The Constitution grants certain legislative powers to
in general, divides other powers between the two houses,
apportions others between Congress and the president.
authority is vested in the bicameral Congress, consisting
Senate (Senado), with 114 members, and the House of
(Cámara), with 199 members. Each house has a president who
elected for sixty days. Congress convenes annually from
through December 16, but the president may call it into
session at other times. The Constitution requires that
called into session during a state of siege and after a
emergency is declared.
Both houses of Congress have joint responsibility for
initiating, amending, interpreting, and repealing
inaugurating the president and selecting the presidential
designate; selecting the membership of the Supreme Court;
the boundaries of the territories, creating new
granting special powers to the departmental legislatures,
moving the location of the national capital; supervising
service and creating new positions in it; and setting
revenues, providing for payment of the national debt, and
determining the nation's currency.
The House of Representatives chooses the attorney
a list of nominees provided by the president, selects the
comptroller general, supervises the budgetary and treasury
accounts, and initiates all legislation dealing with
Senate tries officials impeached by the House of
accepts the resignation of the president and the
designate, grants the president permission to leave the
temporarily, approves appointments of high-ranking
officers, and authorizes presidential declarations of war
movement of foreign troops through the country.
Members of Congress are elected for four-year terms at
time as the president, or within a few months of his
may be reelected indefinitely. House members must be at
twenty-five years old, and Senate members must be at least
All members of Congress must be in full possession of
political rights. Members have parliamentary immunity and
be arrested or prosecuted without the permission of the
which they serve.
All the members of Congress are elected from the
departments and national territories on a proportional
department and national territory has two senators, plus
additional one for each 200,000 inhabitants. A minimum of
members also are elected from each department, and
territory, plus an additional one for each 100,000 people.
every congressman elected, a congressional alternate
(suplente) also is selected to serve as a
national territory's representative in the absence of the
congressman. Although geographically representative,
as members of the upper middle class or the elite--have
unrepresentative of Colombian society.
High rates of turnover and absenteeism and a weak
system were among the persistent problems that hindered
congressional effectiveness. Congressional turnover was
high, ranging from 60 to 80 percent; few congressmen
a consecutive term, and even fewer served three terms.
also was a chronic problem. Even with the alternate
absenteeism was quite high, with an average of less than
of congressmen or their alternates present during voting,
the most important issues. Absenteeism prevented Congress
approving many of Barco's proposals during the 1987
session. Moreover, party discipline in both houses was
evidenced by the numerous dissident factions within
1988 a majority of congressmen belonged to Barco's Liberal
(Partido Liberal--PL), but Barco was unable to control
struggles in Congress. A Colombian political scientist
the situation as "parliamentary anarchy." Former President
Pastrana Borrero (1970-74) of the Conservative Party
Conservador--PC), blamed the problem in Congress on
to mobilize support for his program among his party's
majority. The committee system further weakened
effectiveness. The size of the eight existing committees
but they were usually large, met rarely, and made no use
Committee chairmanships rotated, with a new chairman
every month. The chairman's powers were limited
presiding. After a congressman or government minister
bill in either chamber, the congressional leadership
referred it to
one of the eight standing committees. If approved by the
it was reported back for a second reading to a plenary
the house of origin, where a member of the committee
through debate. If approved by the full membership, the
forwarded to the other house, where it underwent the same
Conference committees composed of members of both houses
legislative differences between the two houses.
Its formal powers notwithstanding, Congress lacked a
legislative and policy-making role in the late 1980s. It
initiate important legislation; rather, the executive,
bureaucracy took the initiative in preparing legislation.
affected policy making only by delaying or modifying
Nevertheless, Congress was not completely without power.
of interpellation allowed it to question cabinet members
officials on the manner of implementing legislation. The
congressional "watchdog" function served as a check
excesses by government agencies and the executive branch.
Furthermore, Congress exercised purview over the Public
Ministry by appointing its director, the attorney general.
lacking cabinet status, the attorney general was an
official with broad powers of intervention in the nation's
political processes. The attorney general's ministry
the prosecuting attorneys of the district superior,
lower courts. Public Ministry officials supervised the
public employees and prosecuted those accused of crimes.
Colombia's Congress traditionally has been one of Latin
America's most independent bodies vis-à-vis the executive.
Beginning in the early 1980s, Congress assumed a somewhat
active role in policy making. For example, in 1984 it
participate in the National Dialogue that the Betancur
had pledged to hold with the country's guerrilla groups.
the Senate and House sent a message to President Betancur,
that "Congress is the natural stage for solving the
Occasionally, when Congress blocked proposals
introduced by the
executive, former presidents and other party chiefs
summit-style meeting among government officials and
resolved the policy issue. These meetings usually included
president and leaders of key political or congressional
interest groups opposing the legislation.
Data as of December 1988