centenary of a humanist with a universal vocation

Belisario Betancur was an authentic man in his essence, a statesman of deep culture and, finally, a universal humanist who loved the Spanish language and Latin. The process of construction and self-improvement of Belisario Betancur constitutes an obligatory reference point, as it bears witness to an unusual willpower and tenacity, particularly in these times, since he was accompanied by the desire to go ahead, even at through all the vicissitudes that crossed his path.

Its origin, beginning with its name, since it bears the name of the most famous general in the history of the Byzantine Empire, who, according to some apocryphal legends, ended up blind by order of the Emperor Justinian, is linked to reading, because his father, as he himself recounted, took the name Belisario from some reading of that time and baptized his eldest son that way, who when he died as a child left the name vacant and his father gave it to the new son that came to the family. Thus, bearing the name of a battle-hardened general prepared him to face the battle of life in Colombia.

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He considered himself the son of a muleteer and in an interview he recounted that thanks to those trips with his father and his friends, along the roads of Antioquia, he discovered and fell in love with literature. It was on those transhumance trips where he came into contact with the oral tradition of his elders, and he always kept that innate joy of the muleteers. Until the last of his days he continued to love the nostalgic flavor of small towns, as shown by both his work Declaration of love: the way of being Antioquia, like the fact that he chose Barichara to spend a large part of his later years.

It is not possible to ignore the words he pronounced at the United Nations Assembly: “I am not a technocrat,” I say wistfully, “but an old university professor who saw the face of hunger up close, who slept in parks and did all kinds of jobs to survive. I am, therefore, a child of underdevelopment and a survivor of that serious disease that is backwardness. I know, from personal experience, the joys and sorrows of that branch of the human lineage, the most extensive, the most long-suffering, and perhaps universally the wisest. With that wisdom I have spoken before this shocking audience; I have done it without messianic signs or any other claim than to have become president of my country through the free vote of my humble people, whose clear, resounding and frank language I have spoken to them”.

“That when they see me on the street they say: there goes Belisario, he was the president of peace.”

Not in vain, quoting the poet Eduardo Carranza, Belisario himself repeated many times, throughout our geography: “If my veins were torn, the name of Colombia would gush forth.” He was oblivious to all sectarianism, and the only sectarianism that accompanied him, as he used to say, was because of Colombia. On some occasion, Betancur pointed out: “The indefatigable task that is existence, if we want to give it a heartbeat and impetus for improvement, it summons us all around the homeland. We Colombians have before our eyes two antagonistic images, one of which will prevail, the one that we ourselves choose: the homeland of law, that of reflection, that of justice, the common homeland of reconciliation that marches in the right direction to the history, and the homeland at war, the one of hatred, the one of injustice, the homeland in ruins that walks blindfolded towards its own destruction”. Belisario Betancur left many teachings. His mandate, as he always pointed out, was marked by being a mandate of street, square, weather and democracy. How important it would be to consult his legacy in current times.

Thanks to the books that were his great passion, which he called his best friends, and to his intense intellectual labor, He held important positions in different national and international cultural and political organizations and was awarded several international awards and a doctorate. Honorary in different universities around the world. Testimony of his indelible mark was the Camina campaign. Special mention deserves the National Open and Distance University (Unad), which still exists and was a pioneer in virtual education. She held the high patronage of the Corporation for the Development of Complex Thought (Complexux), with the philosophers Edgar Morin and Fernando Savater. He was a personal friend of Gabriel García Márquez, José Saramago, Mario Vargas Llosa, Carlos Fuentes, Álvaro Mutis, and of the teachers Fernando Botero, Alejando Obregón and Enrique Grau; as well as important writers, poets and representatives of graphic-plastic expression in Colombia, that is, many great ones who shared his same obsessions.

When on some occasion Fernando Barrero, his press officer at the Palace, asked him how he wanted to be remembered when his government ended, his answer was immediate: “That when they see me on the street they say: there goes Belisario, he was the president of peace “. Like his admired Alberto Lleras, Betancur renounced the funeral honors that former presidents of the Republic receive and asked, as his last will, to be veiled at the facilities of the Colombian Academy of Language.

According to Heraclitus, memory is always a spark, the hinge of infinity, bathed in transience. With Betancur I evoke Borges when, with profound simplicity, he expressed: “Dead man, the enduring voice continues to sing and move.”


Lawyer and writer.