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Colombia - Government and Politics

SEVERAL FEATURES DISTINGUISH Colombia's political system from that of other Latin American nations. Colombia has a long history of party politics, usually fair and regular elections, and respect for political and civil rights. Two traditional parties--the Liberals and the Conservatives--have competed for power since the midnineteenth century and have rotated frequently as the governing party. Colombia's armed forces have seized power on only three occasions--1830, 1854, and 1953--far less often than in most Latin American countries. The 1953 coup took place, moreover, only after the two parties--unable to maintain a minimum of public order-- supported military intervention. Colombia's conservative Roman Catholic Church traditionally has been more influential than the military in electing presidents and influencing elections and the political socialization of Colombians.

Some analysts of Colombian political affairs have noted that in the 1980s the military gradually began to assume a larger decisionmaking role, owing to the inability of the civilian governments to resolve critical situations, such as the sixty-one-day terrorist occupation of the Dominican Republic embassy in 1980. The military had become somewhat more assertive in national security decision making as a result of the growing and more unified guerrilla insurgency and increasing terrorism of drug traffickers (narcotraficantes). Nevertheless, Colombia's long tradition of military subordination to civilian authority did not appear to be in jeopardy in late 1988. When military leaders attempted to challenge civilian authority on several occasions in the 1970s and 1980s, the incumbent president dismissed them.

A contradictory feature of Colombia's long democratic tradition is its high level of political violence (six interparty wars in the nineteenth century and two in the twentieth century). An estimated 100,000 Colombians died in the War of a Thousand Days (1899-1902), and 200,000 died in the more recent period of interparty civil war called la violencia, which lasted from 1948 to 1966. According to Colombian Ministry of National Defense statistics, an additional 70,000 people had died in other political violence, mainly guerrilla insurgencies, by August 1984. This violence included left-wing insurgency and terrorism, right-wing paramilitary activity, and narcoterrorism. For most of the fortyyear period following the 1948 Bogotazo (the riot following the assassination of Jorge Eli�cer Gait�n, in which 2,000 were killed), Colombia lived under a constitutionally authorized state of siege (estatuto de seguridad) invoked to deal with civil disturbances, insurgency, and terrorism. In mid-1988 many Colombian academics who studied killings by drug smugglers, guerrillas, death squads, and common criminals believed that the government was losing control over the country's rampaging violence. They noted that even if the guerrillas laid down their arms, violence by narcotics traffickers, death squads, and common criminals would continue unabated.

Scholars, such as Robert H. Dix, have attributed the nation's violent legacy in part to the elitist nature of the political system. The members of this traditional elite have competed bitterly, and sometimes violently, for control of the government through the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party, which changed its name to the Social Conservative Party in July 1987. These parties cooperated with each other only when the position of the upper class seemed threatened. Unlike their counterparts in other Latin American countries, Colombia's Christian democratic, social democratic, and Marxist parties were always weak and insignificant. Constitutional amendments and the evolution of Colombia's political culture reinforced its highly centralized and elitist governmental system. The elites managed to retain control over the political system by co-opting representatives of the middle class, labor, and the peasantry.

A number of Colombianists also contended that the traditional parties had impeded modernization. The fact that the guerrilla movement was still strong in the late 1980s, after four decades of "armed struggle," manifested to some scholars the elitist nature of Colombian politics. For Bruce Michael Bagley, the guerrilla insurgency was only the most visible "dimension of a far deeper problem confronting the Colombian political system: the progressive erosion of the regime's legitimacy" as a result of its failure "to institutionalize mechanisms of political participation." Bagley also saw the legitimacy problem reflected in rising levels of voter abstention and mass political apathy and cynicism, as well as declining rates of voter identification with either of the traditional parties and the emergence of an urban swing vote. This view notwithstanding, since the mid-1960s the elites dominating the two-party system usually have accommodated gradual change in order to preserve stability. For example, Colombia took a major step toward breaking with its elitist political tradition and modernizing the country's political structures by holding its first direct, popular elections for mayors in early 1988.

Although some political accommodation had occured, the Colombian government has been less successful in reducing economic inequality. During the 1980s, approximately 20 percent of the population controlled 70 percent of income. Rural poverty was particularly pronounced, with per capita income barely reaching half the national average. Analysts generally believed that these economic factors helped spawn political violence.



Constitutional Development

Since declaring its independence from Spain in 1810, Colombia has had ten constitutions, the last of which--adopted in 1886-- established the present-day unitary republic. These constitutions addressed three important issues: the division of powers, the strength of the chief executive, and the role of the Roman Catholic Church. The issue of a strong central government versus a decentralized federal system was especially important in the nation's constitutional development. The unitary constitutions of 1821 and 1830--inspired by President Sim�n Bol�var Palacio--gave considerable power to the central government at the expense of the departmental governments. Between these Bolivarian constitutions and the 1886 version, however, three additional federal constitutions granted significant powers to administrative subdivisions known as departments (departamentos) and provided for the election of departmental assemblies.

In settling the federal-unitary debate, the 1886 Constitution specifies that sovereignty resides in the nation, which provides guarantees of civil liberties. These include freedoms of religion, speech, assembly, press, and education, as well as the rights to strike, petition the government, and own property within limits imposed by the common welfare. (The 1853 constitution already had abolished slavery, instituted trial by jury, and enlarged the franchise to include all male citizens over the age of twenty-one.) The Constitution, by noting that labor is a social obligation-- protected by the state--guarantees the right to strike, except in the public service. The Constitution, as amended, also gives all citizens a legal right to vote if they are at least eighteen years old, have a citizenship card, and are registered to vote. The Constitution prohibits members of the armed forces on active duty, members of the National Police, and individuals legally deprived of their political rights from participating in any political activities, including voting. Individuals holding administrative positions in the government also are barred from political activities, although they can vote.

A second constitutional issue has been the strength of the chief executive's office, especially the presidential use of emergency powers to deal with civil disorders. The 1821 constitution authorized the president to appoint all governmental officials at both the national and the local levels. The 1830 constitution further strengthened executive powers by creating the Public Ministry, which enabled the president to supervise judicial affairs. The 1832 and 1840 constitutions allowed the president to assume additional powers during a national emergency. The federal constitutions of 1853 and 1863, however, limited presidential control by granting many powers to the territorial departments, by allowing offices to be filled by election rather than appointment, and by depriving the president of authority to assume additional emergency powers. The 1886 Constitution establishes three branches of government--the executive, legislature, and judiciary--with separation of powers and checks and balances. Nonetheless, policy- making authority rests almost exclusively with the executive branch of government, specifically with a president who is both with chief executive and head of state.

The 1886 Constitution restored strong executive powers primarily through the president's ability to invoke a state of siege under Article 121 and a state of emergency (estatuto de emergencia) under Article 122. The president may declare a state of siege for all or part of the republic in the event of foreign war or domestic disturbance. Such a declaration, however, requires the signatures of all of the government's thirteen ministers. A 1961 constitutional amendment also requires that Congress remain in permanent session during a state of siege, although it may not contravene the president's decrees. Under a state of siege, a president may issue decrees having the same force as legislation and may suspend laws incompatible with maintaining public order or waging war.

The relationship of the Roman Catholic Church to the state was a third constitutional issue. The 1832 and 1840 constitutions had affirmed the extraordinary position of the Roman Catholic Church. In contrast, the 1853 and 1863 constitutions, which guaranteed religious freedom and prohibited religious bodies from owning real estate, abolished the church's privileged status. The 1886 Constitution, as amended, guarantees freedom of religion and conscience but affords the Catholic faith preferential treatment. Article 53 authorizes the government to conclude agreements with the Holy See regulating functions between the state and the Roman Catholic Church on the "bases of reciprocal deference and mutual respect." The preamble to the amendments adopted by a national plebiscite in 1957 also notes the privileged position of the Roman Catholic Church, stating that the "Roman, Catholic and Apostolic Religion is that of the nation" and as such is to be "protected" and "respected" by the public powers of the state. Nevertheless, Article 54 of the Constitution prohibits Catholic priests from holding public office in areas other than education or charity.

The Constitution has undergone extensive and frequent amendments, the most significant of which included legislative acts in 1910, 1936, 1945, 1959, and 1968; a national plebiscite and legislative decrees in 1957; and economic reform in 1979. The amendment process was relatively simple, which may explain why it was used so extensively. Congress initially passed an amendment by adopting an act in two consecutive sessions, the first time by simple majority and the second by a two-thirds majority. The 1936 amendment requires a majority of those present and voting in the first session of the bicameral Congress and a majority of the total membership of both houses in the second session.

Amendments adopted in December 1968 reaffirm a president's ability to declare a state of emergency and allow the executive to intervene selectively in specific areas of the economy to prevent crises or facilitate development plans. A president must obtain the consent of the ministers before making such a declaration and specify, in advance, a time period not to exceed ninety days. It may be called only to deal with a specific economic or social crisis, during which the president is limited to issuing decrees dealing with the problem named in the announcement of the state of emergency. The president may also use these emergency measures to raise revenue, adopt short-term economic plans, or override any of the semiautonomous government agencies involved in the crisis.

The most important constitutional amendments resulted from the Sitges Agreement and the subsequent San Carlos Agreement, drawn up by Liberal and Conservative leaders together at meetings in 1957. These amendments were designed to impose bipartisan, noncompetitive rule for a sixteen- year period lasting until 1974. In May 1957, the two rival parties had united in the National Front coalition, which was envisioned as a bipartisan way to end la violencia and dictatorial rule. With the backing of the military, the National Front displaced the repressive regime of General Gustavo Rojas Pinilla (June 1953-May 1957). Although the military continued in power for a one-year transition period, the constitutional framework for a new governing system was institutionalized when the Colombian people overwhelmingly ratified the Sitges and San Carlos agreements in a national plebiscite in December 1957. The two parties governed jointly under the bipartisan National Front system from 1958 until 1974.

The 1957 amendments essentially changed the nature of the government from a competitive system characterized by intense party loyalties and political violence to a coalition government in which the two major parties shared power. The first three National Front presidents succeeded in keeping the peace between the parties and in committing the country to far-reaching social and economic reforms. By the mid-1960s, la violencia had been reduced largely to banditry and an incipient guerrilla movement. In addition to ending la violencia, the National Front provided security and stability for the governmental system. The old patterns of blind partisanship and interparty hostilities declined markedly and were replaced with dialogue among leaders of the two parties.

Under the 1957 amendments, the National Front mandated three principles of government. First, it alternated the presidency between the two parties in regular elections held every four years (alternaci�n). Second, it provided for parity (paridad) in elective and appointive positions at all levels of government, including cabinet and Supreme Court (Corte Suprema) positions not falling under the civil service, as well as the election of equal numbers of party members to local, departmental, and national assemblies. And third, it required that all legislation be passed by a two-thirds majority in Congress. The 1957 amendments also give women the same political rights as men, including the right to vote.

The 1968 constitutional reforms provided for a carefully measured transition from the National Front to traditional two- party competition. They also provided some measure of recognition for minority parties that previously were prohibited from participating in the government. The 1968 amendments additionally allowed for the "dismantling" (desmonte) of the National Front coalition arrangement by increasing executive powers in economic, social, and development matters.

The constitutional changes, particularly the abolition of the two-thirds majority requirement in both houses of Congress for the passage of major legislation, also affected the powers of Congress and its relationship with the president. Henceforth, the executive could more easily attain adoption of its legislative programs, although Congress could approve, delay, or veto an executive branch initiative. Other congressional changes included the creation of a special committee to deal with economic and social development plans; the extension of a representative's term from two to four years; and the adoption of amendments dealing with matters such as the length of sessions, meeting times, and the size of quorums. The 1968 reforms also ended, beginning in 1970, the parity requirement for legislative seats at the municipal and departmental levels.

Although the Sitges and San Carlos agreements' provisions for alternating the presidency and maintaining party parity in Congress ended in 1974 when both parties ran candidates for the presidency, parity in the bureaucracy continued for another four years. Beginning in 1978, presidents could select their cabinets and appoint other officials without consideration for party parity. Nevertheless, cabinet positions continued to be divided on the basis of Article 120 of the Constitution, which requires the president to give "adequate and equitable representation" in governmental positions to the major party not controlling the presidency. Liberal president Julio C�sar Turbay Ayala, who took office in 1978, and Conservative president Belisario Betancur Cuartas--elected in 1982--both gave half of their cabinet positions to rival party members. Although the practice ended after President Virgilio Barco Vargas assumed office in August 1986, another president could decide to revive it.

The 1968 amendments led to other important changes in the governmental system, such as widening the scope of governmental authority, particularly in the area of the economy. The revised Article 32 guarantees free enterprise and private initiative but puts the state "in charge of the general direction of the economy." This amendment allows the government to intervene in the production, distribution, utilization, and consumption of goods and services in a manner responsive to economic planning for integral development. It also authorizes the government to promote development and organize the economy, including controlling wages and salaries in both the public and the private sectors.

In 1988 the provisions of the 1886 Constitution, as amended, still governed Colombia. That February, however, President Barco responded to a wave of attacks by drug traffickers and guerrillas by launching an effort to rewrite the Constitution and make it a more effective weapon in the fight against violence. He also wanted to streamline the state to permit authorities to better deal with political and drug-related crimes. The leaders of various political parties and factions signed a political agreement, called the Nari�o House Accord (Acuerdo Casa de Nari�o), that signaled a consensus on the need to hold a national plebiscite on October 9, 1988, on the institutional reforms proposed by Barco. In announcing the agreement, Barco singled out as major problems the eroded faith in judges, the decreased credibility of Congress, and people's loss of hope about public administration. A national plebiscite had not been held in Colombia since 1957, when a constitutional provision banned referenda as a means of reforming the Constitution on major social, political, and economic issues.

Municipal elections held in March 1988 determined the party composition of a fifty-member panel, called the Institutional Readjustment Commission, whose purpose was to ask voters to approve constitutional changes in the planned October plebiscite. The Nari�o House Accord was suspended in April 1988, however, as a result of a decision by the Council of State (Consejo de Estado)-- the highest court on constitutional and administrative matters-- that the holding of a plebiscite would have raised a constitutional problem. According to the ruling, only Congress may revise the Constitution (a procedure that takes two years).

<>The President
<>The Legislature
<>The Judiciary
<>Public Administration
<>Local Government
<>The Electoral System

Colombia - The President

The president is elected every four years by direct popular vote and is constitutionally prohibited from seeking consecutive terms. A former president may, however, run again for the presidency after sitting out one term. The president must be a native-born Colombian at least fifty-five years of age and in full possession of his or her political rights. The Constitution also requires the president to have had previous service as a congressional or cabinet member, governor, or government official; as a university professor for five years; or as a practicing member of a liberal profession requiring a university degree.

As chief of state, the president oversees the executive branch of government, consisting of a thirteen-member cabinet, various administrative agencies, a developing bureaucracy, and more than 100 semiautonomous or decentralized agencies, institutes, and corporations, generally known as institutos decentralizados. These appointive powers allow the president to select the cabinet and the chiefs of all the administrative agencies without the approval of either house of Congress. Under Colombia's unitary system of government, the president also appoints and may remove the governors of the twenty-three territorial departments and the heads of the nine national territories (territorios). Unlike the departments, which have limited self-government, the national capital controls the territories directly through presidentially appointed officials.

Presidentially appointed commissions--composed of government, party, and interest group representatives--occasionally played an important role in policy making in the executive branch. Their findings were usually highly respected and often turned into pending legislation. Development-oriented and well-qualified technocrats (t�cnicos)--such as economists, agronomists, and engineers--also strengthened the executive branch in the 1980s by staffing important decentralized government agencies. These included the National Planning Department (Departamento Nacional de Planeaci�n), Monetary Board (Junta Monetaria), and the Colombian Institute of Agrarian Reform (Instituto Colombiano de Reforma Agraria--Incora). The expertise provided the president and his cabinet by the technocrats moderated the influence of powerful interest groups and enabled the chief executive to develop complex legislation. Although the semiautonomous or decentralized agencies extended the influence of the executive into most areas of society, they had gained substantial independence by the 1980s. The larger and more skilled staffs and international funding sources of many agencies, along with the inability of ministers to supervise closely the agencies under their purview, contributed to this independence.

In addition to administrative powers, the chief executive had considerable legislative authority. During normal times, the president may promulgate decrees with the force of law called decree-laws (decreto-leyes). Congress may also delegate the president authority to decree regulations in a particular area or on a pressing matter. For example, in 1964 the president, at the request of Congress, reorganized the courts and the judicial processes. Many of the president's legislative powers are derived from his constitutional authority to direct economic policy, draw up a budget, and submit economic development plans to Congress. After deciding on a policy initiative, the president normally asks a minister to prepare the specific legislative proposal. The legislature may reduce the president's proposed budget, but it may not add to it without the executive's consent. The Constitution also allows a president to declare certain matters "urgent," thereby requiring priority congressional attention (Article 91), and permits the cabinet ministers to participate in congressional debates (Article 134).

The Constitution obliges the president, as commander in chief of the armed forces and the National Police, to maintain law and order, defend the nation, and deal with domestic disturbances. The president may declare war with the consent of the Senate or, in the event of invasion, without such consent. The president is responsible for making peace, negotiating and ratifying peace treaties, and, also with the consent of Congress, making treaties with other nations.

Although the aforementioned Article 121 and Article 122 give the president considerable powers to deal with internal conflict or war through a declaration of a state of siege or emergency, the judiciary limited their use in the late 1980s. Exasperated by these restraints, President Barco complained in an address to the nation in January 1988 that the Supreme Court had issued a series of rulings that had "virtually eliminated the practical side of the state of siege." He noted that the court had declared unconstitutional at least ten state of siege decrees issued by the government. According to one ruling, the president may not invoke Article 122 without having specific and clear authorization in the laws, the Constitution, or people's rights. Another ruling emphasized that the president may not use the state of siege power if the government's objectives can be obtained with the existing laws. Furthermore, the court insisted that the government may not use Article 121 to rule in socioeconomic matters if the crisis can be dealt with under Article 122.

Although presidential powers in Colombia greatly exceeded those of Congress or the judiciary, they were not without political or social restraints as well. Presidents needed to deal with and maintain the support of the nation's politically conscious elites. Lacking a single autonomous power base, such as a mass party or military control, the president had to be responsive to an array of competing economic, social, religious, and political elites.

In the temporary or permanent absence or incapacity of the president, a presidential designate (primer designado) serves as acting president. The presidential designate, appointed every two years by Congress, receives no salary and has no executive function but may hold other public or private positions while serving as designate. In case of the president's resignation or permanent incapacity, the acting president must call new elections within three months. Should Congress fail to elect a designate, the foreign minister becomes responsible for acting as president in case of the incapacity, absence, death, or resignation of the president.

After the president, cabinet ministers were the next most powerful individuals in the government in the late 1980s. Each minister directed a particular ministry and various subordinate decentralized agencies and institutes. Nevertheless, Colombia's tradition of allowing yearly reshuffles of the cabinet hampered governmental performance.

Certain ministries had more status or importance than others, although their relative standing was not clear cut. The Ministry of Government was perhaps the most powerful. The minister of government exercised considerable authority over elections, consulted with the president on the selection of departmental governors, and acted as a liaison between the governors and the executive branch. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs probably ranked second in importance, not only because its head had a central role in conducting the nation's foreign relations but also because the incumbent was third in the line of succession to the presidency.

Other important and powerful ministries were the Ministry of National Defense, the Ministry of Justice, and the Ministry of Finance. The minister of national defense directed the armed forces and National Police, which in addition to their other duties were charged with maintaining public order during a state of siege. The Ministry of Justice had risen in influence by the mid-1980s as a result of the increased importance in United States-Colombian relations of the prosecution and extradition of narcotics traffickers. The Ministry of Finance has been consistently significant because of its responsibility for economic affairs. As economic planning became more important, this ministry's powers increased proportionately.

Colombia - The Legislature

The Constitution grants certain legislative powers to Congress in general, divides other powers between the two houses, and apportions others between Congress and the president. Legislative authority is vested in the bicameral Congress, consisting of the Senate (Senado), with 114 members, and the House of Representatives (C�mara), with 199 members. Each house has a president who is elected for sixty days. Congress convenes annually from July 20 through December 16, but the president may call it into special session at other times. The Constitution requires that Congress be called into session during a state of siege and after a state of emergency is declared.

Both houses of Congress have joint responsibility for initiating, amending, interpreting, and repealing legislation; inaugurating the president and selecting the presidential designate; selecting the membership of the Supreme Court; changing the boundaries of the territories, creating new departments, granting special powers to the departmental legislatures, and moving the location of the national capital; supervising the civil service and creating new positions in it; and setting national revenues, providing for payment of the national debt, and determining the nation's currency.

The House of Representatives chooses the attorney general from a list of nominees provided by the president, selects the comptroller general, supervises the budgetary and treasury general accounts, and initiates all legislation dealing with taxation. The Senate tries officials impeached by the House of Representatives, accepts the resignation of the president and the presidential designate, grants the president permission to leave the country temporarily, approves appointments of high-ranking military officers, and authorizes presidential declarations of war and the movement of foreign troops through the country.

Members of Congress are elected for four-year terms at the same time as the president, or within a few months of his election. They may be reelected indefinitely. House members must be at least twenty-five years old, and Senate members must be at least thirty. All members of Congress must be in full possession of their political rights. Members have parliamentary immunity and may not be arrested or prosecuted without the permission of the house in which they serve.

All the members of Congress are elected from the territorial departments and national territories on a proportional basis. Each department and national territory has two senators, plus an additional one for each 200,000 inhabitants. A minimum of two House members also are elected from each department, and national territory, plus an additional one for each 100,000 people. For every congressman elected, a congressional alternate (suplente) also is selected to serve as a department or national territory's representative in the absence of the congressman. Although geographically representative, congressmen-- as members of the upper middle class or the elite--have been unrepresentative of Colombian society.

High rates of turnover and absenteeism and a weak committee system were among the persistent problems that hindered congressional effectiveness. Congressional turnover was always high, ranging from 60 to 80 percent; few congressmen returned for a consecutive term, and even fewer served three terms. Absenteeism also was a chronic problem. Even with the alternate system, absenteeism was quite high, with an average of less than 75 percent of congressmen or their alternates present during voting, even on the most important issues. Absenteeism prevented Congress from approving many of Barco's proposals during the 1987 legislative session. Moreover, party discipline in both houses was weak, as evidenced by the numerous dissident factions within Congress. In 1988 a majority of congressmen belonged to Barco's Liberal Party (Partido Liberal--PL), but Barco was unable to control factional struggles in Congress. A Colombian political scientist described the situation as "parliamentary anarchy." Former President Misael Pastrana Borrero (1970-74) of the Conservative Party (Partido Conservador--PC), blamed the problem in Congress on Barco's failure to mobilize support for his program among his party's legislative majority. The committee system further weakened congressional effectiveness. The size of the eight existing committees varied, but they were usually large, met rarely, and made no use of subcommittees.

Committee chairmanships rotated, with a new chairman elected every month. The chairman's powers were limited essentially to presiding. After a congressman or government minister introduced a bill in either chamber, the congressional leadership referred it to one of the eight standing committees. If approved by the committee, it was reported back for a second reading to a plenary session of the house of origin, where a member of the committee guided it through debate. If approved by the full membership, the bill was forwarded to the other house, where it underwent the same process. Conference committees composed of members of both houses resolved legislative differences between the two houses.

Its formal powers notwithstanding, Congress lacked a dynamic legislative and policy-making role in the late 1980s. It did not initiate important legislation; rather, the executive, parties, or bureaucracy took the initiative in preparing legislation. Congress affected policy making only by delaying or modifying legislation. Nevertheless, Congress was not completely without power. Its power of interpellation allowed it to question cabinet members and public officials on the manner of implementing legislation. The congressional "watchdog" function served as a check against excesses by government agencies and the executive branch.

Furthermore, Congress exercised purview over the Public Ministry by appointing its director, the attorney general. Although lacking cabinet status, the attorney general was an important official with broad powers of intervention in the nation's political processes. The attorney general's ministry consisted of the prosecuting attorneys of the district superior, circuit, and lower courts. Public Ministry officials supervised the conduct of public employees and prosecuted those accused of crimes.

Colombia's Congress traditionally has been one of Latin America's most independent bodies vis-�-vis the executive. Beginning in the early 1980s, Congress assumed a somewhat more active role in policy making. For example, in 1984 it refused to participate in the National Dialogue that the Betancur government had pledged to hold with the country's guerrilla groups. Leaders of the Senate and House sent a message to President Betancur, stating that "Congress is the natural stage for solving the country's problems."

Occasionally, when Congress blocked proposals introduced by the executive, former presidents and other party chiefs convened a summit-style meeting among government officials and thereby resolved the policy issue. These meetings usually included the president and leaders of key political or congressional factions or interest groups opposing the legislation.

Colombia - The Judiciary

The judiciary consists of the Supreme Court, under which are the district superior, circuit, municipal, and lower courts, and the Council of State, which supervises a system of administrative courts that scrutinize acts and decrees issued by executive and decentralized agencies. The executive branch exercises some control over the judicial process through the Ministry of Justice and the Council of State. The Ministry of Justice is responsible for administering aspects of the legal and judicial system, such as the actual operation of the courts and penal system.

The Supreme Court is organized into four chambers dealing with civil, criminal, and labor appeals and with constitutional procedure. The first three chambers sit together as a Plenary Committee to resolve particularly important matters and government business. The Plenary Court's constitutional mandate grants it the authority to try high government officials for misconduct or violation of the laws, to deal with legal matters concerning foreign governments, and to address other cases assigned by law to the Supreme Court. It also rules on the constitutionality of legislation under Article 90, which permits the president to challenge the constitutionality of a law, and Article 124, whereby any citizen may claim that a conflict exists between legislation and the Constitution.

The Senate and the House of Representatives each appoints onehalf of the twenty-four-member Supreme Court from a list of nominees submitted by the president. Appointments are for life. The Supreme Court selects the members of the district superior courts, who, in turn, select magistrates for the lesser judicial positions in their districts. District magistrates serve five-year terms and may be reappointed indefinitely. Congress may remove from office a judge considered to be unfit because of conduct or age.

The Council of State has two functions. First, it acts as an advisory board to the president by drafting bills and codes concerned with administration and even by proposing legislative reforms in this area. Second, it acts as the supreme administrative tribunal, presiding over a hierarchy of courts that hears complaints against the government and public officials. With its power of judicial review over the constitutionality of administrative codes, decrees, and legislation, the Council of State is given equal rank with the Supreme Court in the judicial structure. Half of the Council of State's ten members are elected biannually for four-year terms from a list submitted to Congress by the president.

The country is divided into judicial districts, each of which has a superior court of three or more judges. District superior courts supervise the lower municipal, circuit, juvenile, and specialized courts. The lower courts are distributed on a departmental basis. At the lower levels, the court system still tended to be overburdened and slow in the late 1980s; juries were used infrequently. The Constitution also establishes one administrative court for each department to hear complaints brought by individuals against officials of the executive branch and the public service. These courts are part of an administrative hierarchy headed by the Council of State.

Public Ministry attorneys have the same rank, receive the same compensation, and must have the same qualifications as the magistrates before whom they practice. Although not formally part of the judiciary, Public Ministry officials are empowered to enforce the execution of laws, judicial decisions, and administrative orders. The attorney general selects lower court prosecuting attorneys from lists of nominees prepared by the prosecuting attorneys of the district superior courts. The president selects the latter attorneys from a list submitted by the attorney general.

By the late 1980s, a loose coalition of about twenty Medell�nbased cocaine-trafficking families or syndicates, known collectively as the Medell�n Cartel, had demoralized Colombia's judicial sector with narcotics-related corruption and had virtually paralyzed it with a campaign of terrorism and intimidation. Operating with considerable impunity, the Colombian drug barons arranged for the murders of more than fifty magistrates, including a dozen Supreme Court judges, between 1981 and 1988. The Extraditables (Los Extraditables), the name adopted by the cartel drug lords, also financed the assassination by hired killers (sicarios) of government judicial officials who favored compliance with the bilateral Extradition Treaty Between Colombia and the United States, signed by both countries in 1979. The drug traffickers feared extradition to the United States, where they were more likely to be convicted. Their victims included Justice Minister Rodrigo Lara Bonilla, assassinated on April 30, 1984; Lara Bonilla's successor as justice minister and ambassador to Hungary Enrique Parejo Gonz�lez, seriously wounded in an assassination attempt in Budapest in December 1986; and Attorney General Carlos Mauro Hoyos Jim�nez, assassinated in Medell�n on January 25, 1988.

On December 12, 1986, the Plenary Committee of the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional Law 27 of 1980, which approved the already ratified 1979 extradition treaty between Colombia and the United States. The ruling broke with a seventy-year majority opinion that a law approving an international treaty could not be subjected to constitutional revision. Other judicial decisions favorable to the cartel--such as the release from jail in 1987 of Jorge Luis Ochoa V�squez and Gilberto Rodr�guez Orejuela, two leading cocaine traffickers--suggested that the drug dealers had succeeded in either bribing or intimidating many key judges, from the Supreme Court down to the local tribunals. Indeed, a document found in an army search in Medell�n in January 1988 revealed that since early 1986 bribes of over US$1 million had been paid to officials of the foreign affairs and justice ministries (including judges), to the military, and to politicians to guarantee Ochoa's freedom. In a further concession to terrorism, the Supreme Court in June 1987 declared that Decree 750 of 1987 was unconstitutional. That decree had created the three-member Special Tribunal of Criminal Proceedings (Tribunal Especial de Instrucci�n Criminal) for the purpose of investigating politically significant assassinations causing social unrest or trauma. To fill the resulting gap, the Barco government turned to a small cadre of "specialized judges" that was established in 1984 to deal with terrorist crimes, including kidnaping, with the support of forensic experts of the Directorate of the Judicial Police and Investigation, commonly referred to as the Judicial Police.

Colombia - Public Administration

Before 1957 the administrative system was a spoils system in which patronage served to reward political followers and public resources were used to promote party loyalties. Each time a party fell from power, the bureaucracy had to be totally revamped. The absence of any career civil servants or public service ethic was not conducive to policy continuity and long-term planning.

The creation of the National Front in 1958 led to the establishment of a public service-oriented bureaucracy. According to the amendments approved by the 1957 plebiscite, party affiliations are not to be considered in the hiring, firing, and promotion of career administrators, and government leaders are obliged to follow civil service norms passed by Congress in dealing with administrative personnel. Although career bureaucrats retain the right to vote, they are not to engage in any other political activity.

To implement the amendments, the government enacted a career civil service law in 1958 and put it into effect by executive decree (Law Number 19) in 1960. Law Number 19 and subsequent decrees established the Commission of Administrative Reform to study ways to reorganize the executive branch and the National Civil Service Commission to centralize the government's personnel policies by establishing a professional civil service through oral and written examinations. It also created the Higher School of Public Administration (Escuela Superior de Administraci�n P�blica-- ESAP) to train middle- and upper-level bureaucrats by offering a four-year college program, as well as graduate courses in public administration, urban planning, international relations, and other fields relevant to government service.

Law Number 19 also sought to complement the civil service by developing national planning and long-term programs through the creation of the National Council for Economic Policy and Planning (Consejo Nacional de Pol�tica Econ�mica y Planificaci�n--CNPEP) and the Administrative Department of Planning and Technical Services (Departamento Administrativo de Planificaci�n y Servicios T�cnicos- -DAPST). The DAPST's mission was to formulate long-term development plans and create long-range programs of public investment. These administrative reforms created the conditions for developing a technically competent bureaucracy and served to standardize procedures, elevate the role of planning, and provide some administrative consistency.

Additional reforms in 1968 made various personnel offices of the ministries and agencies responsible for developing a career service (carrera administrativa) and allowed government employees to apply for competitive positions in the civil service. The career civil service system remained, however, highly partisan and small; by 1970 career service employees numbered only 18,000. In the mid-1980s, civil service employees still constituted only about 15 percent of the bureaucracy; the rest were patronage appointees. The sizable bureaucracy existed primarily to provide educated young people with socially prestigious and relatively well-paying jobs. It remained generally overstaffed, inefficient, and partisan, with appointments frequently made on the basis of political patronage, private influence, connections (palancas), or nepotism.

In addition to the various governmental reforms, the technical development of the small, professional, and public-service oriented segment of the civil service was furthered by the proliferation of decentralized agencies and the assistance of international and foreign agencies in supplying training and expertise. This group was able to legitimize planning, develop long-term programs, generate some grass-roots support, and occasionally minimize conflicts involved in administering programs. Three kinds of semiautonomous or decentralized agencies existed: the independents, such as Incora; the government-operated and government-controlled public enterprises, such as the Coffee Bank; and the mixed enterprises, which were financed and controlled by a combination of public and private sources. The proliferation and independence of these agencies during the 1960s and early 1970s, however, inhibited governmental coordination. Although a ministry or government department directed each agency, the large number of agencies limited the degree of control actually exercised by the executive branch.

Colombia - Local Government

The unitary nature of the governmental system relegated local governments to the status of implementors with quite limited policy-making authority. As of 1988, Colombia was divided into the Special District (Distrito Especial) of Bogot�, twenty-three departments, and nine national territories, which were comparable in area to the departments but were sparsely populated. Unlike the departments, the number and size of the national territories were subject to administrative change. Although presidential appointees headed departments and national territories, national territories usually were managed from the national capital because of their small populations and minor economic importance. The national territories consisted of four intendencies (intendencias) and five lower-ranking commissaryships (comisarias).

The president names department governors for an indefinite term. Until 1978 these appointments were made strictly on the basis of party parity, and some modified forms of parity were maintained until Barco took office in 1986. The governor is responsible only to the national government for the handling of departmental affairs and is bound to obey and enforce orders issued by the national government. The governor also issues decrees, appoints and removes departmental officials (except mayors), and assists in the judicial administration of the department, protecting and supervising public establishments and overruling unconstitutional acts of mayors and municipal councils. Although the departments had little actual self-government, they had local legislatures, or assemblies, that assisted the governors. The departmental assemblies met annually for a two-month session.

Within each department and national territory, the lowest level of local government was the municipality, of which there were at least 915. A mayor (alcalde), who was responsible to the departmental governor, directed a municipality. Until March 1988-- when mayors were elected popularly for the first time--governors appointed mayors and rotated them frequently, without consideration for their local roots.

Popularly elected councils (juntas)--elected to two-year terms--assisted the mayors in planning public works projects. The councils' functions and powers were so limited, however, that they often did not even bother to meet. Unofficially, most municipalities were subdivided into zones (corregimientos), each supervised by an official known as a corregidor, who lacked official status but nevertheless performed a variety of judicial and police duties.

Indian reservations (resguardos) were the only other official administrative subdivisions besides municipalities with legal status. Specific laws and locally elected authorities governed the reservations, which operated as corporate communities occupying assigned geographical areas. The Indian authorities governed through a council (cabildo), which was elected popularly and met regularly. Although legally entitled to all rights and privileges of full citizenship, Indian rights groups frequently complained of being forced off contested land by armed thugs hired by landowners. Consequently, in the mid-1984 to 1987 period, the Quint�n Lam� Command staged numerous land occupations. Indian groups also sought to promote local improvements through community action, public education, and legal aid.

Prior to the March 1988 municipal elections, most major decisions regarding governmental matters in a municipality were made at the departmental level, or at least had to have the approval of the departmental governor. For example, the governor had to approve property and market taxes levied by municipalities. Because of the limited income raised by the municipalities, funds to provide for utilities and other public services also came from the departmental and national governments. Even these funds tended to be used inefficiently and for political purposes as a result of the extensive political patronage by local bosses (gamonales). In the mid-1980s, a "national civic movement" became increasingly militant in its strike tactics and emerged as a significant force for change at the local level. As a result of the first popular election of mayors in March 1988, the municipalities presumably gained a voice in decision-making processes affecting them.

Beginning with the March 1988 elections, mayors were elected for two-year terms, with the exception of the mayor of Bogot�, who was elected to serve a four-year term. The bill approving direct election of mayors posed a challenge to the traditional strongholds of political bosses, who could no longer use political patronage to fill these positions. The municipal appointments had long provided a spoils system, especially for the majority Liberal Party, which strongly opposed the bill. A poll taken in late 1984 showed that 96 percent of the municipalities with more than 50,000 inhabitants had a Liberal majority. Although the Liberals maintained their overall dominance in the March 1988 municipal elections, the Conservatives won in the two largest cities: Bogot� and Medell�n.

Colombia - The Electoral System

In order to vote, a citizen must register at the municipal level. In the late 1980s, voting requirements were not strict, but registration was still difficult and confusing, especially for those who had moved, as a result of complicated residency requirements. Individuals voted at places designated by the municipal registrar on the basis of their identification numbers. Therefore, the many citizens who had moved to another neighborhood, town, or city had to return to their original place of registration in order to cast a ballot.

Presidential elections in Colombia are held by direct popular vote every four years in April of even-numbered years. A plurality is sufficient to elect a president. Congressional elections also take place every four years. Beginning in 1978, they have been held two or three months prior to the presidential ballot and conducted in accordance with a system of proportional representation. Colombian political observers commonly viewed congressional and local government elections as primaries for the forthcoming presidential vote. The candidate whose supporters won the largest number of seats usually became the party's presidential nominee.

Elections for the delegates to the departmental and municipal assemblies are held every two years. In presidential voting years, they are conducted shortly after the presidential elections. In nonpresidential voting years, they serve as mid-term elections (mitacas).

An electoral committee composed of two members from each party supervises the municipal ballot at each polling place. This committee reports the results to the municipal registrar's office, which then forwards them to the national registrar's office. The vote count is also overseen by a guarantees tribunal appointed by the president and consisting of the minister of government, the minister of communications, the national civic registrar, the national director of criminal rehabilitation, the director general of the National Police, and delegates from the political party leadership.

High voter abstention rates have been the norm in Colombia since universal male suffrage was adopted in the 1930s. This pattern was particularly evident in elections under the National Front agreement. Voter participation declined from 69 percent of those eligible to vote in the 1958 presidential elections to 37 percent in the 1966 elections. In the crucial 1974 elections--when both parties fielded candidates for the presidency for the first time in over thirty years--only 45 percent of those eligible voted. Despite the end of the National Front, only 20 percent of the voters went to the polls in the 1976 elections, when the voting age was lowered from twenty-one to eighteen. Colombian leftist observers argued that the 1978 abstention rate of 39 percent clearly reflected widespread rejection of the traditional parties, despite the renewal of interparty competition. Scholars also attributed Colombia's traditionally high abstention rates to apathy, to noncompulsory voting, and to bureaucratic obstacles, such as inconvenient residency requirements.

Voter participation in presidential elections showed relative increases in the 1980s. About half of the electorate participated in the 1982 and 1986 presidential elections. Although 61 percent of voters participated in the 1986 municipal elections, only 48 percent cast their ballots in the March 1988 local voting. By the mid-1980s, the highest abstention rates in urban areas were among the poor, who had tended not to be affiliated with either major party.


Traditional Parties

Since the mid-nineteenth century, the most consistent features of Colombia's political system have been the elitism and dualism of party politics. Elites from the Liberal Party (Partido Liberal--PL) and the Conservative Party (Partido Conservador--PC), which in 1987 changed its name to the Social Conservative Party (Partido Social Conservador--PSC), have dominated the nation's political institutions. Consequently, the majority of Colombians had little input in the political process and decision making. The formation of the life-long party loyalties and enmities of most Colombians traditionally began at an early age. Campesinos adopted the party affiliations of their master or patron (patr�n). Being a Liberal or a Conservative was part of one's family heritage and everyday existence. During the period of la violencia, party membership was sufficient reason to kill or be killed. Families, communities, and regions have identified with one or the other party. The PL traditionally dominated, the main exception being the period of Conservative hegemony from 1886 to 1930. For most of the twentieth century, the Conservatives have been able to gain power only when the Liberal vote was split.

Until the 1957 Sitges and San Carlos agreements, the parties had consistently used the perquisites of government to create and maintain popular support through a patronage relationship with members. The party that won an election rewarded party members by appointing them to public positions or by funding special projects. The party in power controlled the national budget, government jobs, and most of the economy. The party out of power did not necessarily lose support, however, because unemployed members in need of assistance often had nowhere else to go other than to the local party boss, who was usually a large landowner.

The cohesiveness of Colombia's nineteenth-century-style parties depended more on traditional patron-client ties than on elaborate organization. Party structures were complex, informal, and weakly institutionalized, extending vertically from the national to the local level. The two parties were multiclass (policlasista) alliances traditionally capable of high levels of mobilization at election time. Nevertheless, they were not genuinely mass parties that served to integrate individuals and groups into the politics of the nation. Members of the elite held all national leadership positions. The Liberals and Conservatives have continued to shape the traditional pyramidal structure of Colombian society as a whole by thwarting the emergence of modern parties organized around common socioeconomic interests.

Support for the two parties stemmed from traditional loyalties and identifications, rather than organizational activity and ideological or class differences, and required mobilization at the local level. In the larger cities, the parties were detached from any popular base. As a result, opinion polls indicated that party identification in the larger cities was beginning to diminish in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

The two major parties were confederations based on regional party organizations headed by, and dependent on, the gamonales, who acquired their positions through birth or connections with the wealthy and prestigious families that made up the national party leadership. Although the gamonales retained their positions through personal loyalties, their role diminished somewhat as the country became more urban and literate. Nevertheless, local leaders acted as power brokers by trading votes and electoral support for programs from the national government.

The highly personalized nature of Colombia's political culture resulted from the patronage and brokerage patterns that were dependent on the subordination and loyalty of the lower classes. The elites felt that government leadership should be the prerogative of a paternalistic upper class, whose members made decisions and cared for the nation and its people. Within these elites, loyalties were as much to one's class as to the nation. Acceptance of paternalism by the lower classes, however, eroded further in the 1970s.

The political parties reinforced the traditional attitudes by demanding and receiving intense loyalty from their members in exchange for favors granted by the parties and party leaders. The National Front modernized the party system by institutionalizing elections, a mass base, and special representation for youth, women, and labor. Nevertheless, the front merely limited the traditional aspects of party structure, such as the gamonales and personal ties. Observers noted that the National Front arrangement closed off access to political power to all the forces not aligned with the traditional bipartisan structure.

Despite their similar moderate and elitist orientations, ideological differences existed between the Liberal and Conservative parties. The Liberal Party was oriented toward urban areas, industrialization, and labor; it was also more pro-welfare state and anticlerical, and less private property-oriented than the Conservative Party. The latter had its greatest support in rural areas and favored the military, large landowners, and the Roman Catholic Church. The Liberals traditionally carried almost all of Colombia's significant cities, although the Conservatives' percentage of the urban vote increased in the 1980s. Until the May 1986 elections, the notable exception was the Conservative and industrial department of Antioquia. Another exception was Bogot� in the 1978 presidential election, when Betancur, a Conservative, won a plurality in that city.

In general, each party had interests and support among groups and classes associated with the other. The memberships of both parties included merchants, landowners, professionals, peasants, artisans, and workers. Interparty differences were largely personal, political, and pragmatic. For example, Liberal Party membership was more upwardly mobile than that of the urban Conservative members traditionally derived from old families of high social status. Of the two parties, the Conservatives had a more effective hierarchical structure at the regional and municipal levels.

<>Minor Third Parties
<>Post-National Front Political Developments
<>Interest Groups
<>The Military
<>The Church
<>Economic Associations
<>Labor Unions
<>News Media

Colombia - Factionalism

The far from monolithic Liberal and Conservative parties were divided internally on the basis of personal and regional rivalries as well as issues. By limiting interparty competition for patronage, the National Front arrangement gave momentum to the already strong tendency toward intraparty factionalism. Factions usually were highly structured and headed by a former president or potential presidential candidate. At the departmental level, dissident factions as well as party directorates often put up their own slates of candidates for legislative elections.

Colombia's traditional party factions posed a reformist, as opposed to a revolutionary, challenge to the social and political order. Colombianists have noted that factionalism actually helped to perpetuate the two-party system by serving as a de facto substitute for a more fragmented multiparty system. The factions did not evolve into new parties because the loyalties of dissidents remained ultimately with their original party. Nevertheless, factionalism in the ruling party tended to diminish the president's ability to command party loyalty while in office. Competition among factions was most pronounced at election time, when a split in the party in power traditionally provided the opportunity for the other party to win.

In the 1980s, factional rivalry continued to weaken the Conservatives. Two main factions have been active since the 1940s. One--the pastranistas-ospinistas--was named after Pastrana and the late Mariano Ospina P�rez (president 1946-50). Its members also were known as unionistas (unionists). The other faction--the alvaristas--was named after Alvaro G�mez Hurtado, son of the late Laureano G�mez Castro (president 1950-53), a Conservative hard-liner who was widely blamed for the sectarianism that led to the bloodshed of la violencia. The pastranistas-ospinistas were allied to industrialists in Antioquia Department and to the coffee sector, whereas the alvaristas were closer to farmers in the Caribbean coast departments.

In the 1980s, the Liberals also were divided into two main factions: the New Liberalism Movement (Movimiento Nuevo Liberalismo--MNL), established in 1979, and the majority official wing (oficialistas). Each ran its own candidates in the 1982 and 1986 presidential elections, as well as separate legislative slates in the 1982 and 1984 congressional elections. The MNL, which won only 8 percent in the 1986 congressional and local government elections, was more technocratically oriented and concerned with promoting the role of the state in economic development and social reform. Its base of support was mainly among the urban middle class, especially in Bogot�. The broadly based official wing relied more on traditional patron-client ties and partisan appeals to mobilize support. In May 1988, the MNL's head, Luis Carlos Gal�n Sarmiento, signed an agreement with the PL to carry out joint activities to support fully President Barco's government. Under the agreement, the MNL would continue to be a PL faction, but it would cancel its legal registration with the electoral authorities on August 6, 1988, and attend the PL's national convention in Cartagena.

Colombia - Minor Third Parties

Although the amendments creating the National Front limited participation in the political process to the PC and the PL, minor parties were able to participate by filing as dissident factions of the two main parties. The two-party system notwithstanding, all parties were free to raise funds, field candidates, hold public meetings, have access to the media, and publish their own newspapers. Smaller parties, which were generally class oriented and ideological, fielded candidates at all levels and usually were represented in Congress, departmental assemblies, and city councils. Nevertheless, with the exception of the populist National Popular Alliance (Alianza Nacional Popular--Anapo; created in 1961 by Rojas Pinilla) in the late 1960s and early 1970s, these small parties had few members and little impact on the political system.

Although the pro-Soviet Communist Party of Colombia (Partido Comunista de Colombia--PCC) regained its legal status in 1957 after having been outlawed by Rojas Pinilla, the party did not contest elections during the National Front. Beginning in the mid-1970s, however, the PCC ran candidates in various legislative elections, as well as joint presidential candidates in alliance with other leftist groups. In 1974 the PCC, some Anapo dissidents, and other minor parties on the far left combined in the National Opposition Union (Uni�n Nacional de Oposici�n--UNO), but their candidate for president received less than 3 percent of the total vote.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia--FARC), the guerrilla arm of the PCC, sought to make its presence felt in the political process through a legal political party called the Patriotic Union (Uni�n Patri�tica--UP), which the FARC founded in May 1985 after signing a cease-fire agreement with the government. In addition to representing the FARC, the UP coalition included the PCC and other leftist groups. Using the UP as its political front, the FARC participated in the March 1986 local government and departmental assembly elections. The UP's main reform proposal was the opening of Colombia's tightly controlled two-party system to accept the UP as a third contender for political power. The UP received only 1.4 percent of the vote in the elections, instead of an expected 5 percent. Nevertheless, as a result of the elections the UP could boast 14 congressional seats, including one in the Senate, and more than 250 departmental and municipal positions.

The UP's presidential candidate in the election of May 25, 1986, Jaime Pardo Leal--a lawyer and president of the National Court Workers Union (Uni�n Nacional de Trabajadores de las Cortes-- UNTC)--placed third with about 350,000 votes, or 4.5 percent of the total vote, winning Guaviare Commissaryship. Although it was the left's greatest electoral victory in Colombia's history, observers suspected that the FARC's use of terrorist tactics--such as kidnapping, extortion, blackmail, and assassination--intimidated many voters into voting for the UP. The UP made some gains in the March 1988 elections, but it won only 14 out of 1,008 mayoralties, considerably fewer than expected. The UP victories, which theoretically gave the UP legal jurisdiction over the armed forces and police in those districts, were in regions where the FARC was active.

The UP itself was a prime target of unidentified "paramilitary" groups. The UP claimed that by mid-1988 some 550 UP members, including Pardo Leal and 4 congressmen, had been murdered since the party's founding in 1985. In the six months preceding the March 1988 elections, gunmen reportedly murdered more than 100 of the UP's candidates for local office. According to the Barco government's investigation, a major drug trafficker, Jos� Gonzalo Rodr�guez Gacha ("the Mexican"), sponsored Pardo Leal's assassination, which took place on October 11, 1987. The PCC weekly, La Voz, published documents that allegedly revealed ties between Rodr�guez and members of the armed forces, and it suggested that the military was linked to Pardo Leal's murder. In an April 1988 report on Colombia, Amnesty International charged the Colombian government and military with carrying out "a deliberate policy of political murder," not only of UP members but of anyone suspected of being a subversive. The Colombian government strenuously denied this charge.

Another minor party was the Christian Social Democratic Party (Partido Social Democr�tica Cristiano--PSDC), founded in May 1959 and composed mainly of students and a few workers. The reformist PSDC identified itself with the Christian democratic movements that had become political forces in other parts of Latin America. The PSDC candidate for president in 1974 received fewer than 16,000 votes, however. In 1982 the PSDC supported Betancur's candidacy.

Colombia - Post-National Front Political Developments

With the return to normal interparty competition in the April 1974 presidential elections and the 1976 local elections, the PL's popular superiority enabled it to capture the presidency, a large working majority in Congress, and majorities in many of the departmental assemblies and municipal councils. Alfonso L�pez Michelsen--the PL candidate in the 1974 presidential elections and the son of former President Alfonso L�pez Pumarejo (in office 1934- 38 and 1942-45)--won with 55 percent of the popular vote, easily defeating Conservative candidate G�mez Hurtado.

Despite a low voter turnout of 34 percent in the February 1978 congressional elections, the Liberals and Conservatives maintained their total dominance, winning 305 of the 311 congressional seats. The PL again won majorities in both houses. The PL supporters of Julio C�sar Turbay, who was closely linked to L�pez Michelsen (1974-78), received more than 1.5 million votes, as compared with 800,000 for supporters of Carlos Lleras Restrepo, a highly respected former Liberal president (in office 1966-70). Turbay narrowly defeated the Conservative candidate Betancur in the June 1978 presidential elections, in which only 39 percent of the electorate voted. Turbay was elected president with 49.5 percent of the vote, as compared with Betancur's 46.6 percent. Thus, the second post-National Front president was also a Liberal who had the backing of his predecessor. In the National Front tradition, however, Turbay appointed five Conservatives to his thirteen-member cabinet.

Shortly after taking office in August 1978, Turbay was faced with the most serious guerrilla threat in decades. He strengthened his state of siege powers by decreeing the harsh National Security Statute, giving the police and military greater authority to deal with the growing domestic social unrest and political violence. The Turbay government used this statute to help minimize the security threats posed by the guerrilla and terrorist groups. The human rights situation deteriorated seriously, however, and armed opposition mounted dramatically.

Although the Liberals maintained majorities in both houses in the March 1982 congressional elections, Betancur won the presidency in May 1982, owing to growing dissatisfaction with the eight years of Liberal rule, a split within the majority PL between two candidates, and Conservative backing of his candidacy. The PL division allowed for the first Conservative victory in fully competitive presidential elections since 1946. Defeating L�pez Michelsen by almost 400,000 votes, Betancur garnered 46.5 percent of the vote, with 54 percent of the electorate abstaining.

A militant follower of Laureano G�mez's ultra-right wing of the PC in the 1950s and early 1960s, Betancur moved to the political center after G�mez died in 1965. He first ran for president in 1970 as an independent Conservative and again in 1978 as a moderate reformer. He ran in the 1978 elections as a candidate of the National Movement (Movimiento Nacional), consisting of Conservatives, dissident Liberals, Christian Social Democrats, and remnants of Anapo. Betancur owed his decisive 1982 victory for the National Movement in part to the support of the alvarista and pastranista-ospinista factions of the PC, as well as of independent Christian democratic and Liberal voters, especially among the urban poor and working class in the large cities. L�pez Michelsen, one of the two PL candidates, had called for rescinding the constitutional clause on coalition governments so that the two traditional parties could compete with each other more effectively. For the first time in Colombia's electoral history, modern campaign techniques prevailed over the traditional reliance on party machinery and the informal patronage and brokerage system.

During his four-year term, Betancur's highest domestic priority was to pacify Colombia's four main guerrilla groups. His approach to dealing with the escalating political violence differed profoundly from that pursued by his hard-line predecessor. After his inauguration in August 1982, Betancur called for a democratic opening (abertura democr�tica), an end to Turbay's repressive policies, a truce with the guerrilla groups, and an unconditional general amnesty for the guerrillas. By August 1984, the Betancur government's peace commission had reached short-term accords with most of the major guerrilla groups, with the main exception of the pro-Cuban National Liberation Army (Ej�rcito de Liberaci�n Nacional--ELN). In June 1985, however, the peace process began to unravel when the 19th of April Movement (Movimiento 19 de Abril--M-19) resumed fighting, followed by other groups. Only the FARC agreed to renew its truce, although not all of its guerrilla fronts complied.

Despite his more open, informal, and honest leadership style--a sharp contrast with that of the more pompous and tradition-bound Turbay--Betancur's popularity declined markedly because of persistent problems with inflation and deficits. This made it difficult to finance the ambitious social, political, and electoral reforms that he had promised. In the 1984 mid-term elections, the Conservatives received only 42 percent of the vote, which was about their usual proportion, and the Liberals received 58 percent. Betancur's policy toward the guerrillas was a principal factor in undermining confidence in him among many military, economic, and political leaders, including Conservative congressmen. The M-19 dealt Betancur's prestige and his strategy of national pacification a severe blow by seizing the Palace of Justice, which housed the Supreme Court and Council of State, in early November 1985. The M- 19's action reinforced a widely held view among Colombians that Betancur had ceded too much to the guerrillas in his quest for peace. Betancur's handling of the courthouse takeover polarized public opinion within all sectors. It also generated Colombian criticism of Betancur's role within the Contadora group of Latin American countries seeking to negotiate a peace settlement in Central America, particularly after the M-19 arms used in the takeover were traced to Nicaragua.

The decisive campaign issue leading up to the congressional and local government elections in March 1986 and the presidential elections in May 1986 was the candidates' positions regarding public order. Even with half of Colombia's 14 million voters abstaining, the congressional elections held on March 9, 1986, produced a record voter turnout. The poll amounted to a vote of no- confidence for the lame-duck Betancur administration, which received only 37.4 percent of the vote. The opposition PL swept 48.7 percent of the vote, including Bogot�, thereby giving the party a majority in both houses.

In the May 1986 presidential election, PL candidate Virgilio Barco, a close associate of Turbay, won a landslide victory over G�mez Hurtado, the Conservative candidate. Barco received the largest mandate in Colombia's history, with 58 percent (4.1 million) of the vote, as compared with G�mez's 36 percent (2.5 million). Barco won in twenty-one of Colombia's twenty-three departments, even taking the Conservative stronghold of Antioquia Department. As a former minister of agriculture (1962-64) and mayor of Bogot� (1966-69), Barco had gained a reputation as a skillful public administrator. His election was helped not only by endorsements from four former Liberal presidents--Alberto Lleras Camargo (1945-46; 1958-62), Lleras Restrepo, L�pez Michelsen, and Turbay--but also by fears of a spread in public violence following Betancur's failure to pacify the country's guerrilla movements and his liberal reforms of the penal system.

On assuming office on August 7, 1986, Barco confirmed his intention to end the thirty-year-old tradition of coalition governments by establishing a one-party government (gobierno de partido). He believed that the sharing of cabinet seats and other government posts under the old National Front arrangement stifled democracy by excluding other groups and making it difficult to distinguish the policies of the two main parties. Barco favored a more conventional system in which the winning party governed and the losing party served as a genuine opposition. Although Barco offered the Conservatives three cabinet positions in his administration in accordance with Article 120 of the Constitution, Conservative patriarch and former President Pastrana declined the token participation in order to "revitalize" the party's identity. The Conservatives declared themselves in "reflective opposition" to the Barco administration. Thus, Barco's Council of Ministers was the first one-party cabinet in almost three decades.

Barco outlined a program to end guerrilla violence and crime through social reforms, a reduction in poverty, and an effective judiciary. He inherited Betancur's battered peace initiative, which Barco perceived to be fatally flawed, and began his mandate with the country still under a state of siege. Although the Barco administration committed itself to the peace process initiated by Betancur, Barco deemphasized dialogue with the guerrillas and--in October 1987--centralized the peace program in his office by making his new peace commission--the Permanent Advisory Council on Political Rehabilitation, Reconciliation, and Normalization--an intergovernmental body. Government talks with the FARC made little progress, however, owing to the FARC's unwillingness to disarm and its continued guerrilla and terrorist attacks.

By the end of Barco's first year in office, analysts were criticizing him for being indecisive, too low key, and inaccessible. Barco reportedly communicated mostly with his closest advisers, consulting infrequently with his ministers. His controversial effort to make the political system more competitive floundered from the start. Despite the novel existence of a 'purely' opposition party and the Conservatives' efforts to create an effective opposition, the two parties had few ideological and political differences. Consequently, instead of a system of checks and balances, the government--in the opinion of analysts--was experiencing administrative chaos. Pro-Barco critics accused the Conservatives of impeding congressional action and harassing the executive branch over the performance of various ministers, instead of offering clear-cut alternatives to the government's program. They also scolded the Liberals for failing to take advantage of their electoral majority to govern the country forcefully and to carry out needed social reforms. The broader effects included deterioration of the peace process and increasing polarization and confrontation between the army and the guerrillas, with both getting stronger.

Although the Liberals won a majority of the votes in the March elections, the opposition Social Conservative Party (Partido Social Conservador--PSC) won an important victory over the governing PL by taking the mayoralties of Colombia's two largest cities: Bogot� and Medell�n. Andr�s Pastrana, the son of former President Misael Pastrana, became Bogot�'s mayor, Colombia's second most important political position. Pastrana had been trailing in published voter polls until he was kidnapped in January, reportedly by drug dealers. The kidnapping of another top politician, the PSC's Alvaro G�mez, on May 29 pushed Colombian politics into a crisis. G�mez had been actively pressuring the ruling PL to give the military more power to combat the growing guerrilla threat. During the two months that the M-19 held G�mez, political analysts noted the polarizing effect the abduction was having on Colombians.

By early 1988, as the security situation continued to deteriorate nationwide, Barco came under increasing pressure to return to a national governing coalition similar to the old National Front. Politicians and diplomats in Bogot� reportedly believed that such an arrangement was needed to reassert legitimate authority and reach new accords on some basic issues, including new approaches to the guerrilla groups, cocaine traffickers (the Medell�n and Cali cartels), and relations with the United States.

In May 1988, Barco and the PL leadership reached an agreement on a legislative agenda for constitutional and institutional reform. The reform package, consisting of about thirty-five bills, was designed to modernize the state in areas such as administration of justice, legislative efficiency, streamlining of public administration, and the state of siege provision in the Constitution (Article 121). The latter would be divided into three phases to be invoked gradually, depending on the national crisis situation. Each phase would call for different, measured responses by the state. Other measures called for the formation of a constitutional court to rule on the validity of treaties; another would restrict the attorney general's office to ruling only on human rights matters; and others would give constititional status to the protection of human rights, provide for mandatory voting and voter registration, and legalize the use of the plebiscite vote to consult the voters on key issues.

Colombia - Interest Groups

Historically, the Roman Catholic Church and the armed forces have played an important role in Colombia's political system. Numerous Colombianists, such as Jonathan Hartlyn, have observed that the most powerful interest group in the 1980s was a small, informal elite composed of business, political, religious, and some military leaders. Some have argued that these power brokers effectively usurped power from Congress and the president by making the decisions--sometimes at informal meetings held in private homes--about what policies or laws should be implemented prior to final action by the legislature.

Observers have contended that the two main parties and the two most powerful interest groups--the armed forces and the Roman Catholic Church--traditionally have co-opted emerging sectors of Colombian society, thereby limiting the development and influence of other potential interest groups. For example, the Roman Catholic Church and the political parties created the two major labor unions at a time when labor was beginning to develop strength. They also established government-sponsored community action programs when the lower classes were beginning to develop some political awareness. The government also contained increasingly militant workers, peasants, and students through co-optation and intimidation. Economic groups, such as associations of farmers and industrialists, began to proliferate and become highly visible in the 1960s and 1970s, but their influence in decision making in the 1980s remained clear.

In the 1980s, the Medell�n Cartel's kingpins were increasingly competing with the influence of the traditional interest groups through bribery and assassination of government officials. In addition, the cartel was using assassination to intimidate one legitimate interest group, the news media. Former President Betancur described the cartel's underground empire as "an organization stronger than the state." With estimated revenues of US$8 billion in 1987, the cartel was a power unto itself. It demonstrated its financial power when, at a meeting with Colombian government officials in Panama in 1984, its chiefs offered to pay off Colombia's national debt and terminate their involvement in the drug trade. The traffickers demanded in exchange that the Colombian government refuse to extradite them to the United States and permit them to invest their profits, deposited in foreign banks, in Colombian enterprises. The government, political elites, and public categorically rejected this offer.

As justice minister in late 1985, Enrique Parejo stated that "There is not a single Colombian institution that has not been affected in some way . . . by the illegal activities of the drug traffic." Colombian officials released drug boss Jorge Luis Ochoa V�squez from prison twice during the 1986-88 period. The second time Ochoa was arrested, in November 1987, the cartel threatened to "eliminate Colombian political leaders one by one" if he were extradited to the United States under a 1984 request. Thirty-nine days later, he was released from Bogot�'s La Picota Prison. In late January 1988, the cartel assassinated Attorney General Mauro, who had begun investigating the Ochoa release, during a visit to Medell�n.

Until the mid-1980s, the influence of Colombia's cocaine billionaires and marijuana millionaires extended from high society in Bogot� to many cities and towns, where they were often popular figures in certain neighborhoods for providing jobs and financing soccer teams, athletic facilities, public housing projects, and disaster relief efforts. The public began to regard the drug lords negatively, however, after Lara Bonilla was assassinated in 1984 and after the problem of cocaine addiction in Colombia became widespread in the mid-1980s. The results of the March 1988 mayoral elections--in which two strongly antidrug candidates, Pastrana and Juan G�mez Mart�nez, were elected as mayors of Bogot� and Medell�n, respectively--reflected a growing antidrug sentiment among Colombians. Their elections prompted the military, in subsequent weeks, to mount numerous aggressive raids on suspected strongholds of cartel kingpins, including Pablo Escobar Gav�ria and Gonzalo Rodr�guez.

Colombia - The Military

Colombia has not had a long history of military coups. Its armed forces seized power from civilians only three times in the nation's history: in 1830, 1854, and 1953. The only instance of military control lasting longer than one year was the Rojas Pinilla dictatorship. After his ouster in 1957, the military held power for one year. Subsequently, the military served as the mainstay of the political and economic elites. Although the Constitution does not stipulate that the minister of national defense should belong to the military, army generals have held this portfolio since the beginning of the National Front. The defense minister was not obliged to tender his resignation in a cabinet reshuffle, unless specifically requested to do so by the president. Specific constitutional and legislative provisions, however, limited the political involvement of the military. The traditional absence of high-ranking military officers from the elite also helped to explain the military's subordination to civil authority. Held in low regard by the elites and expected to be deferential to them, military officers traditionally came from the middle class.

Beginning in the 1960s, the armed forces attempted to increase their prestige and self-esteem by improving their competence and professionalism. The nonpartisan professional reputation that the military had begun to build, however, was damaged in the 1980s by accusations of human rights abuses and narcotics-related corruption among officers.

In 1988 mounting violence reportedly had forced the armed forces to install military governors in certain departments, presumably with the president's concurrence. In an unusually blunt public statement, General Manuel Jaime Guerrero Paz, commander general of the military forces, stated in a radio interview in April 1988 that Colombia should not hold dialogues with the guerrilla groups and drug traffickers because of their lack of sincerity.

Colombian presidents occasionally disciplined members of the armed forces who violated the constitutional and legislative proscriptions against involvement in political matters. On three occasions--1965, 1969, and 1984--presidents removed military commanders who appeared to challenge civilian authority. In 1965 President Guillermo Le�n Valencia reluctantly dismissed his minister of war, General Alberto Ruiz Novoa, for his public criticism of the government and ruling class and his advocacy of "structural changes" and a more autonomous role for the armed forces in the socioeconomic development process. In February 1969, President Lleras Restrepo summarily removed the army commander, General Guillermo Pinz�n Caicedo, for his article in a military journal criticizing civilian interference in the military budget. In early 1984, President Betancur replaced the army commander, Fernando Landaz�bal Reyes, after the general challenged the authority of the official peace commission to reach an agreement with the guerrilla organizations. Betancur reminded the National Security Council that the constitutional role of the armed forces was "nondeliberative." The military acquiesced in these presidential actions with little or no overt negative reaction.

Betancur angered the military, however, with his policy of negotiating truces with the guerrilla organizations. Consequently, when M-19 commandos seized the Palace of Justice in Bogot� in early November 1985, Betancur had too little credit left with the military to order it to negotiate with the terrorists. He therefore apparently did not object when the military took immediate counteraction by laying siege to the building with hundreds of troops, backed by heavy artillery.

Colombia - The Church

Colombia's Roman Catholic Church traditionally was one of the most orthodox, conservative, and powerful in Latin America. In the late 1980s, it retained influence within the PSC and kept close relations with the Union of Colombian Workers (Uni�n de Trabajadores Colombianos--UTC) and the National Agrarian Federation (Federaci�n Agraria Nacional--Fanal), a rural labor organization organized by the UTC and Jesuits in 1946. The church also played a major role in the country's education system and had an impact on most charitable activities. Members of the clergy sat on the boards of directors of many government agencies. The church was further integrated into, or at least close to, the nation's decision-making elite because of the upper-class and upper-middle-class background of the church hierarchy. Nonetheless, the increasing secularization of Colombian society since the 1960s had produced a considerable erosion of the church's political power.

Colombia - Economic Associations

By the 1980s, a wide variety of economic associations (gremios) existed in such areas as agriculture, banking, commerce, construction, and insurance. They seldom initiated policy changes, but they often tried to amend or defeat legislation proposed by the executive; they also resorted to court challenges to delay or impede implementation. The largest gremios exercised significant influence on governmental leaders and had elaborate, well-staffed organizations with departmental and local affiliates. These associations included the National Association of Manufacturers (Asociaci�n Nacional de Industriales--ANDI), the National Federation of Merchants (Federaci�n Nacional de Comerciantes--Fenalco), the National Federation of Colombian Coffee Growers (Federaci�n Nacional de Cafeteros de Colombia--Fedecafe), and the Colombian Popular Association of Small Manufacturers (Asociaci�n Colombiana Popular de Industriales--Acopi).

A strong advocate of free enterprise, ANDI was composed of more than 500 of the largest industrial enterprises; its members were high in social and economic status, exercising influence not only on the economy but on politics and education as well. Fenalco supported much the same policies as ANDI and, like ANDI, was wealthy and well organized. Fedecafe, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving Colombia's coffee cultivation and raising the living standards of its coffee growers, was particularly influential in setting and administering the nation's official coffee policy. The government delegated Fedecafe total responsibility for coffee policy, including quality control of exports and all other matters related to the coffee sector. ANDI, Fenalco, and Fedecafe were effective not only because they were able to influence the initiation and outcome of legislation and executive decrees affecting the economy but also had close ties to most of the government's finance and development ministers and both major parties.

Acopi was not quite as influential, wealthy, and homogeneous in its membership as the larger associations, but it shared their general orientation. Acopi's influence derived largely from the connections some members had with government leaders. Acopi's greatest efforts were directed at reducing taxes on imports, finished products, and raw materials.

Large landowners traditionally had an important influence on the politics of the nation because of their membership in the elite, their relations with the political parties, and their great wealth. Despite the emergence of nonelite agricultural organizations in the 1970s, the large landholders still exercised considerable political power. For example, they waged an effective battle against the implementation of comprehensive agrarian reform. The most important of the nonelite interest groups in the agricultural sector was the National Association of Peasant Land Users (Asociaci�n Nacional de Usarios Campesinos--ANUC), a loose confederation of local peasant organizations who owned, rented, or sharecropped small plots of land. This well-organized, militant association--numbering over 1 million members by the early 1970s-- represented a majority of the nation's peasants. The ANUC mobilized and radicalized the peasants to such an extent that other unions opposed it. Some ANUC leaders were arrested for alleged links with guerrilla groups. As a result of these pressures, the ANUC splintered and lost its cohesiveness. Although it remained ineffective and disorganized in the early 1980s, the ANUC continued to receive government subsidies, and members its served on various government boards.

In the National Front tradition, interest groups generally appointed equal numbers of representatives of the Liberal and Conservative party directorates on their boards of directors. Because the lobbying efforts of the interest associations focused mainly on the executive branch, the leadership of the larger groups also included representatives of government ministries. The government relied on some of the interest associations to act as agents of the state in establishing and enforcing commodity prices or collecting export taxes on products such as coffee. Representatives of banking, industrial, and agricultural interests were included in some government agencies, such as the National Council for Social and Economic Policy (Consejo Nacional de Pol�tica Econ�mica y Social--Conpes), which directed the nation's finances. Although contact with Congress was minimal, the boards of directors also usually included representatives of Congress or legislative posts at the departmental or local levels.

One group with a potential to become a political force in Colombia was a growing, mostly urban middle class that constituted about 20 percent of the population in the mid-1980s and included professionals, white-collar employees in the public and private sectors, and small businessmen. Pressured by inflation and cuts in government budgets, members of this relatively unorganized group have attempted to make themselves felt in numerous strikes by their unionized members since the mid-1970s.

Colombia - Labor Unions

Unlike other countries in the region, such as Argentina and Chile, the Colombian labor movement did not have a long history of militant confrontation. The main exception was in the 1920s, when Colombia experienced sustained, violent labor revolts, including strikes against the United Fruit Company. In addition to being moderate, fragmented, and closely allied with the traditional parties or the Roman Catholic Church, the labor movement never has accounted for more than one-third of the organized labor force, which itself represented only about onefifth of the total labor force. In 1988 an estimated 12 percent of Colombia's economically active population was unionized. Elements of the labor movement increasingly resorted to strikes and demonstrations in the 1980s, but these generally were resolved by concessions on both sides.

The labor unions sometimes had an impact on policy through the use of strike tactics. Persistent inflation, charges of government corruption, and high unemployment accounted for the increase in labor militancy in the mid-1970s. Nevertheless, by the 1970s labor legislation had developed in such a manner as to afford the government a large measure of control over the labor movement. Legislation gave priority to company-level unions by requiring them to bargain at the company level, rather than at the industry level. It limited the right to strike to forty days for most workers and for state employees, and it empowered the government to impose cooling-off periods and arbitration of disputes. Labor's links to government were limited to a few union representatives who served on special boards or commissions formed to resolve crisis situations or to propose policies. Unions also received sizable government subsidies. Unlike the producers' associations, the union leadership bodies did not include government officials.

In August 1986, the leftist union movement took a significant step toward unity by forming the United Workers Central Organization (Central Unitaria de Trabajadores--CUT), which grouped the Trade Union Confederation of Colombian Workers (Confederaci�n Sindical de Trabajadores de Colombia--CSTC), members of the traditional PL and PC confederations, and nonaffiliated unions. Although not officially a member of the Soviet-controlled World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU), the CUT was strongly influenced by its pro-Moscow communist component and retained close ties to the international communist labor movement. The CUT's call for a national one-day general strike on October 13, 1987, to protest an alleged lack of government action to control the death squads met with a large response as teachers, transport workers, public employees, and members of the judiciary stopped work.

Colombia - Students

As in the rest of Latin America, students had a tradition of political activism in Colombia. Nevertheless, their importance in Colombian politics was marginal until the "days of May" in 1957 when their protest demonstrations and efforts to enforce a civic strike played a key role in the overthrow of the Rojas Pinilla regime. Subsequently, their protests often centered on university issues but also included domestic concerns, such as increases in bus fares, and on international themes, especially antiimperialism . Although the students occasionally aligned themselves with other groups, such as labor, in seeking to promote reforms, most often they were unable to coordinate their activities or to create a powerful national organization. Government repression and division within the Colombian left, which affected student groups as well, inhibited the formation of a unified national student movement in Colombia during the 1970s and much of the 1980s. Political activism was most pronounced among university students, primarily at the National University of Colombia (Universidad Nacional de Colombia--UNC) in Bogot� but also at the universities of Valle, Antioquia, Cauca, and Los Andes. Repression of students in the 1980s was not so severe as in the 1970s, when many students saw no alternative to joining the guerrilla ranks. In May 1984, however, the UNC's Bogot� branch closed its doors to some 20,000 students following a protest in which security forces shot 10 students.

The principal problems facing the public universities in 1987 included financial crises, deteriorating academic quality, and a lack of cohesive government policy toward state institutions. A national congress, held by about 3,000 university and high school delegates in Bogot� in May 1987, and massive student rallies in the preceding months reflected continued student discontent.

Colombia - News Media

Freedom of the press and broadcasting were deeply rooted cultural traditions in Colombia. Governments generally respected constitutionally guaranteed rights of freedom of speech and the press. One exception was the Rojas Pinilla regime, which suspended them. As a result of the interparty political conflict that characterized Colombia through much of the twentieth century, civilian governments also frequently censored the opposition press, either through harassment by political activists or through government-issued state of siege decrees. Nevertheless, in the 1980-88 period, freedom of speech and the press were respected.

In 1987 all newspapers, other than the official government organ, Diario Oficial, were privately owned and under no governmental restraints. The press published a wide variety of political views and often vigorously criticized the government and its leaders. Almost all news outlets were affiliated--officially or semiofficially--with either the Liberal or Conservative party. The urban middle and upper classes, for whom the press was a vital instrument of influence, purchased most newspapers. Traditionally, newspapers were the most credible sources of political information, as well as the major organs of political debate. In contrast, Colombians viewed radio and television as primarily entertainment or cultural media. Nevertheless, some journalists used the press as a vehicle to political power. For example, television journalist Andr�s Pastrana was elected mayor of Bogot� in 1988.

Colombian journalists were generally well trained, and the top columnists had sophisticated worldviews. At least five daily newspapers, as well as a number of weekly news magazines, served Bogot�. Two morning newspapers, El Espectador and El Tiempo, each had circulations of over 200,000 on weekdays in the late 1980s. The Sunday circulation of El Tiempo reached 350,000. Although both were affiliated with the PL, El Espectador tended to support the New Liberalism Movement faction of the party. El Tiempo, one of Latin America's leading dailies, provided comprehensive and sophisticated coverage of international news. The small El Siglo and businessoriented La Rep�blica were both affiliated with the Conservatives. El Siglo represented the party's right wing. Its editor, Alvaro G�mez, a kidnap victim himself, took a highprofile stand against drug traffickers and Marxist guerrillas. A new afternoon daily, 5 P.M., appeared in Bogot� in the mid1980s , with an independent and nonpartisan orientation. In August 1988, former President Misael Pastrana Borrero launched a Bogot� daily, La Prensa, in an apparent attempt to compete with El Tiempo and El Espectador and to consolidate his control over the Social Conservatives.

Colombia had more than forty regional newspapers, including several with a daily circulation of more than 100,000 copies. The newspaper with the largest circulation outside the capital was Medell�n's conservative El Colombiano (123,700). Both El Colombiano and Cali's El Occidente (53,000) took strong antidrug stances. El Colombiano's editor, Juan G�mez Mart�nez, was elected mayor of Medell�n in the March 1988 elections. The most widely read weekly general news magazines in Colombia were Cromos (65,000), Semana (40,000), the Conservative Gui�n (35,000), and the Liberal Nueva Frontera (20,000), all published in Bogot�.

Colombia had a flourishing and modern printing and publishing industry in the 1980s. In the 1983-87 period, Colombia led Latin America in the export of Spanish-language publications, ranking second only to Spain. In 1986 Colombia sold more than US$59 million in books and other publications to thirty-two countries; this was double the 1979 sales. A relatively small group of five printers and ten publishers spearheaded the export drive. The Andean Common Market (Ancom), also known as the Andean Group (Grupo Andino)-- primarily Venezuela--accounted for 55.3 percent of Colombia's exports of printed material and remained the industry's principal market. The Hispanic population in the United States absorbed about 20 percent of Colombia's publishing exports in 1986. Of the 1,100 entities in Colombia dedicated to publishing, about 400 were large scale. The two leading Colombian publishers were Editorial Oveja Negra and Carvajal.

The state regulated the broadcast media. The Telecommunications Division of the Ministry of Communications administered and controlled radio and television broadcasting. The government-run television and broadcasting network, the National Institute of Radio and Television (Instituto Nacional de Radio y Televisi�n-- Inravisi�n), controlled three television stations: two commercial and one educational. A semiautonomous agency administered by a board of directors appointed by the president, Inravisi�n leased time to private companies and also transmitted as National Radio and Television of Colombia (Radiotelevisora Nacional de Colombia-- RNC) and National Radio Station (Radio Cadena Nacional--RCN). Colombia's largest and most influential radio station, Colombian Radio Station (Cadena Radial Colombiano--Caracol), was pro-Liberal, whereas RCN was pro-Conservative. The state imposed some guidelines to ensure equal time for political candidates. For example, the government ensured that each of four announced candidates running in the 1986 presidential campaign received equal time for a series of national television appearances. Beginning in 1987, all legally registered political parties had access by law to national television; a different party was allotted ten minutes of time each week night, under an alphabetical rotation system.

The state reserved the right, in effect, to censor the telecommunications media in a national emergency. A press law, in effect since 1959, provided for freedom of the press in time of internal peace. This freedom, however, had to be balanced by a sense of responsibility to help maintain tranquillity. The law provided for the prohibition of news threatening national security and for censorship before publication during times of crisis. In issuing a decree on terrorism in January 1988, President Barco noted the state's constitutional right to control telecommunications media if considered necessary to reestablish public order in a crisis. That month Barco also announced the Statute for the Defense of Democracy and the amendment of habeas corpus procedures. The statute caused general concern within the media that the new measures could lead to press censorship. El Tiempo editorialized, however, that the statute should have been even stiffer.

In addition to the statutory regulations, an unofficial regulatory apparatus--consisting of political parties and economic interest groups, including financial conglomerates and drug traffickers--exerted strong pressure on the news media. For example, a powerful financial conglomerate, the Great Colombian Group (Grupo Grancolombiano), reportedly waged a campaign of intimidation in the early 1980s against El Espectador by withholding advertising in retaliation for reporters' probes into its business practices. Drug traffickers took more drastic measures to intimidate the press. For example, in 1983 a newspaper journalist in Buenaventura was machine gunned to death after he had written a series of reports accusing officials of involvement with drug trafficking. His editor also was assassinated that year. Hitmen hired by the Medell�n Cartel assassinated El Espectador's nationally recognized director, Guillermo Cano, in December 1986, shortly after his newspaper published a series of reports on the cartel. In October 1987, columnist Daniel Samper Pizano of El Tiempo fled the country after his name appeared on a death list. Drug traffickers assassinated approximately thirty journalists between 1983 and 1987. They were also blamed for kidnapping television journalist Andr�s Pastrana in early 1988.

The media themselves have exercised self-restraint in times of crisis. For example, in response to M-19 demands for publicity in exchange for releasing Alvaro G�mez, the owners and directors of Colombia's major news media collectively agreed in July 1988 to exercise self-censorship when reporting on terrorist acts. They banned the transmission of all texts, interviews, and contacts with "kidnappers and terrorists" and with the kidnap victims.


For much of the nation's history, Colombians focused more consistently on domestic issues and political personalities than on world affairs. In the nineteenth century, Colombia limited its involvement in foreign affairs to sporadic border disputes with immediate neighbors (Venezuela, Panama, Peru, and Brazil). Colombia and Venezuela began disputing boundaries after the breakup of Gran Colombia (Colombia, Venezuela, and Ecuador) in 1830. This territorial issue continued to cause friction between the two nations into the twentieth century. During the first two decades of the twentieth century, the secession of Panama from Colombia in 1903 was a major source of friction in Colombia-United States relations. Colombia's boundary with Peru was settled initially in 1922, but problems developed again in 1932 when Peru seized an area around Leticia in the Amazon Basin that both nations claimed. A League of Nations commission resolved the conflict in 1934, however, by suggesting a resolution that returned the disputed area to Colombia. Brazil and Colombia reached agreement on a border dispute in 1928.

Colombia broadened its foreign policy after World War II, becoming active among the Latin American states and small powers in general. It was an important participant in the 1945 San Francisco Conference creating the United Nations (UN) and was a leading opponent of the big-power veto in the Security Council. Colombia argued successfully for a primary role for regional organizations, whose recognition was secured under Article 51 of the UN Charter. Colombia also played an important role in creating the Organization of American States (OAS) in Bogot� in 1948. Former Colombian president Lleras Camargo was the OAS's first secretary general (1948-54).

Nevertheless, even in the post-World War II era, Colombia continued to view foreign policy within a limited context. Whenever Colombia initiated international actions, they were usually meant to complement more important national goals and were seen as extensions of domestic policy. After World War II, Colombia's foreign policy emphasized economic relations and support for collective security through the OAS and the UN. Accordingly, Colombia pursued only limited objectives in bilateral international security and global politics, usually preferring multilateral diplomatic approaches. Colombia's approach to security issues has been characterized by a willingness to settle disputes peacefully through recourse to international law and regional and international security organizations.

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Colombia - Relations with the United States

Although Colombia and the United States had cordial and friendly relations during the nineteenth century, relations were strained during the first two decades of the twentieth century as a result of the involvement of President Theodore Roosevelt's administration in the Panama revolt. Despite the diplomatic strain, economic ties with the United States were of great importance to Colombia even in the early twentieth century. The United States was the major market for Colombia's leading export and source of revenue: coffee.

In the early 1920s, Colombian president Marco Fidel Su�rez (in office 1918-21) advocated a doctrine called Res Pice Polum (Follow the North Star), which linked Colombia's destiny to that of the "North Star," the United States, through geography, trade, and democracy. Colombia's powerful coffee exporters were particularly fond of the doctrine. Enrique Olaya Herrera, Colombia's first Liberal president of the century (in office 1930-34), reaffirmed the Northern Star doctrine, but Colombia did not fully embrace it until the nation enthusiastically received United States president Franklin D. Roosevelt's Good Neighbor Policy.

A United States agreement to provide a military training mission and a 1940 bilateral trade agreement strengthened pre-World War II relations between Bogot� and Washington. Colombia's position as a close ally of the United States became evident during World War II. Although Bogot�'s commitment to the Allied cause did not entail the sending of troops, Colombia's strategic position near the Caribbean and the Panama Canal and its pro-United States stance within the region were helpful to the Allied nations.

Colombia's relations with the United States were somewhat strained during the late 1940s and throughout most of the 1950s because of the pro-Catholic Conservative government's persecution of the nation's few Protestants, who were also PL members, during the early years of la violencia and the dangers posed by the internal disorders to United States nationals living in Colombia. Nevertheless, Colombia's partnership with the United States prompted it to contribute troops to the UN Peacekeeping Force in the Korean War (1950-53). Colombia also provided the only Latin American troops to the UN Emergency Force in the Suez conflict (1956-58).

Colombia became one of the largest recipients of United States assistance in Latin America during the 1960s and early 1970s. Much of the United States aid was designed to enable Colombia to ease its external balance of payments problems while increasing its internal economic development through industrialization, as well as agrarian and social reforms. Nonetheless, Colombia failed to implement significant reforms. By the late 1960s and early 1970s, many Colombian policy makers had become disenchanted with the Alliance for Progress--a program, conceived during the administration of President John F. Kennedy, that called for extensive United States financial assistance to Latin America as well as Latin American support for social change measures, such as agrarian reform--and with United States economic assistance in general. Many felt that Colombia's economic dependence on the United States had only increased. By 1975, however, the United States was purchasing only 28 percent of Colombia's exports, as compared with 40 to 65 percent during the 1960s. In 1985 the United States accounted for 33 percent of Colombian exports and 35 percent of Colombian imports.

Although Colombia voted fairly consistently with the United States in international security forums, such as the UN General Assembly and Security Council, its willingness to follow the lead of the United States within the inter-American system had become less pronounced by the mid-1970s. In 1975 President L�pez Michelsen resumed diplomatic relations with Cuba. He also refused further American economic assistance to Colombia and terminated funding from the United States Agency for International Development, complaining that his nation's unhealthy economic dependency resulted from foreign aid. Other indicators of L�pez Michelsen's independent stance included his refusal to condemn Cuban intervention in the Angolan civil war, his willingness to recognize the new Marxist government in Angola, and his support for Panama in its desire to negotiate a new canal treaty with the United States.

During the first half of his administration, President Turbay continued Colombia's policy of nonalignment. He demonstrated the nation's foreign policy independence in 1979 when his foreign minister, along with the foreign ministers of other Andean countries, recognized Nicaragua's Sandinista guerrillas as a belligerent force.

The Turbay government retreated from its nonaligned policy course, however, after becoming concerned about the ideological direction of the Sandinista government in Nicaragua, Nicaragua's territorial claims to Caribbean islands long held by Colombia, and Cuba's support of the M-19 in early 1981. Turbay reestablished close relations with the United States. A fervent anticommunist, he became the most outspoken Latin American leader affirming the thesis of United States president Ronald Reagan that Cuba and Nicaragua were the principal sources of subversion and domestic unrest in Latin America. Bogot� suspended diplomatic relations with Havana after the government of Fidel Castro Ruz admitted that it had supported M-19 guerrilla activities. The Turbay government condemned the rebel movement in El Salvador, strongly criticized the joint declaration by France and Mexico in 1981 that called for a negotiated settlement of the Salvadoran insurgency, and strongly supported the provisional government in El Salvador headed by Jos� Napole�n Duarte Fuentes in 1981 and 1982. During the 1982 South Atlantic War between Argentina and Britain in the Falkland/Malvinas Islands, the Turbay government, along with the United States, abstained on the key OAS vote to invoke the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (Rio Treaty). After the war, Colombia remained one of the few Latin American countries still willing to participate with the United States in joint naval maneuvers in the Caribbean. Colombia also sent troops to the Sinai in 1982 as part of the UN Peacekeeping Force required by the 1979 Treaty of Peace Between Egypt and Israel.

Turbay's good relations with Washington contributed to the resolution of a longstanding territorial problem between the two countries: the status of three small, uninhabited outcroppings of coral banks and cays in the Caribbean. Under the Quita Sue�o Treaty, signed on September 8, 1972, the United States renounced all claims to the banks and cays--Banco de Quita Sue�o, Cayos de Roncador, Banco de Serrana--without prejudicing the claims of third parties. The United States Senate, however, did not ratify the treaty until 1981. In the meantime, the new Sandinista government-- emboldened by the extended delay--revived Nicaragua's longstanding claim in December 1979 over the reefs, as well as the San Andr�s and Providencia archipelago, located about 640 kilometers northwest of Colombia's Caribbean coast. To emphasize its claimed sovereignty over the Isla de San Andr�s, Colombia began building up a naval presence on the island, including an arsenal of Exocet missiles.

During his campaign for president in 1982, Betancur gave no indication that he intended to transform Colombia's foreign policy. His only foreign policy statement was a promise, which he made repeatedly, that he would not normalize relations with Cuba. Shortly after assuming the presidency, however, Betancur steered Colombia away from support of the Reagan administration's Latin American policies and toward a nonaligned stance. Betancur reversed Turbay's anti-Argentine position on the South Atlantic War and called for greater solidarity between Latin America and the Third World. In 1983 Colombia, with the sponsorship of Cuba and Panama, joined the Nonaligned Movement, then headed by Castro.

Betancur also urged an end to all foreign intervention in Central America in order to prevent the region from becoming a zone of East-West conflict. At the same time, he was critical of what he viewed as United States attempts to isolate Cuba and Nicaragua from peace efforts in the region, its growing "protectionist" trade policies, its unwillingness to increase its contributions to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), and its failure to do more to reduce the North American demand for drugs. Confronted with Colombia's financial problems, however, by 1985 Betancur had abandoned his nationalistic rhetoric on the debt and drug issues, adopted strict austerity measures to deal with his government's financial crisis, and cooperated more closely with the United States in the antidrug trafficking campaign. As a result, the United States supported Colombia's debt renegotiations with the IMF and the World Bank.

In his first year of office, Barco adopted a more pragmatic approach to foreign relations, returning Colombia to a lower profile in international politics. Colombia was fourth among the Nonaligned Movement's 100 members in voting with United States positions in international forums. Colombian-United States relations in the late 1980s were regarded as generally excellent, with minor differences confined to Colombia's antidrug trafficking efforts, its support of the August 1987 Central American Peace Agreement initiated by Costa Rican president Oscar Arias S�nchez, negotiations of new coffee and textile agreements, and Bogot�'s refusal to condemn Cuba for its human rights violations.

In the 1970s and 1980s, Colombia's standing as the major source of illegal cocaine and marijuana smuggled into the United States plagued relations between these two countries. Although the bilateral Extradition Treaty Between Colombia and the United States, signed by both countries in 1979, and US$26 million in United States aid helped to produce what Washington considered to be a model antinarcotics program, Betancur initially refused to extradite Colombians as a matter of principle. By mid-term, however, he changed his position after becoming alarmed over the implications for Colombia's political stability of the increasing narcotics-related corruption and drug abuse among Colombian youth and the Medell�n Cartel's assassination of Justice Minister Lara Bonilla. In May 1984, following the murder of the strongly antidrug minister, Betancur launched a "war without quarter" against the cartel and began extraditing drug traffickers to the United States. During the November 1984 to June 1987 period, Colombia extradited thirteen nationals--including cartel kingpin Carlos Lehder Rivas-- and three foreigners to the United States. (A United States jury convicted Lehder in May 1988 of massive drug trafficking.)

In a major setback for the antidrug effort, however, the Colombian Supreme Court in June 1987 declared unconstitutional a law ratifying the United States-Colombian extradition treaty. United States authorities had more than seventy extradition cases still pending, including requests for the three principal members of the Medell�n Cartel still at large (Escobar, Ochoa, and Rodr�guez). The annulment of the extradition treaty resulted from a ruling of the Supreme Court in December 1986 invalidating the treaty's enabling legislation. New enabling legislation signed by President Barco worked only until February 17, 1987, when the eight-member criminal chamber of the Supreme Court refused to rule on an extradition because the treaty was not in force. After the Council of State argued otherwise, the Supreme Court ruled on the matter, voiding the enabling legislation on June 25, 1987. Consequently, the only course left open to the Barco administration was to resubmit the enabling legislation to Congress, which was not eager to act, being caught in the same world of threats and bribes.

The extradition issue came to a head after Ochoa was released from prison on December 30, 1987, prompting the United States to protest. The United States endorsed the Colombian Supreme Court's suggestion that extradition decisions could be made directly by the Colombian government, thereby bypassing the court, under an 1888 treaty between the two countries. Barco's justice minister argued, however, that the old treaty was revoked by the 1979 treaty. In any event, in early May 1988 the Supreme Court rejected the use of existing laws to send more drug traffickers to the United States for trial. The Council of State thereupon suspended the issuing of warrants for the arrests--for the purpose of extradition--of cartel leaders, beginning with Escobar. Consequently, for future extraditions, the Colombian government will have to seek approval through Congress for a new law to validate the 1979 extradition treaty, or dispense with the treaty altogether in order to use the 1933 multilateral Montevideo Convention as the basis for extradition.

Colombia - Relations with Latin America

Traditionally, Colombia's diplomatic and economic interests in the rest of Latin America were limited mainly to its neighboring rival, Venezuela. Colombia did not begin to identify with and pay more attention to other Latin American countries and to the English-speaking Caribbean until the mid-1970s. Although Colombia's internal violence in the 1950s soured its relations with its neighbors, the nation's regional relations became largely congenial and its trade ties prospered with the creation of the National Front in 1957.

As a result of Colombia's commitment to subregional economic integration during the 1960s, it began to perceive economic relations largely in Latin American or Andean terms and no longer simply followed United States leadership in regional and economic security relations. In 1969 Colombia signed the Cartagena Agreement establishing the Andean Group.

Within a few years after the signing of the agreement, however, Colombia encountered difficulties in its relations with the Amdeam Group nations as a result of domestic politics. By the mid-1970s, Colombian policy makers--concerned that the nation was giving up more than it was receiving in tariff reductions--began to lose enthusiasm for the Andean Group. They continued to favor subregional economic integration, however, and Colombia's economic relations with the rest of Latin America increased considerably after the creation of the Latin American Free Trade Association (LAFTA) and the Andean Group. Like most other Latin American countries, Colombia joined the Latin American Economic System (Sistema Econ�mica Latinoamericana--SELA), which was created in 1975 to promote regional cooperation on trade and other economic matters. On July 3, 1978, Colombia joined seven other Latin American countries in signing the Amazon Pact, a Brazilian initiative designed to coordinate the joint development of the Amazon Basin. Colombia also joined LAFTA's successor, the Latin American Integration Association (Asociaci�n Latinoamericana de Integraci�n--Aladi), created in 1980 to reduce trade barriers among Andean countries and coordinate economic policies.

Beginning in the late 1970s, Colombia also sought to develop a regional leadership role for itself by increasing its influence in the Caribbean. Colombia first joined the Caribbean Development Bank and then began expanding its trade with Caribbean countries. Nonetheless, Mexico and Venezuela remained Colombia's only significant trading partners in the Caribbean Basin region.

The Betancur administration placed a somewhat higher priority on relations with Central America. Colombia traditionally had very little experience in or contact with nearby Central America, but Colombians' awareness of the region increased considerably during the Betancur administration. In pursuit of Betancur's key foreign policy objective--peace in Central America--Colombia joined with Mexico, Venezuela, and Panama in January 1983 to form the Contadora Group. Betancur had proposed the Contadora initiative for three main reasons: he believed that it was consonant with Colombia's tradition of multilateral diplomacy, that Nicaragua had a right to self-determination, and that the United States should not intervene militarily and unilaterally in Nicaragua.

Betancur took an active role in other regional or interAmerican forums. Serving as mediator between Latin debtor nations and creditor countries, he hosted a key meeting of representatives from eleven Latin American countries at Cartagena in June 1984 to discuss ways to obtain softer repayment terms on the region's US$350 billion foreign debt. As president of a country with a relatively small and well-balanced debt, Betancur counseled moderation on debt issues, advising the governments to increase incentives for foreign investment to reduce dependence on foreign credits instead of forming a "debtors' cartel." Betancur remained within the mainstream of Latin American foreign policy in his approach to other issues of general regional concern. In addition to supporting Argentina in the South Atlantic War, he supported Bolivia's aspirations for territorial access to the Pacific Ocean and to Belize's guaranteed territorial integrity.

Betancur came under heavy criticism in Colombia for his higher profile in Western Hemisphere politics, particularly his mediation attempts in Central American political conflicts, at the expense of domestic issues. Betancur became less sympathetic toward Nicaragua as a result of its alleged involvement in supporting the M-19's Palace of Justice takeover in November 1985 and Managua's surprise renewal, in April 1986, of its territorial claim to Isla de San Andr�s and Isla de Providencia. Although the islands had been under Colombian rule for generations, Nicaragua claimed in a press conference that the 1928 Barcenas-Esguerra Treaty recognizing Colombian sovereignty over the island territories was invalid because Nicaragua signed it at a time when United States troops occupied the country.

Barco had campaigned on a platform promising a lower profile for Colombia in the Contadora peace process and greater attention to Colombia's relations with its immediate neighbors. Accordingly, after taking office, Barco reduced Colombia's involvement in Contadora and Nonaligned Movement activities. He continued, however, to develop Colombia's bilateral relations in Latin America.

Although Colombia's relations with Venezuela have been more extensive than with any other state in the region, border disputes and territorial differences often caused those relations to be tense and acrimonious. During the Lleras Restrepo presidency in the late 1960s, Colombia attempted to negotiate contracts with foreign oil companies to do offshore exploratory drilling on the continental shelf of the Golfo de Venezuela, which may contain up to 10 billion barrels of petroleum. Caracas protested that the gulf was an inland waterway whose waters were "traditionally and historically Venezuelan." Both nations tacitly agreed in 1971 to suspend exploratory operations in the area until final agreement was reached. Nevertheless, the issue subsequently heated up again. At Venezuela's urging, talks to establish stricter boundary limits began in 1979. Several shooting incidents in the gulf in the 1981- 86 period led both countries to mobilize troops along the border and engage in a minor arms race. Despite a series of talks on the issue held between the Colombian and Venezuelan foreign ministers in 1986, little progress was made toward agreement. Barco hoped to submit the dispute to the International Court of Justice in The Hague, but the Venezuelan government of President Jaime Lusinchi opposed outside mediation.

The already tense relations between Colombia and Venezuela flared up again in mid-August 1987, when the Lusinchi government claimed that a Colombian warship had penetrated Venezuelan territorial waters. Both sides immediately increased their military presence in the border area, but Colombia was far outmatched by Venezuela. The Colombian defense ministry's request to Congress in September 1987 to quadruple the military budget to US$2.5 billion appeared to be related in part to the border dispute.

Additional border problems included the approximately 1 million illegal or undocumented Colombians who had entered Venezuela since the 1950s, cross-border guerrilla attacks by Colombian rebel groups, and drug trafficking. In 1988 Colombian peasant migrants outnumbered Venezuelans by fifteen to one in some border areas. Venezuelans generally had a low regard for the Colombian immigrants, whereas the Colombians resented the free-spending Venezuelans. These Colombians--seeking security, jobs, and higher wages--worked as domestics and in other menial positions shunned by Venezuelans. Although many Colombians remained in Venezuela, others crossed the border illegally to work seasonally, returning home every year with their earnings. This migration contributed to the large volume of illegal and contraband trade that flourished in the border regions.

Barco proposed a broad dialogue with Venezuela in August 1987 to encompass border issues such as contraband and the narcotics trade. In January 1988, Venezuela called for joint action with Colombia to control the growing activities of Colombian drug traffickers and leftist guerrillas along and inside Venezuela's western borders. The Venezuelan proposal was prompted in part by a surge of kidnappings of Venezuelan ranchers by Colombian guerrillas, who held their hostages for ransom on the Colombian side of the border. Venezuela was also concerned about Colombian drug traffickers who had begun developing Venezuela as an important transshipment point for cocaine en route to the United States or Western Europe.

Colombia - Relations with World Organizations

Colombia has been an active member of the UN since the organization was founded. It belonged to numerous UN organizations, including the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). Under the National Front governments, Colombia became a major recipient of funds and programs from international bodies, such as the IDB, IMF, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and International Labour Organisation (ILO). Colombia preferred to handle security and global matters through the international forums provided by the UN General Assembly and Security Council. Pursuing a somewhat independent course, Colombia became a respected voice in the General Assembly and other international arenas on matters of international law. It played an active role in the various UN conferences on the law of the sea. In late 1975, it became the first nation to call on the General Assembly for a legal definition of outer space and geostationary orbits, arguing that nations have "inalienable and untransferable" sovereign rights to the airspace directly above them, including the geostationary orbit.

Betancur also played a role in improving international trade conditions for developing countries through the International Coffee Agreement (which he helped to renegotiate in 1983), UNCTAD, Aladi, and the Inter-American Economic and Social Council (Consejo Interamericano Econ�mico y Social--CIAES). Other international organizations to which Colombia belonged in the late 1980s included the World Bank and International the Telecommunications Satellite Organization (Intelsat), the Washington-based communications consortium.

Colombia - Relations with Communist Countries

Throughout the post-World War II period, Colombia's international stance was based on consistent support of the United States against the Soviet Union and its allies. Colombia severed relations with the Soviet Union in the wake of the 1948 Bogotazo, amid accusations of Soviet complicity in the rioting. After reestablishing relations with the Soviet Union in 1968, Colombia made various commercial, scientific, and educational agreements with the Soviet Union and its allies. In early 1976, Colombia and the Soviet Union signed the Commercial Cooperation Treaty.

Colombia's relations with the communist nations of Africa and Asia were limited primarily to concern over these nations as economic competitors in the production of such primary commodities as coffee. For example, Colombia's relations with Angola during its civil war in late 1975 and early 1976 were influenced by the importance of coffee to both countries. President L�pez Michelsen refused to condemn Cuba's involvement in the Angolan civil war and in 1976 recognized the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (Movimento Popular de Libera��o de Angola--MPLA) as that nation's government in order to maintain the good relations that both countries enjoyed as coffee exporters. Bogot�'s relations with China remained cordial in 1988, but trade between the two countries was negligible.

Colombia's relations with Cuba have been strained since Castro seized power in 1959. From the early 1960s, when it helped to establish the National Liberation Army (Ej�rcito de Liberaci�n Nacional--ELN), Cuba supported Colombian guerrilla groups. Colombia actively supported OAS sanctions against Cuba in 1962 and the expulsion of Cuba from the OAS in 1964. Bogot� reestablished full diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1975, after the OAS reversed its policy of isolating the Castro government. Bilateral relations again declined, however, after the Sandinista victory in Nicaragua in mid-1979 when Castro renewed Cuba's support for insurgency in Latin America. During Turbay's administration, Colombia actively opposed Cuba by blocking Havana's attempts to secure a UN Security Council seat. In 1981, after Cuba admitted supporting a failed M-19 attempt to launch a rural insurgency, the Turbay administration broke diplomatic relations with Havana. In late 1987, an official Colombian commission recommended that the country renew diplomatic relations with Cuba but "without haste."

Colombia - Relations with Other Nations

Bilateral relations with nations outside the Western Hemisphere were almost solely based on trade and other economic dealings. Largely as a result of imports from Colombia by the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany), European Economic Community countries accounted for about a quarter of Colombia's primary export markets in 1985. Colombia's relations with West European countries in the late 1980s continued to be mainly pragmatic and trade oriented. Spain, though not a major importer of Colombian goods, continued to maintain cultural and historic ties with Colombia. The influence of France has been second only to that of Spain on Colombia's European-oriented culture. Portugal's relations with Colombia also were important because of the similarity of the goods that Portugal and its former African colonies produced.

Colombia also maintained trade relations with Asian countries, especially Japan, which accounted for 4 percent of Colombia's exports and 10.4 percent of its imports in 1985. In September 1987, Barco met with President Chun Doo Hwan of the Republic of Korea (South Korea) and made public a communiqu� concerning economic and technological exchange agreements, including a commitment to expand trade in natural resources.

Colombia's relations with Israel were strengthened by a trade accord signed by the two countries in April 1988 in which Israel agreed to purchase 2 million tons of Colombian coal during the 1988-91 period. In exchange, Colombia committed itself to buying fourteen Israeli-made Kfir combat jets costing US$60 million. The United States Department of State unofficially approved the sale of the Kfir (jets powered with American-made engines) in 1987.

Colombia - Foreign Policy Decision Making

Under Colombia's Constitution, the president and the rest of the executive branch of government have almost exclusive jurisdictional responsibility for the conduct of foreign relations. The president--charged with formulating and executing foreign policy--clearly was the single most important player in the late 1980s. Despite the existence of committees on foreign relations in both houses, Congress had little role in making foreign policy.

Colombia's foreign policy has shifted frequently as a result of the president's key role and the fact that the nation's presidents have changed every four years. The president appoints and removes cabinet members, chooses diplomats to represent Colombia, and receives foreign diplomats and other representatives. In his responsibility "to direct diplomatic and commercial relations," the president also concludes treaties and conventions with other states, subject to the approval of Congress. The Senate must approve declarations of war made by the president, who controls and directs the armed forces, but he could wage a war without the consent of the Senate if it were urgent to repel a foreign invasion.

The primary agency charged with conducting foreign relations under the president's direction was the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Within the foreign service, two positions were almost as important as that of the minister because of their prestige and value in furthering a political career. One was that of ambassador to the United States, a post considered to be one of the stepping stones to the presidency. Presidents L�pez Michelsen, Turbay, and Barco all served as ambassadors to the United States. The other was that of ambassador to the Holy See. The role of the Roman Catholic Church in the life of the nation meant that this ambassador occupied a position of particular prestige and some importance.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not have exclusive responsibility for carrying out Colombia's foreign policies, however. Beginning in the 1960s, foreign policy also was influenced and developed by the Ministry of Economic Development, the Ministry of Finance, a variety of semiautonomous government agencies, and economic interest groups. Of the latter, the most important probably was Fedecafe, which maintained its own representatives in various foreign countries to manage Colombia's coffee exports for the government.

The Colombian military also played a key role in determining the nation's foreign policies in incidents involving border disputes or foreign support of domestic subversive groups. For example, the military pressed the Turbay government into suspending diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1981 after Cuba admitted its involvement in an M-19 guerrilla operation in southern Colombia. In 1983, days before President Betancur was to issue an official invitation to Castro to visit Colombia, General Gustavo Matamoros, the Colombian minister of national defense, declared that restoration of diplomatic relations with Cuba was a "moral impossibility." Having already defied the military with his peace overtures to, and general amnesty for, the guerrilla groups, Betancur subsequently dropped his plans for rapprochement with Cuba.

CITATION: Federal Research Division of the
Library of Congress. The Country Studies Series. Published 1988-1999.

Please note: This text comes from the Country Studies Program, formerly the Army Area Handbook Program. The Country Studies Series presents a description and analysis of the historical setting and the social, economic, political, and national security systems and institutions of countries throughout the world.

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