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History of Colombia

From Academic Kids

This is the history of Colombia. See also history of South America and the history of present-day nations and states.

Contents

Pre-Colombian period

The two main linguistic groups that dominated the territory now known as Colombia during the pre-Colombian period were the Carib and the Chibcha. They possessed different organizational structures and distinct languages and cultures. The region now occupied by the city of Bogotá was inhabited by the Muisca. The Muisca based their social organization on trade. They exchanged salt, emeralds, beans, maize and other crops with other Chibchan tribes such as the Chitareros, Guanes and Laches.

Colonial times

The Spanish sailed along the north coast of today's Colombia as early as 1500, but their first permanent settlement, at Santa Marta, was not made until 1525. In 1549, the establishment of the Audiencia in Santa Fe de Bogotá, turned that city into the capital of the New Granada, which included the provinces which approximately make up the territory of today's Colombia. In 1717 the Viceroyalty of New Granada was originally created, then it was temporarily removed, to finally be reestablished in 1739. The Viceroyalty had Santa Fé de Bogotá as its capital. This Viceroyalty included some other provinces of northwestern South America which had been so far under jurisdiction of the Viceroyalties of New Spain or Peru and correspond mainly to today's Venezuela, Ecuador and Panama. So, Bogotá became one of the principal administrative centers of the Spanish possessions in the New World, along with Lima and Mexico City, though it remained somewhat backward compared to those two cities in several economic and logistical respects.

Struggle for independence

On July 20, 1810, the citizens of Bogotá created the first representative council to defy Spanish authority, with full independence being proclaimed in 1810. A long Independency War, led mainly by Simón Bolívar and Francisco de Paula Santander in New Granada ended after the Battle of Boyaca, on August 7, 1819. That year, the Congress of Angostura established the Republic of Greater Colombia, which included all territories under jurisdiction of the Viceroyalty of New Granada. For more information, see Bolivar's War

The Republic

Bolívar was elected first president of Greater Colombia and Francisco de Paula Santander, vice president.

As the Federation of Greater Colombia was dissolved in 1830, the Department of Cundinamarca (as established in Angostura) became a new country, the Republic of New Granada.

In 1863 the name of the Republic was changed officially to "United States of Colombia", and in 1886 adopted its present day name: "Republic of Colombia".

Two political parties grew out of conflicts between the followers of Bolívar and Santander and their political visions -- the Conservatives and the Liberals -- and have since dominated Colombian politics. Bolívar'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. The military has seized power three times in Colombia's history: in 1830, after the dissolution of Great Colombia; again in 1854, and 1953-1957. Civilian rule was restored within one year in the first two instances.

Notwithstanding the country's commitment to democratic institutions, Colombia's history has also 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) cost an estimated 100,000 lives, and up to 300,000 people died during "La Violencia" (The Violence) of the late 1940s and 1950s, a bipartisan confrontation which erupted after the assassination of Liberal populist candidate Jorge Eliécer Gaitán.

A military coup in 1953 toppled the right-wing government of Conservative Laureano Gómez and brought Gen. Gustavo Rojas Pinilla to power. Initially, Rojas enjoyed considerable popular support, due largely to his success in reducing "La Violencia." When he did not restore democratic rule and occasionally engaged in open repression, however, he was overthrown by the military in 1957 with the backing of both political parties, and a provisional government was installed.

The National Front

In July 1957, former Conservative President Laureano Gomez (1950-1953) and former Liberal President Alberto Lleras Camargo (1945-1946, 1958-1962) issued 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 attempted to institute far-reaching social and economic reforms in cooperation with the Alliance for Progress. In the end, the contradictions between each successive Liberal and Conservative administrations made the results decidedly mixed. Despite the progress in certain sectors, many social and political injustices continued. It is usually argued that a Colombian Civil War would have started in 1964, which was when the FARC was founded and started their guerrilla insurgency. This point has been considered debatable by some, as another position held by several analysts would point out that the ensuing conflict's caracteristics, scale and intensity have not reached those of a full blown civil war.

The National Front system itself eventually began to be seen as a form of political repression by dissidents and even many mainstream voters, especially after what was apparently later confirmed as the supposedly fraudulent election of Misael Pastrana Borrero in 1970, which resulted in the defeat of the relatively populist candidate Gustavo Rojas Pinilla. The M-19 guerrilla movement, "Movimiento 19 de Abril" (19th of April Movement), would eventually be founded in part as a response to this particular event.

Although the system established by the Sitges agreement was phased out by 1974, the 1886 Colombian constitution--in effect until 1991--required that the losing political party be given adequate and equitable participation in the government which, according to many observers and later analysis, eventually resulted in some increase in corruption and legal relaxation. The current 1991 constitution does not have that requirement, but subsequent administrations have tended to include members of opposition parties.

Post-National Front years

Between 1978 and 1982, the government focused on ending the limited, but persistent, both Cuban-backed (ELN) and relatively homegrown (FARC) insurgencies that sought to undermine Colombia's traditional formally democratic system, claiming to represent the poor and weak against the rich and powerful classes of the country, asking for the completion of true land and political reform, though from an openly Communist perspective.

The relative success of the government's earlier efforts enabled it to lift the state-of-siege decree that had been in effect for most of the previous 30 years. The ELN guerrilla had been seriously crippled in 1974 but it managed to reconstitute itself and escape destruction, in part due to the government's allowing it to escape encirclement, hoping to initiate a peace process with the group.

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, claiming that the cease-fire was incomplete and questioning the government's real willingness to implement any accords. The government in turn questioned the guerrilla's commitment to the process.

A showcase attack and hostage taking in 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. Though most hostages were freed, many casualties did occur. Of the 115 people killed in the ensuing battle and massive fire that erupted inside the building, 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 guerrilla groups were successfully incorporated into a peace process during the late 1980s, which culminated in the elections for a Constituent Assembly of Colombia that would 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 Unión Patriótica (Colombia) (UP), a legal and non-clandestine political organization. Many of the FARC's armed guerrillas and militiamen did not demobilize, as that was not a requirement of the process, though a substantial part of what can be considered their more political sectors did. After growing violence against its UP members (including several presidential candidates), both from private proto-paramilitary organizations, increasingly powerful drugdealers and a number of would-be paramilitary-sympathizers within the armed forces, the truce with the FARC ended in 1990.

Following administrations had to contend with the guerrillas, paramilitaries, narcotics traffickers and the violence and corruption that they all perpetuated, both through force and negotiation. Narcoterrorists assassinated three presidential candidates before César Gaviria Trujillo was elected in 1990. Since the death of Medellín cartel leader Pablo Escobar in a police shootout during December 1993, indiscriminate acts of violence associated with that organization have abated as the "cartels" have 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 but also to protest against government policies, including extradition.

President Ernesto Samper Pizano assumed office in August 1994. However, a political crisis relating to large-scale contributions from drug traffickers to Samper's presidential campaign diverted attention from governance programs, thus slowing, and in many cases, halting progress on the nation's domestic reform agenda. The military also suffered several setbacks in its fight against the guerrillas, when several of its rural bases began to be overun and a record number of soldiers and officers were taken prisoner by the FARC (which since 1982 was attempting to implement a more "conventional" style of warfare, seeking to eventually defeat the military in the field).

On August 7, 1998, Andrés Pastrana Arango was sworn in as the President of Colombia. A member of the Conservative Party, Pastrana defeated Liberal Party candidate Horacio Serpa in a run-off election marked by high voter turn-out and little political unrest. The new president's program was based on a commitment to bring about a peaceful resolution of Colombia's longstanding civil conflict and to cooperate fully with the United States to combat the trafficking of illegal drugs.

While early initiatives in the Colombian peace process gave reason for optimism, the Pastrana administration also has had to combat high unemployment and other economic problems, such as the fiscal deficit and the impact of global financial instability on Colombia. During his administration, unemployment has risen to over 20%. Additionally, the growing severity of countrywide guerrilla attacks by the FARC and ELN, and smaller movements, as well as the growth of drug production, corruption and the spread of even more violent paramilitary groups such as the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) has made it difficult to solve the country's problems.

Although the FARC and ELN accepted participation in the peace process, they did not make explicit commitments to end the conflict. The FARC suspended talks in November 2000, to protest what it called "paramilitary terrorism" but returned to the negotiating table in February 2001, following 2 days of meetings between President Pastrana and FARC leader Manuel Marulanda. The Colombian Government and ELN in early 2001 continued discussions aimed at opening a formal peace process.

No single explanation fully addresses the deep roots of Colombia's present-day troubles, but they include limited government presence in large areas of the interior, the expansion of illicit drug cultivation, endemic violence, and social inequities. In order to confront these challenges, the Pastrana administration unveiled its Plan Colombia in late 1999, an integrated strategy to deal with these longstanding, mutually reinforcing problems.

The main stated objectives of the original Plan Colombia were to promote peace, combat the narcotics industry, revive the Colombian economy, improve respect for human rights, and strengthen the democratic and social institutions of the country. Colombia planned to finance $4 billion of the estimated $7.5 billion overall cost, most of which would go towards the social portion of the project, but was ultimately unable to do so due to the state's 1997-1998 economic crisis.

The United States approved a $1.3 billion assistance package, mostly of military and counternarcotics nature but also including a minority amount of social aid. The Colombian Government sought additional support from the IFIs, the European Union, and other countries, with the intention of financing the social component of the original plan, but met with little cooperation as the would-be donors considered that the U.S. approved aid represented an undue military slant and additionally lacked the will to spend such amounts of money.

After the eventual breakup of the peace negotiations, which had been stalled numerous times and finally ended due to a guerrilla kidnapping of a congressman and other political figures, the Caguán demilitarized zone was terminated by the Pastrana administration.

Soon after that, in May 2002, the former liberal politician of conservative leanings Álvaro Uribe Vélez, whose father had been killed by left-wing guerrillas, was sworn in as Colombian president. He immediately began taking action to crush the FARC, ELN, and AUC, including the employment of citizen informants to help the police and armed forces track down suspected members in all three armed groups.

In the fall of 2002, the administration released the much-awaited Colombian national security strategy, entitled Democratic Security and Defense Policy. The Plan fit within the broader social, economic, and political goals of Plan Colombia. Though much attention has been focused on the security and military aspects of Colombia's situation, the administration also is spending significant time on issues such as expanding international trade, supporting alternate means of development, and reforming Colombia's judicial system.

Recent developments

As of 2004, two years after its implementation began, the security situation of inside Colombia has suffered some measure of an improvement and the economy, while still fragile, has also shown some positive signs according to observers, but relatively little has yet to have been accomplished in structurally solving most of the country's other grave problems, possibly in part due to legislative and political conflicts between the administration and the Colombian Congress (including those over the controversial project to eventually re-elect Uribe), and a relative lack of freely allocated funds and credits.

Some critical observers consider that Uribe's policies, while admittedly reducing crime and guerrilla activity, might be too slanted in favor of a military solution to Colombia's internal war, neglecting grave social and human rights concerns to a certain extent. They ask for Uribe's government to change this position and make serious efforts towards improving the human rights situation inside the country, protecting civilians and reducing any abuses committed by the armed forces.

Uribe's supporters in turn believe that increased military action is a necessary prelude to any serious negotiation attempt with the guerrillas and that the increased security situation will help to, in the long term, focus more actively on reducing most wide-scale abuses and human rights violations on the part of both the armed groups and any rogue security forces that might have links to the paramilitaries. In short, that the security situation must be stabilized in favor of the government before any other social concerns can take precedence.

With such conflicting perspectives, it can be argued that a certain polarization between both supporters and opponents of President Uribe seems to be forming both inside and outside the country.

See also

External link

es:Historia de Colombia fr:Histoire de la Colombie no:Colombias historie

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