Hernando Calvo Ospina’s recent book, Colombia, Laboratorio de Embrujos: Democracia y Terrorismo de Estado is the most important study of Colombian politics in recent decades and essential reading in light of the Western media’s and politicians’ celebration of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe.. 08.12.2008
Calvo Ospina’s study provides a wealth of historical and empirical data that highlights Colombia’s peculiar combination of electoral politics characteristic of a Western capitalist democracy and the permanent purge of civil and political society characteristic of totalitarian dictatorships.
Unlike most Latin American countries, Colombia has never experienced the modernization of its political system. Since the 19th century Liberal and Conservative parties run by urban and rural oligarchies have controlled the political process through violence and patronage.
Middle and working class ‘radical’ and center-left parties in Colombia have been violently repressed and marginalized, in contrast to the political differentiation, which took place in Chile and Argentina in the early 20th century. No labor or social democratic or Marxist parties were allowed to secure representation and legitimacy unlike the experience in Brazil, Venezuela, Peru, Bolivia or elsewhere in Sough America. The ‘two party system’ based on oligarchic family elites were ill prepared to accommodate and accept the challenges of the burgeoning urban working class and rural peasant movements of the post-World War period. In Colombia resistance to plural social representation and to a multi-party system reflecting lower class interests took the form of civil war – la violencia – as the Liberal and Conservative Parties resorted to massive blood letting in the 1950’s to resolve which of the two factions of the ruling class would rule. The result was a bi-partisan pact to alternate the presidency between the two parties. The key theoretical point is that the unity of the Colombian elite was based on rule through mass violence, social exclusion and the monopoly of political power.