The Level of Democracy in Colombia

Level of Democracy: Colombia

Colombia has a strong democratic tradition. Since it won the independence from Spain in 1819, it has only experienced two military interventions interrupting long periods of stable democracy, one during the mid-nineteenth century and another one at the response to “La Violencia – The Violence”, the confrontation between the two traditional political parties.

This period of “La Violencia” began with the assassination of the popular political leader Jorge Eliecer Gaitan in 1948 and ended in 1958 when the two parties decided to alternate the power in a called “power-sharing agreement” known as the “National Front”. However, the not inclusion of other political views and the poor rural population contributed to the conformation of the revolutionary guerrilla group in the 1960s, its name FARC (today a political party).

The growing presence of the guerrilla groups and the absence of the government’s presence in the rural areas, actively supported the creation of right-wing self-defense groups commonly knows as “Paramilitares” during the late 1980s and 1990s.

After the end of the cold war and the fall of the Soviet Union, the FARC lost its financial support, which led to the group to be involved in the narcotics business, fact that transformed the economic, social, political, historical context of Colombia forever as we know it today. This historical background leads us to the actual level of democracy in Colombia, a country recognized as partially free[1] with a liberal democracy but with a lot of improvements pending to be implemented.

Retrato de Colombia (Colombia's Portrait) - Debora Arango (Source: El Colombiano)
A liberal democracy is described as a political system that requires free and fair elections as well as guaranteed constitutional protection of civil and political rights such as the rule of law, separation of powers, liberties of speech, assembly, religion and property[2].

The Colombian case in terms of democracy has been characterized in many different ways. Bruce Bagley[3] questions whether the term “democracy” should be even be used to identify the political system in Colombia during the National Front period (1958 to 1974), and suggest that describing it as a “inclusionary authoritarian regime” would be more appropriate. William Avilés[4] calls it a “low-intensity democracy”, referring to the low level of effective citizen participation, and Manuel Trujillo draws on Guillermo O’Donnell’s term of “delegative democracy” to describe the political situation in Colombia under the Uribe’s administration. Bejarano and Pizarro refer to Colombia as a “besieged democracy” where the adequate functioning of democracy is hindered by extra-institutional rather than intra-institutional forces, and that its main failure is the inability to establish the rule of law[5].

All these points of view are related with the actual condition of the democracy in Colombia and all of them are seen as a result and consequence of the historical background exposed before.

One of the most important factors for become a full democratic state is the freedom of speech and press. Governmental and guerrilla groups have impacted Colombia’s definite adoption of free speech. The current situation in Colombia for free speech is rather promising. The Government signed a new access to information law, and with this law Colombian citizens are able to exercise their right to information as a fundamental right of liberty. This advance shows the progress and steps the government is taking to rescue a country and citizens that have been oppressed thought history. However, drug trafficking is still an issue, but increasing amount of citizens is using social-networking and digital communication as an effective tool against censorship and violence[6].

Contradictory to the degree of hope presented in the current Colombia’s situation, the country ranks 129 out of 180 in the world press freedom index, basically because Colombia’s journalist continue to be threatened by “bacrims”, gangs of former paramilitaries now involving in drug trafficking. Physical attacks, death threats and murders are still common; with the result that Colombia is one of the western hemisphere’s most dangerous countries for the press[7]. Criminal groups still use the violence to silence alternative media that try to cover their illegal activities, this violence, sometimes complicit with local officials, often goes unpunished and at the end this is one of the most important factors for the erosion of the democracy in the country.

To understand more this perceptions of the democracy in Colombia, a view on the election’s process is needed. Elections in Colombia are regulated and controlled by the National Electoral Council. Colombia elects on national level the president and the legislature. Colombia had a two-party system, in which it could be difficult for third parties to find success. However, recently, the number of independent candidates has tended to shows signs that past electoral trends may be wakening and the potential for diversity could be increasing[8].

For the election in 2018, will be the first elections in the Colombia’s history, where the rebel group FARC will participate as a political party. The rebels signed a historic peace deal with the government in 2016. This agreement guarantee the former fighter 10 seats in the congress, at the same time, the new party will get the same amount of financial support the government give to the 13 other political parties in Colombia.

During the last decade and a half, Colombia has witnessed both and improvement in the dimensions of political participation and contestation and a severe deterioration in the dimensions related to effective protection of the civil liberties and subordination of the military. With this in mind, the Colombian political regime is difficult to classify, since it is neither a full democracy nor an authoritarian regime.

The current situation of Colombia’s democracy can be conceived as a game being played on two fields simultaneously (Bejarano and Pizarro, 2002), there is an electoral field (where the rules of the democratic game are largely respected among legally recognized political actors) and an extra-institutional field (where the rules of war rather than the rules of democracy apply, including the accumulation of instruments of force, territory and arms)[9].

Now it is important to analyze the perception of the Colombian regarding democracy. According to the Americas Barometer, 70% of the polled Colombians consider that the country is almost democratic and only 5% have the perception of living under a regime or a system not democratic. Additionally, 60% of the Colombians say that are satisfied or high satisfied with the democracy. To understand this perception, is important to take a look on the question what is the meaning of “Democracy” for Colombian people.

For Colombians, living under democracy means freedom of expression (15,4%), participation (8,3%), freedom, elections, and the right to choose its leaders, human rights, peace and justice. However, 31,3% of the polled does not find any meaning for democracy[10]. With this result, Colombia appears as one of the Latin-American countries, after El Salvador and Dominican Republic, where the citizens have a low or empty meaning about democracy. This is a problem and disappointing not only for the country itself but also for the efforts of people to develop the levels of democracy in the region. The government needs to increase the efforts empathizing the meaning of the democracy in the national education programs because this may be an important factor in the actual level of democracy in the country.

In addition, is helpful also to analysis the so called democracy Index, this is an index compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit and tries to measure the sate of the democracy in 167 countries, 165 of them are UN members states. The first publication was produced in 2006; this index is based on 60 indicators that measure pluralism, civil liberties and political culture. At the end, the countries are classified in four types of regimes: full democracies, flawed democracies, hybrid regimes and authoritarian regimes.

According to this report, Colombia is number 57 in the rank and number 10 in the regional rank (Latin America), being this democracy flagged as “Flawed Democracy”. According to this index, Colombia is a country that has free and fair elections, where may occur problems with infringements on media freedom but basic civil liberties are respected. However there are significant weaknesses in other aspects of democracy, including problems in governance, and underdeveloped political culture and low levels of political participation[11].

Democracy Index 2016. The Economist 

Colombia ranks 57th with a score of 6.67 out of 10. The lowest ratings were in the short ranks of political participation (4.4) and political culture (4.38), which are caused by high rates of electoral abstinence and political apathy in the country.

Politicians and internationalists consulted consider that although Colombia has "very weak" political institutions, elections are carried out in the country according to an electoral calendar, the results of the elections are respected, there is the right to dissent and to oppose, there are freedom of the press and there is significant progress in recognizing differences, orientations, cults and identities[12].

The last presidential period has supported an ambitious agenda for social reform, passing a victims and land restitution law in 2011 and initiating talks with the Revolutionary armed forces of Colombia in 2012. The negotiation process was concluded in December 2016 with the passage of revised accords in the Colombian congress. In response, the Congress must pass legislation that will allow for implementation of reforms required by the accords addressing rural development, political participation, drug trafficking, amnesty and victim’s rights[13]. All these social reforms will have an effect on the gaps presented in the social structure of the country, at the end, all the social differences impact directly to the level of democracy. As conclusion, Colombia has a lot to do in order to become a full democracy, however consistent efforts have been implemented to contribute in the improvement of the levels of democracy.

[1] Freedom in the World 2017. Freedom House. Colombia Profile.
[2] Larry Diamond, Elections without Democracy: Thinking about hybrid regimes. Journal of Democracy 13. No. 2, 2002.
[3] Dr. Bruce M. Bagley. University of Miami College of arts and science. PhD. Political Science.
[4] Dr. William Aviles. University of Nebraska Kearney. Comparative Politics, Latin American Politics.
[5] An Analysis of Colombia’s Democracy. Roberto Lorente. April 15, 2010
[6] Free Speech and Free Press around the world. Colombia. Ernest Macias. April, 2014
[7] World Press Freedom Index 2017. Reporters without borders.
[8] The Green Party was second in the presidential elections in 2010
[9] From ”Restricted” to “Besieged”: The changing nature of the limits to Democracy in Colombia. Ana Bejarano. Eduardo Pizarro. National University of Colombia. January 2005.
[10] Cultura Politica de la Democracia en Colombia. Americas Barometer. USAID. 2006
[11] Democracy Index 2016. The Economist Intelligence Unit. 2017
[12]  EL TIEMPO. Casi 3 de cada 10 países viven bajo regímenes autoritarios. 29 April 2017.
[13] National Democratic Institue. Colombia, 2017


Por:  Pedro Nel Rueda

Muchos me han pregunta a qué me refiero cuando hablo de la gracia de Dios. Muchos “No Cristianos” me argumentan que Dios ya ni los mira por cuenta de todos los pecados que comenten. Otros “Muy Cristianos” argumentan que la gracia de Dios es la excusa perfecta para  pecar y es el concepto que ha generado una ola de “Cristianismo light” de la que muchos “Muy Cristianos” consideran que hago parte. Pues bien, a todos ellos les digo que, es por gracia. 
La obra salvadora de Dios es hacer de pecadores unos “santos”. La biblia esta llena de estos ejemplos, empezando por Pablo, quien persiguió a todos los cristianos de la época hasta que se convirtió, o Maria, que fue a lavar los pies de Jesús con el mejor perfume, hecho por el cual muchos “Muy cristianos” empezaron a murmurar el por qué gastar tan valioso perfume en vez de venderlo y dar el dinero a los pobres, Jesús les respondió: “Déjala”. 

O la famosa frase de “El que este libre de pecado que tire la primera piedra”; esa frase refuerza el concepto de es por gracia. Partamos entonces de que la obra salvadora de Dios y por ende de los cristianos es hacer de los pecadores unos “santos”, y coloco santos en comillas porque el ser santo debe ser aspiración mas no hecho. La gracia de Dios es la capacidad que le da a los seres humanos de hacer su voluntad. ¿Qué es gracia entonces? Es un favor, una concesión que se da sin ningún merecimiento en particular. Merecemos que Dios nos ame, puede que la respuesta sea si o no, dependiendo de donde la miren, sin embargo, Él lo hace, solo por gracia.

Dios nos permite que actuemos, para eso somos humanos, si El no nos dejara actuar libremente no sería Dios. Si no dejara que el mundo funcionara libremente pues no tendría la grandeza de Dios, el Universo debe de dejar que las cosas tanto buenas como malas sucedan, porque son el resultado de consecuencias que también nosotros generamos. El Padre le dijo a Jesus “Es mi voluntad que vayas a la cruz”, como la consecuencia de unos actos y la obligación del flujo del universo. Sin embargo, el poder de Dios se perfecciona en la debilidad y en la dificultad. 

No de gratis se dice que de los problemas salimos fortalecidos, esta frase también tiene un respaldo cristiano, y ahí juega también un papel muy importante la gracia. Es decir, la cosas “malas” pasan porque tienen que pasar, porque así lo dispone el universo, porque es necesario que pasen y más si son consecuencias de acciones, sin embargo, la gracia de Dios permite que salgamos fortalecidos de eso, nos perfeccionamos en los problemas, nos volvemos más fuertes, nos volvemos más sabios, nos volvemos más capaces antes y después de la adversidad, y es por gracia. 

La gracia solo se da si somos capaces de admitir y confesar las luchas que tenemos. La gracia de Dios no funciona si tratamos de aparentar que nada esta pasando. El ejemplo es claro, puede que estemos atravesando por un momento difícil, es desierto, ese momento nos lleva a actuar de una manera poco “santa”, somos humanos, con mecanismos de defensa muy particulares ante la dificultad que nos llevan a tomar decisiones poco sabias y con componentes de “pecado” muy grandes. Debemos de tener la capacidad de entender que estamos actuando mal, debemos de poder tener una confesión sincera, de estar en la capacidad de confesar lo que necesitamos, de ser honestos con nosotros mismos y reconocer que no estamos actuando de la mejor manera posible, ahí, sin importar que tan grande sea el error o el “pecado”, Dios actúa y nos dice #BastaConMiGracia. 

Un Cristiano no es un ser perfecto, un cristiano es un hijo en proceso que requiere constantemente y de manera casi que diaria reconocer que esta lleno de errores. De nada sirve vivir tratando de impresionar con una vida en santidad. Lamentablemente la iglesias están perdiendo su credibilidad porque esta llena de “Santos” que están 20 centímetros arriba del piso flotando libres de pecado. Que buscan decirle al mundo como actuar, y castigan y reprimen a todos aquellos que no actúen como ellos. Se les olvida que Dios les dijo que #LesBastaMiGracia, no necesitan ser santos que leviten para tener una relación con Dios. A todos esos cristianos que han llevado a la situación precaria actual de la iglesia les digo, es por gracia, es por la capacidad que tengan de asumir sus errores, sus pecados, sus luchas internas, su disposición a cada día ser mejor, no son hijos de Dios porque se lo merezcan, son hijos de Dios porque a El se le dio la gana, literalmente, de que así lo sean. 

La gracia de Dios permite restaurar. No podemos confundir la gracia con el Libertinaje, y ahí es donde está la gran diferencia entre los que argumentan el “Cristianismo Light” y los más “Santos”. Aquí aplica la frase “El que reza y peca, empata”, así no debe ser. La gracia de Dios nos debe permitir vencer la debilidad. Es decir, no podemos caer en el mismo error todos los días argumentando que Dios nos perdona por gracia. De nada esta sirviendo entonces esa gracia porque esta debe ser restauradora. La confesión (Requisito para que haya gracia) nos debe llevar al arrepentimiento y por ende a la “No repetición”. Como seres humanos ya dijimos que nos debemos perfeccionar en la debilidad, pero si, con la excusa de la gracia, somos débiles constantemente, pues no nos estamos perfeccionando, sino por el contrario estamos cayendo en una debilidad mayor. La gracia es grande cuando hay confesión, perdón y perfección. Si no tenemos estos elementos, entonces tenemos libertinaje, una libertad abusiva, que se aprovecha del #EsPorGracia para comportarse de manera poco responsable y que ignora las consecuencias que tarde o temprano sucederán.