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Felipe Ramón Hernández Bautista (born October 28, 1940) was the President of Colombia from 1990-1998 and was the Minister of Defense from 1984-1990, and is currently a sitting Senator in the Colombian Congress. A lifelong Republican, Hernández was the Defense Minister during the successful Colombian invasion of Brazil in the mid-to-late 1980's, and thus was credited with the victory in the war and the robust growth of the Colombian military-industrial complex. Due to his strong popularity and lack of complicity in the 1988 economic crisis and sovereign default, Hernández was nominated by the Republicans as their Presidential candidate for the 1990, replacing the weak Rafael Villana. Hernández won a runoff on the second ballot and won on the first ballot in 1994 to secure his reelection, presiding over a strong boom in the Colombian economy and its solidification in the 1990's as Latin America's preeminent political, military and economic power. Constitutionally prohibited from seeking a third term in 1998, Hernández instead accepted his lifetime seat in the Senate, where he is still active as one of the primary leaders for the Republican Party.
Early Political Career
Minister of Defense and Brazilian War
Economic Policy: "La Gran Renovación"
Hernández entered office in August of 1990 with Colombia slowly recovering from its largest economic crisis in national history, as it had staged an embarrassingly partial sovereign default two years prior after paying back cash-on-hand to the United States and England. He entered office having made a campaign promise to fundamentally restructure the Colombian tax system and bring unemployment to ten percent, the historical average, by the time of his reelection, in other words needing to shave the nation's unemployed in half and help increase wages.
Hernández's plan revolved around a massive government stimulus program called La Gran Renovación (the Great Renewal), which would repair national roads, dams, and other infrastructural projects using money budgeted in the the two consecutive three-year budgets signed into law in 1986 for military war spending, while partnering with companies willing to construct and repair buildings in return for exclusive property rights to whatever they invested in rebuilding. Despite the objections of the Republican majority in Congress, he passed the Great Renewal program through after two months of negotiations in October of 1990, with multiple Christian Democrats and some Socialists voting in support to help it pass by broad margins even after many Republicans defected. Shortly thereafter, in January of 1991, Hernández achieved a long-lasting Republican goal by passing a massive tax bill, known as the Tax Restructuring Reform Law of 1991. This act lowered income taxes, increased the value-added tax, established a tax credit for manufacturers, for foreign companies to move production to Colombia and for companies that exported goods, abolished the tax deductions on interest earned on investments or paid on loans and established a national property tax for the first time in Colombian history. The law also streamlined the tax code, eliminating nearly 100 deductions and credits and establishing four income tax brackets instead of seven. Only one Republican voted against the law in the Chamber of Deputies and two in the Senate, while Christian Democrats split evenly and Socialists voted unanimously against it.
In 1992, Hernández proposed his most ambitious plan yet - labor market reform through opening up competition between workplaces with a union cap, an abolishment of closed shops and various other streamlinings to make it easier for companies to hire and for new employees to enter the workforce. The country's largest unions protested vociferously, managing to withhold measures restricting their benefits from the initial 1992 Labor Market Reform Law, but Hernández authorized the Departments to negotiate fees similarly to the Nueva Escuela education reform package which granted them the same right in dealing with teachers.
Hernández expanded drilling for oil and logging rights in Colombia, earning him the ire of the Green Party (PV), which came to strength in the mid-1990s as a new, environmentally-focused left-wing party. However, Hernández also ordered the various Ministries of Colombia to reduce internal energy consumption by 30% by the year 2000 in a 1992 directive, a goal which all but the Ministry of the Interior managed to achieve. Due to Hernández's efforts and similar efforts by his two immediate successors, the Colombian government reduced its energy consumption between 1992 and 2008 by 54%, the largest such increase in efficiency in the world.
During Hernández's first term (1990-1994), unemployment in Colombia dropped from
Hernández's broadest social initiative was to increase funding for public elementary and secondary schools, particularly in southern and southeastern regions that had been afflicted by the Brazilian War. He passed Vamos a Escuela with broad tripartisan support in 1992, re-nationalizing community schools in rural communities and establishing a national curricula, against the protests of many state and education officials. In December of that same year, as part of his education reforms, Hernández fired 1,500 teachers from urban schools who had served for more than twenty years due to their high pay using an executive order through the Ministry of Education and passed Nueva Escuela, a proposal which allowed for municipalities to set their own salary scales independently of the Ministry of Education. In 1995, he reformed Nueva Escuela to allow the governments of Departments to negotiate fees, salaries and benefits instead of municipalities after complaints and concerns from teachers.
Beyond education, Hernández was viewed as somewhat helping Colombians in poverty, although this may have been an effect of his economic policies. Despite opposition from his own party, Hernández expanded funding for poverty relief programs and ordered the Ministry of Health to build 26 new hospitals in the poorest neighborhoods of Bogotá, Medellín, Barranquilla and Caracas in 1994. In 1996, he expanded this program to include 11 additional hospitals in Cartagena, Quito and Cali after demands from local leaders. In addition to hospital construction, Hernández gave generous tax discounts to primarily American companies desiring to produce medicine in Colombia, lowering the cost of importing medicine to Colombia. He resisted, however, the efforts of Socialists to include pharmaceutical drugs into the National Health Service, which he felt would inevitably drive up demand for drugs and accrue costs for the government. The decline in costs in medicine after the arrival of drug companies in the early 1990s offset the argument, in his view and that of economists from throughout the spectrum.