Economic Associations

Economic Associations

By the 1980s, a wide variety of economic associations (gremios) existed in such areas as agriculture, banking, commerce, construction, and insurance. They seldom initiated policy changes, but they often tried to amend or defeat legislation proposed by the executive; they also resorted to court challenges to delay or impede implementation. The largest gremios exercised significant influence on governmental leaders and had elaborate, well-staffed organizations with departmental and local affiliates. These associations included the National Association of Manufacturers (Asociación Nacional de Industriales--ANDI), the National Federation of Merchants (Federación Nacional de Comerciantes--Fenalco), the National Federation of Colombian Coffee Growers (Federación Nacional de Cafeteros de Colombia--Fedecafe), and the Colombian Popular Association of Small Manufacturers (Asociación Colombiana Popular de Industriales--Acopi).

A strong advocate of free enterprise, ANDI was composed of more than 500 of the largest industrial enterprises; its members were high in social and economic status, exercising influence not only on the economy but on politics and education as well. Fenalco supported much the same policies as ANDI and, like ANDI, was wealthy and well organized. Fedecafe, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving Colombia's coffee cultivation and raising the living standards of its coffee growers, was particularly influential in setting and administering the nation's official coffee policy. The government delegated Fedecafe total responsibility for coffee policy, including quality control of exports and all other matters related to the coffee sector. ANDI, Fenalco, and Fedecafe were effective not only because they were able to influence the initiation and outcome of legislation and executive decrees affecting the economy but also had close ties to most of the government's finance and development ministers and both major parties.

Acopi was not quite as influential, wealthy, and homogeneous in its membership as the larger associations, but it shared their general orientation. Acopi's influence derived largely from the connections some members had with government leaders. Acopi's greatest efforts were directed at reducing taxes on imports, finished products, and raw materials.

Large landowners traditionally had an important influence on the politics of the nation because of their membership in the elite, their relations with the political parties, and their great wealth. Despite the emergence of nonelite agricultural organizations in the 1970s, the large landholders still exercised considerable political power. For example, they waged an effective battle against the implementation of comprehensive agrarian reform. The most important of the nonelite interest groups in the agricultural sector was the National Association of Peasant Land Users (Asociación Nacional de Usarios Campesinos--ANUC), a loose confederation of local peasant organizations who owned, rented, or sharecropped small plots of land. This well-organized, militant association--numbering over 1 million members by the early 1970s-- represented a majority of the nation's peasants. The ANUC mobilized and radicalized the peasants to such an extent that other unions opposed it. Some ANUC leaders were arrested for alleged links with guerrilla groups. As a result of these pressures, the ANUC splintered and lost its cohesiveness. Although it remained ineffective and disorganized in the early 1980s, the ANUC continued to receive government subsidies, and members its served on various government boards.

In the National Front tradition, interest groups generally appointed equal numbers of representatives of the Liberal and Conservative party directorates on their boards of directors. Because the lobbying efforts of the interest associations focused mainly on the executive branch, the leadership of the larger groups also included representatives of government ministries. The government relied on some of the interest associations to act as agents of the state in establishing and enforcing commodity prices or collecting export taxes on products such as coffee. Representatives of banking, industrial, and agricultural interests were included in some government agencies, such as the National Council for Social and Economic Policy (Consejo Nacional de Política Económica y Social--Conpes), which directed the nation's finances. Although contact with Congress was minimal, the boards of directors also usually included representatives of Congress or legislative posts at the departmental or local levels.

One group with a potential to become a political force in Colombia was a growing, mostly urban middle class that constituted about 20 percent of the population in the mid-1980s and included professionals, white-collar employees in the public and private sectors, and small businessmen. Pressured by inflation and cuts in government budgets, members of this relatively unorganized group have attempted to make themselves felt in numerous strikes by their unionized members since the mid-1970s.

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