The term populism refers to a political system where the leaders appeal directly to the people and seek the support of social sectors that are not adequately represented in the political arrangements that exist. In a populist system, the leaders tend to enjoy the support of the mass as a result of mass mobilization. In many Latin American nations such as Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador, Chile, Panama, Peru and Mexico, one or more administrations have adopted populist policies (Dornbusch and Edwards, pg. 7). However, populism has failed to emerge in Colombia raising the question of why populism is not part of the Colombian society.
Although populism in Colombian was promoted by the political leader Jorge Eliecer Gaitan who was assassinated in 1948, populism failed to emerge after his death. Gaitan assassinated ended populist leadership in Columbia . Up to date, Colombia has managed to adopt a non-populist political system. Although the current Colombian President Alvaro Uribe leadership is considered to have some elements common with many populists, he is not a populist. The issue of absence of populism in Colombia in a continent dominated by populism and the reasons behind the absence needs to be examined.
President Alvaro Uribe non-populist leadership has been attributed to his lack of interest in mobilizing masses and activating supporters. These factors are important elements in populism. This paper will explore the reasons behind absence of populism in Colombia by tracing historical events in the country. The paper will first present a belief history of Colombia and important events during the leadership of Jorge Gaitan. His emergence as a political leader and the peoples’ reaction to his emergence will be explored as well as the reasons behind lack of populism emergence after his death .
Finally, the paper will evaluate President Uribe non-populist policies and why/how he has made great efforts to make Colombia prosper in absence of populism and left tendencies. Discussion A Brief overview of populism Populism embraces political representation that challenges the democratic political society where a highly polarized concept of society exists. Populist regimes like the ones that have been witnessed in Latin American emphasize on the social divide between the privileged who have benefited from the existing political practices and the underprivileged who account for the excluded majority (Coniff, pg. 22).
Populist leaders claim to represent this underprivileged group that comprises of the poor and promise social justice. As a result, the leaders tend to reject any political intermediation that aim at limiting and checking their political power. Some political analysts consider populism to be nationalistic, authoritarian and depend on social mobilization for support. Many populist regimes often destroy traditional parties. The populist manifestation indicates that the traditional market reforms in a populist regime are unable to sustain economic growth, reduce poverty, generate employment opportunities and reduce inequality.
Although populist leaders use democratic means to assume into political power, they are involved in undermining democratic institutions once they get into office. History of Colombia and events at the time of populist Jorge Eliecier Gaitan The collapse of the Gran Colombia 1830 led to the emergence of Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador. Colombia became a republic in 1886. Two major political parties, the Liberal and Conservative parties emerged in Colombia due to the differences between the followers of two leaders Paula Santander and Simon Bolivar These two parties dominated the Colombian politics for a long time.
Gaitan became achieved national prestige through his efforts of addressing the issues of concern of the peasants. For instance, he was involved in a Congressional investigation of worker’s revolt and strike in 1929 in Santa Marta and also wrote on the excesses of management and repressive intervention of the army in Colombia. This made Gaitan win great popular prestige and become a hero among the peasants. He joined the left wing of the Liberal party after 1930s and managed to win Congressional elections in March 1947.
He continued to strengthen his position and increase his popularity by trying to reach the masses and giving them hope The Colombian society comprised of the privileged who held political offices and the poor who considered Gaitan to fight for their rights. Peasant populism and rural protests were witnessed since the 1930s. Gaitan became a charismatic leader of the Liberal party (Sharpless, pg,36). His popularity and claims to fight for the welfare of the masses attracted hundreds of thousands of low income Colombians and Union members in his political meetings.
He was admired for denouncing moral, social and economic events that oppressed the masses which he promised to eliminate with cooperation and support from the people . His claim to champion the cause of the masses increased populism. The people, most of whom were peasants and low income earners were attracted by Gaitan’s leadership. For instance, the issue of land reforms which he seemed to address was of great concern to the people. For example, by mobilizing the masses to protest through the streets of Bogota in February 1948, Gaitan gained the support of the masses .
He was assassinated two months later, an event that triggered the “La violencia”. This was characterized by confrontation between the Conservative and Liberal parties’ supporters and hostilities between classes. The Colombian society experienced violence and instability. Non-populism in Colombia after Gaitan’s death .The absence of populist regimes in Colombia in the 1930s and 1940s as well as the political instability that was witnessed in Colombia (Dix, pg. 342). After Gaitan’s assassination made it impossible for the political leaders to put into place populist regime in Colombia.
Uncontrolled human confrontation in Bogota spread to the country side where bands were organized to create terror. La Violencia is estimated to have led to the deaths of more than 200,000 people over duration of eighteen years, the 1948 – 1958 periods was bloodiest . One of the most powerful guerilla group in Colombia, and known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) was the product of this conflict. The period after Gaitan’s death was marked by lack of hope in the masses and the political society. Armed confrontation was characterized by rebellions and riots between 1948 and 1966(Hylton, pg.
40). Because populism requires leaders to mobilize the masses, violence drove Colombia into a politically unstable nation. The political instability that was experienced in the country made it impossible for the political leaders to secure leadership through populism. There was mass social frustration due to the killings and displacement of a large number of people. Those who had believed that Jorge Gaitan was the only hope for improving the lives of the masses were disappointed. In Bogota and the Mariano Ospina’s government struggled to restore order in Colombia.
However, the rural violence that was witnessed triggered a state of undeclared civil war and violence spread throughout the country. Only the southernmost parts of Marino and Caribbean coastal area were spared. The violence phenomenon became complex and was characterized by sheer rural banditry as well as partisan political rivalry (Roldan, pg. 93). The political rivalry undermined the emergence of populism because this period of internal disorder led to the refusal by successive Colombian governments to give in to the peoples’ demand for social economic change.
The repressive nature of the Ospina government undermined efforts of political leadership to participate in political meetings or engage in efforts that could increase one’s popularity but undermine the government. Violence and instability continued (Palacios, pg. 72). For example, the government on March 1949 banned all public meetings and had all Liberal governors leave their positions. These measures were being taken to restore order in the country. Furthermore, the government in 1949 ordered the closure of Congress.
This meant that the political system in Colombia could no longer function as usual. The rural police forces intensified efforts to fight the Liberals and the belligerents. As a result, the liberals protest led to the liberals’ eventual resignation form their positions and as a result, protests by the Liberals continued. The failure by the Liberal party to contest during the presidential elections had Laureano Gomez, a Conservative candidate take over office in 1950. Gomez was the leader of a reactionary faction and preferred authority and order.
The constitution that was drafted under Gomez’s’ guidance in 1953 was expected to expand the powers of departmental governors and enhance presidential autonomy. In order to contain the mounting violence and to prevent the regaining of power by the liberals, Gomez tried to curtail avail liberties and to acquire broad powers. In addition, the independent labor unions were removed and the congressional elections were held without any opposition. Other measures that the Gomez administration put into place included the control of courts by the executive, censoring of the press. Gomez also directed his repression against the Liberal opposition.
There was relative economic prosperity during this time due to the expansion of the export markets and foreign investment increase. However, Gomez lost support due to military establishment, attacks on moderate conservatives. Gomez illness in 1951 had Roberto Urdaneta become the acting president. General Gustavo Rojas took over power in 1953 and military leadership that was witnessed in the country continued to undermine political participation and democracy in the country. In the 1960s, armed conflicts whereby left-wing insurgents, government forces and right-wing paramilitaries were witnessed in Colombia.
There was lack of civil authority and public order and intense military operations were undertaken to counter the opposition. Rojas was however removed from power in 1957 leading to the restoration of civilian rule after some moderate Liberals and Conservatives formed a bipartisan coalition known as the National Front. Alberto Lleras Camargo served as Colombia’s president upto 1962. All these events made it difficult for populist regimes to emerge again in Colombia and up to date, Colombian leadership is still non-populist.
Alvaro Uribe’s policies and non-populism The absence of populism in Colombia is unique in a continent where populist politics are still evident today . The current Colombian President Alvaro Uribe policies are not populist despite having some elements of populism. President Uribe’s is now in his second term in office. His policies have not aimed at increasing mass support for his government. In populist regimes, government policies tend to be implemented in a manner that tries to win the support of the masses.
Since Uribe assumed into power, he has not advocated for policies that aim at addressing the needs of all the citizens. Instead, he has focused on improving economic development and improving security in the country. The main reason why Uribe is not populist can therefore be attributed to the fact that he has not made efforts to mobilize masses and cultivate supporters. Rather than focusing on efforts to uplift the poor in order to gain the support of the masses, President Uribe policies emphasize on improving economic growth and security.
As a result, since his elections into office in 2002, he has received high approval ratings due to his policies that have promoted sustained economic growth, security and continuous implementation of sound social programs. The domestic security policy that Uribe has adopted plays a critical role in promoting democratic representation in governance. The policy was unveiled in 2003 and the efforts by Uribe’s administration to deepen democracy and strengthen democratic representation have ensured that democratic institutions have not been undermined to create populism.
After being elected into office and inaugurated on 7th August 2002, President Uribe introduced radical policies to improve security. Insecurity in Colombia due to violence has for decades undermined economic and social development. President Uribe is a tough conservative whose political life has focused in fighting rebels and illegal armed groups in the country which cause the instability. The landslide victory for the second term provided him with adequate time to address the issue of drug trafficking and armed groups. The democratic security policy seeks to cater for the wellbeing of all Colombians.
(The Uribe Administration’s Democratic Security and Defense Policy, pg 1). The Colombian government has been working together with the US to fight drug trafficking groups and leftist insurgent groups by consolidating state control so that the country is not a sanctuary of perpetrators of violence, terrorists and drug traffickers (Kirk, pg 52). This has protected the entire population from illegal drug trade and victimization by illegal armed groups. The government social programs have been well planned and coordinated unlike in populist regimes.
The programs receive consistent and great financial support from the government in order to increase social and economic development across the country. In other populist regimes in Latin America, social programs are poorly coordinated, fail to reach the targeted beneficiaries and receive huge funds during the election period. This has not been the case for Colombia. Uribe’s social programs to improve the living standards of the people by reducing inequalities has minimized sectoral and class conflicts in Colombia (US Central Intelligence,np) Agency.
Populism is established when inequalities are not eliminated hence they create a social divide between the privileged and the underprivileged. In addition, populism is promoted when a large group of people who feel that they very minimal benefits from economic development support populists who promise to improve their welfare. In Colombia, the social divide has been addressed by the economic policy that has been implemented to improve income distribution. The benefits of the social programs reach the expected beneficiaries.
The element of clientelism that still exists in Colombia prevents enlarged political participation and mobilization. The political system is supported by faithfulness and loyalty and together with the development of professional class of politicians who are committed to intermediating between the voters and the state has made it difficult for populists to succeed. The government has accepted limits and checks in governance and intermediation between the state and the civil society is possible. Uribe’s leadership has not in any way attempted to mobilize the masses in efforts to overcome inequality and poverty.
The efforts to improve leadership and promote democracy in the government oppose the utilization of state resources for personal interests or to maximize political support. This is a clear indication that Uribe is not a populist. However, his efforts to have the constitution amended so that he may run for a third term in office has made him resemble the populist presidents who undermine traditional institutions of democracy. President Uribe has shown great commitment in maintaining democratic institutions and addressing the needs of Colombia as a nation rather than focusing on issues that increase the support of the masses.
Why and how President Uribe efforts to make Colombia prosperous President Uribe has been making great efforts to make Colombia a prosperous nation free of populism and leftist tendencies. Populism and leftist tendencies undermine democratic institutions and result to political instability that compromises prosperity of a nation. Political stability is meant to support economic prosperity which improves the living standards of the poor. This narrows the social divide that allows populism to contribute to low economic and social development.
For instance, the presence of leftist armed groups for decades has made it impossible for the government and the people to increase economic prosperity. The primary groups that are considered to be a threat to Colombia’s stability and peace are the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the ELN guerillas. These groups rely on criminal activities to generate funds. War and drug trade have derailed economic prosperity in Colombia for a long time (Livingstone, pg. 21). This has turned Colombia into one of the world’s largest center for drug trafficking.
President Uribe democratic security policy has improved both the national security and economic growth due to stability. In Uribe’s administration government policies, lack of populism is clear . This has been achieved by ensuring that market reforms move towards sustaining economic growth, reduction of poverty and unemployment as well as a reduction in inequality. Uribe’s economic policy has been able to move away from economic populism where emphasis is placed on the risk of deficit finance and inflation, reaction of economic agents on non-market policies and external constraints.
Rather than mobilize the masses through the implementation of social programs that never benefit the people, Uribe’s government has developed and implemented sound social programs that distribute resources equally and have the living standards of the underprivileged improved. In other Latin American nations, social programs are implemented by the political leaders to win the support of the masses. Unfortunately, the people never benefit from the programs because a large proportion of the financial resources put aside to support the programs is either wasted or embezzled.
The allocation of resources to support government programs has been consistent, an issue that has improved economic growth in Colombia. Transparency and democracy ensure that leaders are responsible and accountable. By improving the living standards of the people across the nation, Uribe’s leadership has made it difficult for political leaders to become populists by claiming to represent the underprivileged. The presence of leftist groups in Colombia has led to blood shed, prosperity of the drug trade and social injustice. These groups have been involved in the drug trade and in the rural areas impose their rules on the people.
The domestic security policy has aimed at defeating armed groups such as the ELN and FARC. The president has expressed concern that some of the major security threats in Colombia include narcotics trade and terrorism. He has therefore taken a hard line stance against guerillas. Together with the assistance from its neighbors and the US, the Colombian government has managed to force out rebels from Colombia’s cities and towns. For example, the government has succeeded in fighting the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. The need to restore peace in the country and invest in improving the welfare of the people has become a priority.
For example, the security program that is implemented is expected to increase judicial action against the perpetrators of crimes with high social impact, restore peace, reduce human rights violation as well as the dismantle terrorist or leftist groups. The security policy is expected to demobilize illegal groups, increase intelligence capacity, engage civilians in leadership and increase defense spending. Colombia is engaged in regional economic cooperation as a means of improving regional economic growth, political stability and security.
For instance, President Uribe has been able to put aside political differences that Colombia has had with its neighbours such as Venezuela to pursue economic progress. Furthermore, because the neigbouring nations are concerned about the presence of illegal armed groups in Colombia, bilateral relations have made it possible for the nations to fight leftist groups together. Regional economic growth has had positive impact on the Colombian economy. President Uribe has been working hard to strengthen government institutions that increase freedom.
For example, in 2004, President Uribe managed to engage citizens throughout the country in governance after he established a government present in about 1,099 municipalities in Colombia. President Alvaro Uribe supports free trade policies and has attempted to fight internal forces that cause political instability which affect the country’s economic and social development for decades. He has strong domestic policies that support government programs that empower people economically. For example, his administration supports economic cooperation with its neigbours.
Diplomatic ties with the neighbours in Latin America has been supported, economic development supported and efforts to combat leftist tendencies improved. The Colombian government has been involved in expanding the country’s participation in the international trade, strengthening the rule of law, promoting good governanace, protecting human rights and reducing poverty (US Central Intelligence Agency, np). Conclusion Populism has been a common element in Latin American nations whereby the leaders attempt to win the support of the masses through mobilization.
Countries such as Chile, Peru and Brazil have had populist political parties dominate political leadership. However, Colombia is a Latin American country that has managed to maintain non-populism since the death of the populist Jorge Gaitan in 1948. The current Colombian President Alvaro Uribe policies have shown that he is not a populist. In addition, great efforts by Uribe to make Colombia prosperous free of populism and leftist groups have been successful. Works Cited Conniff, Michael. Populism in Latin America. University of Alabama Press, 1999 Dix, Robert. The Varieties of Populism; the case of Colombia.
Western. Political Quarterly, 31, 334-351, 1978 Dornbusch, Rudiger and Edwards, Sebastian. Macroeconomics of Populism in Latin America, University of Chicago Press, 1991 Hylton, Forrest. Evil Hour in Colombia. New York: Verso Books, 2006 Kirk, Robin . More Terrible Than Death: Drugs, Violence, and America’s War in Colombia. United States: PublicAffairs, 2004 Livingstone, Grace. Inside Colombia: Drugs, Democracy, and War. Rutgers University Press, 2004 Palacios, Marco. Between Legitimacy and Violence: A History of Colombia, 1875– 2002. United States of America: Duke University Press, 2006 Roldan, Mary.
Blood and Fire; La Violencia in Antioquia, Colombia, 1946-1953. Duke University Press, 2002 Sharpless, Richard. Gaitan of Colombia: a political biography. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1978 The Uribe Administration’s Democratic Security and Defense Policy. Embassy of Colombia. Accessed on April, 29 2010from http://www. presidencia. gov. co/sne/visita_bush/documentos/security. pdf Urrutia, Miguel. On the Absence of Economic Populism in Colombia. University of Chicago Press, 1991 US Central Intelligence Agency. Colombia. Accessed on April 29, 2010 from; https://www. cia. gov/library/… /the… /co. html