The Post-National Front Period, 1974-82

The Post-National Front Period, 1974-82

The PL and PC were weak, divided into factions, and inadequately organized at the end of the existence of the National Front. Because the political parties were not eager to engage in intense competition, Colombia achieved a peaceful transition to an open system. The principle of power-sharing was retained, although a president was allowed to select appointees from whatever sources he chose if the opposition refused to participate in his government.

The experience of the National Front, the lack of organizational efforts by the parties, and the massive migrations from rural to urban areas weakened party affiliations, which also decreased the likelihood of interparty violence. This weakening of party identification emerged as an unforeseen consequence of the nonpartisan structure of the National Front, in which party loyalty was less important than support for a particular faction. In addition, rapid urbanization and industrialization eroded the traditional bases of partisan support because Liberal supporters were transplanted to Conservative communities. The period after the National Front also reflected a growing gap between the issues and agendas of the political elite and the demands, concerns, and expectations of the populace.

The erosion of the bond between the elites and the masses also was manifested in the high rates of electoral abstentionism, rising levels of mass political apathy and cynicism, the emergence of an urban swing vote, and widespread distrust of the nation's political institutions and leadership. The image the masses held of the elite was tarnished by the failure of the elite as a whole to institute promised reforms and by suspected links between some leaders and the drug trade. The traditional mechanisms of political control, such as inherited party affiliation, patrimonialism, and clientelism, lost their effectiveness, especially in the growing urban areas.

The government's failure to accommodate the new social groups and classes that had emerged during Colombia's modernization generated the increasing alienation of the masses from the political leadership and caused some elements among the masses to resort to militancy. Thus, Colombia experienced a radicalization of peasant movements, an increase in urban protests, a growing restlessness within the urban labor movement, and a surge in rural and urban guerrilla activity.

Popular discontent with the government's management of the economy continued despite steady economic growth and high primary export revenues in the mid-1970s. The post-National Front period began in the midst of inflation and unemployment that fueled social unrest and prompted the government to institute unpopular antiinflationary austerity measures. Subsequent moves to increase employment by raising public spending on construction and infrastructure projects did more to augment the national debt than to alleviate the unemployment problem. As the coffee boom receded, growth rates declined steadily through the 1978-82 period. The massive underground economy, fueled by drug trafficking and marijuana cultivation, undermined the government's efforts to control inflation and contributed to the rise of a parallel financial market, placing a large part of the national economy beyond the control of legitimate authority.

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