Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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Bogotá Conference (1948)

International meeting convened in Bogatá, Colombia, on 30 March 1948 as the Ninth International Conference of American States. U.S. Secretary of State George C. Marshall officially opened the conference, which built on decisions reached at the earlier Pan-American conferences in Mexico City (1945) and Rio de Janeiro (1947). Those meetings had begun planning for the inter-American defense system. Multilateral defense in the Americas was a major U.S. concern, and at the 1947 Rio de Janeiro conference, the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance had already been signed by nineteen states in the Americas.

The Bogotá Conference addressed a key sticking point in U.S.–Latin American relations in the early Cold War period. At the time, the United States was focused on the perceived Soviet threat in Europe and wanted to secure its southern flank by encouraging a formal and binding hemispheric mutual security pact. But most Latin American states were put off by Washington's military fixation and instead looked to the United States for economic and developmental assistance. This tension had become most apparent in 1945 at the Chapultepec Conference. Latin America's growing dismay with U.S. policy since the 1945 Chapultepec meeting had effectively blocked Washington's plans to create a hemispheric defense arrangement within the newly established Organization of American States (OAS).

Nevertheless, the Bogotá Conference did accomplish a key U.S. objective with the issuance of an explicitly anticommunist declaration that was unanimously approved by all conference delegates. Also mapped out, at least on paper, was a mechanism for the exchange of information among police and intelligence forces on communist threats in each nation. The Bogotá Conference also witnessed the establishment of the OAS as a regional grouping with the new United Nations (UN).

The Bogotá Conference is also rather infamous for the dramatic political events that accompanied the meeting in Colombia. While the conference was in session, Colombian politician and Liberal Party leader Jorgé Gaitán was assassinated on 9 April. Gaitán's murder set off popular uprisings all across Bogotá. The Bogotá insurrection inaugurated the period in Colombian history known as La Violencia (The Violence), during which time the country's two major political parties, the Liberals and the Conservatives, fought savage political and armed battles in rural areas throughout the 1950s and early 1960s.

In the streets of Bogotá, angry mobs lynched Gaitán's assassin. Part of the crowd breached the Capitol Building where the conference was being held, forcing its temporary suspension. Both the United States and the Colombian government accused local communists of having incited the riots.

The Bogotá Conference's greatest legacy was perhaps the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, which was the world's first human rights declaration. It would directly influence the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, enunciated later that year.

Barry Carr


Further Reading
Connell-Smith, Gordon. The Inter-American System. London: Oxford University Press, 1966.
 

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