El Pueblo and La Rosca: a political dialogue in Colombia, 1944-1958

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Date

2003

Authors

Sofer, Douglas Osher

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Abstract

This dissertation is a history of the political relationship between ordinary Colombians and the presidency during the middle of the twentieth century (1944- 1957), a period roughly coinciding with Colombia’s Violencia. The objective of this project is to understand the role that non-elite citizens played within the Colombian political system. It is based on analysis of two major bodies of primary sources. First there are published works by presidents which, when compared to these leaders’ actions, reveal both the rhetorical and actual priorities of these administrations. The second primary source is a series of letters written by lower and middle class Colombians to their presidents. This correspondence provides insight into the expectations and underlying assumptions that this population had about politics. In addition to analyzing these letters qualitatively, this dissertation also includes a quantitative linguistic analysis of this source, utilizing the Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count software application. The central argument of this dissertation is that mid-twentieth century Colombian politics was dominated by political personalism. Ordinary Colombians, excluded from the elite inner circle of political power, “la rosca,” reacted to their exclusion from politics through the tools they had at hand. They therefore viewed their presidents through lenses of personal morality and religion. They perceived their leaders as father figures and as heroes, but also as deceivers and villains. People saw the government’s historical role through similar personal lenses, either lionizing or demonizing their presidents in the process of comparing them to figures of the past. In short, Colombians saw the president as the personification of government, the nation, and national destiny. The use of this kind of cultural filter rallied people around their chief executive in times of crisis, but also turned people against him when they believed he was violating their values. This fact helps to explain why Colombians tended to name their political movements after leaders rather than after explicitly-defined political ideologies.

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