Answer: A school.”
Possibly the most famous classic riddle was riddle of the sphinx. In Greek mythology, the Sphinx was a monster with the body and tail of a lion, the face of a woman, and the wings of a bird.
The goddess Hera sent the Sphinx to plague the people of the ancient city of Thebes as punishment for an ancient crime. The Sphinx sat outside the city and each time a traveler came to visit, she would ask them a riddle. If they answered, they could come in, If they failed, she ate them.
It was a very high stakes riddle.
Nobody could get it right, so it was preventing anyone from leaving or entering the city.
The riddle? “What has four legs in the morning, two at noon, and three in the evening?”
Eventually, a hero called Oedipus comes along, and he answered the riddle, replying to the sphinx, “ “Man, who crawls on all fours as a baby, then walks on two legs, and finally needs a cane in old age.”
Finally hearing the right answer the Sphinx jumped from the cliff to her death.
An aside - other forms of riddle:
A riddle is a large sieve used to separate soil or compost particles, or for separating soil from vegetables.
Also has the meaning to be run through with something, usually with a negative sense. Riddled with bullets. Riddled with errors.
Riddle in Colombia 1930 – 1940
Our period happens to coincide with an era known as The Liberal Republic, 16 years of Liberal control starting in 1930.
Presidential elections were held in Colombia on 9 February 1930. The result was a victory for Enrique Olaya Herrera of the Liberal Party, who received 44.9% of the vote. This was the first time since direct presidential elections were introduced in 1914 that a Conservative Party candidate had not won.
But why did they win?
The War of a thousand days had ushered in a period of Conservative control and they were very friendly with business, offering very favourable terms to businesses wanting to establish in the country.
In 1899 the Magdalena region of Colombia (far North, on the Caribbean sea) saw the arrival of a bunch of Americans from Boston, representatives of the Boston based United Fruit Company, better known today as ‘Chiquita’.
Created in 1899 by Minor Cooper Keith, Andrew Preson and Lorezo Baker, the company pulled together existing banana plantations but also substantial infrastructure, the company owned roads and railroads, ports, telegraphs, housing and shipping and even what was known as the Great White Fleet – named because the ships were painted white to reflect the sun to keep the bananas cooler in transit.
Conservatives wanted to make an environment that was business-friendly so they offered good rates and tax breaks to foreign investors and companies.
This caused United Fruit to become incredibly influential in government, and it is from this and other South American fruit-company-dominated economies that we get the term Banana Republic.
They become endemic in an area through vertical integration. The owned the railways, ports boats and distribution in the US.
On the one hand, this was a bad thing for competition, but on the other hand, local Colombian businesses had attempted to start export businesses to America, but they all failed precisely because this infrastructure wasn’t in place and they lacked the capital to build it.
In fact, with the arrival of United Fruit, the export market really takes off, between 1900 and 1920 exports rise from around half a million buckets to over 6 million.
However, this economic dominance was not all good news. United Fruit undertook to gain a monopsony position in the area –like a monopoly which means there is only one seller of a product - a monopsony is where there is only one buyer of a product.
So for Colombian banana producers – United Fruit was the only game in town, which meant they could dictate contracts very much on their terms.
Contracts stated things like, that the banana producer could only sell to United Fruit, but United Fruit was under no obligation to actually buy the fruit. In fact the fruit was by contract the property of United Fruit the second it was cut from the tree – but if there was any problem with the fruit, even if it happened after it had all been shipped to America, it immediately reverted to possession by the farmer and they didn’t get paid. Also any fruit could be rejected by United Fruit at any time, for any reason, or no reason.
If America increased tax on bananas, your contract said you were the one who had to bear that cost.
And if you tried to find another buyer, United Fruit made that hard too. Staggered contracts ensured that at no point did a large group of local people’s contracts expire at the same time – preventing them from banding tother to form their own export businesses.
They also vigorously enforced the contracts if farmers tried to sell to someone else, and whole shipments of bananas were confiscated after court action.
United Fruit also dominated the area with loans. As with many businesses you might get a loan from your bank. But guess who owns the bank? United Fruit! So those loans were tied to being a United Fruit supplier.
In 1928, relations between United Fruit and the workers really started to go bad. In November 1928, more than 25,000 workers organised a strike for a six-day work week of eight-hour days, with medical care and the elimination of payment in scrips (only good at company stores).
The Conservative, business-friendly government was alarmed and three hundred soldiers were sent under General Cortes Vargas from Antioquia to Magdalena. No soldiers from Magdalena involved because they did not believe they would be able to take effective actions, as they might be related to the plantation workers.
In the main square of Magdalena troops set up machine guns on the roofs around as the square filled with people on this Sunday afternoon, having come together after Sunday Mass to hear an address from the Governor. The crowd included families and children.
The army issued a five-minute warning that people should leave, then opened fire into the crowd. Reports vary wildly, but the number of dead is estimated to have been somewhere between 47 people killed, to as high as 2,000 murdered souls.
The consequences of the massacre was a general outrage and a tilt of support away from the Conservatives and into the Liberals, making this a significant milestone in the overturning of the long-standing Conservative Government
A fictional version of the event is also presented in Marquez’s famous novel One Hundred Years of Solitude.
War with Peru
Two years after the election, in 1932 there was a conflict between Colombia and Peru in an area known as the Amazon Trapeze.
This area was given to Colombia in the Salomón–Lozano Treaty which was signed in July 1922. However, many Peruvians were not happy with this situation and it festered for a decade until 1932, when between 200 and 300 particular Peruvians decided to do something about it.
On September 1, 1932, 200 or 300 Peruvians citizens arrived in the small town of Leticia, in Colombia.
They take over the town, expelling the Colombian authorities and police. These people were all civilians, supposedly acting on their own ideas. The Peruvian government denied any association with this activity. This would have been more convincing if the group didn’t include a number of Peruvian military in uniform and lieutenant La Rosa, a Peruvian Garrison Chief.
The ‘invaders’ settled in and for a short while nobody really does anything in part because Leticia is very remote, over 600 miles from Bogota with few roads, and Colombia doesn’t have a Navy to speak of, or an air force of any note.
However, the insult does not go unnoticed.
On September 19, Colombian newspaper El Tiempo reported that they had received over 10,000 letters calling for war and taking back control of Leticia.
So Colombia has to do something, which starts with shopping for warships with 10 million dollars that were approved by the Senate to fund the venture.
The air force, which as the start of the trouble numbered about 15 aircraft, was also boosted to over 80, in significant part by arming the Colombia airline SCADTA, the world’s second airline, which was staffed with mostly German pilots.
Peru was also busy because, despite disowning the invastion, it was actually enormously popular in Peru, so they felt they couldn’t just leave it to play out. Their compromise was to say that the occupation was motivated by patriotic aspirations and that it was immoral to abandon those citizens to the Colombian forces, so they would send troops to the area to protect them.
All this preparation took time, but eventually a force of about 1000 Colombian troops set out in boats and travelled all round the coast and up the Amazon through Brazil towards the Amazon Trapeze and Leticia.
However, when it came to attacking, Colombia decided it couldn’t attack the town. This was because Leticia was on the Colombian side of the river, but the other side of the River was Brazilian territory.
That meant half the river was Brazilian territory. So if the boats fired on the town from the wrong half of the river – it would be military action taken from with in Brazil, which would have been an international incident.
So instead they travelled up to a town on the Putamayo river called Tarapacá, which had also been occupied by Peruvians. On February 14-15 They attacked the town of Tarapacá.
Remarkably, the Peruvians held out for a while, and there were 17 Colombian casualties to none of the Peruvians. The Pervian Lt. Gonzalo Díaz ordered a retreat when they ran out of ammunition, leaving the town back in Colombian hands.
Next the Colombians attack and seize the Peruvian stronghold of Gueppi which they manage to do on March 27 1933.
But everything changed on n 30 April 1933, when Peruvian President Sánchez was shot dead. His successor, Óscar Benavides, was not at all keen on war and in an effort to sort all this out, they suggested turning the problem over to the League of Nations. Colombia agrees.
For a while, the whole area was handed over to be controlled by the league itself, which meant in practice that Colombian troops operated in the area, but they were commanded by the League of Nations
At the end of the negotiations, the disputed area was officially declared to be part of Colombia on June 19, 1934 and the Salomón–Lozano Treaty remained in force.
In order to save some face from the whole affair, the Peruvians agreed to leave, but they managed to maintain their promise not to lower the Peruvian flag from the town they had taken. A letter from the Peruvian ambassador to the American Secretary of State, July 7th, 1933 says,
“The Peruvians have derived considerable satisfaction over the way in which the Peruvian flag was removed from Leticia. A great deal had been made in the country over promises never to haul down the Peruvian flag at that port. It appears from the attached clipping that the flag was not hauled down but that the flag pole with the flag attached was taken up and carried across the river to Peruvian territory, where it was replaced in the ground with the flag still flying.”
The first journalist in Colombia murdered for doing his job
La Voz de Caldas, was a newspaper in Manizales , in the Caldas region of Colombia which had been going for about 13 years. The founder of the newspaper was a man named Eudoro Galarza Ossa, a journalist.
On the 10th of October Of 1938 in the paper published a story of bad behaviour by a military officer, who assaulted one of his men.
“the official Mr. Jesus Maria Cortes slapped the soldier Mr. Roberto Restrepo and then throwing him from the first floor of the barracks to the patio. The soldier suffered serious blows.”
In response Mr. Jesus Maria Cortes showed up at the offices of the paper, demanding to see who is responsible for the article. Galarza claims responsibility.
He reads the first paragraph of the article and says to Cortes, is that true? Cortes agrees it is.
He reads the second paragraph. Same questions. Cortes again admits it is true.
He reads the third, same question, same response.
But despite acknowledging that it is all true, Cortes demand it be rectified. Galarza offers to publish a letter from Cortes. But Cortes isn’t happy with this either.
Galarza reiterates his offer and holds out his hand to say goodbye to Cortes, but Cortes responds "We're going to fix this now.” He pulls out a gun, and shoots Galarza three times.
Galarza is rushed to a medical facility, but they can’t do anything, and Galarza dies.
Thus Galarza became the first Journalist in Colombia in history killed for doing his job. But sadly not the last.
But the story continues. The case then goes to trial. Cortes does not deny killing Galarza, nor does he deny the truth of the original article.
He has as his representative, a man named Jorge Eliécer Gaitán a lawyer and politician who had been Minister for Education and Labour and was a mayor of Bogota
By the time the case comes to court, fully 10 years later, Gaitan is actually a candidate in the race for President of Colombia. But still, he is defending Cortes
The defence he comes up with is “legitimate defense of military honor”.
This defence actually worked. Gaitan’s arguments convinced Judge Perepe, who in April 1948 acquitted Lieutenant Jesús María Cortés.
Gaitan might have been pleased with his achievements, but he didn’t have long to enjoy it, because the very next day, he was assassinated.
A few months later, the Vos De Caldas newspaper closed down.
Forty years later, a journalist asked Cortes how he now thought about the affair. His response, “I told him that if this situation were repeated he would kill him again and told me firmly that yes.”
Meanwhile, the assassination of Gaitan triggered La Violencia in Colombia, so it was unhappily ever after for pretty much everybody.