The 19th of April Movement (in Spanish: Movimiento 19 de Abril) or M-19, was a Colombian guerrilla movement. After its demobilization it became a political party, the M-19 Democratic Alliance (Alianza Democrática M-19), or AD/M-19.
The M-19 traced its origins to the allegedly fraudulent presidential elections of 19 April 1970. In those elections, the National Popular Alliance (ANAPO) of former military dictator Gustavo Rojas Pinilla was denied an electoral victory.
The ideology of the M-19 was a mixture of nationalistic revolutionary socialism and populism. It was inspired by other South American urban guerrilla groups, such as the Tupamaros in Uruguay and the Montoneros in Argentina.
By mid-1985, when the number of active members was estimated at between 1,500 and 2,000 (including a more noticeable urban presence), the M-19 was the second largest guerrilla group in Colombia after the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. It had become known for carrying out a number of actions that provoked conflicting feelings of amazement and anger among the different sectors of Colombian public opinion.
The M-19's history may be divided into two parts: the first was a failed armed revolutionary struggle during the early to mid-1980s, while the second was a relatively constructive reincorporation into civil society and political life during the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Among the actions performed by the M-19, some significant events stand out. In a highly symbolic action, the M-19 stole one of Simón Bolívar's swords from a museum in 1974, an event which was used by the group to symbolize what they called a civilian uprising against a regime perceived as unjust. On New Year's Eve 1979, the group dug a tunnel into a Colombian Army weapons depot, taking over 5000 weapons. It was considered one of the first signs of the group's true potential for armed action. In February 1976, the M-19 kidnapped the union leader Jose Raquel Mercado, who was the president of Confederation of Workers of Colombia (CTC), and on 19 April 1976, executed him. The event shocked the country. The group accused Mercado of taking bribes and collaborating with the CIA.
The group is also recognized for other high-profile activities, such as the Dominican embassy siege. The guerrillas stormed the Dominican Republic's embassy during a cocktail party on 27 February 1980. They took the largest recorded number of diplomats held hostage to date in Colombia, which accounted for 14 ambassadors, including the United States'. Eventually, after tense negotiations with the government of Julio César Turbay Ayala, the hostages were peacefully released and the hostage takers were allowed to leave the country for exile in Cuba. Some of them later returned and actively rejoined the M-19's activities. Many contemporary rumors and later accounts from the participants in this event have suggested that the Colombian government might have submitted to another of the M-19 demands, by allegedly giving the group 1 to 2.5 million U.S. dollars in exchange for the release of the hostages.
During the government of Belisario Betancur (1982–1986), Jaime Bateman Cayón, by then top leader of the M-19, proposed a meeting in Panama with the Colombian government toward solving the conflict. But Bateman died on 28 April 1983 in an airplane accident, apparently while on the way to Panama, and the negotiations were suspended.
The negotiations culminated with the Agreements of Corinto, The Cauca. A ceasefire was agreed, as well as the continuation of dialogue for the future demobilization of the guerrilla detachment. Nevertheless, sectors of the army opposed the agreements, as much of The Uribe as those of Corinto were responsible for attacks against the life of the main leaders; Iván Marino Ospina, Antonio Navarro Wolff, Carlos Pizarro, Marcos Chalita, etc.
The M-19, as a guerrilla group, is also recognized for the Palace of Justice siege. In this attack, on 6 November 1985, some 300 lawyers, judges, and Supreme Court magistrates were taken hostage by 35 armed rebel commandos at the Palace of Justice, the building that houses the Supreme Court of Colombia. They demanded that president Belisario Betancur be tried by the magistrates for allegedly betraying the country's desire for peace. When this situation became publicly known, the Colombian Army surrounded the Palace of Justice's perimeter with soldiers and EE-9 Cascavel armored reconnaissance vehicles. For a short while, unsuccessful negotiations were attempted, but they reached nowhere, despite the desperate pleas that were transmitted telephonically by some of the notable hostages involved.
The Betancur administration and its council found themselves in a difficult position. They were not willing to submit to the rebels' demands, as they allegedly considered that this would set a further precedent for the M-19 and considerably jeopardize the government's position. Eventually, after tense discussions, it was decided during an emergency meeting that the military would be allowed to handle the situation and attempt to recover the Palace by force.
This led to a highly controversial turn of events which, to a lesser or greater degree, continues to be debated in Colombia to this date. In the ensuing heavy crossfire between the incoming soldiers and the entrenched rebels, which included supporting gunfire from the EE-9 Cascavels, the building was set aflame, more than 100 people died (including 11 of the country's 21 Supreme Court Justices), and valuable legal records were destroyed.
The M-19 lost several of its top commanders during the event, and blamed the government for the ensuing bloodshed. The surviving civilian victims and their families held different positions; some blamed the M-19, some blamed the Betancur administration, many blamed both. There is apparently no clear consensus on the matter.
Ana Carrigan alleged against the widely accepted version that drug lords, such as Pablo Escobar, may have masterminded the operation in order to get rid of several criminal investigations recorded in the documents lost during the event. A Special Commission of Inquiry, established by the Betancur government, released a June 1986 report which concluded that Escobar had no relation with this event, so these allegations could not be proven (though it did not rule out the possibility either). Carrigan alleged that the act was a conspiracy of the Colombian government. Others state that the alleged Guerrilla-Cartel relation was unlikely to occur because the two organizations had several standoffs and confrontations, like the kidnapping of Nieves Ochoa, the sister of Medellin cartel founder Juan David Ochoa, by M-19. The kidnapping led to the creation of the MAS/Muerte a Secuestradores ("Death to Kidnappers") paramilitary group by the Medellin cartel. However, her conspiracy theories and skepticism of Escobar and the Medellin Cartel's involvement was greatly discredited by others such as Rex Hudson, who presented allegedly "overwhelming evidence" linking the cartel to the plot.
Former Assistant of the Colombia Attorney General, National Deputy Comptroller, author and Professor Jose Mauricio Gaona along with Former Minister of Justice and Ambassador to the United Kingdom Carlos Medellín Becerra, the sons of two of the murdered Supreme Court magistrates, have pushed for further investigations into the presumed links between the M-19 and the Medellín Cartel drug lords. Mayor of Bogota Gustavo Petro, a former M-19 guerrilla, has denied these accusations and dismissed them as based upon the inconsistent testimonies of drug lords. Petro says that the surviving members of the M-19 do admit to their share of responsibility for the tragic events of the siege, on behalf of the entire organization, but deny any links to the drug trade.
The M-19 eventually gave up its weapons, received pardons and became a political party in the late 1980s, the M-19 Democratic Alliance ("Alianza Democrática M-19", or (AD/M-19)), which renounced the armed struggle. Eventually the M-19 returned Bolívar's sword as a symbol of its demobilization and desire to change society through its participation in legal politics.
In 1990, one of its more prominent figures, presidential candidate and former guerrilla commander Carlos Pizarro Leongómez, while aboard an airline flight, was murdered by assassins, supposedly on the orders of drug cartel and paramilitary leaders (disappeared AUC commander Carlos Castaño publicly admitted his own responsibility for the murder in a 2002 book and interviews). Some of its other members were also subject to multiple threats or likewise murdered. Antonio Navarro Wolff replaced the deceased Pizarro as candidate and leader of the party, finishing third in that year's presidential race.
Despite the continuation of smaller scale violence against it, the AD/M-19 survived through the 1990s, achieved favorable electoral results on a local level and actively participated as a high-profile political force in the forging of Colombia's modern 1991 constitution, which replaced a conservative document ostensibly dating from 1886. Antonio Navarro was one of the three co-presidents of the Constituent Assembly of Colombia, together with representatives from the Colombian Liberal Party and the Colombian Conservative Party.
Several analysts consider that the AD/M-19 reached its peak at this point in time and, while never disappearing completely from the political background, it began to gradually decline as a party by its own although many of its ex-members have reached a first line influence in the Independent Democratic Pole coalition.