The UP was a proposal made by the FARC-EP for the democratic opening of the political spectrum. Build on a common platform of democracy and sovereignty, the UP was founded as a political front of heterogeneous forces in which FARC-EP cadres would be candidates or public spokespersons.
On February 28, 1985, the UP obtains its legal registration. The government assured that FARC-EP cadres could carry out their political campaign openly: hundreds of combatants assumed political tasks in cities and rural areas. In November 1985, more than 3.000 delegates participated in the First National Congress of the UP. Many political movements joined the FARC-EP initiative: the Colombian Communist Party (PCC), the Socialist Revolutionary Party (PSR, a Trotskyist movement), fractions of the traditional parties (Conservative and Liberal) and a large list of regional, ethnical, cultural and social movements.
The first presidential candidate for the UP was the guerrilla comandante Jacobo Arenas, but many plans of attempts against him were discovered and the leader desisted. He was substituted by Jaime Pardo Leal, founder of the trade union of judicial workers (Asonal Judicial) and PCC militant.
The first UP participation in election had unexpected results. The UP candidatures exceeded the historical participation of left wing parties in Colombian politics: 14 seats in parliament (including two guerrilla comandantes: Iván Márquez and Braulio Herrera), 13 regional deputies, 351 council members and 23 mayors. Jaime Pardo Leal reached 328.752 votes, a number never achieved by an alternative candidate, that is, not affiliated to the traditional parties.
Since the beginning, the UP was martyrized by paramilitary groups, the Police, the Army and powerful economic sectors, enemies of social change in Colombia. The UP tragedy is the most remarkable case of political genocide in the recent history of the Western hemisphere.
More than 5.000 militants and sympathizers were killed or disappeared, including senators, mayors and public spokespersons. Two presidential candidates were killed: Jaime Pardo Leal, on October 11, 1987, and Bernardo Jaramillo Ossa (labour lawyer and candidate for the 1990 elections), on March 22, 1990. On August 9, 1994 the communist journalist and UP senator, Manuel Cepeda Vargas, was killed in downtown Bogotá. Many cadres and militants had to leave the country, and many other joined the guerrillas to save their lives.
Using intimidation and physical elimination, the Colombian state closed the door of a FARC-EP transition to unarmed politics. Unión Patriótica was gradually losing political incidence. In 2002, the political party lost its legal registration: the voting results were under the minimum electoral threshold.
UP activists played an important role as human rights defenders, fighting for the recognizing of the political genocide against Patriotic Union and for the construction of a historical memory of the victims. In many cases, the Colombian state was forced by international courts to recognize its responsibility in murder and disappearance of UP militants.
In July, 2013, the State Council recognized that it was unfair that the UP had lost its legal registration. Arguing that the voting decrease of the party was the result of a systematic extermination, the body decided to restore the registration.
Many exiled militants of the UP returned to Colombia to reorganize the party and prepare the elections. For the 2014 parliamentary elections, none of the UP candidates was elected.
Aída Avella, former tradeunionist and UP councillor in Bogotá, exiled after an assassination attempt against her in 1996, returned to the country and was appointed presidential candidate for the UP. After large discussions between UP and the left party Polo Democrático Alternativo - PDA, they decided to unify their candidatures for presidency. The former PDA mayor of Bogotá, Clara López, was the main candidate, and Aída Avella would be vice-president. After the first electoral round, the UP-PDA coalition obtained 1.958.518 votes, the 4th place.
Today, UP is a political party of the left-wing field of Colombian politics. It stands for the unity of the left parties and for the political solution of the social and armed conflict.