Colombia’s strategically important location on the Caribbean north of South America, its wealth of natural resources and fertile soils have made the country attractive both before and after the Spanish colonization. Simón Bolívar’s big dream of a large and united South American republic was lost, and Colombia, like other countries in the region, became the subject of conflict between liberal and conservative political forces. This conflict was compounded by a strong distortion of land, which created the basis for radical guerrilla movements and a militarized and violent society, which has continued to characterize Colombia until today.
Before Spain colonized Colombia in the 16th century, the area was inhabited by indigenous people. The population was high, probably between three and four million. Many of these were hunters and nomads, while the numerous chibcha people had well-organized farming communities in the fertile highlands (Cordillera Oriental). The Chibcha people had a developed market economy where gold and other metals were common means of payment.
It was the prospect of gold and the legend of El Dorado that made the area attractive to the Spaniards, who first arrived on the coast in 1499. The port city of Santa Marta was founded in 1525, as the first permanent Spanish settlement in South America. During the Spaniards’ brutal conquest of the interior, the indigenous population was rapidly reduced, led by Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada. He founded Santa Fé de Bogotá (now Bogotá) in the same place as the chibcha people had their most important urban community. Over 150 years, the indigenous population was reduced to about 130,000. Santa Fé became the capital of Nueva Granada, which included the present Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador and Panama. To see more information other than history, please visit Abbreviationfinder to learn more about climate, population, government, and economy for the country of Colombia. In 1718, Nueva Granada was granted the status of viceroy.
The Napoleonic wars in Europe had a great influence on the independence movement. Instead of relinquishing French control over the Spanish throne, several local junta appeared in Nueva Granada. Although Spain regained control at home in Europe in 1814, Simón Bolívar continued his victorious campaign. Bolívar allied with Santander’s troops to fight the Spanish royalists, and in 1818, after the Battle of Boyacá, the colony was proclaimed independent and renamed Gran Colombia. But Bolívar’s dream of a united South America fell when Gran Colombia fell apart. Venezuela became independent in 1829, Ecuador the following year.
Colombia got its present name first in 1863. Like many Latin American republics, the power groups crystallized between the conservative and liberal parties, both of which have maintained the position of power of the pure Spanish- oligarchy. The conservatives had a close relationship with the church and the powerful big farmers who were interested in “law and order” and a centralized power structure. The Liberals found their support among the more dynamic urban bourgeoisie and among manufacturers of new products such as tobacco and coffee. The areas of influence had a regional character that was reflected in almost purely conservative and liberal areas.
Colombia’s history in the 19th century was characterized by violent conflicts between conservatives and liberals who took alternating power in the country during alternating periods. In 1886, while the Conservatives ruled, it was formally decided that Colombia should be governed centrally from Bogotá. The three-year civil war of 1899-1902 was an expression of the incessant rivalry that has produced a very violent culture and great difficulties for constructive development in Colombia.
- Countryaah: Check to see the location of Colombia on the world map. Also covers major mountains, rivers and lakes in Colombia.
The radicalization of the liberals
In 1903, the United States actively supported a rebellion in the province of Panama by preventing the entry of the Colombian Navy. In return, the US was granted a license to build the Panama Canal. By the independence of Panama, Colombia received compensation and dominion over the islands of San Andrés and Providencia. In order, among other things, to guarantee control over the channel, the US ensured that military cooperation with Colombia continued.
Until World War I, Colombia was developing an industry, alongside coffee, sugar and banana production. Social inequalities increased as the cities attracted large crowds from the countryside, while the bourgeoisie was well aided by foreign capital interests.
In the late 1920s, Colombia experienced several major strikes, most of which were brutally beaten by the army. In 1926, dissidents from the Liberal Party and intellectuals created the Revolutionary Socialist Party (PSR). After the liberals took over the government in 1930, the unions grew and the Communist Party (PCC) was formed. The new government, led by Enrique Olaya Herrera, instituted several reforms towards a welfare state. The leader of the most radical wing of the government was Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, who in 1942 became the Vice President of the Republic.
In 1948, the popular Gaitán was assassinated on an open street in Bogotá, and shortly thereafter the town stood in a bright hat. This popular uprising (“el bogotazo”) was the beginning of “la violencia”, the period of violence, an unexplained civil war in which conservatives and liberals largely eradicated each other. In this war, the peasantry largely sided with the liberals in the fight against their traditional enemies, the conservative landowners. From this period originated the basis of the guerrilla, the oldest in Latin America.
In 1953, the military seized power for the first and only time in Colombia’s history. General Gustavo Rojas Pinilla managed to bring the civil war more or less under the control of fierce military force. But by 1957 he had become superfluous. The conservatives and liberals entered into an agreement that, for a period of 16 years from 1958, they should switch to holding the presidential office, and the positions in the state apparatus should be shared equally between them. As an independent power factor, the army was given the Ministry of Defense, and other parties were excluded from the agreed monopoly of power under the name National Front.
It is this stability that has made Colombia appear as a democratic counterpart to the military regimes that dominated Latin America in the 1960s and 1970s.
General Rojas created the National People’s Alliance (Anapo) and lined up in the election in 1970. Anapo was for many the alternative to the deadlocked conservative-liberal alliance, it had introduced a state of emergency after the elections in 1970 in order to transfer power to the conservative Misael Pastrana Borrero. The guerrilla organization M-19 was created by the radical wing of ANAPO in response to this unreasonable choice. The name M-19 refers to the fateful election day of April 19, 1970.
Pastrana made sure that land reform that started in the 1960s was stopped. Land occupations by the ANUC farmer organization were bloody rebuffed.
In the 1974 election, the Conservatives and Liberals again contrasted, and Liberal Alfonso López Michelsen won superiorly. His promises were as great as the frustrations later became when he resigned in 1978. During his period, illegal economic sectors (especially drug smuggling) became increasingly important, and corruption scandals also affected the president’s own family. The defense minister often had greater real power than the president, and especially in rural areas, Colombia was characterized by being a military state.
Also, most of President Turbay Ayala’s reign was completed under state of emergency, and the death squadron MAS created significant fears in the countryside, while the guerrilla became increasingly active.
Belisário Betancur Cuartas, the Conservative candidate elected in 1982, set himself the goal of creating more peaceful conditions in Colombia. By giving extensive amnesty to political prisoners and by initiating peace talks with the guerrillas, Betancur managed to live up to the expectations set. Betancur’s active participation in the Contadora group also earned him international prestige.
Colombia has been characterized by four relatively large guerrilla organizations. The largest and oldest is Colombia’s Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC), which has been linked to the Communist Party. The National Liberation Army (ELN) is, above all, known for having the legendary priest Camilo Torres Restrepo in his ranks and drawing his inspiration from the Cuban revolution. A third organization is the Marxist-Leninistthe People’s Liberation Army (ELP). However, the most well-known is the April 19 movement (M-19) which has largely operated in the cities. M-19 gained considerable international attention when a host of foreign diplomats were taken hostage in 1980 and the siege of the Bogotá Palace in 1985. In August 1984, Betancur reached a ceasefire agreement with all organizations except ELN. But during the first year, M-19 and ELP also withdrew from the agreement. The discrepancies led to fierce controversy between the guerrilla organizations. The FARC, which was most faithful to the agreement, participated in the 1986 election with its own party, Unión Patriótica (the Patriotic Union).
Colombia’s violent tradition has continued to make its mark in the country, and the social distress of the underprivileged is in sharp contrast to the abundance of the upper class. A large number of boy gangs in Bogotá have given the city a bad reputation among tourists. Illegal businesses also dominate the country’s economy.
Colombia is one of the main suppliers of marijuana and cocaine to the North American market, and the Caribbean part of the country is a center for this business. President Betancur hit hard on the drug dealers after the murder of Justice Minister Rodrigo Lara Bonilla in 1984. Among other things, several cocaine offenders were extradited to the United States.
After Virgilio Barco Vargas of the Liberal Party won the presidential election in 1986, he attempted to pursue this policy. The Supreme Court of Colombia decided in 1987 that the extraditions were unconstitutional. The cocaine cartels constantly sent new warnings, such as the assassination of Supreme Court Judge Carlos Mauro Hoyos in 1988. Barco ruled most of his presidential term under exception and ended the 30-year-old pact between conservatives and liberals by establishing a purely liberal government. The open war that had developed between the powerful cocaine cartel in Medellínand the government, created a growing wave of violence in the country. When the United States in 1989 also declared that they would take the matter into their own hands to have the chiefs extradited, the Medellin cartel declared “total war” against the government. Large-scale clean-up actions with the military and arrest waves created a very dramatic frame of the 1990 presidential election. Three presidential candidates were assassinated during the election campaign.
The 1990 election was won by the fearless and young candidate for the Liberal Party, César Gavíria Trujillo. Gavíria continued the fight against the Medellín cartel and focused on new negotiations with the guerrillas. In addition, the new government felt that the time was up for considerable economic liberalization and constitutional reform. Gavíria invited opposition politicians to join the government to gain confidence in negotiations.
The hard-fought campaign against the Medellín cartel had a disturbing effect: the rival Calico cartel was about to take over the cocaine market. Most of the leaders of the Medellín cartel, with Pablo Escobar in the lead, had been arrested.
Gavíria gained considerable sympathy for her attempts to reach compromise solutions and avoid escalation of violence. A series of successful negotiation rounds were held with the guerrillas during the period 1990-1992. Three members of the guerrilla umbrella organization, Coordinadora Guerrillera Simón Bolívar (CGSB), were invited as additional members of the National Assembly, where they participated in the drafting of significant constitutional amendments. The new constitution allowed for political pluralism and prohibited extradition of criminals, which was a relief to the cartels. Pablo Escobar escaped from prison in July 1992 and a large-scale pet hunt was started. An outright war took place between the Medellín and Calica cartels. It ended with the spectacular assassination of Escobar in December 1993 in a poor neighborhood where he was considered the patron saint.
Gavíria left her presidential office as the most popular president of Colombia’s recent history and took over as Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS) in 1994. The first election under the new constitution was held in 1994 and gave a scarce victory to Ernesto Samper Pizano from the Liberal Party.
The endless war
Samper was accused in quick succession and acquitted of receiving cash support from the drug cartels during the election campaign. The reconciliation policy was attempted to continue, but without special results. More concrete measures were put in place after Andrés Pastrana Arango, from the Conservatives, took office as president in 1998. Pastrana initiated separate peace talks with the FARC and ELN guerrillas, talks with a broad political agenda – from social and military issues to phasing out cocaine cultivation and implementing a more targeted distribution policy. The negotiations came to an end by Pastrana guaranteeing FARC a free zone the size of Switzerland’s southeast in the country, ELN received similar promises. An international commission with, among other things, Norwegian participation supported during the peace process. But there were several laps with breaks and a new start. A problem of trust between the parties was the right-wing paramilitary forces. The government was criticized from several quarters for providing these so-called death squads for free play. The forces were, among other things, behind the massacre of hundreds of villagers in 1999.
The following year, Pastrana launched its comprehensive Plan Colombia, in which the government, with assistance from, among other things, the United States, would invest close to $ 8 billion to halt drug production and modernize the judiciary and military structure – all with the aim of resolving the deep conflicts that had ridden the country as a mare through decades. But the rivalry between various guerrilla groups and paramilitaries, which was primarily in control of drug trafficking, led to violence continuing to increase year by year. Each year, 3500 people lost their lives in clashes or attacks from the heavily armed actors; a total of about 40,000 since 1964. Political killings and kidnappings, hijackings, sabotage actions and raids to release prisoners were also not stopped. The peace process continued,
The economy also suffered from the war. During the 1990s, Colombia was approaching zero growth, and in 1999 GDP was down 3 percent. Unemployment increased to 15 percent. The International Monetary Fund IMF entered into substantial loans, linked to the demand for hard-fought measures to reduce the budget deficit.