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How Luis Carlos Galan Was Killed in Colombia

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During the 1980’s, Colombia was flooded with corruption and cronyism mostly headed by Narco mafias who with their drug trafficking money got involved in the country’s political and social systems. As a result, Colombians found themselves submerged in a period of violence and insecurity; many public leaders, who confronted the drug cartels and suggested an extradition treaty with the Unites States, were threatened, blackmailed and even murdered. During the summer of 1989, the Liberal Party, wanting to put a definite halt to this situation, announced Luis Carlos Galan as their candidate for the 1990 elections. Galan, “was outspoken in his criticism of Narco-trafficking gangs in Colombia, and put an initiation of an extradition treaty with the U.S.A and a total crack-down on organized crime as top priorities for his presidency” (Corbett). Galan deliberated rallies throughout the country, always highlighting those that were the priorities for his administration and quickly became not only the main contender in the polls, but the face of hope for millions of Colombians. On the evening of August 18, 1989, in the town of Soacha, seconds before delivering his speech, Galan “was machine-gunned from an assassin in the crowd while walking onto the stage in a crime witnessed by around 10,000 people” (Corbett).

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In a matter of seconds, the aspirations and expectations of millions in Colombia came trembling down. Trying to imagine a bright future for the country was not easy, and now, that the person, who had inspired millions of them and had convinced them that the drug war would soon be over, was no longer there, it was mission impossible. Deciphering an answer to why would somebody commit such crime and lead a whole nation into one of its bloodiest and most violent periods has been a very difficult task, but maybe a couple of criminological theories might aid this process. Rational choice theory and the subculture of violence are two of many individual-level theories of crime, which might help the world understand the reasons behind Galan’s assassination.

During the Age of Enlightment, as a reaction to old supernatural theories and harsh punishments used by the criminal justice system of the 1700s, Cesare Beccaria and other classical theorists came up with the first scientific explanation for crime, known as classical theory. This theory states “people act in rational manner, choosing those actions that result in the greatest pleasure and least pain [and that] people will be deterred from crime if the pain associated with punishment outweighs the pleasure associated with crime” (Cornish and Clarke 20). Since the classical theory accepts the idea that all people are equally motivated to engage in crime and all are equally rational, Ronald V. Clarke and Derek B. Cornish come up with an updated version of this theory recognized as rational choice theory.

Rational choice theory acknowledges that offenders benefit from criminal activity by their own choices and decisions, but it specifies that this decision-making process is influenced by “a measure of rationality, albeit constrained by limits of time and availability of relevant information” (Cornish and Clarke 410). In other words, the theory recognizes that not everyone is equally rational and that people measure differently the costs and benefits of getting involved in crime. Rational choice theory also adopts a crime specific focus meaning that Cornish and Clarke are aware that different situations and choices lead to different crimes and they argue that “to ignore these differences might well be to reduce one’s ability to identify fruitful points for intervention” (Cornish and Clarke 422). Lastly, “rational choice theorists argue that a complete explanation of crime must distinguish between “criminal involvement” and “criminal events” where the first one is deciding whether to engage in crime or not and the second one refers to the moment the crime happens (Cornish and Clarke 411).

On the other hand, the subculture theories suggest how there is something different about cultures in some communities that might help explain why people engage in criminal activity. American delinquency theorists of the first half of the 20th century helped “develop the concept of a criminal subculture and link it to social problems such as poverty and inequality” (Services and Rashmee). These early subcultural theories were mainly influenced by the economic prosperity of the middle class experienced at post-war periods therefore questioning oppositional or negativistic viewpoint as well as crime-embracing values. It wasn’t until the late 1960s that Marvin E. Wolfgang and Franco Ferracuti developed a subculture of violence thesis in which they discussed the idea that lower socioeconomic class populations had higher rates of violence.

In this thesis, Wolfgang and Ferracuti stated that these higher rates of violence could be due to the pro-violent values that rise within a likely minded group of people who are against the larger dominant culture to which they belong, along with its values and norms. According to the report, these subcultures use violence as a response to threats towards their reputation and honor. It is used as a social control mechanism for protection and survival where all members of the subculture are required to engage in violence. As it can be expected, offenders within a subculture of violence participate in violence very frequently, with little hassle and almost no guilt (Wolfgang and Ferracuti). Wolfgang and Ferracuti concluded that this specific tension in violence “is a collective phenomenon, a normal experience for poor, non-white men” (Services and Rashmee) that are part of this particular division.

In addition, Elijah Anderson supports Wolfgang and Ferracuti’s statements. On his work Code of the Street, Anderson explains how where subcultures come from is directly related to its content and suggests an informal governing set of rules known as “code of the streets.” The code encourages people to engage in violence and crime in order to maintain their honor and defend their reputation (Anderson).

As it is evident, both of these theories, rational choice and subculture of violence, provide explanations for individual-level crime and take into account the importance of the situations under which people find themselves in and how these affect the decisions they make. According to rational choice theory, there are existing constraints that make individuals act accordingly and a number of factors that influence as well their evaluations of the costs and benefits of crime like their “level of self-control, moral beliefs, strains, emotional state and association with delinquent peers” (Cornish and Clarke). Being part of a subculture of violence will definitely have an impact in the choices an individual make. Belonging to one, involves the embracement of specific values and sharing of moral beliefs, which are examples of these features that influence a person’s estimate of the costs and benefits of engaging in crime. Consequently, theories of subcultures can definitely be related to the issues and constraints presented in rational choice theory.

According to Colombia Reports’ article regarding Luis Carlos Galan, Jhon Jairo Velasquez, alias Popeye, confessed he was the assassin in the crowd responsible for Galan’s death. He admitted to have shot the presidential candidate as an order from his boss, famous drug lord and head of the Medellin cartel, Pablo Escobar. Popeye recognized that Pablo Escobar “became increasingly concerned by the possibility of Galan being elected president, and the high chance of an extradition treaty being signed with the U.S.A [and] after some deliberation Popeye reports he was given the go ahead to murder Galan” (Corbett). The article also illustrates how Galan’s campaign became an immediate threat to Colombia’s drug cartels and “declared himself the enemy of Pablo Escobar” (Corbett).

In line with rational choice theory, Escobar looked to increase pleasure and decrease pain. Increasing pleasure for him, would have been murdering Galan because this would definitely decrease his pain, which in this case could be considered as his fear of Galan becoming president and the probability of an extradition treaty with the United States being signed as the article explicitly states. But, because

Rational choice theory recognizes that individuals are not fully—rational although states that individuals do take some account of the costs and benefits of crime; it define these costs and benefits quite broadly; and it recognizes that a range of factors influence individuals’ estimates of these costs and benefits (Cornish and Clarke 410).

This means, that before engaging in Galan’s assassination, Escobar would have to consider these factors and weigh the costs and benefits this decision would produce referring to rational choice theory’s stage of “criminal involvement”. As mentioned before, two of these factors are moral beliefs and association with delinquent peers, also two features linked with the subcultural theory of violence.

As the subculture of violence theory addresses, people within this distinct division will share “pro-violent values that develop in opposition to dominant or middle-class norms and values” (Services and Rashmee). Pablo Escobar, the Medellin cartel and all the other drug cartels at the time in Colombia, would perfectly classify as a subculture of violence. Their illegal drug trafficking would act as their opposition towards the broader culture, in this case, the Colombian government who would also be their threat and in response to these threats, members of the subcultural group would react with violent acts in order to maintain their honor and reputation.

In this case, Galan was a real threat for Escobar since, as the article also states, the presidential candidate declared himself Escobar’s enemy, and an enemy would be a threat for anyone’s survival. In order to protect him, maintain his honor and increase his pleasure, Escobar’s wisest decision, based on rational choice and subculture of violence theories, was to kill Galan. As Colombia Reports’ article shows, it was not Escobar himself who performed the crime, but one of his hit mans. As Wolfgans and Ferracuti’s subculture of violence thesis indicates, all members of the group are expected to engage in violence and they were so used to it that no guilt was felt afterwards. It is important to point out that rational choice theorists would recognize the moment Popeye pulls the trigger and shoots Galan, as the “criminal event.”

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In cease, the article published by Colombia Reports, implicitly contains similar explanations for the causes of Luis Carlos Galan’s assassination. Both the article and the theories are reacting to a same social context where the inclination of violence springs because of the circumstances under which a person lives and these circumstances have a great impact on individuals’ decision-making. As presented, being part of a culture where violence is predominant and specific morals are internalized, evidently affects the way people act and influence the decisions they make. Galan’s murder can be justified by both, rational choice and subculture of violence theories since, as demonstrated above, the main ideas and elements of both can easily be connected to this specific crime and the examples provided in the article.

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How Luis Carlos Galan Was Killed in Colombia. (2019, March 12). GradesFixer. Retrieved May 27, 2023, from
“How Luis Carlos Galan Was Killed in Colombia.” GradesFixer, 12 Mar. 2019,
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