2/02/1991
Creation of the National Constituent Assembly

In the elections of March 1990, the Constituent Assembly was the seventh ballot. Photograph: El Espectador.

On July 4, 1991, the three chairmen of the National Constituent Assembly presented the new Colombian Constitution. Photograph: El Espectador.

The National Constituent Assembly arose from a student movement and was supported by the Colombian voters to reform the Colombian Constitution. Its topics of greatest debate and complexity included the extradition of Colombians to the USA.

The National Constituent Assembly was established on February 5, 1991. From that day, 74 delegates worked for more than five months to fully reform the Colombian Constitution, which had been in force since 1886.

Colombia had six constituent assemblies: In 1828, 1863, 1886, 1905, 1910 and 1953, and a failed one in 1978.

This process occurred because of the “Todavía podemos salvar a Colombia” (“We Can Still Save Colombia”) student movement, which managed to add the seventh ballot to the 1990 presidential elections, to ask voters whether they agreed to create a new constitution. The answer was clear; more than 86% of the voters approved it and saw it as an alternative to stop the escalation of violence caused by the drug traffickers.

Formation of the Assembly

The political parties used different strategies to achieve a greater number of representatives for drafting the new constitution. Finally, the 74 members that would carry out this project were elected by popular vote on December 9. With 25 delegates, the Liberal Party achieved the majority; followed by the M-19 Democratic Alliance with 19 participants. The National Salvation Movement had 11 delegates and the Social Conservative party had nine. The Christian Union, Patriotic Union and indigenous movements contributed two members each.

We have done our job as constituents. Now it’s the Colombians’ turn to respect the presented charter.” Antonio Navarro Wolf, co-chairman of the National Constituent Assembly.

The government appointed four constituents from the Popular Liberation Army, the Workers Revolutionary Party and the Quintín Lame Movement as part of the talks being held for their demobilization. Although they did not have a vote, their inclusion was seen as a way of contributing diversity to the assembly.

Extradition

Antonio Navarro Wolf, Horacio Serpa Uribe and Álvaro Gómez Hurtado, the three chairmen of the assembly, presented the new constitution on July 4, 1991, after finishing one of the most tense debates for its creation; the one on the extradition of Colombian criminals to the USA.

Colombia experienced one of the bloodiest episodes of its history because of this issue. Pablo Escobar and his hitmen assassinated the most influential people of Colombian politics, they detonated car bombs and they carried out all kinds of atrocious acts to intimidate the country and pressure the government to stop this treaty.

Despite the fact that extradition was one of the main tools in the fight against drug trafficking, several constituents promoted its ban, citing issues of sovereignty and that it represented disgraceful treatment of Colombians. Capitalizing on friends and adversaries, and after long sessions, extradition was abolished by 51 votes to 13.

After this decision, Pablo Escobar, who had said he would surrender on the condition extradition was abolished, turned himself in. Meanwhile, the country said that once again the mafia had got its own way.

Share

Related stories