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Colombia: Professionalization Efforts
Country Study > Chapter 5 > National Security > Background and Traditions of the Armed Forces > The Development of the Modern Armed Forces > The Leticia Conflict


During the military reform of 1907, the centerpiece of Reyes's reorganization, the Military Cadet School (Escuela Militar de Cadetes) at Bogotá and the Naval Cadet School (Escuela Naval de Grumetes) at Cartagena, were established as the army and navy service academies, respectively. This effort was aided by the arrival of Prussian-trained Chilean military advisers. The Chileans, who were stationed in Colombia from 1907 to 1915, helped to develop the schools' curricula and training programs and introduced what were then considered modern European concepts of military doctrine and technology. Indeed, Chileans commanded both service academies during the first years of their operation. Chileans also helped to found the armed forces staff school, the Superior War College (Escuela Superior de Guerra). Modeled after Prussia's Kriegsakademie, the college offered advanced training for the officer corps and graduated its first class of thirty-seven officers in 1910. Finally, in 1916 the Noncommissioned Officers School (Escuela de Suboficiales) was opened.

Also part of the military modernization program was the attempt to enforce provisions for obligatory military service. The government sought to expand the pool of conscripts beyond the traditional recruitment base of the lower classes and rural areas. President Reyes believed that universal conscription would help build a military that was not subservient to the specific interests of either the PL or the Conservative Party (Partido Conservador -- PC). At the same time that increased numbers of conscripts were being introduced into military service, the size of the standing army (in 1904 authorized at the level of 5,000 soldiers) was reduced.

In attempting to generate professional standards, the military reform of 1907 also provided for the regularization of promotions and military pay scales based, in part, on the officers' completion of professional training programs. The military's involvement in civic action projects also began during this period. Troops helped construct new roads and bridges and rebuilt churches, convents, and hospitals that had been damaged during the War of a Thousand Days. The success of the modernization program resulted both from Reyes's political skill and from his selection of such able military leaders as General Tomás Rueda Vargas. Reyes was not without his detractors, however. Congressional leaders and partisan stalwarts, fearing the loss of civilian control, often resisted his professionalization efforts.

Despite Reyes's resignation in 1909, government attention to the development of the armed forces continued. For the first time in national history, the long-held prejudices against the military and military service were being broken down. Decree 623 of 1911 amended the law regulating implementation of the draft. By 1925 an increasing number of the students accepted at the Military Cadet School came from the country's middle class. In 1919 the Military Aviation School (Escuela Militar de Aviación) was opened. Two years later, the government created the Colombian Air Force (Fuerza Aérea Colombiana -- FAC). During the 1920s, a naval air arm also was established, and orders were placed with Britain for the construction of several gunboats.

Toward the end of the 1920s, however, governmental interest in the armed forces again began to wane. In 1928 the government called upon the army to suppress a series of strikes against the United Fruit Company by banana workers. Although the army did restore public order -- thereby fulfilling one objective of modernization -- its use of extensive and indiscriminate force, which produced over 1,000 casualties, also suggested that it had not yet become wholly professional. In addition, partisan influence in the armed forces continued to be a problem. Following the return of the presidency to the PL in 1930, only one-fifth of the army's officer corps were Liberals. Despite the efforts of the preceding years, the upper ranks of the corps continued to be dominated by PC sympathizers.

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

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Section 144 of 188


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