Colombia Table of Contents

The far from monolithic Liberal and Conservative parties were divided internally on the basis of personal and regional rivalries as well as issues. By limiting interparty competition for patronage, the National Front arrangement gave momentum to the already strong tendency toward intraparty factionalism. Factions usually were highly structured and headed by a former president or potential presidential candidate. At the departmental level, dissident factions as well as party directorates often put up their own slates of candidates for legislative elections.

Colombia's traditional party factions posed a reformist, as opposed to a revolutionary, challenge to the social and political order. Colombianists have noted that factionalism actually helped to perpetuate the two-party system by serving as a de facto substitute for a more fragmented multiparty system. The factions did not evolve into new parties because the loyalties of dissidents remained ultimately with their original party. Nevertheless, factionalism in the ruling party tended to diminish the president's ability to command party loyalty while in office. Competition among factions was most pronounced at election time, when a split in the party in power traditionally provided the opportunity for the other party to win.

In the 1980s, factional rivalry continued to weaken the Conservatives. Two main factions have been active since the 1940s. One--the pastranistas-ospinistas--was named after Pastrana and the late Mariano Ospina Pérez (president 1946-50). Its members also were known as unionistas (unionists). The other faction--the alvaristas--was named after Alvaro Gómez Hurtado, son of the late Laureano Gómez Castro (president 1950-53), a Conservative hard-liner who was widely blamed for the sectarianism that led to the bloodshed of la violencia. The pastranistas-ospinistas were allied to industrialists in Antioquia Department and to the coffee sector, whereas the alvaristas were closer to farmers in the Caribbean coast departments.

In the 1980s, the Liberals also were divided into two main factions: the New Liberalism Movement (Movimiento Nuevo Liberalismo--MNL), established in 1979, and the majority official wing (oficialistas). Each ran its own candidates in the 1982 and 1986 presidential elections, as well as separate legislative slates in the 1982 and 1984 congressional elections. The MNL, which won only 8 percent in the 1986 congressional and local government elections, was more technocratically oriented and concerned with promoting the role of the state in economic development and social reform. Its base of support was mainly among the urban middle class, especially in Bogotá. The broadly based official wing relied more on traditional patron-client ties and partisan appeals to mobilize support. In May 1988, the MNL's head, Luis Carlos Galán Sarmiento, signed an agreement with the PL to carry out joint activities to support fully President Barco's government. Under the agreement, the MNL would continue to be a PL faction, but it would cancel its legal registration with the electoral authorities on August 6, 1988, and attend the PL's national convention in Cartagena.

More about the Government and Politics of Colombia.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress