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A. Lopez Michelsen, 94; ex-leader of Colombia sought hostages’ release

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Alfonso Lopez Michelsen, 94, whose Colombian presidency in the 1970s was marked by turbulence and who dedicated his final years to working for an agreement to free Colombia’s hostages, died Wednesday, said an aide in Bogota. Lopez Michelsen’s assistant, Luz Farieta de Castillo, declined to give the cause of death.

Born June 30, 1913, the son of Alfonso Lopez Pumarejo, who was president of Colombia from 1934 to 1938 and 1942 to 1945, Lopez Michelsen abandoned his career as a lawyer to enter politics.

As president from 1974 to 1978 while representing the dominant, centrist Liberal Party, he led Colombia through turbulent times, when a national strike gripped the country and rioting in Bogota left dozens dead.

He left office with little popular support, having failed to improve the economy and being hounded by persistent accusations of corruption from his opponents.

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Four years later, he sought re-election and was defeated by Belisario Betancur Cuartas.

Retired from politics, Lopez Michelsen analyzed Colombia’s political landscape in frequent columns for the Colombian newspaper El Tiempo and emerged as an unofficial mediator in Colombian conflicts.

In 1984, he met with drug lord Pablo Escobar in Panama in an unsuccessful attempt to broker an agreement that would see cocaine kingpins abandon their business.

In recent years, he was a firm advocate of a deal to swap all rebel-held hostages for imprisoned rebels, known as the “humanitarian agreement.” An estimated 3,000 Colombians are being held by various armed factions in the country.

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