What is the future of Ley Seca in Colombia?

By Jeffrey Kitt June 14, 2018

This weekend marks the second Presidential election, and the return of ley seca.

It’s the nationwide ban Colombians are accustomed to each and every election day: from six in the evening of the previous day until six in the morning of the following day, no alcohol.

Booze is blanket-banned: regardless of shop, supermarket, city or village, and this weekend’s Presidential election will be no different.

It’s a law that is peculiar to some and necessary to others. But where exactly did the ruling come from? And is it still necessary in today’s political climate?

To answer that, we must look back in time.

Ley seca, which translates to the dry law, is a tradition which bans the public sale and consumption of alcohol for 48 hours during all election weekends.

It is important to note however that ley seca is not only for elections. The rule is also sometimes enforced during times of perceived tension, such as this year’s Mother’s Day celebrations in Cali or the football showdown between crosstown rivals in Bogota last year.

Minister of the Interior Guillermo Rivera said in February that the rule was the heritage of the National Front: the period between 1958 and 1974 where the two main parties, the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party, agreed to rotate power.

Rivera said that Colombia was now a different nation and implied a change to legislation was on the horizon, but noted it would require consultation from both sides of politics and most importantly, with the people.

Outgoing President Juan Manuel Santos further fanned the flames of debate on his social media accounts last year when he asked people to vote on whether the ruling made sense in modern Colombia.

“The dry law was approved in other times. I think that we Colombians are now responsible enough to have a quiet election without this restriction, which affects trade a lot. Would you agree to eliminate the dry law?” he asked his followers.

Almost 60,000 people voted in the Twitter poll over 24 hours, with 57 per cent agreeing with the need to repeal ley seca.

Trade seems to be one of the President’s major concerns with the law, and industry agreed the law is problematic.

The Federacion Nacional de Comerciantes reported last year that ley seca impacted 49,500 night business establishments in Bogota alone, which generated about one million direct and indirect jobs.

Group director Juan Esteban Orrego said at the time that business would be better off with even one less day of the dry law whenever a national vote came around.

“The economic situation in Bogota is not the best, we are experiencing a process of economic slowdown … If we add a dry law for 48 hours, the effects are really dangerous,” he said.

It is important to note Colombia is not the only country to have such legislation.

Other Latin American nations including Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Mexico, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela each have some variation of ley seca.

But the question for Colombians remains whether the law is pertinent to them: does it still help to create a peaceful atmosphere around election time, or is it a relic of years gone?

Perhaps only time, and leadership, will tell.