Colombia in 20th century : The national front

The National Front effectively brought an end to the large-scale violence that had wracked the country since the late 1940s. Its power-sharing formula eliminated the partisanship between the two traditional parties that destabilized Colombian politics after 1946. The four presidents who served under the National Front (Liberals Alberto Lleras Camargo, 1958-1962, and Carlos Lleras Restrepo, 1966-1970; Conservatives Guillermo León Valencia, 1962-1966, and Misael Pastrana Borrero, 1970-1974) presided over an era of relative political peace.

During the 1960s, however, guerrilla groups inspired by the Cuban Revolution appeared in Colombia. These groups sought to transform Colombia’s capitalist society into a socialist one.

Small remnants of the guerrillas from the era of La Violenciajoined forces with some of these groups, one of which, the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias Colombianas (FARC, Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), eventually became a major political force. Throughout the 1960s and the 1970s, however, leftist guerrillas did not pose a significant threat to the government.

National Front governments sought to promote national development and political stability by launching modest agrarian reform beginning in 1962 and increasing spending on education, health, and housing. Colombia undertook these initiatives with support from the United States under a program known as the Alliance for Progress.

This program sought to undercut the appeal of communism and foster capitalist development and liberal democracy in Latin America. The United States also provided increased military aid to the Colombian government in an effort to eliminate the leftist guerrillas.

Critics of the National Front argued that it failed to address the magnitude of the social problems facing the nation. They also claimed that it limited the prospects for third parties, especially those on the left. What is certain is that fewer people voted during the National Front years. Less than one-fifth of those eligible to vote actually cast ballots in the 1970 presidential election, the last held under the rules of the National Front. The low turnout of that year was all the more remarkable because the official candidate, Misael Pastrana Borrero, was almost defeated by Rojas Pinilla running as a dissident Conservative. Supporters of Rojas claimed the election returns were manipulated to defeat their candidate.

Cordillera Oriental in Colombia
Cordillera Oriental in Colombia. Encarta
Some later took up arms against the state under the banner of the Movimiento 19 de Abril (M-19, 19th of April Movement), so named for the date of the 1970 presidential election. Encarta
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