Decentralization reforms in Colombia date back to the 1991 Constitution, which defined the country as a “unitary decentralized republic”. Decentralization was a key element of the democratization of Colombia’s political system, responding to popular demands for greater political participation. Historically, governors were appointed by the president, and mayors in turn were appointed by the governor. Only in 1968 was the ‘independence’ of departments to manage their own affairs recognized, and only in 1986 was the constitution amended to allow for the direct election of mayors. The 1991 Constitution enshrines the autonomy of subnational territorial entities and provides for the direct election of both municipal mayors and departmental governors. While decentralization efforts were seen as a means to re-legitimize and democratize a broken and closed political system by providing space for participative democracy, it also resulted in (sometimes violent) competition for power over–and extraction of rents from–the subnational public sector.

Subnational governance structure

Nature of subnational governance institutions

Functional assignments

LoGICA Assessments

LoGICA Intergovernmental Profile: Colombia 2023 (Excel)

Additional resources

Country sheet: Colombia. Panorama de las relaciones fiscales entre niveles de gobierno de países de América Latina y el Caribe. 2022.

Colombia Country Profile (World Observatory on Subnational Governance and Investment, OECD/UCLG)

Local government country profile: Colombia (UN Women)

Colombia: Urban and Cities Platform (CEPAL)

Local government in Colombia (Gael M. L’Hermine, 2023)

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Last updated: April 6, 2024