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GOVERNMENT]
709
COLOMBIA

by the municipal council of the territorial capital. As the constituent assembly which amended the constitution, according to the president’s wishes in 1905, was to continue in office until 1908 and to provide laws for the regulation of elections and other public affairs, it appeared that the president would permit no expression of popular dissent to interfere with his purpose to establish a dictatorial régime in Colombia similar to the one in Mexico.

The executive power is vested in a president chosen by Congress for a period of four years. The first presidential period, dating from the 1st of January 1905, was for ten years, and no restriction was placed upon the choice of President Rafael Reyes to succeed himself. The constituent assembly gave the president exceptional powers to deal with all administrative matters. He is assisted by a cabinet of six ministers, interior, foreign affairs, finance, war, public instruction and public works, who are chosen and may be removed by himself. The office of vice-president is abolished, and the president is authorized to choose a temporary substitute from his cabinet, and in case of his death or resignation his successor is chosen by the cabinet or the governor of a department who happens to be nearest Bogotá at the time. The president is authorized to appoint the governors of departments, the intendants of territories, the judges of the supreme and superior courts, and the diplomatic representatives of the republic. His salary, as fixed by the 1905 budget, is £3600 a year, and his cabinet ministers receive £1200 each. The council of state is abolished and the senate is charged with the duty of confirming executive appointments.

The judicial branch of the government, like the others, has been in great measure reorganized. It consists of a supreme court of seven members at Bogotá, and a superior court in each judicial district. There are various inferior courts also, including magistrates or jueces de paz, but their organization and functions are loosely defined and not generally understood outside the republic. The supreme court has appellate jurisdiction in judicial matters, and original jurisdiction in impeachment trials and in matters involving constitutional interpretation. Under the constitution of 1886 the judges of the higher courts were appointed for life, but the reforms of 1905 changed their tenure to five years for the supreme court and four years for the superior courts, the judges being eligible for re-appointment.

The departments, which are administered by governors representing the national executive, are permitted to exercise restricted legislative functions relating to purely local affairs. Municipal councils are also to be found in the larger towns. The governor is assisted by a departmental council consisting of his secretaries and the president of the Corte de Cuentas, which places the political administration of the department under the direct control of the president at Bogotá.

The strength of the army is determined annually by congress, but every able-bodied citizen is nominally liable to military service. Its peace footing in 1898 was 1000 men. After the war of 1899–1903 its strength was successively reduced to 10,000 and 5000, a part of this force being employed in the useful occupation of making and repairing public roads. The navy in 1906 consisted of only three small cruisers on the Caribbean coast, and two cruisers, two gunboats, one troopship and two steam launches on the Pacific. There was also one small gunboat on the Magdalena.

Education.—Although Bogotá was reputed to be an educational centre in colonial times, so slight an influence did this exert upon the country that Colombia ended the 19th century with no effective public school system, very few schools and colleges, and fully 90% of illiteracy in her population. This is due in great measure to the long reign of political disorder, but there are other causes as well. As in Chile, the indifference of the ruling class to the welfare of the common people is a primary cause of their ignorance and poverty, to which must be added the apathy, if not opposition, of the Church. Under such conditions primary schools in the villages and rural districts were practically unknown, and the parish priest was the only educated person in the community. Nominally there was a school system under the supervision of the national and departmental governments, but its activities were limited to the larger towns, where there were public and private schools of all grades. There were universities in Bogotá and Medellin, the former having faculties of letters and philosophy, jurisprudence and political science, medicine and natural sciences, and mathematics and engineering, with an attendance of 1200 to 1500 students. The war of 1899–1903 so completely disorganized this institution that only one faculty, medicine and natural sciences, was open in 1907. There were also a number of private schools in the larger towns, usually maintained by religious organizations. The reform programme of President Reyes included a complete reorganization of public instruction, to which it is proposed to add normal schools for the training of teachers, and agricultural and technical schools for the better development of the country’s material resources. The supreme direction of this branch of the public service is entrusted to the minister of public instruction, and state aid is to be extended to the secondary, as well as to the normal, technical and professional schools. The secondary schools receiving public aid, however, have been placed in charge of religious corporations of the Roman Catholic Church. The expenditure on account of public instruction, which includes schools of all grades and descriptions, is unavoidably small, the appropriation for the biennium 1905–1906 being only £167,583. The school and college attendance for 1906, according to the president’s review of that year, aggregated 218,941, of whom 50,691 were in Antioquia, where the whites are more numerous than in any other department; 4916 in Atlantico, which includes the city of Barranquilla, and in which the negro element preponderates; and only 12,793 in the federal district and city of Bogotá where the mestizo element is numerous. Although primary instruction is gratuitous it is not compulsory, and these figures clearly demonstrate that school privileges have not been extended much beyond the larger towns. The total attendance, however, compares well with that of 1897, which was 143,096, although it shows that only 5% of the population, approximately, is receiving instruction.

Religion.—The religious profession of the Colombian people is Roman Catholic, and is recognized as such by the constitution, but the exercise is permitted of any other form of worship which is not contrary to Christian morals or to the law. There is one Protestant church in Bogotá, but the number of non-Catholics is small and composed of foreign residents. There has been a long struggle between liberals and churchmen in Colombia, and at one time the latter completely lost their political influence over the government, but the common people remained loyal to the Church, and the upper classes found it impossible to sever the ties which bound them to it. The constitution of 1861 disestablished the Church, confiscated a large part of its property, and disfranchised the clergy, but in 1886 political rights were restored to the latter and the Roman Catholic religion was declared to be the faith of the nation. The rulers of the Church have learned by experience, however, that they can succeed best by avoiding partisan conflicts, and the archbishop of Bogotá gave effect to this in 1874 by issuing an edict instructing priests not to interfere in politics. The Church influence with all classes is practically supreme and unquestioned, and it still exercises complete control in matters of education. The Colombian hierarchy consists of an archbishop, residing at Bogotá, 10 bishops, 8 vicars-general, and 2170 priests. There were also in 1905 about 750 members of 10 monastic and religious orders. There were 270 churches and 312 chapels in the republic. Each diocese has its own seminary for the training of priests.

Finance.—In financial matters Colombia is known abroad chiefly through repeated defaults in meeting her bonded indebtedness, and through the extraordinary depreciation of her paper currency. The public revenues are derived from import duties on foreign merchandise, from export duties on national produce, from internal taxes and royalties on liquors, cigarettes and tobacco, matches, hides and salt, from rentals of state emerald mines and pearl fisheries, from stamped paper, from port dues and from postal and telegraph charges. The receipts and expenditure are estimated for biennial periods, but it has not been customary to publish detailed results. Civil wars have of course been a serious obstacle, but it was announced by President Reyes in 1907 that the revenues were increasing. For the two years 1905 and 1906 the revenues were estimated to produce (at $5 to the £1 sterling) £4,203,823, the expenditures being fixed at the same amount. The expenditures, however, did not include a charge of £424,000, chiefly due on account of war claims and requisitions. During the first year of this period the actual receipts, according to the council of the corporation of foreign bondholders, were $9,149,591 gold (£1,829,918) and the payments $7,033,317 gold (£1,406,663). It was expected by the government that the 1906 revenues would largely exceed 1905, but the expectation was not fully realized, chiefly, it may be assumed, because of the inability of an impoverished people to meet an increase in taxation. An instance of this occurred in the promising export of live cattle to Cuba and Panama, which was completely suppressed in 1906 because of a new export tax of $3 gold per head. Of the expenditures about one-fourth is on account of the war department.

The foreign debt, according to the 1896 arrangement with the bondholders which was renewed in 1905, is £2,700,000, together with unpaid interest since 1896 amounting to £351,000 more. Under the 1905 arrangement the government undertook to pay the first coupons at 2½% and succeeding ones at 3%, pledging 12 to 15% of the customs receipts as security. The first payments were made according to agreement, and it was believed in 1907 that the