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Colombia: Collapse of the Democratic System, 1946-58
Country Study > Chapter 1 > Historical Setting > Collapse of the Democratic System, 1946-58

COLLAPSE OF THE DEMOCRATIC SYSTEM, 1946-58


The transfer of power in 1946 ignited tensions between the two parties, resulting in violent political conflict, particularly in rural areas. The loss of peace foreboded the return to competitive and exclusionary politics, similar to the situation preceding the War of a Thousand Days. In the 1940s and 1950s, however, violence and exclusion more than threatened the political system; they ruptured it. A democratically elected administration became repressive and dictatorial, which led to its overthrow by the sole military coup in the twentieth century. Only by having the reins of power taken from both of their hands did the traditional elites recognize that the most effective way to avoid interparty civil wars and possible military dictatorships was to join forces and restrain their competitive tendencies.

In 1946 Ospina assumed office and was faced with the difficult task of ruling from a minority position, as Liberals had received the majority of all presidential votes and continued to control Congress. Ospina tried to confront this situation by incorporating Liberals into a coalition government. Meanwhile, the level of political rivalry intensified in the countryside, where Conservatives pursued a course of violence in an attempt to consolidate power after sixteen years out of office. Liberals retaliated and, under Gaitán's leadership, became highly mobilized in their demands that the Ospina government confront the social needs of the modernizing and urbanizing nation.

Gaitanism, the populist social movement led by Gaitán as a faction of the PL, increased dramatically between 1946 and 1948. Gaitán supported the democratic rather than the revolutionary path to reforms. By advocating the passage of more socially liberal policies, he appealed to the masses and he united urban workers and campesinos. As the movement grew, observers believed that Gaitán would be elected president, which may have happened had he lived to see the next election.

Liberal victories in the 1947 congressional elections demonstrated the party's strength among the electorate. Ospina became increasingly concerned with retaining Conservative control and provoked Liberals further by resorting frequently to police enforcement of Conservative privileges in the rural areas. The Liberal appointees in his government resigned in protest in March 1948.

Data as of December 1988




Last Updated: December 1988


Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Colombia was first published in 1988. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on Factba.se.

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