Colombian economic development in the 20th century poses some salient puzzles. In some dimensions Colombia looks strikingly different from other Latin American countries. Colombian economic performance has exhibited very low volatility and macroeconomic management has been excellent. However, in other dimensions Colombia looks entirely normal. Specifically, overall growth in income per-capita is remarkably close to the Latin American average, as are other socio-economic outcomes,such as inequality. In this paper I propose a simple political economy framework for explaining this paradox. I argue that political elites can adopt different strategies for maintaining power, making a distinction between clientelism and populism. I argue that the distinct features of Colombia come from the dominance of clientelism over populism, but this substitution of one instrument for another has little effect on income per-capita or inequality. Rather, underperformance in these dimensions is driven by historical processess of institution creation common to Latin American countries. The reason that in Colombian clientelism substitutes for populism are mostly to do with the continuity of the traditional political parties and governing elites.