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The Liberal and Conservative parties are therefore in a battle to "out-do" each other, in terms of producing the most workable, viable and therefore, acceptable, policy towards these issues, at any given time during their time in office, or their election campaigns. This model of Aldrich's therefore explains political party change within Colombia rather well: a focus on issues of immediate security concern at any particular time in history define the political strategies of Colombian parties.
Aldrich ends his book by saying, "In America, democracy is unthinkable, save in terms of a two-party system, because no collection of ambitious politicians have been able to think of a way to achieve their goals in this democracy, save in terms of political parties" (Aldrich, 1995; 296).
Dix (1989) synthesizes all of these opinions on the party political system in Latin America, in his paper on cleavage structures and party systems in the continent. This paper analyzes, for the first time, comparative questions within a Latin American context, such as why in some cases, conflicting interests and ideologies favour the emergence of broad aggregative coalitions, and in other cases, favoured fragmentation.
He concludes that the democratic experience has been brief in Latin America, and that it has often been interrupted by military rule, or (in the case of Colombia) by civil war. He also argues that, in Colombia, one problem faced by the construction of democratic government is that other groups, with conflicting interests have always tried to intervene, for example, the Church, or guerrillas, such that one party (or both main parties, as is the case) can never represent all interests from all sides. He argues, therefore, that there will always be oscillation between the parties, sustaining the parties, and that, as such, both Liberals and Conservatives have remained strong.
Dix (1989) also offers another reasoned argument as to why Liberals and Conservatives have remained strong within Colombia: they represent "continuous" party systems, that have not evolved, or changed much, over time, since their formation, despite marked increases in social and political mobilization. He argues, therefore, that party loyalty is a lifetime devotion, and that "party identification is practically universal" (Dix, 1989).
He says, further, that the coming of universal suffrage in Latin America did not lead to the "class-mass" parties familiar in Western party systems, but rather led to 'catch all' parties (Dix, 1989). Single-class parties are not usual in Latin America, especially Colombia, and the "catch all" parties that arose, instead, "eschew dogmatic ideology in favour of pragmatism, and appeals to 'the people', 'the nation'...that electorally seeks (and receives) the broad spectrum of voters that extends the party's reach well beyond that of one social class, or orn religious denomination, that develops ties to a variety of interest groups instead of relying on the organizational and mobilizational assets of one (such as labour unions)" (Dix, 1989).
He then moves on to point out that Colombia does not fall within this "catch-all" party model, but rather has 'vertical' parties, similar to Uruguay, Honduras, and Paraguay (Dix, 1989). Whilst not classified as "catch-all" under his definition, he does liken vertical parties to his "catch-call" parties because they are both non-ideological, and pragmatic, and both can successfully mobilize the support of a broad range of social classes (Dix, 1989). He argues, though, that they are perhaps less than catch-all, on the other hand, in that at election time they rely more on the mobilization of committed constituencies linked to the party by clientistic ties, by a kind of inherited loyalty than on searching out new supporters among the uncommitted and undecided (Dix, 1989).
He concludes by saying that the pragmatic, multi-class party is the predominant party type in Latin America, and that, around these, the whole of the party system revolves (Dix, 1989). The traditional vertical parties, as seen particularly in Colombia, comes closer to reflecting the characteristics of the catch-all party than to replicating the more idealogical, class-centered mass parties of the West's initial decades of mass mobilization (Dix, 1989).
He puts the structure of the political system in Latin America down to the relative lateness of social mobilization, and the fact that individuals are less likely to be susceptible to union organization and class-oriented political appeals (Dix, 1989). People living in shantytowns, he says, are more likely to see their futures in terms of individuals, than as parts of groups or communities, and against this background, class solidarity does not thrive (Dix, 1989).
He concludes by saying that "the success of democratic politics in developing societies is strongly associated with the presence of broadly-based heterogeneous catch-all parties": Colombia, therefore, despite of, or perhaps, as we have argued, because of the troubles with security and drugs (which also put them on - and open to - an international stage) has therefore stuck with it's options for democracy, two vertical parties, catch-all in nature, constantly playing off of each other to win votes by designing the best (i.e., most popular) plans to rid the country of these scourges.
All of the models put forward to explain party systems, by Hume, Washington, Michel, and Dix, have some relevance to the case of Colombia, as we have seen. Colombia is an extremely interesting country, and also interesting to study from a comparative political perspective, within Latin America, but also internationally, as the problems of guerrilla activity (which is increasing) and the drug trade (which is increasing) complicate the path of democracy, and, as many have argued, actually reinforce the dual party system within Colombia: the parties' inability to do anything about these problems is a joke among Colombians, and is accepted by the majority of Colombians, as everyone realizes that the situation Colombia faces is extremely complicated: Colombians are, however, great believers in democracy, and as such, they support (with eternal optimism) the party who - at the time - they believe will be able to make an impact on the problems the country faces. This explains the continuing strength of Liberals and Conservatives in the face of such adversity: Colombian people, despite all the adversity they face, are eternal optimists.
Aldrich, J.H. (1995). Why Parties? The Origin and Transformation of Political Parties in America. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
Bushnell, D. (1993). Colombia: A Nation in Spite of Itself. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Dix, R.H. (1989). Cleavage structures and party systems in Latin America. Comparative Politics 22(1): 23-37.…[continue]
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