A Short History of Colombia
About twice the size of Texas with a population of 44 million, Colombia is located just south of Panama (map). ith a per capita GDP of $8,400, 49% of the population live below the poverty line. . From 1510 the area that is now Colombia was part of the Spanish empire until a nine year uprising led by Simon Bolivar resulted in the formation of Gran Colombia in 1819, encompassing what is now Colombia, Ecuador, Panama and Venezuela. In 1830, Venezuela and Ecuador became separate nations, leaving the remaining territory as the republic of New Granada.
In 1886 Colombia became a single republic following the anti-federalist revolution of 1885. In 1899 civil war broke out killing as many as 100,000. In 1903 the republic of Panama, with the support of the United States, declared independence from Colombia. In return for recognizing Panama's independence in 1914, Colombia received rights in the Canal Zone and the payment of an indemnity from the USA; following this the country enjoyed over thirty years of relative peace. However, riots broke out in 1948 following the assassination of President Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, which led to 10 years of civil war that cost hundreds of thousands of lives.
Colombia's economy began to recover in the early 1970s with economic diversification, but through the 70s and 80s the illegal drug trade grew steadily with drug cartels amassing vast amounts of money, weapons and influence. In addition, leftist guerrilla groups grew in strength which led to considerable violence. Although the notorious Medellín drug cartel, led by Pablo Escobar, was broken in 1993, drug traffickers and guerrilla groups remained active, perpetuating the instability. In 1998 Misael Pastrana was elected president, promising to work with both leftist rebels and right-wing paramilitary leaders but, despite ceding a sizeable chunk of Columbia to rebel control as a goodwill gesture, the rebels continued to mount attacks and the government's energies were diverted by a recession and a major earthquake.
In 2002, Álvaro Uribe Vélez won the presidential election and promised to crack down on the leftist rebels. Violence has been decreasing since 2002, but insurgents continue attacks against civilians and large swaths of the countryside are under guerrilla influence. The Colombian Government has stepped up efforts to reassert government control throughout the country, and now has a presence in every one of its municipalities. However, neighboring countries worry about the violence spilling over their borders.
This article was originally published in June 2007, and has been updated for the
March 2008 paperback release.
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