ColombiaOne.comColombia newsSenate President Opens Debate on the Decentralization of Colombia

Senate President Opens Debate on the Decentralization of Colombia


presidente Senado debate descentralización Colombia
President of the Senate opens the debate on the decentralization of power in Colombia – Photo: @SenadoGovCo / X

The president of the Senate, Ivan Name, has opened the debate on Colombia’s territorial organization, advocating for decentralization of power in autonomous regions. Thus, the Congress President revives an old discussion in the country, which led to harsh confrontations in the 19th century and was resolved with the 1886 Constitution, establishing a centralized model of power, a pattern slightly modified and reproduced in the current 1991 constitution.

Name, a member of the Green Alliance Party led by the Mayor of Bogota, stated during a meeting with elected officials from the recent regional elections that the current centralized model is largely responsible for the backwardness, poverty, and ongoing conflicts in several territories. In this context, he strongly advocated that Colombia’s first reform should be to change the country’s geopolitical model, moving away from centralism to grant economic autonomy to regions.

Unexpected reform proposal

With this proposal, Name initiates the complex debate about the country’s territorial organization. Currently, power is centralized in the capital, and regions are structured into departments with limited real autonomy, mainly tasked with administration, coordination, complementing municipal actions, mediating between the Nation and municipalities, and providing services outlined in the Constitution and laws.

The Senate President sought to introduce this unexpected reform, at least for debate, into the package of proposals being negotiated in Congress under President Petro’s government. However, while the government’s proposed changes are deep and span various areas, the territorial model modification is not among them.

“Here, we want to make reforms in health, pensions, education, and none of them will correspond to the overall efficiency unless we change the operation of the geopolitical model,” stated Iván Name. He stressed that, to overcome backwardness, poverty, and conflict, regions need autonomy. Additionally, Name asserted, “Today, we have the most recentralized country ever, especially in the last few decades and its governments.”

Autonomy to ensure state presence

In defense of the territorial organization change, Name added, “The day we control the territories and have autonomy, there won’t be states like Arauca, rich in oil but plagued by poverty and controlled by a terrorist army, because there’s no State presence,” referencing the minimal effective state control in remote, frontier zones.

In Colombia’s ongoing internal conflict for the last seven decades, various armed groups have effectively controlled certain regions. The State has struggled to establish its authority in border, rugged, and hard-to-reach areas. The demobilization of the extinct FARC in 2016, in many cases, didn’t result in public authorities regaining control over territories held by the guerrilla; instead, some regions fell under the control of other illegal armed groups.

presidente Senado debate descentralización Colombia
The president of the Senate proposes changing the territorial organization model – Photo: TUBS / CC BY-SA 3.0 / @SenadoGovCo / X

Unresolved debate in Colombia

The issue of territorial organization, centralized or federal, was a classic point of contention between Colombia’s two major political parties in the 19th century. While the Liberal Party favored a decentralized and federal country, the Conservatives, through armed conflicts, championed a centralized organization. This was the cause of several civil wars, each side trying to enforce its preferred country model through force.

After numerous disputes, in 1863, the United States of Colombia was established, the most successful federal experience, lasting until 1886 when the victory of President Rafael Nuñez’s Conservatives ended that model. The shift favored a confessional and strongly centralized state, legally enshrined in the 1886 Constitution, which persisted for over a century.

In 1991, the new legal framework defined Colombia as a “unitary, decentralized republic.” However, attempts to grant more power to regions have largely remained a statement of intent, as the constitution establishes the territorial organization based on 32 departments as the primary administrative level. These departments are led by democratically elected governors, yet the actual power they wield is quite limited, primarily involving coordinating directives from the central State.

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