Minor Third Parties

Colombia Table of Contents

Although the amendments creating the National Front limited participation in the political process to the PC and the PL, minor parties were able to participate by filing as dissident factions of the two main parties. The two-party system notwithstanding, all parties were free to raise funds, field candidates, hold public meetings, have access to the media, and publish their own newspapers. Smaller parties, which were generally class oriented and ideological, fielded candidates at all levels and usually were represented in Congress, departmental assemblies, and city councils. Nevertheless, with the exception of the populist National Popular Alliance (Alianza Nacional Popular--Anapo; created in 1961 by Rojas Pinilla) in the late 1960s and early 1970s, these small parties had few members and little impact on the political system.

Although the pro-Soviet Communist Party of Colombia (Partido Comunista de Colombia--PCC) regained its legal status in 1957 after having been outlawed by Rojas Pinilla, the party did not contest elections during the National Front. Beginning in the mid-1970s, however, the PCC ran candidates in various legislative elections, as well as joint presidential candidates in alliance with other leftist groups. In 1974 the PCC, some Anapo dissidents, and other minor parties on the far left combined in the National Opposition Union (Unión Nacional de Oposición--UNO), but their candidate for president received less than 3 percent of the total vote.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia--FARC), the guerrilla arm of the PCC, sought to make its presence felt in the political process through a legal political party called the Patriotic Union (Unión Patriótica--UP), which the FARC founded in May 1985 after signing a cease-fire agreement with the government. In addition to representing the FARC, the UP coalition included the PCC and other leftist groups. Using the UP as its political front, the FARC participated in the March 1986 local government and departmental assembly elections. The UP's main reform proposal was the opening of Colombia's tightly controlled two-party system to accept the UP as a third contender for political power. The UP received only 1.4 percent of the vote in the elections, instead of an expected 5 percent. Nevertheless, as a result of the elections the UP could boast 14 congressional seats, including one in the Senate, and more than 250 departmental and municipal positions.

The UP's presidential candidate in the election of May 25, 1986, Jaime Pardo Leal--a lawyer and president of the National Court Workers Union (Unión Nacional de Trabajadores de las Cortes-- UNTC)--placed third with about 350,000 votes, or 4.5 percent of the total vote, winning Guaviare Commissaryship. Although it was the left's greatest electoral victory in Colombia's history, observers suspected that the FARC's use of terrorist tactics--such as kidnapping, extortion, blackmail, and assassination--intimidated many voters into voting for the UP. The UP made some gains in the March 1988 elections, but it won only 14 out of 1,008 mayoralties, considerably fewer than expected. The UP victories, which theoretically gave the UP legal jurisdiction over the armed forces and police in those districts, were in regions where the FARC was active.

The UP itself was a prime target of unidentified "paramilitary" groups. The UP claimed that by mid-1988 some 550 UP members, including Pardo Leal and 4 congressmen, had been murdered since the party's founding in 1985. In the six months preceding the March 1988 elections, gunmen reportedly murdered more than 100 of the UP's candidates for local office. According to the Barco government's investigation, a major drug trafficker, José Gonzalo Rodríguez Gacha ("the Mexican"), sponsored Pardo Leal's assassination, which took place on October 11, 1987. The PCC weekly, La Voz, published documents that allegedly revealed ties between Rodríguez and members of the armed forces, and it suggested that the military was linked to Pardo Leal's murder. In an April 1988 report on Colombia, Amnesty International charged the Colombian government and military with carrying out "a deliberate policy of political murder," not only of UP members but of anyone suspected of being a subversive. The Colombian government strenuously denied this charge.

Another minor party was the Christian Social Democratic Party (Partido Social Democrática Cristiano--PSDC), founded in May 1959 and composed mainly of students and a few workers. The reformist PSDC identified itself with the Christian democratic movements that had become political forces in other parts of Latin America. The PSDC candidate for president in 1974 received fewer than 16,000 votes, however. In 1982 the PSDC supported Betancur's candidacy.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress