Friday, February 4, 2011

A Colombian Historical Landmark

The little blue and yellow book
Twenty years ago tomorrow, Colombia began a convention which would rewrite the nation's Constitution.

Those were traumatic times for the country - in the preceding presidential election violent groups had murdered three presidential candidates, and drug cartels, paramilitaries and guerrillas had Colombian leaders and many others running terrified.

So, it seemed like an unlikely time for a broad range of political factions to sit down and rewrite the nation's Constitution. But, they did it, and the resulting document has lasted and brought surprisingly progressive changes to the country. Even though Colombia continues to have a conservative government and very Catholic population, its progressive Constitution has permitted surprisingly progressive changes, including advances for gay rights, depenalization of abortion in some cases and even, for a long period, depenalization of personal possession of drugs. It also changed Colombian from an officially Catholic to a secular nation and prohibited the practice of extradition - although that was reversed in 1997, and Colombia has since then become a world leader in extraditing its citizens to the U.S. to face narcotrafficking charges. The 1991 Constitution also gave Colombian citizens powerful new rights, in particular the tutela.

The constitutional convention was notable for the participation of the leftist M-19 guerrillas, who just six years before had attacked the Justice Palace, leading to a conflagaration in which nearly 100 people died. While Colombia's armed conflict continues, the ex-M-19 have since remained firmly integrated in democratic politics.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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