The kaleidoscopic, often turbulent and bloody story of Colombian politics after 1930 remains intriguing, incompletely told, and hotly debated, in both academic and political circles. In an attempt to explain events, from the end of the Conservative hegemony to the end of the National Front, mainly to Colombians themselves, Carlos Ronderos Torres, of Bogotá’s Universidad Javeriana, in cooperation with Cine Colombia, has prepared this combination of “oral” and “documentary” history. The heart of the production is a series of interviews, “the testimony of 33 important and influential protagonists in our Colombian political history,” which are interspersed with film clips (or still shots) from the era under consideration, linked by the comments of an anonymous narrator. The title gives the dates 1930-74, but the accompanying booklet notes correctly that coverage begins in the 1920s and ends in 1970.

The video—I watched the VHS version, which runs four hours on a single cassette—is both fascinating and frustrating. Although it is valuable to have this record of so many prominent Colombian leaders (or their relatives) offering their perspectives on historical events and personalities, the production is mostly “talking heads,” which requires great patience to follow. Also, while Alfonso López Michelsen and Julio César Turbay Ayala speak at length, one wonders why Misael Pastrana Borrero and Carlos Lleras Restrepo, among others, are missing. Likewise, typical of much Colombian historiography, the program centers on elite politics (with minimal comment on classes, masses, etc.), and on Bogotá, the latter an especially inadequate situation when dealing with such key issues as the Violencia (whether in the early 1930s or after 1946), the rising opposition to the Rojas dictatorship, and later guerrilla insurgencies. Finally, too little is said about the international context of Colombian politics, from the Good Neighbor Policy through World War II, the cold war, and the Cuban Revolution.

Some topics receive significant and welcome attention: the Leticia War with Peru and its meaning for Colombia; the Mamatoco incident and its impact on the second Alfonso López Pumarejo administration; the 1946 Liberal split (Gloria Gaitán insists that her father wanted the Liberals to lose that election); the background to April 9, 1948; and the complicated processes by which Gustavo Rojas Pinilla first came to power and was subsequently removed.

Although the “protagonists” represent various parties, professions, ideologies, and generations, the total package has, for me, a decidedly (in the Colombian context) Liberal slant. For example, its view of the 1920s and the election of 1930 is critical of the Conservative leadership, while its depiction of the successful presidential candidate, Enrique Olaya Herrera, is generally favorable. Throughout, its image of Laureano Gómez is strikingly negative (could it be otherwise?), except in the comments by his son, Álvaro Gómez Hurtado. Later, the question of fraud in the 1970 election is conveniently soft-pedaled. Meanwhile, perhaps the best defenses of Conservative leadership are provided by the irrepressible Bertha Hernández de Ospina Pérez.

In technical terms, the video is generally good. The sound track is excellent; the narrator and most of the “protagonists” speak slowly and clearly. The visual part, however, is of mixed quality. Many of the inserted documentary clips are blurred and jumpy, and often there is no description of the specific location and nature of the events filmed. Because the topics are complex and interconnected and no graphics are provided, chronology and dating are also, at times, confused or lacking, in the interviews as well as the clips. In addition, there is no indication of precisely when and under what circumstances the interviews were conducted.

Whatever its limitations, this is a unique resource, especially for persons with prior background in modern Colombian history, useful for both graduate teaching and research. Ideally, similar projects should be planned for other countries, though with a bit more effort at balance and clarification of detail.