Power Dynamics in Colombia: A Combination of Monarchy and Feudalism

Power Dynamics in Colombia: A Combination of Monarchy and Feudalism

In Colombia, as in other Latin American countries, political power is often concentrated in the center of the capital. However, there are other areas of the country where equally important decisions are made but do not receive the same attention.

Each region of Colombia has its own elites, families or business groups, who not only wield formal and legal power, but also understand the forms of illegal power. The relationship between these regional elites and those in Bogota is fundamental to understanding the dynamics of power in a country as fragmented and diverse as Colombia.

According to Laura Ardila, a journalist from Cartagena, who has worked in important media outlets in Bogotá, such as El Espectador and La Silla Vacía, there is a void in journalistic coverage of the country’s regions.

Ardila noted the need to focus on local power dynamics, where the links between politics and organized crime are concretized, where drug trafficking emerges and where the outcome of elections is defined through vote buying.

Relationship between regional and central elites

Regional elites and Bogotá elites are two sides of the same coin. Both feed each other, both in electoral terms and in their business dealings. The relationship between these elites is the only link the regions have with the central state.

However, when the links between these elites are questioned, the blame falls mainly on the regional elites, while the Bogotá elites wash their hands and point the finger at the corrupt in the periphery. This dynamic shows contempt for the regions and reinforces the idea that central power is superior to regional power.

It is important to note that the relationship between regional and Bogotá elites has a hereditary character, both in terms of patrimony and vocation for power. Regional elites tend to be electoral caciques, i.e., they have control over votes in their regions and are fundamental to power in Bogotá. On the other hand, Bogotá elites do not have much contact with the people; their power lies in national decision-making.

However, when regional elites have very high aspirations or become uncomfortable for the central elites, the latter often take measures to curb their rise to power.

Nature of elites in Colombia: monarchy and feudalism

In Colombia, the elites that govern the country have characteristics of both a monarchy and a feudal system. In both, the hereditary character is fundamental, not only in terms of wealth, but also in the vocation of power. However, there are important differences between the regional elites and the Bogota elites.

The regional elites are electoral bosses, i.e., they have great power in attracting votes and are the intermediaries between the State and the population of their regions. Although their way of acting may be questionable, these elites have managed to become the solvers of people’s problems that the State has not been able to solve.

This gives them considerable political power, as the people repay their help with votes. For example, if a street is unpaved and an electoral cacique promises and delivers on paving it, people will vote for them.

In contrast, Bogota’s elites have more concentrated power and make decisions that affect the entire country. Although they do not have direct contact with the people, their power is more potent because of their ability to define the direction of the country. However, the Bogotá elites also depend on the regional elites to maintain their power and secure the necessary electoral support.

Autonomy and the control of regional power

While regional elites have a certain autonomy in the exercise of power, this autonomy is limited when they begin to be uncomfortable for the central elites. At that moment, the Bogotá elites usually take measures to curb their rise or cut off their heads, as they say colloquially.

Therefore, regional elites find it more efficient to articulate themselves to the interests of Bogotá and maintain a dependent relationship with the central power.

A prominent example of a president who comes from a regional elite is Álvaro Uribe, who came to power in 2002. Although there are substantial differences, Uribe represents the rise of a rural elite that allied closely with Bogotá elites to come to power.

These types of alliances between regional and Bogotá elites demonstrate that power in Colombia is a combination of interests and relationships that have evolved over time.

History and context of power in Colombia

Power dynamics in Colombia have their roots in the country’s Independence. Since then, Colombia has been a disjointed country, where elites have established self-interested connections to exercise their power. However, these dynamics have changed and evolved over time.

An important turning point in the history of power in Colombia was the election of mayors and governors by popular vote in 1988. Prior to this political reform, mayors and governors were appointed by the president, which limited their autonomy and dependence on central power.

With this reform, they were granted a greater degree of autonomy and capacity to make decisions affecting their regions.

Disjunction between a centralized and decentralized country

Colombia is in a constant debate between being a centralist or decentralized country. This dilemma has been the origin of many problems in the country. Drug trafficking, guerrillas and paramilitaries are manifestations of a disarticulated country that has not been able to control its various centers of power.

James Robinson, a U.S. economist and expert on Colombia, argues that democracy in Colombia depends on where you look at it. The center of Bogotá, with all its state institutions, is very different from places like Bosconia, Cesar, where power is defined through clientelism.

This disjuncture between a centralized and decentralized country is also reflected in the way regional elites act. Despite their apparent autonomy, these elites adapt to traditional political practices in order to reach power.

Even political movements that present themselves as “outsiders” need to establish relationships with regional elites and adapt to corrupt and clientelistic dynamics in order to succeed in their political careers.

Colombian democracy and its limitations

Democracy in Colombia is a complex and contradictory system. Although it is determined by money and corrupt and clientelistic practices, it is also a system that works and has results in certain aspects.

These political elites, despite their questionable ways of acting, have managed to solve problems that the State has not been able to solve, which has given them considerable popular support.

However, it is important to recognize that Colombian democracy is fallacious in many respects. The political system is determined by electoral financing, which sometimes comes from illegitimate sources, such as drug trafficking.

In order to achieve a real change in the political system, it is necessary to carry out a reform that regulates and modifies electoral financing.

Conclusions

Power in Colombia is a combination of monarchical and feudal characteristics. The regional and Bogotá elites feed off each other, although the latter have more concentrated power in national decision-making.

The regional elites, for their part, are electoral bosses and become intermediaries between the State and the population of their regions.

These power dynamics in Colombia have their roots in the country’s history and have evolved over time. The debate between a centralized and decentralized country has generated problems and manifestations of disjointed power. Democracy in Colombia is a complex system, determined by electoral financing and corrupt and clientelistic practices.

In order to achieve a real change in the Colombian political system, it is necessary to carry out a political reform that regulates electoral financing and promotes transparency in the exercise of power.

This is the only way to build a more solid and representative democracy, where power dynamics are more equitable and the welfare of all regions of the country is promoted.