Foreign Policy Decision Making

Colombia Table of Contents

Under Colombia's Constitution, the president and the rest of the executive branch of government have almost exclusive jurisdictional responsibility for the conduct of foreign relations. The president--charged with formulating and executing foreign policy--clearly was the single most important player in the late 1980s. Despite the existence of committees on foreign relations in both houses, Congress had little role in making foreign policy.

Colombia's foreign policy has shifted frequently as a result of the president's key role and the fact that the nation's presidents have changed every four years. The president appoints and removes cabinet members, chooses diplomats to represent Colombia, and receives foreign diplomats and other representatives. In his responsibility "to direct diplomatic and commercial relations," the president also concludes treaties and conventions with other states, subject to the approval of Congress. The Senate must approve declarations of war made by the president, who controls and directs the armed forces, but he could wage a war without the consent of the Senate if it were urgent to repel a foreign invasion.

The primary agency charged with conducting foreign relations under the president's direction was the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Within the foreign service, two positions were almost as important as that of the minister because of their prestige and value in furthering a political career. One was that of ambassador to the United States, a post considered to be one of the stepping stones to the presidency. Presidents López Michelsen, Turbay, and Barco all served as ambassadors to the United States. The other was that of ambassador to the Holy See. The role of the Roman Catholic Church in the life of the nation meant that this ambassador occupied a position of particular prestige and some importance.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not have exclusive responsibility for carrying out Colombia's foreign policies, however. Beginning in the 1960s, foreign policy also was influenced and developed by the Ministry of Economic Development, the Ministry of Finance, a variety of semiautonomous government agencies, and economic interest groups. Of the latter, the most important probably was Fedecafe, which maintained its own representatives in various foreign countries to manage Colombia's coffee exports for the government.

The Colombian military also played a key role in determining the nation's foreign policies in incidents involving border disputes or foreign support of domestic subversive groups. For example, the military pressed the Turbay government into suspending diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1981 after Cuba admitted its involvement in an M-19 guerrilla operation in southern Colombia. In 1983, days before President Betancur was to issue an official invitation to Castro to visit Colombia, General Gustavo Matamoros, the Colombian minister of national defense, declared that restoration of diplomatic relations with Cuba was a "moral impossibility." Having already defied the military with his peace overtures to, and general amnesty for, the guerrilla groups, Betancur subsequently dropped his plans for rapprochement with Cuba.

More about the Government and Politics of Colombia.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress