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September 1989, Hilton and Hotel Tequendama Bombings, Colombia

In the 1980s, when Colombia was in the throes of a high intensity and ultra violent narcotics war, the drug cartels not only targeted politicians, the police, and the military, but also civilians. They struck shopping malls, pedestrians on the street, at least one airliner (Avianca Flight 203, 1989, 107 killed), and hotels.

Colombia is a much safer place now. Drug violence has subsided, and international business travel there is bustling. In fact, Hilton Worldwide announced in summer 2012 that it was expanding its business in Latin America, including Colombia, so reports World Property Journal. Hilton signed six franchise contracts, including for the Hampton Inn and Hilton hotel brands, with Colombia-based METRO Hotels. All six properties are slated to come online through to 2017. METRO Hotels’ Development Director, Felipe Galeano, said the Hilton deal was an ideal fit for Colombia’s “major and intermediate cities” market and that “it [combined] the perfect level of comfort, service, security and cost efficiency for the Colombian business traveler.”

For historical and practical purposes, however, a look back at two infamous hotel bombings in Colombia is merited.

On Monday night, 25 September 1989, a bomb exploded inside the Hilton Hotel in Cartagena. Two doctors that were attending a physician’s conference were killed, and at least one other person was wounded.

The blast reportedly originated in room 642 and caused significant damage to the 6th floor of the hotel. Some 1,500 guests were evacuated as firemen and police stabilized the situation. The majority owner of the hotel was then the Colombian government’s National Tourism Council. The attack appeared to be part of a violent campaign by the cartels that included more than 110 bombings in major Colombian cities over a time span of a few months. In fact, just minutes after the Hilton was struck, a device exploded at a Cartagena government bank, injuring one.

In response, Colombian security forces set up scores of roadblocks and checkpoints in and around Cartagena in attempts to improve security.

Ironically, two days later in Bogota, 300 travel and hospitality professionals of the National Corporation of Tourism gathered for a convention. One of their main subjects was how to improve Colombia’s tourism business.

To add insult to injury, a mere day after the conference, the cartels bombed yet another hotel: Bogota’s Hotel Tequendama (part of the Intercontinental chain and at the time Bogota’s biggest hotel), on Friday, 29 September. This attack was via car bomb parked in the Tequendama’s parking garage. The device contained 40 kilograms of dynamite. The explosion damaged the parking garage and destroyed multiple vehicles, but injured no one.

These attacks demonstrate the importance of heightened security in regions where drug violence proliferates, even when hotels are not common targets. This was certainly the case in Colombia for several years, but as the Colombian and US governments’ interests clashed with those of the cartels, the cartels widened their targeting regimens to include high profile civilian assets and venues in attempts to force Bogota and Washington to back off their anti-narcotics/law enforcement campaign. The Hilton and Tequendama were casualties of this clash.

Copyright © Muir Analytics 2015

Sources and further reading:

“Tentative accord reached on funding Bush’s drug war,” Austin American Statesman, 26 September 1989.

“Roadblocks up in Bogota after blasts,” The Globe and Mail, 30 September 1989.

“Colombian sees possible legalization of drugs,” Chicago Tribune, 26 September 1989.

“Once-Booming Cartagena Hoping Bush Visit Will Lure Back Tourists,” Los Angeles Times, 13 February 1990.

“Hotel bomb blast in Colombia town kills two people,” Houston Chronicle, 26 September 1989.