Diplomats Under Siege: The M-19 and the Dominican Embassy Takeover of 1980

2020-04-03T15:59:39Z (GMT) by Zakia Shiraz
More senior diplomats were taken hostage in the Dominican Embassy siege of 1980 than at any previous terrorist event. Sixteen members of the Colombian guerrilla group, the M-19, captured fifteen ambassadors, including the American ambassador, along with diplomats from across Latin America and held out for two months before flying to safety in Cuba with millions of dollars in ransom. Using approaches from Area Studies and Diplomatic History, this article deploys newly declassified material from the UK and US, oral history testimonies and interviews with former M-19 members in Colombia to explore how events in Bogotá marked a new trend towards highly visible and performative security ‘spectaculars’. It argues that in the short term, the Bogotá siege was successful for the M-19 because it delivered unprecedented national and international profile whilst demonstrating their affective acuity in rallying supporters to their cause. But in the long term, states were determined to avoid a repetition of this episode and other embassy attacks. Enhanced diplomatic security has become the norm while for some states it has paved the way for the now-familiar ‘fortress’ embassy. Importantly, the Bogotá case raises wider questions of how states, along with diplomatic captives, respond to hostage-taking. It highlights how the study of diplomacy can benefit from recent trends in performativity and emotions, offering a more global and interdisciplinary understanding of modern diplomatic practices and security.