HISTORICAL BACKGROUND HISTORICAL BACKGROUND Early History and Colonial Era: Colombia’s pre-Columbian history began well over 13,000 years ago, which is roughly the date of the earliest evidence of human occupation. Chibcha, sub-Andean, and Caribbean peoples—most of whom lived in organized, agriculturally based communities—inhabited the area. By the early colonial period in the 1500s, the Chibcha had become the most advanced of the indigenous peoples. Early History and Colonial Era: Colombia’s pre-Columbian history began well over 13,000 years ago, which is roughly the date of the earliest evidence of human occupation. Chibcha, sub-Andean, and Caribbean peoples—most of whom lived in organized, agriculturally based communities—inhabited the area. By the early colonial period in the 1500s, the Chibcha had become the most advanced of the indigenous peoples.
A Spanish expedition first visited the Guajira Peninsula of what is now Colombia in 1499. Colonists founded the first permanent settlement, Santa María la Antigua de Darién (what is now Acandí on the Gulf of Urabá), in 1510. The Spanish founded Santa Fe de Bogotá—now called A Spanish expedition first visited the Guajira Peninsula of what is now Colombia in 1499. Colonists founded the first permanent settlement, Santa María la Antigua de Darién (what is now Acandí on the Gulf of Urabá), in 1510. The Spanish founded Santa Fe de Bogotá—now called Bogotá, the present-day capital of Colombia—in 1538, and it became the capital of the Viceroyalty of New Granada in 1717. The Viceroyalty included present-day Venezuela, Ecuador, and Panama. The outbreak of war in Europe pushed Spain to increase taxation of the colonists in 1778 in order to fund the war. In 1781 anger over the taxation led to the Revolt of the Comuneros (citizens organized to defend their rights against the arbitrary encroachment of government) of New Granada, an historic uprising that foreshadowed the revolution.
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Independence: On July 20, 1810, revolutionary leaders took part in an uprising in Bogotá that deposed the Spanish viceroy and created a governing council made up of criollos (persons of Spanish descent born in the New World). With the formation of their own governing body, the people of the region began favoring a complete break with Spain. On August 7, 1819, General Simón Bolívar (president, 1819–30) defeated the Spanish at the Battle of Boyacá, allowing the colonists to sever ties with Spain and form the Republic of Greater Colombia (Gran Colombia), which included all territories under the jurisdiction of the Viceroyalty of New Granada. By 1822, when Ecuador joined, Gran Colombia included present-day Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, and Venezuela, but Gran Colombia dissolved when Ecuador and Venezuela seceded in 1830; what was left emerged as the Republic of New Granada.
Bolívar headed the government of Gran Colombia as president, with fellow liberator General Francisco de Paula Santander as his vice president. Conflicting political goals divided the followers of both leaders, however, and set the stage for the country’s long history of political violence. Bolívar’s supporters favored an authoritarian and centralized government, an alliance with the Roman Catholic Church, continuing slavery (despite his personal opposition to slavery), and a limited franchise. In contrast, the followers of Santander (who became president of New Granada, 1832–37) came to advocate a decentralized—and ultimately a federalist—government, anticlericalism, and less restrictive suffrage.
After their official establishment in about 1850, the Conservative Party (Partido Conservador—PC) and the Liberal Party (Partido Liberal—PL) solidified the early ideological split between followers of Bolívar and Santander. For most of the time since then, these two traditional political parties have dominated Colombian politics. Until 1886, Colombia oscillated between a liberal republic and a more centralized, authoritarian government under several different constitutions. During periods of Liberal dominance, the governments sought to reduce the power of the Roman Catholic Church, but those efforts met with insurrection.
The Republic of Colombia: The adoption of the 1886 constitution renamed the country the Republic of Colombia—it had been called the United States of Colombia since 1863—reversed the federalist trend, and brought the country under 45 years of Conservative Party rule, during which time power was again centralized and church influence restored. Factionalism within the two main political parties and political and economic instability characterized the inaptly named Regeneration period from 1878 to 1900. These events led to the catastrophic War of a Thousand Days (La Guerra de los Mil Días, 1899–1902) between the Liberals and the Conservatives—a war that devastated the country and cost an estimated 100,000 lives. Panama seceded from the Republic in 1903 and declared independence.
In 1946 fighting again broke out following a change of parties in power, and in April 1948 the assassination of the popular Liberal leader Jorge Eliécer Gaitán led to a major outburst of rioting in Bogotá itself. The countrywide violence called “La Violencia,” in which as many as 300,000 people may have been killed, raged for more than 10 years. In 1958 the Conservatives and Liberals banded together to form the National Front, which helped to greatly reduce the violence in the early 1960s. However, the pact excluded other political forces, thereby contributing to the emergence of guerrilla groups in the mid-1960s. In 1965 the pro-Cuban National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional—ELN) and the Maoist People’s Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Popular—EPL) were founded; the next year, the pro-Soviet Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia—FARC) was founded and quickly became the largest guerrilla group. Although the National Front arrangement ended in 1974, the tradition of presidents inviting opposition figures to hold cabinet positions continued throughout the 1990s.
As Colombia became a world leader in production and trafficking of illegal drugs in the 1970s and 1980s, the large drug cartels, such as the Medellín Cartel and the Cali Cartel, gained wide power in the country through terror and corruption. In 1984 the government stepped up its campaign against drug traffickers following the assassination of a justice minister who favored the extradition of drug traffickers. Support for the extradition policy diminished, however, following the takeover of the Palace of Justice on November 6–7, 1985, by members of a leftwing guerrilla group, the 19th of April Movement (Movimiento 19 de April—M-19), and the disastrous counterattack by the Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas de Colombia). Drug cartel-sponsored assassinations of three presidential candidates in 1989–90, particularly Luis Carlos Galán Sarmiento, who was a leading contender for the PL presidential nomination in 1990, and the bombing of an Avianca airliner on November 27, 1989, also undermined support for an extradition treaty. Colombia’s present constitution, adopted on July 5, 1991, initially prohibited the extradition of Colombians wanted for trial in other countries, but this provision subsequently was changed by amendment.
In September 1989, the M-19 became the best known of the rebel groups to abandon “armed struggle” in favor of democratic party politics. One EPL faction also laid down its arms in favor of participation in the political system, but another EPL faction continued with its insurgency. Although the government broke up the Medellín Cartel in 1993 and later undermined the Cali Cartel by arrests of key leaders, drug traffickers operating in smaller organizations have continued to wield significant power.
Strengthened by income from the drug trade, the ELN and FARC extended their territorial presence in Colombia in 1996–98. As a concession in exchange for beginning peace talks, President Andrés Pastrana granted the FARC a 51,000-square-kilometer demilitarized zone (DMZ) in south-central Colombia during the November 1998 to 2002 period. However, this arrangement collapsed along with the peace talks in early 2002. Both the FARC and ELN have continued their campaigns of guerrilla and terrorist attacks.
For their part, the paramilitary groups that emerged in the early 1990s, including the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia—AUC), which is the country’s largest paramilitary organization, have continued to fight the guerrilla groups and to terrorize peasants and human rights workers suspected of supporting or sympathizing with them. These paramilitary groups are sometimes in the pay of drug cartels and landowners and backed by elements in the army and the police.