Núñez Moledo, Rafael (1825–1894)

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Núñez Moledo, Rafael (1825–1894)

Rafael Núñez Moledo (b. 28 September 1825; d. 18 September 1894), president of Colombia (1880–1882, 1884–1886, 1887, 1888). As the dominant political leader of Colombia from 1880 until his death in 1894, Rafael Núñez left a major imprint on his nation's history by bringing to a close a period of Liberal hegemony, inaugurating an era of Conservative rule lasting until 1930, and imposing the Constitution of 1886 (which remained in force until 1991). A native of Cartagena, Núñez received a law degree in the mid-1840s from the University of Cartagena. He remains an intriguing figure in Colombian history because of his apparent betrayal of a lifelong devotion to liberalism, his impressive intellect, his voluminous writings, including Ensayos de crítica social (Rouen, 1874) and La reforma política en Colombia (Bogotá, 1945–1950), and a private life that left him vulnerable to political attack.

The Liberal and Conservative parties had achieved clear definition by mid-century, and after a turbulent decade marked by liberal reform, dictatorship, and intermittent civil war, Liberals gained control of the government and held it from 1863 to 1885, a period characterized by extreme federalism, severe limitations on the church, free trade, and provisions for wide-ranging individual freedom. During this period there was also a division in Liberal ranks that deepened in 1875, when Núñez returned to his homeland after twelve years in the United States and Europe, where he served as Colombian consul and as a writer for Latin American newspapers. He launched an unsuccessful bid for the presidency as a Liberal representing the interests of the coastal region against the incumbent Liberals of the interior.

Upon his election as president in 1880, Núñez, concerned over a weakening federal system, civil turmoil, and a worsening economy, began moving against key elements of the Liberal program and calling for constitutional reform. Following his election again in 1884, Núñez, faced with rebellion by the bulk of the Liberal Party, summoned Conservatives to the aid of his administration, the Regeneration. Following the success of Núñez and his adherents in the war of 1884–1885, Núñez presided over implementation of the unitary Constitution of 1886, restoration of government protection of the church, and the undoing of the Liberal program.

See alsoColombia, Constitutions: Overview; Colombia, Political Parties: Liberal Party.


Charles W. Bergquist, Coffee and Conflict in Colombia, 1886–1910 (1978).

Helen Delpar, Red Against Blue: The Liberal Party in Colombian Politics, 1863–1899 (1981).

James William Park, Rafael Núñez and the Politics of Colombian Regionalism, 1863–1886 (1985).

Additional Bibliography

Lemaitre, Eduardo. Contra viento y marea: La lucha de Rafael Núñez por el poder. Bogotá: Instituto Caro y Cuervo, 1990.

Uribe Uribe, Rafael, and Otto Morales Benítez. La Regeneración Conservadora de Nuñez y Caro. Santafé de Bogotá: Instituto para el Desarrollo de la Democracia Luis Carlos Galán, 1995.

                              >James William Park