|Colombia Table of Contents
It became obvious to many Liberals and Conservatives that the lack of governmental authority stipulated in the Rionegro constitution was allowing the country to run a chaotic course and that the situation needed to be corrected. The Regeneration movement sought a basic shift in Colombia's direction. A key leader of the movement was Rafael Núñez, who was elected president in 1879 and held the office until 1882. Liberals and Conservatives who were disenchanted with the golgota governments joined to form the National Party, a coalition that in February 1884 brought Núñez to the presidency for a second term. The Nationalists authorized Núñez to take steps urgently required to improve economic conditions. As leader of the Regeneration movement, he attempted to reform the constitution with the agreement of all groups. The golgotas, however, were afraid that constitutional change would favor the Conservatives and dissident Liberals at their expense. In 1884 the golgotas in Santander started an armed rebellion, which spread throughout the country. Nationalist forces suppressed the revolution by August 1885, at which time Núñez also declared that the Rionegro constitution had expired.
The most important result of the conflict was the adoption of the Constitution of 1886 by a national council made up of two delegates from each state. The Nationalist leaders believed that ultraliberalism as practiced under the Rionegro constitution was not appropriate to the needs of the country and that a balance was needed between individual liberties and national order. Based on this philosophy, the Constitution of 1886 reversed the federalist trend and brought the country under strong centralist control. The Constitution renamed the country the Republic of Colombia and, with amendments, remained in effect in the late 1980s. The Constitution provides for a national rather than confederate system of government in which the president has more power than the governors, who head departments or two types of national territories known as intendencies (intendencias) and commissaryships (comisarias).
In 1887 Núñez consolidated the position of the church in the country by signing the Concordat of 1887 with the Holy See. Through the concordat, the church regained its autonomy and its previous preferential relationship with the republic. The agreement stipulated the obligatory teaching of Roman Catholicism as part of a child's education and recognized Roman Catholic marriages as the only valid marriages in the country. It also acknowledged Colombia's debt to the Holy See brought on by the uncompensated confiscation of church assets under Mosquera in the 1860s.
Political disorder did not cease with the adoption of the Constitution of 1886. The Nationalists, who had become an extremist branch of the PC after Núñez was elected, were opposed by the Historical Conservatives, the moderate faction of the PC that did not agree with the extent of antiliberalism taken by the new government. The bipartisan opposition of Liberals and Historical Conservatives sought to reform Nationalist economic and political policies through peaceful means. The Nationalists, however, denied the civil rights and political representation of the Liberals because differences of opinion concerning trade policy and the role of the state in society created a gulf between the Nationalists and their opponents. The PL split into Peace and War factions, the former seeking peaceful reform of economic policies and the latter advocating revolution as the only way to win political rights. The Peace faction controlled the party in the capital, whereas the War faction dominated the party in the departments--a response to the violent political exclusion that was characteristic of rural areas and small towns. The War faction staged unsuccessful revolts in 1893 and 1895.
In 1898 Nationalist candidate Manuel Antonio Sanclemente was elected president. In ill health, Sanclemente left much of the governing to his vice president, José Manuel Marroquín. The Sanclemente/Marroquín presidency faced increasing problems as the world price of coffee fell, which, because of reduced customs revenues, left the government bankrupt. The fiscal policy of issuing nonredeemable paper money, which had replaced the gold standard under Núñez, added to the increasing lack of confidence in the government.
In July 1899, in Santander, Liberals again attempted a revolution, known as the War of a Thousand Days. Historical Conservatives eventually cast their allegiance with the Nationalists, whereas the Peace and War factions of the PL remained split, thereby weakening the rebellion. Despite an initial victory in December 1899, the Liberal forces were outnumbered at Palonegro five months later. The defeat left the Liberal army decimated and demoralized and with little chance to succeed. The Liberal army changed its strategy from conventional tactics to guerrilla warfare, thus transforming the war into a desperate struggle that lasted for two more years.
In July 1900, Historical Conservatives, seeking a political solution to the war, supported Marroquín in a coup against Sanclemente. Contrary to what his supporters had expected, Marroquín adopted a hard line against the rebels and refused to negotiate a settlement. In November 1902, the defeated Liberal army negotiated a peace agreement with the government. The war took more than 100,000 lives and left the country devastated.
The War of a Thousand Days left the country too weak to prevent Panama's secession from the republic in 1903. The events leading up to Panama's secession were as much international as domestic. At the turn of the century, the United States recognized the strategic need to have access to a naval route connecting the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean, such as a canal in the isthmus. The HayHerrán Treaty of January 1903, which was to have been the basis for allowing the United States canal project to proceed, was rejected by the Colombian Congress. Because the proposed Panamanian route was preferred over the Nicaraguan alternative, the United States encouraged the Panamanian separatist movement, militarily assisted Panama in its movement for independence, and immediately recognized the independent Republic of Panama.
Source: U.S. Library of Congress