[Editor’s Note: This is Part VII in our Externado symposium on “Contemporary Discussions in Constitutional Law.” The Introduction to the symposium is available here, Part I is available here, Part II is available here, Part III is available here, Part IV is available here, Part V is available here and Part VI is available here.]
–Luisa Fernanda García López, Profesora Principal, Universidad del Rosario
The Colombian political system is considered to have the largest institutional continuity in Latin America. However, the degree of the political parties’ implication within the political reality of the country has been rigid and without obligation during the country’s different institutional transformations. The political parties have been real participants of the voting and the legislative systems, but not real participants during the political reforms particularly during the one in the 1990s. Between 1958 and 1991, Colombian democracy was well known for being a restricted or controlled democracy because the national agreement closed off political participation to other movements and political parties. Taking turns in office was limited to the two traditional parties. The limitations by both the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party created huge unpopularity and promoted high levels of abstention during elections. Repercussions began in the 1980s. During this time of huge instability, strong violence and confrontations among several guerrilla groups started to settle down. On one hand, the Medellin cartel allied with the M-19 a guerilla group that stormed the Court House in 1986 and decimated the Court Criminal Chamber. On the other hand, the Cali cartel interfered in the government elections by funding Ernesto Samper’s presidential campaign who was elected president in 1994. Finally, paramilitary groups were initially named “Convivir” (Cohabit) to fight the guerrillas’ kidnapping and drug trafficking that dominated most of the country. Thereafter, in the early 1990s, these groups entered in the business and culture of drug trafficking, and became illegal groups called paramilitary. This Colombian reality shows the lack of solid institutions, neither leaders nor strong political parties that actually represent the Colombian society.