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Good and bad political reforms in Colombia

The political reforms are necessary to adjust the institutions to the changing realities and the new challenges but they are not always great, as some just go the wrong way. Let’s look at the history of Colombia until the Political Constitution of 1991, which had its 30th anniversary a few days ago.

The first reforms of the nineteenth century came as the result of clashes between groups and personalities, first the Independence and then several Constitutions until the parties were created towards mid-century.

Then came the “Battleground letters”, in other words, who won the war imposed a Constitution or if they could and there was opposition, they defended it with war –as happened with the “War of a Thousand Days” of the end of the century– to consolidate a centralist, ultraconservative and almost theocratical Constitution of 1886.

In the twentieth century began the authentic political reforms, being the first in 1910, when Conservatism softened the penal sentences for then –still as a state of war– and terminated the press censorship of then, very similar to a dictatorial regime.

But the most important was that of 1936, when the Liberal Party, with President Alfonso López Pumarejo, secularized the State and assumed it had social duties, besides property by its own, among many other breakthroughs.

Some failed, including this last one, though at the end it was approved, its promoter had to desist from bringing it forward, then Jorge Eliécer Gaitán proposed still a more audacious reform before being slain on April 9 of 1948; therefore, it was considered a failed reform bill from its inception.

In 1958, the National Front –considered a political pact between Liberals and Conservatives to take the power from Dictator, General Gustavo Rojas Pinilla– was a reform to achieve peace between the parties, as it restrained political participation, and in a certain manner froze the political action of the Government of the time, agreeing to the possibility of reforming the Constitution again to normalize the State.

Read more: How is political reform doing in Congress? (in Spanish)

In this reform, they proposed dividing the presidential terms between Liberals and Conservatives every four years and was approved by a plebiscite.

As the country was different from what the previous and current Constitutions reflected, liberal Carlos Lleras Restrepo succeeded in getting approval for the constitutional reform of 1968, which although not politically opening, provided instruments to the executive to create, through a strong presidentialism, regulations north and south, and modernize the Colombian State with a presidential regime and state of emergency decrees, although he faltered conceding the infamous “parliamentary aids,” the origin of the corruption with a funds-for-all congressmen that led to corruption.

From then, all presidents had their hands tied by an Article of the current Constitution, the infamous Article 218, which forbade changes demanding impossible majorities in practice and therefore, barely got approval for the popular election of Mayors in the ‘80s. This article avoided a political party in power to make changes, signifying what was known as the “instability and continuism of the political change dynamic in Colombia.”

In this context, and amid the strengthening of guerilla warfare and the face-off of the State against terrorist mafias was that the Political Constitution of 1991 was approved; the best and most adequate and consensual in all Colombian history.

Read more: The police reform is urgent and structural, but highly improbable

So, 30 years ago, when the books published by experts wrote in their titles: ¿En qué momento se jodió Colombia? or ¡Al filo del caos! (When did Colombia go to Hell? or On the brink of chaos!) this new Constitution saved the country from a civil war, of a situation of political anomaly like that of Somalia, or of turning into a Narco-State.

What came later is another story, both in facts, as in political reform: There have been a series of insufficient partial reforms or not sufficiently discussed, sometimes going backward and others with good intentions but without important consequences.

Without a doubt we can say that the Constitution of 1991 was really “The Reform,” in other words, the change the country really needed, and to its actors still alive we need to recognize the merit today, not later when they will no longer be with us.

Read more: Check out Professor Roll’s YouTube Channel, Observatory of Elections and Parties where it explains these changes deeper and what came later until today.

Consejo Editorial