In order to understand the development of democratic innovations in Colombia, it is important to grasp the context of political violence that had consumed the country for many decades. Since the nineteenth century, bipartisan violence between the Liberal and the Conservative Parties dominated society. In 1948, the assassination of the Liberal politician Jorge Eliécer Gaitán unleashed an enormous violent riot that can only be identified as the start of the contemporary violence era known as “The Violence.” This period cost thousands of lives and caused the displacement of many citizens living in rural areas of the country and the destruction of business, institutional, and family networks.
Liberal and conservative leaders, expecting to bring the political violence to an end, decided to start the so-called National Front pact in 1958, a bipartisan agreement by which presidential terms were to be shared for 16 years. The discontent with such a settlement, one that denied access to political power to nontraditional parties and political groups, ended up generating several guerrilla groups, founded to confront traditional party control. On the other hand, unequal access to land and natural resources is related to the rise of left-wing guerrilla groups, often in remote rural areas lacking an active state presence, such as the FARC and the ELN.
As the political crisis worsened, civil society demanded a constitutional reform with a non-formalized plebiscite during the local and congressional elections of 1990. Consequently, the liberal President Virgilio Barco introduced a referendum on the National Constituent Assembly in the presidential elections of May 1990 by a decree of martial law. After immense approval, the newly elected liberal president César Gaviria formalized in 1991 a legal mechanism to vote for the constitution of the National Constituent Assembly. Simultaneously, successful negotiations took place with the guerrilla groups that were asking for more political control. However, the left-wing guerrillas were left aside and remained armed and at combat throughout the following decades.
The construction of the new Constitution by the elected Constituent Assembly set the basis for a participatory and pluralist democracy, opening the space for a decentralization process, giving more autonomy to local and regional territorial entities, extending the length of terms for mayors, and introducing several participatory democratic mechanisms. Democracy and fundamental rights became central pillars, and inclusion and citizen participation were established as a right as well as a civic duty. As a result, further to the participatory mechanisms established in the Constitution and developed in Law 134 of 1994, several successive laws created dozens of formal participatory channels.
Later, between 2012 and 2016 the government and the standing FARC guerrilla group negotiated a peace agreement, which was voted on in 2016 by the Colombian population. Since the popular decision was to reject the agreement because of the opposition’s concern - that the FARC would not pay for their crimes and would abuse the country politically - the government renegotiated some aspects of the agreement and by the end of 2016 passed it to Congress and received its approval. Therefore, this agreement is in its implementation stage by the governmental institutions and the FARC members.
Many laws proliferated after the 1990s, addressing particular policy areas and mainly focusing on social policies, security and peace, culture, minorities and rural development. All of the laws include participatory mechanisms, consisting of councils, committees or commissions. Many of these laws have had complementary regulations and modifications added in the 2000s and 2010s, including the articles related to the participatory mechanisms.
New technologies and e-participation are considered to have great potential and an increasing impact. There are digital innovations led by the government and also by civil society. Among important cases initiated by the government are Urna de Cristal at the national level, aimed at fostering transparency, and Bogotá Abierta, at the local level. Among the interesting cases that have been initiated by the civil society are virtual platforms for proposing ideas and solutions to urban issues, for instance, the Mapa Político.
A fundamental innovation that characterizes Colombia is the Ciudades Cómo Vamos (How are we Doing) city network, which has the aim of generating reliable, impartial and comparable information related to city issues, quality of life and citizen participation. The first initiative was created in 1998 in Bogotá and has since then been expanded and adapted to other cities. Another relevant case are the Veedurías Ciudadanas (Citizen Oversight Committees), a citizen representation mechanism that enables citizens or organizations to monitor the public management in every area, branch or institution of the country responsible for public service projects or contracts.
There are other innovations worth mentioning that are either backed by a governmental plan or civil society initiatives, particularly in the areas of rural development and education. In relation to the peace issues, some interesting civil society innovations seek to get together, reflect, discuss, and share experiences, ideas, and proposals to peacefully transform conflicts, find solutions, improve living conditions and dignity, and build peace.
Regional Peace Councils
The Regional Peace Councils are agencies at the departmental and municipal level which, in collaboration with the National Peace Council, are intended to promote the achievement and maintenance of peace, ...Read more
The Anti-bureaucracy Crusade was a citizen participation exercise organized by the National Government in 2011 so that citizens could contribute to the identification of the most useless and difficult procedures ...Read more
High Level Advisory Committee for Black, Afro-Colombian, Raizales and Palenqueras Communities
The High Level Advisory Committee for Black, Afro-Colombian, Raizales and Palenqueras Communities is an organization created within the law of recognition for the black communities in 1993 in order to ...Read more
Digital Plebiscite for Colombia
The Digital Plebiscite for Colombia is a platform in which Colombian citizens can symbolically vote online to approve or reject the "Final Agreement for the Termination of the Conflict and ...Read more
Voices That Build
Voices That Build was a process carried out in 2014 that sought to enable children and adolescents in the country to propose, vote and comment on proposals for the recognition ...Read more