Colombia is a free market economy with major commercial and investment ties to the United States. In 1990, the administration of President Cesar Gaviria (1990-94) initiated economic liberalization or "apertura," with tariff reductions, financial deregulation, privatization of state-owned enterprises, and adoption of a more liberal foreign exchange rate. These policies eased import restrictions and opened most sectors to foreign investment, although agricultural products remained protected.
The Uribe administration sought to maintain prudent fiscal policies and pursued tough economic reforms including tax, pension, and budget reforms. The Santos administration has been promoting economic growth by pursuing free trade agreements with other South American and Asian countries, as well as the U.S. and Canada. The average unemployment rate in 2011 is around 10%, down from 12% in 2009. Despite recent improvements in Colombia’s economy, the country continues to have a high rate of poverty (45.5%) and one of the highest levels of income disparity in the world.
Colombia's economic growth in the last decade can be attributed to an increase in security, resulting in greater foreign investment; economic reforms in the oil and gas sectors; prudent monetary policy; and export growth fueled in part by the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act (ATPDEA) of 2002. Investments as a percentage of GDP were around 28% in mid-2011, which is higher than both Brazil and Chile.
First-quarter GDP growth for 2011 was 5.1%, and economists project growth levels between 4% and 6% in 2011. Per capita GDP has doubled since 2002, while unemployment fell from 15.7% in 2002 to 11.8% in 2010. Colombia has concluded or is pursuing free trade agreements (FTAs) with the U.S., EU, Canada, Switzerland, Turkey, Panama, South Korea, and Japan in addition to its existing trade agreements with Mexico, Chile, Central America, the Andean Community of Nations, and Mercosur.
Industry and Agriculture
As the most industrially diverse member of the Andean Community, Colombia has five major industrial centers--Bogota, Medellin, Cali, Barranquilla, and Bucaramanga--each located in a distinct geographical region. Colombia's industries include mining (coal, gold, and emeralds), oil, textiles and clothing, agribusiness (cut flowers, bananas, sugarcane, and coffee), beverages, chemicals and petrochemicals, cement, construction, iron and steel products, and metalworking. There is also a burgeoning service economy comprised of tourism and information technology exports (call centers, software development, animation).
Colombia's diverse climate and topography permit the cultivation of a wide variety of crops. In addition, all regions yield forest products, ranging from tropical hardwoods in the lowlands, to pine and eucalyptus in the colder areas. Cacao, sugarcane, coconuts, bananas, plantains, rice, cotton, tobacco, cassava, and most of the nation's beef cattle are produced in the hot regions from sea level to 1,000 meters elevation. The temperate regions--between 1,000 and 2,000 meters--are better suited for coffee, flowers, corn and other vegetables, pears, pineapples, and tomatoes. The cooler elevations--between 2,000 and 3,000 meters--produce wheat, barley, potatoes, cold-climate vegetables, flowers, dairy cattle, and poultry.
While Colombia faces challenges in terms of labor rights, it has committed to sweeping reforms under the Labor Action Plan announced by Presidents Obama and Santos on April 7, 2011. The Colombian Government recently began hiring 100 additional labor inspectors as part of a commitment to double the labor inspectorate by hiring 480 inspectors over the next 4 years. A significant number of these inspectors will be dedicated to addressing worker rights abuses in the palm oil, sugar, mines, ports, and flowers sectors, and preventive inspections in these sectors and for temporary service agencies have already begun. New legislation also establishes criminal penalties, including imprisonment, for employers that undermine the right to organize and bargain collectively or threaten workers who exercise their labor rights. Furthermore, the Government of Colombia has also secured legislation establishing a separate Labor Ministry to provide better institutional capacity to protect labor rights.
To address issues of impunity in crimes against labor unionists, the Colombian Government has exceeded its Action Plan commitments in appointing 100 full-time judicial police inspectors for labor violence cases, and has developed improved training for judicial police investigators and prosecutors on such cases. Priority labor violence cases do remain, but Colombia is showing a commitment to reduce the number of unresolved cases. The Colombian Government has also expanded its protection program for threatened union activists and reduced the backlog of risk assessments by 75% for those unionists applying for protection.
Colombia is the United States' third-largest export market in Latin America behind Mexico and Brazil. U.S. exports to Colombia in 2010 were $12.1 billion, up 26% from the previous year. U.S. imports from Colombia in 2010 were $15.6 billion, up 38% from 2009 due to high crude oil prices and a low dollar. Colombia's major exports are petroleum, coffee, coal, nickel, cut flowers, and bananas. The United States is Colombia's largest trading partner, representing about 41% of Colombia's exports and 27% of its imports.
Mining and Energy
Colombia has considerable mineral and energy resources, especially coal and natural gas reserves. Mining and energy-related investments have grown because of higher oil prices, increased demand, improved output, and pro-business reforms. These reforms have significantly liberalized Colombia’s petroleum sector, leading to an increase in exploration and production contracts from both large and small hydrocarbon industries.
Natural Gas. In 2010, natural gas reserves totaled 5.4 trillion cubic feet. Natural gas production totaled 1.090 million cubic feet per day on average during 2010.
Crude Oil. The country’s production of crude oil has nearly doubled since 2007, reaching 927,000 barrels per day (bbl/d) in May 2011. Colombia had 1.9 billion barrels of proven crude oil reserves in 2010, the fifth-largest in South America.
Refining Capacity. The country's current oil-refining capacity is 325,000 bbl/d, and is expected to grow to 415,000 in 2016 according to the Ministry of Mines and Energy.
Coal. As of 2010, Colombia was the tenth-largest coal producing country and the fifth-largest coal exporting country in the world. It is the largest coal producer in Latin America (74.3 million tons in 2010). Colombia also is the largest exporter of coal to the U.S.
Gems. Colombia historically has been the world's leading producer of emeralds and after a short lull in production it has returned to being a leader in this field. Emerald production rose to 5.23 million carats in 2010, up from 2.12 million carats in 2008.
Precious Metals. Colombia is also a significant producer of gold (53.6 tons in 2010), silver (15.3 tons in 2010), and platinum (1 ton in 2010).
In 2010, total foreign direct investment (FDI) in Colombia was $6.8 billion, a slight decrease from the $7.2 billion in 2009. The Central Bank estimates that FDI in the first quarter of 2011 will be higher than the first quarter of 2010. On average, the United States has been the largest source of new FDI in Colombia, particularly in mining and hydrocarbon projects. The bulk of total new investment in Colombia is in the manufacturing, mining, and energy sectors. The only activities closed to foreign direct investment are defense, national security, and disposal of hazardous wastes.
GDP (current prices; IMF): $285.5 billion.
Annual growth rate: 4%-6% (2011 projected); 5.1% (first quarter 2011).
Per capita GDP (purchasing power parity; IMF 2010 est.): $9,566.
Natural resources: Coal, petroleum, natural gas, iron ore, nickel, gold, silver, copper, platinum, emeralds.
Industry (14.4% of GDP): Types--textiles, garments, footwear, chemicals, metal products, cement, plastic resins and manufactures, beverages, wood products, pharmaceuticals, machinery, electrical equipment.
Agriculture (7.1% of GDP): Products--coffee, bananas, cut flowers, cotton, sugarcane, livestock, rice, corn, tobacco, potatoes, soybeans, sorghum, cocoa beans, oilseed.
Services (46% of GDP): Government services, financial services, commerce, transportation and communication, construction and public works, utilities.
Mining (7.8% of GDP): Main products--coal, gold, nickel.
Trade: Exports (2010 est.)--$39 billion: petroleum, coffee, coal, nickel, emeralds, apparel, bananas, cut flowers. Major markets--U.S., E.U., China, Ecuador. Imports (2010 est.)--$41 billion: machinery/equipment, grains, chemicals, transportation equipment, mineral products, consumer products, paper products, oil and gas industry equipment, electricity. Major suppliers--U.S., China, Mexico, Brazil, Germany..
Northern South America, bordering the Caribbean Sea, between Panama and Venezuela, and bordering the North Pacific Ocean, between Ecuador and Panama
4 00 N, 72 00 W
South America, Central America and the Caribbean
total: 1,138,910 sq km
land: 1,038,700 sq km
water: 100,210 sq km
note: includes Isla de Malpelo, Roncador Cay, Serrana Bank, and Serranilla Bank
slightly less than three times the size of Montana
total: 7,408 km
border countries: Brazil 1,643 km, Ecuador 590 km, Panama 225 km, Peru 2,900 km, Venezuela 2,050 km
3,208 km (Caribbean Sea 1,760 km, North Pacific Ocean 1,448 km)
continental shelf: 200-m depth or to the depth of exploitation
exclusive economic zone: 200 nm
territorial sea: 12 nm
tropical along coast and eastern plains; cooler in highlands
flat coastal lowlands, central highlands, high Andes Mountains, eastern lowland plains
lowest point: Pacific Ocean 0 m
highest point: Nevado del Huila 5,750 m
petroleum, natural gas, coal, iron ore, nickel, gold, copper, emeralds
arable land: 4%
permanent crops: 1%
permanent pastures: 39%
forests and woodland: 48%
other: 8% (1993 est.)
5,300 sq km (1993 est.)
highlands subject to volcanic eruptions; occasional earthquakes; periodic droughts
deforestation; soil damage from overuse of pesticides; air pollution, especially in Bogota, from vehicle emissions
party to: Antarctic Treaty, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Marine Life Conservation, Nuclear Test Ban, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94
signed, but not ratified: Antarctic-Environmental Protocol, Desertification, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping
only South American country with coastlines on both North Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea
During the pre-Columbian period, the area now known as Colombia was inhabited by indigenous societies situated at different stages of socio-economic development, ranging from hunters and nomadic farmers to the highly structured Chibchas, who are considered to have been one of the most developed indigenous groups in South America.
Santa Marta was the first permanent Spanish settlement founded in 1525. Santa Fe de Bogota was founded in 1538 and, in 1717, became the capital of the Viceroyalty of New Granada, which included what are now Venezuela, Ecuador, and Panama. Bogota was one of three principal administrative centers of the Spanish possessions in the New World.
On July 20, 1810, the citizens of Bogota created the first representative council to defy Spanish authority. Full independence was proclaimed in 1813, and in 1819 the Republic of Greater Colombia was formed to include all the territory of the former Viceroyalty (Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador and Panama). Simon Bolivar was elected its first president with Francisco de Paula Santander as vice president. Conflicts between followers of Bolivar and Santander led to the formation of two political parties that have since dominated Colombian politics. Bolivar's supporters, who later formed the nucleus of the Conservative Party, sought strong centralized government, alliance with the Roman Catholic Church and a limited franchise. Santander's followers, forerunners of the Liberals, wanted a decentralized government, state control over education and other civil matters, and a broader suffrage.
Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, each party held the presidency for roughly equal periods of time. Colombia maintained a tradition of civilian government and regular, free elections. Notwithstanding the country's commitment to democratic institutions, Colombia's history also has been characterized by widespread, violent conflict. Two civil wars resulted from bitter rivalry between the Conservative and Liberal parties: The War of a Thousand Days (1899-1903) claimed an estimated 100,000 lives and La Violencia (the Violence) (1946-1957) claimed about 300,000 lives.
La Violencia (The Violence) and the National Front
The assassination of Liberal leader Jorge Eliecer Gaitan in 1948 sparked the bloody conflict known as La Violencia. Conservative Party leader Laureano Gomez came to power in 1950, but was ousted by a military coup led by General Gustavo Rojas Pinilla in 1953. When Rojas failed to restore democratic rule and became implicated in corrupt schemes, he was overthrown by the military with the support of the Liberal and Conservative Parties.
In July 1957, an alliance between former Conservative President Laureano Gomez (1950-53) and former Liberal President Alberto Lleras Camargo (1945-46) led to the creation of the National Front. It established a power-sharing agreement between the two parties and brought an end to "La Violencia." The presidency would be determined by regular elections every 4 years and the two parties would have parity in all other elective and appointive offices. This system was phased out in 1978.
Post-National Front Years
During the post-National Front years, the Colombian Government made efforts to negotiate a peace with the persistent guerrilla organizations that flourished in Colombia's remote and undeveloped rural areas. In 1984, President Belisario Betancur, a Conservative, negotiated a cease-fire with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the Democratic Alliance (M-19) that included the release of many imprisoned guerrillas. The National Liberation Army (ELN) rejected the government's cease fire proposal at that time. The M-19 pulled out of the cease-fire when it resumed fighting in 1985. The army suppressed an M-19 attack on the Palace of Justice in Bogota in November 1985, during which 115 people were killed, including 11 Supreme Court justices. The government and the M-19 renewed their truce in March 1989, which led to a peace agreement and the M-19's reintegration into society and political life. The M-19 was one of the parties that participated in the process to enact a new constitution (see below), which took effect in 1991. The FARC ended the truce in 1990 after some 2,000-3,000 of its members who had demobilized had been murdered.
A new constitution in 1991 brought about major reforms to Colombia's political institutions. While the new constitution preserved a presidential, three-branch system of government, it created new institutions such as the Inspector General, a Human Rights Ombudsman, a Constitutional Court, and a Superior Judicial Council. The new constitution also reestablished the position of Vice President. Other significant constitutional reforms provide for civil divorce, dual nationality and the establishment of a legal mechanism ("Tutela") that allows individuals to appeal government decisions affecting their constitutional rights. The constitution also authorized the introduction of an accusatory system of criminal justice that is gradually being instituted throughout the country, replacing the previous written inquisitorial system. A constitutional amendment approved in 2005 allows the president to hold office for two consecutive 4-year terms.
Colombian governments have had to contend with the combined terrorist activities of left-wing guerrillas, the rise of paramilitary self-defense forces in the 1990s, and the drug cartels. Narco-terrorists assassinated three presidential candidates during the election campaign of 1990. After Colombian security forces killed Medellin cartel leader Pablo Escobar in December 1993, indiscriminate acts of violence associated with his organization abated as the "cartels" were broken into multiple and smaller trafficking organizations that competed against each other in the drug trade. Guerrillas and paramilitary groups also entered into drug trafficking as a way to finance their military operations.
The administration of Andres Pastrana (1998-2002), a Conservative, faced increased countrywide attacks by the FARC and ELN, widespread drug production and the expansion of paramilitary groups. The Pastrana administration unveiled its "Plan Colombia" in 1999 as a strategy to deal with these longstanding problems, and sought support from the international community. Plan Colombia was a comprehensive program to combat narco-terrorism; spur economic recovery; strengthen democratic institutions and respect for human rights; and provide humanitarian assistance to internally displaced persons.
In November 1998, Pastrana ceded a sparsely populated area the size of Switzerland in south-central Colombia to the FARC's control to serve as a neutral zone where peace negotiations could take place. The FARC negotiated with the government only fitfully while continuing to mount attacks and expand coca production, seriously undermining the government's efforts to reach an agreement. Negotiations with the rebels in 2000 and 2001 were marred by rebel attacks, kidnappings and fighting between rebels and paramilitaries for control of coca-growing areas in Colombia. In February 2002, after the FARC hijacked a commercial aircraft and kidnapped a senator, Pastrana ordered the military to attack rebel positions and reassert control over the neutral zone. The FARC withdrew into the jungle and increased attacks against Colombia's infrastructure, while avoiding large-scale direct conflicts with the military.
Alvaro Uribe, an independent, was elected president in May 2002 on a platform to restore security to the country. Among his promises was to continue to pursue the broad goals of Plan Colombia within the framework of a long-term security strategy. In the fall of 2002, Uribe released a national security strategy that employed political, economic, and military means to weaken all illegal armed groups. The Uribe government offered to negotiate a peace agreement with these groups with the condition that they would agree to a unilateral cease fire and to end drug trafficking and kidnapping.
In December 2003, the Colombian United Self-Defense Forces (AUC) paramilitary group entered into a peace agreement with the government that has led to the collective demobilization of over 31,000 AUC members. In addition, more than 20,000 members of the FARC, AUC, ELN, and other illegal armed groups have individually surrendered their arms. In July 2005, President Uribe signed the Justice and Peace Law, which provides reduced punishments for the demobilized if they renounce violence and return illegal assets, which are to provide reparations to victims.
The ELN and the government began a round of talks with the Colombian Government mediated by the Mexican Government in mid-2004. The ELN withdrew from the talks after the Mexican Government voted to condemn Cuba's human rights record at the United Nations in April 2005. In December 2005, the ELN began a new round of talks with the Colombian Government in Cuba that led to multiple rounds of meetings, the latest one being held in late 2007 in Caracas, Venezuela. Recent attempts for talks with the Colombian Government have broken down.
As a result of the government's military and police operations, the strength of the FARC has been reduced to approximately 8,000 members in 2010--down from 16,000 in 2001. Since 2000, the FARC has not carried out large-scale multi-front attacks, although it has mounted some operations that indicate it has not yet been broken--including the December 2009 kidnapping and killing of the governor of the department of Caqueta. As its strength has been reduced, the FARC has increasingly turned to asymmetrical attacks. Peace efforts with the FARC in 2010 have stalled.
A Colombian military operation in September 2010 killed the top FARC military commander and member Victor Julio Suarez, aka “Mono Jojoy.” The Colombian Government did not capture or kill any senior FARC leaders in 2009, but it did achieve notable successes against a number of mid-level FARC commanders in 2009. The FARC is attempting to recover from the serious blows delivered by the Colombian Government against the senior FARC leadership in 2008--most notably the July 2008 rescue of 15 hostages, including three American contractors and a former Colombian presidential candidate, Ingrid Betancourt. Also in 2008, senior FARC commander Luis Edgar Devia-Silva, aka “Raul Reyes,” was killed during a Colombian Government operation; FARC Commander Manuel Munoz-Ortiz, aka “Ivan Rios,” was killed at the hands of his own chief of security; and FARC founding member Manuel Marulanda-Velez, aka “Tirofijo,” died from an alleged heart attack.
As of May 2009, more than 60 hostages were being held by the FARC. They included 22 soldiers and police whom the guerrillas wanted to swap for government concessions. FARC demobilizations were lower in 2009 (2,128) compared to 2008 (3,027).
Colombia maintains an excellent extradition relationship with the United States. The Uribe administration extradited over 1,000 fugitives to the United States. Among those extradited were Cali Cartel leaders Gilberto Rodriguez Orejuela and his brother Miguel; FARC leaders Juvenal Ovidio Palmera Pineda (aka "Simon Trinidad") and Omaira Rojas Cabrera (aka "Sonia"); and former AUC leaders Salvatore Mancuso and Diego Murillo. In 2009, 186 were extradited to the U.S., including former AUC leader Hebert Veloza-Garcia (aka “HH”) and FARC member Gerardo Antonio Aguilar Ramirez (aka “Cesar”).
In 2004, the Uribe government established, for the first time in recent Colombian history, a government presence in all of the country's 1,099 municipalities (county seats). Attacks conducted by illegally armed groups against rural towns decreased by 91% from 2002 to 2005. Between 2002 and 2008, Colombia saw a decrease in homicides by 44%, kidnappings by 88%, terrorist attacks by 79%, and attacks on the country's infrastructure by 60%.
Although much attention has been focused on the security aspects of Colombia's situation, the Uribe government also made significant efforts on issues such as expanding international trade, supporting alternate means of development, strengthening rule of law, protecting human rights, promoting governance, and reducing poverty.
President Uribe was reelected with 62% of the vote in May 2006. In congressional elections in March 2006, the three leading pro-Uribe parties (National Unity, Conservative Party, and Radical Change) won clear majorities in both houses of Congress. In late 2006, the Supreme Court began investigations and ordered the arrest of some members of Congress for actions on behalf of paramilitary groups. Those investigations continued throughout 2009, with several dozen politicians at both the national and local level implicated.
In January 2007, Colombian leaders presented a new strategy to consolidate gains under Plan Colombia, which eventually became known as the National Consolidation Plan (Plan Nacional de Consolidacion, or PNC). The new strategy, a civilian-led whole-of-government approach, builds upon successful Plan Colombia programs to establish state presence in traditionally ungoverned spaces. By improving access to social services--including justice, education, housing, and health--strengthening democracy, and supporting economic development through sustainable growth and trade, the Colombian Government seeks to permanently recover Colombia's historically marginalized rural areas from illegal armed groups and break the cycle of violence.
On August 7, 2010, Juan Manuel Santos was inaugurated as President of Colombia. He served as Minister of National Defense for Uribe’s second presidential term, as Minister of Finance under President Andres Pastrana, and as Minister of Trade under President Cesar Gaviria.
Narcotics and Rule of Law
The United States and Colombia continue to enjoy a close counternarcotics partnership. Under Plan Colombia, significant U.S. funding, technical assistance, and material support has been provided to Colombian-led counternarcotics programs aimed at interdicting and eradicating drugs at the source as well as expanding the capacity of Colombian military, police, and judicial institutions. Although nearly 90% of the cocaine entering the United States is processed in Colombia, and the country remains the primary source for heroin used east of the Mississippi River, Colombia has made real progress with the help of U.S. support in weakening drug trafficking organizations, disrupting the supply of illicit drugs to the United States, and establishing a security presence in former conflict regions.
In 2009, Colombia seized over 200 metric tons of cocaine and coca base, nearly 200 metric tons of marijuana, and 740 kilos of heroin--up from 695 kilos in 2008. Colombia also destroyed over 3,000 drug laboratories in 2009, including nearly 300 cocaine processing laboratories and 2,800 smaller coca base labs. Progress is also being made in addressing the problem of reducing the area under coca cultivation. Over 165,000 hectares of Colombian coca was eradicated in 2009, with over 100,000 hectares aerially eradicated--nearly 5% over the 2009 aerial goal. This potentially eliminated hundreds of metric tons of cocaine from the world market and arguably contributed to the encouraging trends in price and purity of cocaine in the United States. According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, from January 2007 through September 2009, the price per pure gram of cocaine increased 75.4%, from $99.24 to $174.03, while the purity decreased 31.5%, from 67% to 46%. Sustained aerial eradication and declining coca productivity also resulted in pure cocaine production potential in Colombia dropping by 58% from 700 metric tons in 2001 to 295 metric tons in 2008.
The involvement of Colombian terrorist groups, including the FARC, in narcotics production and trafficking increases the difficulty in addressing this problem. The United States remains committed to helping Colombia improve the rule of law and prevent drugs from reaching the United States through strong interdiction, eradication, and alternative development programs. U.S. assistance has helped create economic opportunities for Colombians and has also helped promote a lifestyle change and supported state presence. With U.S. assistance as of September 2009, U.S. and Government of Colombia alternative development programs had supported the cultivation of over 650,000 hectares of agricultural, forestry plantation, and/or natural forest management activities and had completed approximately 1,290 social and productive infrastructure projects over the last 7 years with communities that agree to remain illicit-crop free. More than 400,000 families in 18 departments have benefited from these programs. Additionally, these projects have leveraged over $759 million in private and public sector funding for alternative development initiatives.
Principal Government Officials
President--Juan Manuel SANTOS Calderon
Vice President--Angelino GARZON
Minister of Foreign Affairs--Maria Angela HOLGUIN Cuellar
Minister of Defense--Rodrigo RIVERA Salazar
Minister of Interior and Justice--German VARGAS Lleras
Ambassador to the United States--Gabriel SILVA Lujan
Ambassador to the Organization of American States--Luis Alfonso HOYOS Aristazabal
Ambassador to the United Nations--Nestor OSORIO Londono
Colombia maintains an embassy in the United States at 2118 Leroy Place NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202-387-8338). Consulates are located in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, San Francisco, San Juan, and Washington.
Independence: July 20, 1810 (from Spain).
Constitution: July 5, 1991.
Branches: Executive--president (head of state and government). Legislative--bicameral Congress. Judicial--Supreme Court, Constitutional Court, Council of State, Superior Judicial Council. The Prosecutor General is nominated (along with two other candidates) by the president and elected by the Supreme Court. This office is not a part of the executive branch; it is an independent agency.
Administrative divisions: 32 departments; Bogota, capital district.
Major political parties: Colombian Conservative Party, Colombian Liberal Party, Social Party of National Unity, Radical Change, Alternative Democratic Pole, Party of National Integration, and numerous smaller movements.
Suffrage: Universal, age 18 and over.
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During the pre-Colombian period, the area now known as Colombia was inhabited by indigenous peoples who were primitive hunters or nomadic farmers. The Chibchas, who lived in the Bogotá region, were the largest indigenous group.
The Spanish sailed along the north coast of Colombia as early as 1500; however, their first permanent settlement, at Santa Marta, was not established until 1525. In 1549, the area was a Spanish colony with the capital at Santa Fe de Bogotá. In 1717, Bogotá became the capital of the Viceroyalty of New Granada, which included what are now Venezuela, Ecuador, and Panama. The city became one of the principal administrative centers of the Spanish possessions in the New World, along with Lima and Mexico City.
In August 2000 the capital's name was officially changed from "Santa Fe de Bogotá" to the more commonly used "Bogotá." On July 20, 1810, the citizens of Bogotá created the first representative council to defy Spanish authority. Full independence was proclaimed in 1813, and in 1819 the Republic of Greater Colombia was formed.
The Republic and La Violencia (The Violence)
The new Republic of Greater Colombia included all the territory of the former Viceroyalty. Simon Bolivar was elected its first president and Francisco de Paula Santander, vice president. Two political parties grew out of conflicts between the followers of Bolivar and Santander and their political visions--the Conservatives and the Liberals--and have since dominated Colombian politics. Bolivar's supporters, who later formed the nucleus of the Conservative Party, sought strong centralized government, alliance with the Roman Catholic Church, and a limited franchise. Santander's followers, forerunners of the Liberals, wanted a decentralized government, state rather than church control over education and other civil matters, and a broadened suffrage.
Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, each party held the presidency for roughly equal periods of time. Colombia maintained a tradition of civilian government and regular, free elections. Notwithstanding the country's commitment to democratic institutions, Colombia's history also has been characterized by widespread, violent conflict. Two civil wars resulted from bitter rivalry between the Conservative and Liberal parties: The War of a Thousand Days (1899-1902) claimed an estimated 100,000 lives, and La Violencia (1946-1957) cost another 300,000 Colombians.
The National Front
In July 1957, former Conservative President Laureano Gomez (1950-53) and former Liberal President Alberto Lleras Camargo (1945-46) proclaimed the "Declaration of Sitges," in which they proposed a "National Front" whereby the Liberal and Conservative parties would govern jointly. The presidency would be determined by regular elections every 4 years; the two parties would have parity in all other elective and appointive offices.
The National Front ended La Violencia, and National Front administrations instituted social and economic reforms in cooperation with the Alliance for Progress. Although the system established by the Sitges agreement was phased out by 1978, the 1886 Colombian Constitution--in effect until 1991--required that the losing political party be given adequate and equitable participation in the government. The 1991 Constitution does not have that requirement, but subsequent administrations have included members of opposition parties.
Post-National Front Years
Between 1978 and 1982, the government focused on ending the limited, but persistent, Cuban-backed insurgencies that sought to undermine Colombia's traditional democratic system. In 1984, President Belisario Betancur, a Conservative who won 47% of the popular vote, negotiated a cease-fire that included the release of many guerrillas imprisoned during the effort to overpower the insurgents. The cease-fire ended when Democratic Alliance/M-19 (AD/M-19) guerrillas resumed fighting in 1985.
An attack on the Palace of Justice in Bogotá by the AD/M-19 on November 6-7, 1985, and its violent suppression by the army, shocked Colombians. Of the 115 people killed, 11 were Supreme Court justices. Although the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) renewed their truce in March 1986, peace with other revolutionary movements, in particular the AD/M-19--then the largest insurgent group--and the National Liberation Army (ELN) was remote as Betancur left office.
The AD/M-19 and several smaller guerilla groups were successfully incorporated into a peace process during the late 1980s, which culminated in a national assembly to write a new constitution, which took effect in 1991. The FARC had declared a unilateral cease-fire under Betancur, which led to the establishment of the Union Patriotica (UP), a legal and non-clandestine political organization. After growing violence against its UP members, when an estimated 1,000-3,000 were killed, the truce with the FARC again ended in 1990.
Following administrations had to contend with the guerrillas, paramilitaries, and narcotics traffickers. Narco-terrorists assassinated three presidential candidates before Cesar Gaviria Trujillo was elected in 1990. Since the death of Medellín cartel leader Pablo Escobar in a police shootout in December 1993, indiscriminate acts of violence associated with that organization have abated as the "cartels" now are broken up into multiple, smaller and often-competing trafficking organizations. Nevertheless, violence continues as these drug organizations resort to violence as part of their operations as well as to protest against government policies, especially extradition.
President Ernesto Samper assumed office in August 1994. However, a political crisis relating to largescale contributions from drug traffickers to Samper's presidential campaign diverted attention.
Colombia is the third-most populous country in Latin America, after Brazil and Mexico. Sixty-one cities have a population of 100,000 or more; four cities have a population of more than 1 million. Most of Colombia’s population is concentrated around the northern and western departments. The nine eastern lowlands departments, constituting about 54% of Colombia's area are sparsely populated (less than 3% of the population; density of less than one person per square kilometer).
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Colombian(s).
Population (2011): 46.04 million.
Annual population growth: 1.2%.
Religion: 80% Catholic; 13.5% non-Catholic Christian; 4.5% other religious groups (including Seventh Day Adventist, Mormon, Jehovah’s Witness, Islam, and Judaism); 2% no religion.
Education: Education is free and compulsory for the first 5 years; only 5 years of primary school are offered in many rural areas. Attendance--90% of children are enrolled in primary school; 74% in secondary schools. Literacy--93% (2009).
Health: Infant mortality rate--16/1,000. Life expectancy--total population 75 years, men 71.27 years, women 78.03 years.
Ethnic groups: Mestizo (58%), white (20%), mulatto (14%). The population of Afro-Colombians and indigenous groups is officially reported to be around 10%. Non-governmental groups (NGOs) and human rights groups estimate this number may actually be more than 25%.