Country Listing

Colombia Table of Contents


Historical Background

The origins of the modern Colombian armed forces can be traced to the militia organized by the independent government of the United Provinces of New Granada declared in 1811. The force was composed of volunteers, divided among infantry and cavalry units, who were trained by the officers of a senior corps that was referred to as El Fijo (The Permanent). The constitutional charter of 1811 assigned the power to raise and organize the army to the congress, which proved supportive of the military. Spanish military structure and traditions were adopted, weekly drills were made mandatory, and plans were laid for the creation of an academy that would regularize military training.

Following independence, two developments combined to prevent the expansion of the armed forces' influence in Colombia's political affairs. First, an antimilitarist tradition emerged among the nation's civilian leaders. Second, by the 1850s the organization of two strong political parties effectively limited political participation to those within these parties. Even though government leaders often held the rank of army general, party identification predominated. In response to popular sentiments of the era, government officials rarely displayed any interest in the development of a stronger military. Rather, as a result of the frequent rebellions that had occurred during the nineteenth century, the armed forces were continuously plagued by organizational problems. At one point--in the 1860s--the armed forces were disbanded and replaced by a popular militia.

When sectarian fighting subsided in the 1880s, the government approved the first organic laws governing the military and formally defined the military's constitutional responsibilities of providing for domestic order and external defense. The Constitution of 1886 also called for a first program of universal military conscription, but this provision was not uniformly enforced until the early twentieth century.

The limited progress these measures encouraged in military discipline and morale was dealt a severe setback with the 1899 Liberal Party (Partido Liberal--PL) revolt that marked the beginning of the conflict known as the War of a Thousand Days (see Consolidation of Political Divisions , ch. 1). Nearly a century later, this nearly three-year-long war, in which over 100,000 Colombians died, remained one of the most violent civil conflicts in the nation's history.

Data as of December 1988