Form of government and national politics• Colombia achieved independence from Spain in 1819. • The country is governed by a national constitution, amended on July 5, 1991. • Colombia has three branches of Public Power: The Executive, the Legislative and the Judiciary. • Colombia has a democratically-elected representative system with a strong executive branch. The President is elected to a non-renewable, four-year term. The President is both the chief of state and head of government, and is elected on a national ticket with a Vice President.
• There is a bicameral legislature consisting of a 102-member Senate and a 165-member House of Representatives. Both chambers are directly elected to four-year terms. • Colombia! |s judicial system is composed of: Supreme Court, Attorney General, Superior Council of the Judiciary, Constitutional Court and State Council. A new criminal code modeled after U.
S. procedures was enacted in 1992-93. There is judicial review of executive and legislative acts. The Supreme Court of Justice (Corte Suprema de Justicia) is the highest court of criminal law, and judges are selected from the nominees of the Higher Council of Justice for eight-year terms. • The next national elections are due in March 2002 (Congress) and May 2002 (Presidential).
• The two largest political organizations are the Partido Social Conservador, of which President Andr&e acute; s Pastrana is a member, and the Partido Liberal, which holds majorities in both houses of Congress.
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web ‘s homework helper. htm GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS Government: Under 1886 Constitution, executive, legislative, and judicial branches established with separation of powers and with checks and balances; nonetheless, executive retained strong policy-making authority. Chief executive is president of republic, elected by direct popular vote for four-year term and constitutionally prohibited from seeking consecutive terms. Legislative authority vested in bicameral Congress consisting of 114-member Senate and 199-member House of Representatives. Congress popularly elected for four-year term. Judiciary consists of twenty-four-member Supreme Court; various district superior, circuit, municipal, and lower courts; and Council of State.
In addition to national government, Colombia divided into twenty-three departments, four, and five. Politics: Virgilio Barco Vargas of Liberal Party (Partido Liberal) elected president in May 1986, succeeding Belisario Betancur Cuartas of Social Conservative Party (Partido Social Conservador), until July 1987 known as Conservative Party (Partido Conservador).
Political institutions dominated since mid-nineteenth century by Liberals and Conservatives. Both parties characterized by factional rivalries in late 1980 s. Minor parties included leftist Patriotic Union (Uni๓ n Patri๓ tic a).
political system challenged in late 1980 s by various leftist guerrilla movements and by narcotics traffickers linked to rightist paramilitary groups.
Four major guerrilla organizations — Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerza’s Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia — FARC), National Liberation Army (Ej้ rc ito de Liberaci๓ n Nacional — ELN), Popular Liberation Army (Ej้ rc ito Popular de Liberaci๓ n — EPL), and 19 th of April Movement (Movimiento 19 de Abril — M-19) — and several smaller guerrilla groups operated in 1988. Narcotics traffickers sponsored assassinations of numerous government officials and politicians. 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 mid nineteenth 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.
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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 1980 s the military gradually began to assume a larger decision making 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 ().
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 1970 s and 1980 s, the incumbent president dismissed them.
A contradictory feature of Colombia’s long democratic tradition is its high level of political violence (six inter party 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 inter party civil war called la, 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. For most of the forty year period following the 1948 Bogota zo (the riot following the assassination of Jorge Eli้ car Gaitแ n, in which 2, 000 were killed), Colombia lived under a constitutionally authorized state of siege (de) 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.
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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 Colombia nists also contended that the traditional parties had impeded modernization. The fact that the guerrilla movement was still strong in the late 1980 s, 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-1960 s 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 occurred, the Colombian government has been less successful in reducing economic inequality.
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During the 1980 s, 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. Data as of December 1988 THE GOVERNMENTAL SYSTEM 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 Sim๓ n Bolํ var Palacio — gave considerable power to the central government at the expense of the departmental governments (see Gran Colombia, ch. 1).
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 (see Consolidation of Political Divisions, ch. 1).
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.
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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 (de) 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.
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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 (see Role of the Government in the Economy, ch. 3).
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 semi autonomous 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 (see The Rojas Pinilla Dictatorship, ch. 1).
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 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 (see The National Front, 1958-74, ch. 1).
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-1960 s, la had been reduced largely to banditry and an incipient guerrilla movement. In addition to ending la, the National Front provided security and stability for the governmental system. The old patterns of blind partisanship and inter party 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 (๓ n).
Second, it provided for parity (pari dad) 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’ (des monte) 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 C้ sar Turba y 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 Nari๑ o House Accord (Acuerdo Casa de Nari๑ 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 Nari๑ 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).
Data as of December 1988 The Executive 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 semi autonomous or decentralized agencies, institutes, and corporations, generally known as institutes. 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 (territories).
Unlike the departments, which have limited self-government, the national capital controls the territories directly through p residentially appointed officials. P residentially 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 (t้ caicos) — such as economists, agronomists, and engineers — also strengthened the executive branch in the 1980 s by staffing important decentralized government agencies. These included the National Planning Department (Departamento Nacional de Plane aci๓ n), Monetary Board (Junta Monet aria), and the Colombian Institute of Agrarian Reform (Instituto Colombian de Reforma Agrarian — In cora).
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 semi autonomous or decentralized agencies extended the influence of the executive into most areas of society, they had gained substantial independence by the 1980 s. 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 (-le yes).
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 1980 s. 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 design ado) 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 1980 s. 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-1980 s 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. Data as of December 1988 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 (Cแ 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 () 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 Misa el Pastrana Borrego (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 1980 s. 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-เ -vis the executive. Beginning in the early 1980 s, 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. Data as of December 1988 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 one half 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 1980 s; 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 1980 s, a loose coalition of about twenty Medellํ n based cocaine-trafficking families or syndicates, known collectively as the Medellํ n Cartel, had demoralized Colombia’s judicial sector with narcotics-related corruption and had virtually paralyzed it with a campaign of terrorism and intimidation (see Internal Security Problems, ch. 5).
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 (sica rios) 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 Pareto Goneแ let, seriously wounded in an assassination attempt in Budapest in December 1986; and Attorney General Carlos Mauro Hoy os Jim้ nez, assassinated in Medellํ 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 Vแ suez and Gilberto Rodํ geez 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 Medellํ 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 Instruc ci๓ 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 kidnapping, with the support of forensic experts of the Directorate of the Judicial Police and Investigation, commonly referred to as the Judicial Police. Data as of December 1988 Library of Congress Country Studies: Colombia (web).