Constitutional history of Colombia

The Constitutional history of Colombia is the process of formation and evolution of the different constitutions that Colombia has had since its formation.

Pre-Columbian and Spanish times

The indigenous nations that inhabited the present territory of Colombia did not have written registries, therefore there is no evidence of constitutions prior to the arrival of the Spaniards in the territory.

During the Colonial times, the Spaniards were supposed to behave according to the Laws of Burgos of 1512 that defined the rights of the indigenous people but most importantly legalised the right of the Spaniards over them. These were replaced by the New Laws of Indies of 1542. The Spanish Royal Crown tried to enforce these laws but revolts by the Spaniards benefitting from the natives forced Charles V to suppress them in 1545..

The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, translated and published by Antonio Nariño in 1794 and distributed in Santa Fe de Bogotá, could be considered the first draft of a political constitution in the New World. At present, the modern version of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights conforms the central part of the political constitutions of many countries. The Constitution of Canada, for example, is quite short and is almost limited to the human rights and basic freedoms. Those rights and liberties were not an integral part of the initial Colombian constitutions, but some of those were slowly introduced until they were definitively and explicitly included in the Constitution of 1991.

The first written constitution as such with jurisdiction in Colombia was the Spanish Constitution of 1808. The Spanish Constitution of 1812 also had theoretical jurisdiction during the Reconquista of the Spanish America until Independence in 1819.

During the colonial time, the Catholic Church was the most powerful institution after the Spanish Royal Crown. The Church had control over the press, education, alphabetisation and access to professions. It was the decisive authority in matters of public and private morality and the government would turn to it to obtain civil servants when lay men were not available.

During Independence, and after, the Church was losing its influence, but it continued being a decisive part in the decision making. In particular, the federalists wanted to conform a constitution without clerical influence, whereas the centralists leaned towards the Church not only to preserve the faith but as a political means. It is important to mention that the minimum geographic area able to send voters to the congresses were the parishes, a clerical term used to talk about most of the towns and municipalities. In larger urban areas there could be several parishes.


By the time, the country’s name was Viceroyalty of the New Granada and thus continued through a period of transition until August 10, 1819 when the republican armies arrived in the city of Santa Fe and the viceroy Juan de Sámano fled the city.

Memorandum of Offences (Memorial de Agravios) - 1809

Although the "Memorandum of Offences" did not have any important political effect and only few people knew of it in its time, its content is useful, more than any other document, to gauge the changes that were taking place in the political climate of the Spanish America. It also shows the arrogant attitude that Creoles (some were Royalists and others were Independentists) had towards taking part in the government of the Domains of Ferdinand VII of Spain, demanding the king equality of representation in the American provinces at the same level of the Spaniards, alleging their titles of descendants of conquerors and legitimate heirs of the Spanish hegemony they had established over the native populations of America, at whom they looked with greater contempt than their ancestors.

In 1809, before the events of the Flower vase of Llorente (Florero de Llorente) took place, the Town hall of Santafé reckoned advisable to send a "Representation" to the Supreme Central Board of Spain located in Seville. It commissioned Camilo Torres and Tenorio to draft the famous document known in Colombian history with the name Memorandum of Offenses. For reasons that are unknown, the Town hall did not accept this document. Jose Maria Cárdenas, descendant of Camilo Torres, commented that "the Town hall was intimidated when shown the Representation project and decided to archive it". Right after the July 20 political events, the Town hall thought once more about printing it but difficulties at the moment prevented it. It was kept unpublished for six years, until 1832.

Constitution of Socorro - 1810

From 1809 to 1830 eight different provinces produced their own independent constitution so there was not a single unified constitution in the country. The Constitution of the Free State of Socorro emitted in 1810 can be considered the first of these and even of Colombia. It was federalist, democratic, liberal and catholic simultaneously .

Socorro was the capital of the province of Santander at the time, where 30 years before the second Revolt of the Comuneros took place.

Constitution of Cundinamarca - 1811

After the Florero de Llorente events, the Junta (Meeting) of August 20, 1810 was created. Jose Miguel Pey de Andrade was appointed head of the Meeting, which makes him the first Chief of State.

The Constituent Electoral College of the State of Cundinamarca can be considered simultaneously the first Constituent National Assembly and Congress. It met in Santa Fe de Bogotá in March 1811and, with many difficulties due to disagreements between centralists and federalists, promulgated the first constitution with national scope: the Constitution of the state of Cundinamarca on April 4, 1811. The document was inspired on the constitution of the United States of North America. This assembly-congress appointed the second Chief of State, Jorge Tadeo Lozano for a period of three years. However, because of internal pressures and frays, the assembly-congress forced him to resign on September 19, 1811 and chose Antonio Nariño instead.

United Provinces – 1811

By the end of 1810 in parallel with Cundinamarca, other constitutions had arisen in different urban centres like Cartagena, Tunja, Antioquia, Mariquita and Neiva. Some of these (Cartagena, Tunja, Antioquia, Casanare, Pamplona and Popayán) sent representatives to the Congress of the United Provinces that met initially in Santa Fe and some time after in Tunja and Villa de Leyva.

The second Sunday of October 1811 they held the first elections in Tunja. For each 2000 inhabitants there was a representing elector; and one for each municipality even if it did not have a population of this size. Any man 20 years old or older or anybody 15 or older and with 'a modest occupation' could vote. The first name for the republic was established officially on November 27: United Provinces of the New Granada .

Constituent Electoral College of the State of Cundinamarca elected Pedro Groot as first president on December 23, and the following day Antonio Nariño as temporary president. In the meeting of October 4, 1812, the United Provinces elected Camilo Torres y Tenorio as president (position he exerted until October 5, 1814) and declared the union federalist in opposition to centralism. Simón Bolivar and Antonio Nariño were in favor of Centralism that was becoming more popular in Santa Fe de Bogotá. This difference threw the United Provinces into an armed confrontation at the end of 1812, and a second one, without Nariño, in 1814 .

Federalists (partisans of Santander, who saw centralism as a restriction of freedom) would later evolve into the Liberal Party of Colombia. Centralists (partisans of Nariño and Bolivar, who wanted to see the nation centralized) would evolve into the Colombian Conservative Party.

Once Ferdinand VII recovered from the Peninsular War, the royal forces led by Pablo Morillo defeated the independentist forces. In August, September and October 1816 Morillo executed most constitutional leaders, including Camilo Torres, and restored the Royal Hearing in Santa Fe de Bogotá in March 1817 .

Nariño had been arrested in Pasto in May 1814 and imprisoned in Spain. He remained so until 1821.

The Gran Colombia

Congress of Angostura

Although in 1819 some large areas were still under Spanish control, the urge for independence reactivated the constitutional climate. On February 15, 1819, six months before the Battle of Boyacá, representatives of Venezuela (now Venezuela), New Granada (now Colombia and Panama) and Quito (now Ecuador) met in Angostura, Venezuela. This meeting, historically called Congress of Angostura worked on the development of a "Fundamental Law" (constitution). Representatives from Quito were few since the province was still under Spanish control.

These were the decisions taken initially:

  • New Granada was renamed Cundinamarca and its capital Santa Fé renamed Bogotá. The Capital of the province of Quito would be the city of Quito. The Capital of Venezuela would be Caracas. The Capital of the Great Colombia would be Bogotá.
  • The Republic of Colombia was created. In order to differentiate this period from present Republic of Colombia, historians have customarily called it Gran Colombia.
  • The Republic would be governed by a president There would be a vice-president who would replace the president in his absence.
  • The governors of the three Departments would also be called Vice-presidents.
  • The presidents and vice-presidents would be elected with indirect vote, but in order to begin, the congress chose them as follows: President of the Republic: Simón Bolivar and Vice-president: Francisco de Paula Santander. In August, Bolivar continued its liberating task and left towards Ecuador and Peru, and left Santander in charge of the presidency.
  • Bolivar was given the title of "Liberator" and his picture with the motto "Bolivar, Liberator of Colombia and father of the Motherland" was exposed in the congress assembly hall.

After the Battle of the Marsh of Vargas and Battle of Boyacá, on December 17, 1819 the Congress of Angostura declares the Republic of Colombia formally created.

At the end of the sessions the Congress decided that it would meet again in Cúcuta, in January 1821, in order to publish the new constitution.

During his six years in captivity, Antonio Nariño had drafted a constitution project. After The Precursor was released in Spain on March 23, 1820 he presented his constitution in Cúcuta, but he did not get much attention.

Congress of Cúcuta

The Congress defined in Angostura met this time in Villa del Rosario, in Cúcuta, in the beginning of 1821.

The Battle of Carabobo, on June 24, 1821, officially brought independence to Venezuela and on July 18 the congress restarted with greater impetus in Cúcuta to include the regions recently liberated: Caracas, Cartagena, Popayán and Santa Marta.

The Constitution of Cúcuta was proclaimed on August 30, 1821 and published on July 12. This has been considered the first Constitution of Colombia that was effective during the Gran Colombia until its dissolution in 1831. It consisted of 10 chapters and 91 articles, but the most important points are:

  • It promulgated the progressive liberation of slavery: the children of enslaved parents would be free at age 18. I also created a fund to ensure that released slaves would have means to subsist. The fund was collected with a percentage to inheritance that varied from 0.15% to 10%. This happened 42 years before the abolition of slavery in the United States.
  • It ended the Inquisición and made reforms relative to the bishops, archbishops and some goods of the Church.
  • The Government of Colombia was declared popular and representative.
  • It ratified being conformed by three great departments: Cundinamarca, Venezuela and Quito. The big departments were divided in 7 normal departments, not counting Panama and Quito that were to be defined; three of Venezuela: Orinoco, Venezuela and Zulia, and four of Cundinamarca: Bogotá, Cundinamarca, Cauca and Magdalena. Each departament was divided in provinces, the provinces in cantons, cantons in cabildos and municipalities, and these were parishes or were divided into parishes. Venezuela was formed by 10 provinces, Cundinamarca by 13 to which 2 of Panama would be added, and Quito by 7.
  • Each parish would have an Assembly that would meet the last Sunday of July every four years. The members of these Assemblies would designate the voters of the cantons, that should be 25 years old and should have more than 500 piastras in real estate or 300 in rent.
  • These would constitute the provincial Assembly of voters who would meet the first day of October every four years, in order to elect the president and vice-president of the Republic, the senator of the Department and the representative or representatives of the province. These departmental civil employees would exert their function during four years.
  • Men age 21 who knew how to read and write and with one hundred piastras could vote.
  • The Congress would be formed by two cameras: the Senate and the chamber of Representatives. The senators would be appointed for a period of eight years and the representatives for a period of four years.
  • Each department would have 4 senators: two for eight years and two for four. These differences would be solved by chance with the aim, says the law, of renewing the Senate every four years.
  • Senators should be 30 years old, creole by birth, have real estate worth 4000 piastras or a rent of 500 piastras per year, to exert a liberal profession. Foreigners were also allowed to be senators if they had established in the country for twelve years and owned real estate worth 16000 piastras.
  • The Chamber of Representatives would be made up of the Deputies one per 30,000 inhabitants. When the representatives reached one hundred, a deputy by each 40,000 inhabitants and by each 50,000 would even choose itself, until the Camera was integrated percent fifty deputies.
  • Delegates must be 25 and have properties worth 2000 piastras or a rent of 500 piastras, or to be professor. It was necessary to reside in the country two years before election. Foreigners should reside for eight years and have real estate worth 10000 piastras.
  • The House of Representatives would have the exclusive faculty to accuse the president, the vice-president and the ministers of the High Court of Justice before the Senate.
  • The Constitution established that both Camera sessions be public; that the main civil servants be excluded from the legislative functions; that their members enjoy immunity during their period, and that they accrue a pay.
  • The Executive authority was constituted by a president and a vice-president, chosen for 4 years, who could not be reelected and who, in case of death, would be replaced by the president of the Senate. The president would have a pay of 30.000 piastras per year, and the vice-president 16000.
  • Each department would be administered by an Intendant and a governor. The former appointed by the president and the latter under the orders of the intendant.
  • It established the positions of ministers, council, supreme court and regulated each position.
  • The Congress chose Simón Bolivar by voting as president and Francisco de Paula Santander as vice-president, but since Bolivar was absent Santander took the presidency and Nariño the vice-presidency.

On May 24, 1822 the province of Quito sealed its independence in the Battle of Pichincha; and on December 9, 1824 the Battle of Ayacucho sealed Peru's (what today is Peru and Bolivia). Peru and Bolivia never comprised the Gran Colombia but they share with Ecuador, Venezuela and Colombia the title of Bolivarian Countries being republics liberated by Simón Bolivar to whom the congress bestowed the title of Libertador and was considered the first official president of each one of them.

Separation of Ecuador and Venezuela – 1830

What accelerated the separation of Venezuela and Quito from the Gran Colombia was the discrepancy of opinions between federalists and centralists. Quito did not have a real representation in the constitutional deliberations and it was not until 1822 that joined the Gran Colombia. In spite of the existing support to the constitution of the Great Colombia in Quito, and more specifically in Guayaquil, the people from Venezuela and Quito longed for a federalist constitution, one that would allow them to have control and regional freedom without strong central impositions. The Venezuelan military, in particular, wanted to exert more power in their region.

The members of the army had been allowed to vote in the elections since the constitution of Cúcuta in special as a recognition to the effort made in the liberating campaigns. In 1827 the congress decided to reduce that right and made a constitutional change to exclude the ranks below sergeants, since excluding higher ranks was very bold.

In April 1828 the representatives of the municipalities (parishes) met in Ocaña to choose the constituent congress that would reform the constitution of Cúcuta. The Santanderists (federalists) obtained a great representation. The displeasure of the Bolivarians was such, that they decided to leave the deliberations, thus not allowing the quorum to be obtained. This incapacity to exert the democracy and solve the conflicts with dialogue, negotiation and vote, deciding on abandonment instead, was a behavior that the traditional parties would maintain during XIX and XX centuries and would generate violence. Nevertheless the members in the elections of July 1, 1828 were appointed.

Bolivar was eager to see the Great Colombia united and decided to impose his will in a dictatorial fashion as a last resort. In August 1828, he presented a constitution in which he included Peru and Bolivia (by then, Bolivia had already separated from Peru), with a strong central government and a presidency for life in which the president could have the faculty to appoint his successor. That was the final spark that set afire the Santanderistas because they saw in that proposal a backward movement towards monarchy and reached the point of trying to assassinate the liberator in September 25. Additionally, the Venezuelan leaders saw Bolivar's intentions with enough distrust and in November 1829 they decided to separate from the Great Colombia. They let this know in the convention of January. Bolivar finally resigned to his position during the constitutional convention in January 1830 held in Bogotá (also called the Admirable Congress), additionally, he started to feel ill.

The Inhabitants of Quito, knowing that Venezuela had separated and that Bolivar retired completely, decided to separate as well. Thus the Great Colombia vanished after 11 years of existence.

The displeasure of the military and liberal groups was accentuated and entailed General Rafael Urdaneta's dictatorship. Finally in December 1830 Simón Bolivar the liberator died.

The Admirable Congress and the Constitution of 1830

Trying to avoid the separation of Ecuador and Venezuela, the Admirable Congress (named thus due to the highly regarded people who conformed it) worked on the Constitution of 1830, limiting centralism and giving the regions and municipalities more power for their development. The separation came before this constitution could be in effect, but would become a model for following constitutions since it had a moderate and conciliating tone.

The constitution of 1832 - Republic of New Granada

The Gran Colombia without Venezuela and Ecuador was now only the old province of New Granada which included Panama, Magdalena, Boyacá, Cundinamarca and the Cauca, and these departments were subdivided in about 15 provinces. On October 20, 1831 the Granadine Convention approved the separation and established a centralized republic officially called Republic of New Granada with some federal characteristics. The constitution established a presidencialist regime. The congress appointed Francisco de Paula Santander president for a period of four years. On November 17, 1831 the Fundamental Law was promulgated, but the congress continued working on it during 1832. The term for senators was reduced form eight to four years and that of representatives from four to two. Provinces, now called Departments, were granted greater representation and power, and were administered by a governor and the assemblies. The former was appointed by the president and the latter chosen by vote. Centralists and the Catholic Church began to be called "Conservatives" and their opponents, the federalists, "Liberals".

The Reform of 1843

The country had gone through the War of the Convents and War of the Supremes from 1839 to 1841 so during the presidency of General Pedro Alcántara Herrán the congress strengthened the president to an authoritarian and centralist extent with the purpose of keeping the national territory in order, something that Conservatism, being the ruling party, used for its advantage.

This reform eliminated the free press, gave the monopoly of education to the Catholic Church and allowed the Jesuits, who had been expelled, to return.

Between 1849 and 1853 the number of provinces, now renamed departments, increased from 22 to 36.

The Reform of 1853

The constitution of 1832 leaned towards liberalism with the Reform of 1853. Now federalism prevailed; slavery was eliminated; the suffrage was extended to all men aged 21; the direct popular vote to choose congressmen governors and magistrates was implemented; administrative and religious freedom were established; the State separated from the Church, furthermore, the juristic person of the Catholic Church was terminated. Some of these reforms were reverted later in the 1886 constitution.

Elections to choose the solicitor and the Supreme Court of Justice took place in September 1853. In October 3, 1853 the governor of Bogotá was chosen counting the votes by parochial district.

During 1848 and 1849 the traditional parties, Liberal and Conservative finally coined their names. Their ideological differences became solid and the emphasis on personal characters waned.

As of 1849, during the government of General Jose Hilario Lopez the country had a strong political and economic transformation because the colonial structure started shifting towards Capitalism.

The constitution of 1858 - Granadine Confederation

Under the mandate of the conservative Mariano Ospina Rodriguez, the country was called officially Granadine Confederation in this constitution. The confederation was conformed by eight states. the provinces were granted greater representation and power: each state could have independent legislative attributes and the possibility to choose its own president.

The Vice-presidency was abolished and it was replaced with one designate appointed by the congress. The president and the senators would be elected for a period of 4 years and the camera for 2.

In 1859 an electoral law conferred the president of the confederation the power to replace state presidents and to take part in questions of public order, and conferred the congress the faculty to judge the elections of the states.

The constitution of 1863 - United States of Colombia

The radical liberals had won the civil war of 1860 and summoned the Constitution of Rionegro promulgated on May 8.

The congress approved on February 3, 1863 the name United States of Colombia for the country.

It liberalized the social and economic policies, proclaiming the freedom to express one's ideas orally or in written, freedom to work or to organize any business, freedom of press, freedom to travel through the territory, to enter or to leave it, freedom of education, freedom of cult, freedom of association, freedom to have arms and ammunition, and to deal with them.

It established a federal system with a central presidency (presidency of the union) weak for two years and without the possibility of immediate re-election. The election of the president of the union was indirect: each one of the nine states (Panama, Antioquia, Magdalena, Bolivar, Santander, Boyacá, Cundinamarca, Tolima and the Cauca) would choose their candidates following particular electoral procedures for each state; then, each one of the nine states would deposite a vote to elect the president of the union. The winning candidate was that who had the absolute majority of votes, if the absolute majority was not obtained, the congress would be the one to choose him from the same group of candidates.

Under this decentralized regime, regionalistic feelings reached their ultimate expression.

On May 12, four days after having proclaimed the constitution, the 61 delegates chose Tomás Cipriano de Mosquera to govern for two years until April 1, 1864, moment at which the new regulations to name president would start. Mosquera had the anticlerical tone of liberalism and the conservatives the pro clerical tone that would continue for many decades.

The Reform of 1876

This federal period produced forty two new state constitutions and before 1876 elections were almost continuous, since the different states did not vote simultaneously not even for the election of the president of the union. Therefore a constitutional change was implemented so that the elections for president of each state were made at the same time in all the states.

The constitution of 1886 - Republic of Colombia

The coalition of moderate Liberals and Conservatives that ended the liberal hegemony and placed Rafael Núñez in power, repealed the Constitution of Rionegro with the constitution of 1886. From now on, the country was called officially Republic of Colombia.

The Constituent Assembly was conformed by 18 delegates, two from each of the nine states.

Rafael Núñez announced a national Regeneration program and changed the country from a decentralized federal system to a centralized system with a strong central presidency. The presidential period changed from two to six years. The president of the Republic was elected by the Congress. The president of the state was appointed governor who from that moment on was appointed by the president of the Republic. The governor would choose the mayors of his department, except the mayor of Bogotá who was chosen by the president himself. Thus the president in turn had the monopoly of the executive at all levels.

In addition, the re-election of the president in immediate periods was authorized.

The chamber, the departmental assemblies and the municipal counsils were chosen by popular vote. The Senate was chosen by the departmental assemblies. The suffrage for elections in the national scope was limited the greater men of 21 than they knew to read and to write. The restriction of knowing how to read and to write did not apply in the regional elections.

The figure of the vice-president recreated who was initially occupied by Eliseo Payán.

The catholic religion became the official religion. In 1887 president Núñez settled down a concordato with Santa Sede who gave to the Catholic church the powers him and privileges who was lost in the previous constitution.

The constitution of 1886 remained effective by more than one hundred years guiding the mandate of twenty-three presidents of the Republic.

This continuous method of implementing constitutional changes based on the partisan wind of the moment, without having to be the result of the agreements of the different national forces was one of the causes of bipartisan polarization and violence. The population followed the patterns of conflict of the parties and began to identify themselves more with the party concept than with the nation concept. The ultraliberal ones never gave up to the loss of the power and in three occasions, from 1885 to 1895, they tried to gain it by force. It took 44 years (up to 1930) for the liberal party to regain power.

Separation of Panama 1903

In the signed Hay-Herra'n treaty of January 22 of 1903, Colombia would rent in life form an earth strip to Estados for the construction of a channel in the department of Panama. Under this United States agreement it would pay to Colombia $10 million dollars and after nine years an annuity of $250,000 dollars, treatment that was rejected by the Colombian congress to consider it disadvantageous for the country, nonsingle by the money that would go away to receive but so that to leave a strip in life form to a foreign country a loss of the national sovereignty was considered.

On November 3, 1903 Panama separated from Colombia with support from the United States. On November 6 United States recognized the sovereignty of Panama. On November 11 United States informed Colombia they would oppose Colombian troops trying to recover Panama. The War of the Thousand Days had left Colombia too weak to impede the separation. On November 18 United States signed theHay-Bunau-Varilla agreement with Panama for the construction of the channel.

The Reform of 1905

In December 1904, few months after being elected president, General Rafael Reyes, displeased with the congress because of the opposition and slowness to approve the reforms he wanted to impose, closed it. He summoned, at the beginning of 1905, a National Constituent Assembly conformed by three representatives of each department (provinces) chosen by the departmental administrators.

The Assembly suppressed the vice-presidency, two of the designaturas and the Council of State. It also defined that the magistrates of the Supreme Court of Justice would be for life, recognized the right of representation of minorities and the possibility to reform the Constitution by means of the National Assembly.

The National Assembly demonstrated its support to the government with dictatorial character when it established a presidential period of 10 years only for General Reyes (from January 1 of 1905 to January 31 of 1914) with the possibility to appoint a successor. In case the president were another person the period would be for four years However General Reyes quit in 1909.

The Reform of 1910

Because of the unexpected retirement to exile of General Rafael Reyes on June 13, 1909, the congress chose as its vice-president, the conservative General Ramon González Valencia, on August 3, 1909, to govern the remaining year in order to complete the six years period Reyes left incomplete.

Ramon González summoned a National Assembly in 1910 (elected through the municipal counsils) to reform the Constitution of 1886, which started sessioning on May 15 and informed the results from May 25 onwards. This important reform, inspired by the members of the Republican Union (that actually were a third party with bipartisan principles of free elections and religious tolerance), banned the participation of the military in politics, established the direct popular election of the president of the republic, departmental assemblies and municipal council; it reduced the presidential period from 6 to 4 years, prohibited the immediate re-election of presidents, eliminated the figure of the vice-president and replaced it by one appointee that would be chosen by the congress; it established the system of proportions for the appointment of the members of public corporations according to the votes obtained, assuring a minimum of one third for what then was called the minority party: the opposite party; it granted the congress the faculty to choose the magistrates of the Supreme Court of Justice, consecrated the constitutional control to the Supreme Court of Justice and the diffuse control by the judicial route. So with these reforms the presidential powers were reduced.

Before this reform, the president was chosen by intermediation of the electoral schools that represented the electoral districts, and the president who won the elections had the control to ensure the power for the following period.

This reform kept the conditions for voting. These were: to know how to read and write, to have an annual rent of at least 300 pesos or to have real estate by a nonsmaller value of 1,000 pesos.

The president kept the power to name governors who in turn would appoint mayors, corregidores, administrators, directors of post offices, heads of jails, managers of banks, and some others. The Colombian society continued accepting this as something natural.

It was not until August 27, 1932, during the government of Olaya Herrera that the number of positions in the congress was regulated with the law no. 7. This number would be proportional to the number of votes obtained by each list. Nevertheless, guaranteeing one third part for the opposition had indirect undesired effects for promoting democracy. During the conservative governments, the liberal party got accustomed to leaving the electoral process as a means of protest in several cases knowingly that in any case it would obtain one third of the positions in congress, even in one occasion not even the third part was accepted.

Finally, to begin the period of transition, the Constituent National Assembly made an exception in the popular election of presidents and chose the first president of the Republican Union Carlos Eugene Restrepo on July 15 by voting, and also it chose the first and second designates.

The Reform of 1936

During the government of Alfonso Lopez Pumarejo, on August 1, 1936 the congress made several reforms. The right of suffrage was extended to all men 21 or older, eliminating the contition of knowing how to read and write to exert it. That right was used for the first time in the presidential election of 1938 that the liberal Eduardo Santos won.

Women were granted the right to occupy most of the public positions, although they were not considered citizens for effects of suffrage, because they had already begun to attended University; and the control of the Catholic Church over education started to wane.

The Reform of 1954

During the government of Gustavo Rojas Pinilla by his suggestion, The National Constituent Assembly (Asamblea Nacional Constituyente, ANAC), unanimously recognized the political rights of women by means of the legislative act number 3 of August 25, 1954. Women exerted this right for the first time during the plebiscite of December 1, 1957, to approve the constitutional change that would allow both traditional political parties, Liberal and Conservative, to set the National Front.

Three attempts to recognize the right of voting for women had failed before: First in 1934 during the government of Alfonso Lopez Pumarejo where a law project was presented to the congress which did not approve, neither in the constitutional reform of that year. The second was the proposal presented by liberal Alberto Lleras Camargoin 1944 but it was postponed under the excuse that this regulation would not be approved before 1948. The third was the proposal presented by the liberal Alfonso Romero Aguirre in 1948 which was supported but implemented in a gradual fashion, which in reality was another postponement.

The Reform of 1957

The temporary Junta Military that succeeded Rojas Pinilla and by agreement of the traditional political parties, authorized, in October 1957, a plebiscite for a constitutional reform by means of the Legislative Act no. 0247 to fix the parity of the parties with the purpose of finding a solution to the problems of the country. This agreement and the corresponding period was called National Front.

The plebiscite of December 1, 1957, approved, with almost 94% of votes the constitutional reform for the parity in Public Corporations between both traditional parties, the Liberal and the Conservative, for a term of 12 years and determined that the elections for President of the Republic, Congress, Departmental Assemblies, and Municipal Councils would take place during the first semester of 1958.

The Reform of 1958

The first Congress elected by popular means within the National Front made a constitutional change to extend the term of the National Front from 12 to 16 years, and decided in addition that the first president would be liberal and not conservative as agreed before.

The Reform of 1968

Although the National Front ended in 1974, the constitutional reforms preparing the transition began in 1968 during the government of Carlos Lleras Restrepo previous to last president of the National Front.

With the purpose of regulating the electoral competition between parties, the reforms eliminated the distribution by halves for departmental assemblies and municipal councils, because it was already stipulated that the one for the congress would end in 1974. They also included some measures to recognize minority parties. In some other areas of the constitution the required reforms were postponed, in some cases indefinitely, as it was the case with the ordinal one of the article 120 of the Constitution in which "the right and fair participation of the second party in votation" that limited the participation of the minority parties and therefore the citizen participation remained. It established that later reforms to the constitution could be made by the congress, as long as the reform was approved by the absolute majority (two thirds) of all the members of the Senate and the Camera voting in two consecutive ordinary legislative sessions.

The Reform of 1984

During the government of Belisario Betancur the congress established the popular voting for mayors and governors on November 21, 1984, with the aim of reducing or eliminating the central control of the parties over their nominations and of extending the regional democracy.

The constitution of 1991

The Constitution of 1991 is also called the Constitution of the Rights, inasmuch as it recognizes and it consecrates not only the fundamental rights, (the same classic rights the French Revolution for which Antonio Nariño had fought about 200 years), but also the economic and social rights of the Social State of Right, consecrated in the 1st article of the Constitution and the so called third generation of rights of collective character, from which important ones are, among others, the public morality, a free market and the Environmental justice. In addition it creates the necessary mechanisms to ensure and protect those rights.

A student movement conformed in 1989, summoned in 1990 a Constituent National Assembly elected by direct popular vote, which promulgated in Bogotá one year later the Colombian Constitution of 1991. The denomination "República of Colombia" remained.

During the peace negotiation process with different rebel groups during mandate of president Virgilio Barco Vargas, the guerrilla detachment M-19 had insisted that one of the main requirements to lay down arms was the creation of a Constituent National Assembly in order to modify the constitution which until then did not guarantee the creation and development of other political parties different from the two traditional ones, nor gave representation to the minorities.

Before the refusal of the government to make a popular consultation to authorize the constitutional change including an option in the ballots for president. The students, in particular those of the universities, decided to make a national level movement so that the population at the polls included a 'Seventh Paper Ballot ordering the executive to conforme a Constituent National Assembly. More than 50% of the voters included the "Seventh Paper Ballot" with which the president in turn, Cesar Gaviria Trujillo, was himself forced to fulfill the popular mandate by the Supreme Court. Thus it was possible not only to obtain a constitutional change, but also that the guerrilla detachment M-19 laid arms and were integrated into the political national life, and that the indigenous communities had guaranteed representation in the Congress.

The Reform of 2005

In 2004, president Álvaro Uribe from the independent party Colombia First impelled a constitutional reform to allow the re-election of the President in immediate periods. The proposal was approved according to the constitution procedures and the Constitutional Court declared it executable as of October 19, 2005. The first reelected president was Alvaro Uribe himself on May 28, 2006, obtaining a voting of 62,1%. Next in the polls was Carlos Gaviria Diaz, candidate for the left party Alternative Democratic Pole, who obtained 22%. The absenteeism reached 53.53%.

Being Uribe and Gaviria from independent parties, this is, different from the traditional Liberal and Conservative ones, highlights an important era of ideological transformation in the history of Colombia, even to the point that some mass media announced that bipartisanism had been hurt of death.

It is also evident the maturity that the electoral process had reached, which had earned the confidence of the population and opponent parties. The speed in the delivery of the electoral data from the National Registration Office stood out as well, as even Colombians abroad listening Colombian internet radio stations knew less than two hours before the ballot boxes had closed the results of 85% of the ballots.


This article was translated and modified from the same article in the Spanish Wikipedia Edition: Historia del constitucionalismo colombiano

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