For many decades the two principal political parties were the Partido Conservador Colombiano (PCC, Conservative Party) and the Partido Liberal Colombiano (PL, Liberal Party). The PCC traditionally favored strong central government and close relations with the Roman Catholic Church, while the PL favored stronger local governments and separation of church and state. From 1958 to 1974 the Liberals and Conservatives were the only legal political parties in Colombia, owing to a 1957 constitutional amendment intended to defuse the explosive antagonisms between them. Under this arrangement, called the National Front, each party held exactly half the number of seats in each legislative house and in the cabinet and other agencies, and the presidency alternated between leaders of the parties.
Although the parity system established by the National Front was terminated in 1978, the 1886 Colombian constitution then in effect required that the losing political party be given adequate and equitable participation in the government.
The 1991 constitution omitted this requirement, although subsequent administrations have included opposition parties in the government. Besides the two principal parties that have dominated Colombian politics since the 19th century, new ones have become active since 1985, including the Marxist Unión Patriótica (UP, Patriotic Union) and the Movimiento 19 de Abril (M-19, 19th of April Movement), a group originally formed to contest the results of the 1970 presidential election held on April 19. For a time the M-19 became a guerrilla movement but the group negotiated an agreement with the government in 1989 that allowed it to disarm and reenter electoral politics. The M-19 then helped write Colombia’s 1991 constitution.
The UP also entered the electoral arena, winning many mayoralties and other local posts, but because of its association with the guerrilla movement known as the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias Colombianas (FARC, Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), the UP faced severe repression. More than 3,000 UP members, including two of its presidential candidates, were killed by paramilitaries during the period when it was politically active.
The traditional Liberal-Conservative dominance of Colombian politics came to an end at the beginning of the 21st century. In the 2002 presidential elections a former Liberal leader, Álvaro Uribe Vélez, bolted from the party and won election as an independent. He subsequently received the support of the Conservative Party. In the 2006 election, Uribe again ran as an independent with the backing of the Conservatives, who did not field a candidate. The Liberals placed third in the voting, and a new left-wing coalition, known as the Polo Democrático Alternativo (Alternative Democratic Pole), emerged as the principal opposition group.
Although public health standards were improving by the early 21st century, physicians were still in short supply. Most of the country’s physicians work in the larger cities. In 2007 Colombia had one hospital bed for every 1,000 people. Malaria and yellow fever remain endemic in some parts of the country. A social insurance system provides maternity and dental benefits, accident insurance, workers’ compensation and disability, and retirement and survivors’ insurance to most of the industrial labor force. Contributions from employers, workers, and the government finance the system. "Colombia" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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