Free «History of Latin America - Colombia» Essay Sample


The Republic of Colombia, located in northwest of South America, is the fourth largest country in South America with a measure of 1,038,700 sq. km. The Republic of Colombia is bordered by Panama to the northwest, Venezuela and Brazil to the east, Ecuador and Peru to the south. Colombia has a population of 46,428,252 (as of 2012). Colombia is very diverse ethnically and it has a rich cultural heritage. 58% of the population is Mestizos (mix of Spanish and Indians), 20% Spanish, 14% Mulattos (mix of Spanish and Africans), 4% Africans, 3% Indians, and 1% Zampos (mix of Africans and Indians) (Hudson, 2010). Colombians native language is Spanish and it has the largest population of Spanish speakers in South America. Colombia is considered as the third largest economy in South America; it is famous for the production of coffee, coal, gold, and emeralds (Country Watch, 2011).

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To research the topic of the paper there are the following questions to consider:

1. History of the Republic of Colombia

–         The Pre-Columbian Era

–         The Period of Reconciliation, 1903-30

–         The Violence and the National Front (1930–1974)

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–         Constitution of 1991

–         Colombian Armed Conflict, 2002 – present

–         Recent developments

2. Colombia Today

–         Economy

–         Educational system

–         Culture

–         Music

–         Art

–         Literature

–         National dance

History of the Republic of Colombia

The Pre-Colombian Era

Around 1200 B.C., Colombia was originally inhabited by the Mesoamericans, who are a group of Indians that came from Central America. They were followed later by a group of people from Eastern South American countries such as Brazil, Uruguay, and Paraguay; and a group of people from the Caribbean Islands. The inhabitants depended on farming and hunting for living; they were known for growing corns and potatoes as the main source in cultivation (Hudson, 2010). Men occasionally went out for hunting throughout the year; while very few women accompany their men when they go fishing. It was believed that exposure to water and sunlight was detrimental to the health of women (Turbay, 2004).

By 1500s, two primary tribes were dominating in the area. The Muisca, who lived in the plateaus, and the Tairona, located in the northern spur of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. The Muisca were more productive, especially in the agriculture area, by growing corn and potatoes. The Tairona, on the other side, divided into two groups; one of them were fishing and producing salt, and the other group produced cotton cloths and blankets.  Both groups were in a barter system where the sailors exchanged their goods for cotton cloth and blankets with from the other Tairona group. Both Taironian groups lived in well-organized towns connected by stone roads (Hudson, 2010).  Around this time in Colombia, the Europeans started to come to this area.

The first Europeans who visited the country were the crew of Alonso de Ojeda. Their main goal in visiting was trading and purchasing gold and pearls, rather than invading the area (Hudson, 2010). They settled by the coast, and in 1510 Ojeda were assigned as the governor of the coast area. More Spaniards came to the area and permanently settled on the Colombian coast and founded Santa Marta in 1525. A few years later in 1533, Pedro de Heredia founded the city of Cartagena along the coast. Cartagena had a magnificent harbor. The Spanish used that harbor as a naval base and the main sea port in the Caribbean water to get into Colombia (Hudson, 2010). A huge number of Spaniards led by Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada, a lawyer turned military commander, invaded the area. The military used Santa Marta as their military base in the process of occupying the Muisca territories. By 1538, the Spanish took over the entire Muisca territories and founded the city of Santafé (known as Bogotá nowadays, the capital city of Colombia). Jiménez de Quesada named Santafé as the capital of his newly established kingdom, the Kingdom of Granada. He named his kingdom after his original birthplace in Spain.

The Kingdom of Granada corresponds mainly to modern day Colombia, Venezuela, and small parts of the Viceroyalty of Peru and Panama. The kingdom resisted for 179 years (1538-1717) (Hudson, 2010). In 1717, the Viceroyalty of New Granada was initiated, and then it was temporarily removed to finally be re-established in 1739. Santa Fé de Bogotá was set up as the capital of the Viceroyalty. This Viceroyalty included some other provinces which are Ecuador, and Panama, yet the Viceroyalty of Peru vanished from the Viceroyalty of New Granada. New Granada’s economy heavily depended on gold. Gold used to be the number one beneficial resource they exported; it could cover all the transportation costs by itself. However, by the middle of 1700s agriculture, which was limited to corn in the 1500s, significantly progressed to overcome the mining economy and became the essential income for the country. New Granada extended their cultivation to include sugar and tobacco as important export products (Hudson, 2010). Colombia reminded under the Viceroyalty of New Granada until the early nineteenth century, when the movement of independence started to emergence. On June 24, 1821, Simón Bolívar, a Venezuelan military and political leader, defeated the Spaniards at the Battle of Carabobo; in addition, he was the founder of Great Colombia, which is a little bit larger than today’s Republic of Colombia (Hudson, 2010).

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The Period of Reconciliation, 1903-1930

After Colombia lost The War of a Thousand Days against Panama, the country struggled in a bad condition. The civilians needed a strong leader to rebuild the country. They elected General Rafael Reyes to be the new president for the country. According to the book Colombia: A Country Study, Reyes had a lot to provide to the country; “he initiated a return to the gold standard, restored Colombian credit abroad, attracted foreign capital, improved transportation, encouraged export agriculture, and aided domestic industry” (Hanratty & Meditz, 1988); however, he had a huge amount of political opposition. In 1909, Reyes failed to establish standard relations with the U.S.; as a result of that and his difficulties with his political oppositions, Reyes decided to resign secretly and escape from the country (Hanratty & Meditz, 1988).

After Rafael Reyes left the country, the Colombian residents elected Carlos E. Restrepo as a new president. During Restrepo time as president agriculturist experts found interest in exporting coffee. Coffee cultivation boosted the economy significantly, and it is considered as one of the most famous resources for the country today (Hanratty & Meditz, 1988).

Colombia is one of the first growing countries in South America; their economy depended on numerous kinds of resources such as mining, farming, and hunting. Last but not least, their

traditions and cultures emerge from various ethnicities that build a unique multicultural country.

The Violence and the National Front (1930–1974)

After the short period of political stability, a period “The Violence” came to Columbian history in the end of 1940. This period is known as La Violencia. April 9, 1948  the Liberal presidential candidate Jorge Eliécer Gaitán  was killed and this event  caused a bloody conflict between the two leading political parties. The unrest spread the capital and later all over the country. 180,000 Colombians died tragically during the late 1940s and 1950s (Hanratty & Meditz, 1988).

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The violence decreased after the state coup when the Columbian President was deposed by Gustavo Rojas. He established contacts with the Guerrillas and between 1953 and 1964 the conflict was repaid.

Later the coalition “The National Front” was created by the Colombian Conservative Party and Colombian Liberal Party, which decided to cooperate and govern the Columbia together. The merging of parties ended “La Violencia”. According to a new deal, the presidency alternated every 4 years between conservatives and liberals. In the rest elective offices two parties had parity. New government tried to institute some social and economic reforms. As the result, two parties couldn’t cooperate, because of contradictions; social and political problems in the country continued to increase.

During the 1980s and 1990s the drug cartels had a big influence on political, economic and social life of the country. Worth mentioning that the Cali Cartel and the Medellín Cartel with their leader Pablo Escobar were the most powerful force in the Columbia during those times (Hanratty & Meditz, 1988).  The cartels financed and supported some illegal armed groups and cooperated with wealthy landlords in the fight against left guerrillas. Often the drug cartels created own paramilitary groups.

Constitution of 1991

In 1991, the Constituent Assembly of Colombia ratified the new Constitution. The key provisions on political, ethnic, human and gender rights were included finally in the new Colombian Constitution.  The drug cartels had successfully lobbied the prohibition of the extradition of Colombian nationals. This provision was repealed in 1996 and the extradition was resumed.

The political scandal, which was called the “8000 case”, was the biggest in the 90s (Besse, 2004). The result of the 8000 Process was the disclosure of corruption schemes, which helped the mafia put to the third part of the senate their people by 1996. At that time, the mafia had the opportunity to influence the government through the corruption. This period is also known as the period of executions of the mafia and many terrorist attacks.

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In spite of promulgation of the Constitution and different reforms, the country had serious problems with the drug trade, paramilitary groups, guerrilla insurgencies and internal armed conflicts. Between 1990 and 2002 the President Andrés Pastrana tried to reach an agreement with one of the guerrilla groups FARC regarding the solution of the conflict. The main goal in the politics of Pastrana was ending the bloody armed conflict and the fight against drug traffickers.

Colombian Armed Conflict, 2002 – Present

Columbian president Alvaro Uribe (2002-2010) in his politics practiced military pressure on the armed groups. At that time, Columbia got the aid from the USA and the security situation was improved. Despite this improvement, the statistics of the violation, crime and human rights were still questionable. There were many reports about kidnappings and homicides. It continued until 2010, and the country was very dangerous. In 2010 between January and October were reported 280 cases of kidnappings. Rural areas and jungles considered as the most dangerous (Karen, 2010).

The Colombian Army had 18000 members at 2010 according the official statistics including regular guerrillas and armed militia members operating in cities and villages (Karen, 2010)..

In November 2011 Alfonso Cano, the commander of FARC’s, was killed by security forces.

After Cano’s death, Timoleon Jimenez became the new commander. He decided to move to other departments with his forces. Last years the neo-paramilitary groups Los Rastrojos and Los Urabenos intensified action in the Colombia. They were accused in drug trafficking, land grabbing and widespread murder.

Recent Developments

Today Colombian government tries to struggle to defend human rights because there are still some problems in this sphere. According to HRW, near 175 members of unions were killed between 2008 and 2011 (Country Review, 2011). 

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Talking about international relations, Colombia got a seat on the Security Council of the UN. Colombia started building relations with Venezuela after a long period of animosity.

Foreign Relations

Colombia is a member of many international organizations. During the state’s history, Colombians focused their policy on domestic problems and the country never was an active player in foreign relations.

International relations were limited by the relations with neighboring countries such as Venezuela, Panama, Peru, Brazil and border conflicts with them. The territorial issues caused friction between Colombia and neighboring countries during the twentieth century.

After World War II Colombia became more active in foreign policy especially among the Latin American states. Colombia participated in the San Francisco Conference 1945 and was one of the creators of the United Nations (UN). The state took an active part in the creation of some local organizations such as Organization of American States (OAS). The first secretary general of the Organization of American States was Colombian president Lleras Camargo.

Nevertheless, the international actions of the Colombia were just as extensions of domestic policy. After World War II Colombia established the economic relations with some states. The collective security Colombia supported through the OAS and the UN.

Colombia today


The main economic activity in Colombia is agriculture. The chief crop that effected on the state economy is coffee, because of high prices on the world market. Colombia is one of the biggest exporters of coffee in the world. Colombia exports also cotton, bananas, oil palm, tobacco. (Kelly, 126)

Colombia is rich in mineral resources such as natural gas, coal, iron, petroleum, nickel, gold, copper, emeralds and platinum. The salt works situated near Bogota are famous in the whole world. In the 1970s, the hydropower industry was developed in the country. The manufacturing sector of the economy mostly depends on imported materials.  The country began to develop tourism in recent years and now it is one of important sources of income.

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From the 1990s, oil became the main export of the state that replaced coffee. (Kelly, 126) Petroleum-related products, nickel, emeralds, bananas are also very important export products. More than 25% of foreign exchange earnings are illegal as they come from the export of cocaine. Colombia produces heroin and cannabis except cocaine. The drug trade made some groups of people very rich but brought the violence to this society.

 The main trade partners of Colombia are the United States and Venezuela. Colombia is a member of the economic organization of South American countries the Andean Community.

Educational system

Education in Columbia is dividing on primary and a secondary school and the Ministry of Education controlles it.

In general, level of illiteracy dropped from 90% in the 19th century to 8.2% in 2000 (Country Watch, 2011).

The government also supports university education. According to the Constitution, schools should profess the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church. There are compulsory courses for everybody in the Roman Catholic religion. The instructions at schools are in Spanish. There are some private English, German and French schools.

Students buy their books for school. Also, children should wear the uniform at Colombians schools. University studies last 5 years and are divided into two types of courses for students who have a certificate and for students who still need to get it. After finishing the university graduates get a master’s or doctoral degree. Also universities have refresher courses.


The culture of Colombia is very colorful and diverse as the cultures of South American countries. Other cultures influenced the modern Colombian culture, especially Spanish and African cultures.  The Spanish colonizers brought a part of the European culture, and the African culture went to Colombia with the slaves.

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The influence for the Colombian culture is reflected in the daily lifestyle, language, and religion.


Colombian music as a culture in general is the result of the mix of three races: European, African and the Native Americans. The native Ethnic Music come as usually from the lower classes and is a part of national identity.

The real ethnic music that remained unchanged for centuries we can find in the Amazon rainforest between the natives that are isolated from the modern world.

The music that can be heard in the Pacific Coast is the Currulao. The main influence on the rhythms of this music made Africans. All types of the percussion instruments are used in the Currulao. The singing patterns in Currulao are special because of lead voice and an answering choir. This combination means that the music has the religious origins (Jaramillo, 2007).

Another type of music in this area is the Cumbia. Three races had a strong impact on it. The instruments that are used in this music are African Drums, wind instruments of the native Colombians and the European melody. One of the features of Cumbia is the lead voice and answers, the same as in Currulao. Cumbia is very rhythmic music (Jaramillo, 2007).

The music of 20th century is the Vallenato. It’s developed from the Cumbia as it has the same rhythmic structure. Three instruments from three races are the basic ensembles of the Vallenato: European according, African drum and the Guacharaca from local areas. The typical voice is very important aspect of the Vallenato.

The Joropo is the music that comes from the Colombian plains. The rhythms of this music have Spanish and native influences. The Joropo also is made by three instruments: El Cuatro, the maracas or Capachos and the Harp. Sometimes the electric bass is added to these three instruments (Jaramillo, 2007).

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The Bambuco comes from the Andes. The main component of this music is taken from Spanish traditions. The Bambuco relies on string instruments. The Tiple, the Mandolin and the Guitar are the instruments that compose the typical ensemble of this traditional music.


Colombian art originated more than 2,000 years ago. The native people that lived in the Andes had the rich culture and produced beautiful and difficult artworks. After colonization, European stile had the main influence on the Colombian arts. The Colombian painters Fernando Botero and Alejandro Obregon and the sculptor Edgar Negret became famous in the whole world.


Concerning the literature, Colombia developed a literary tradition after colonization that is why it shows a strong European impact. The writers began to write about national themes after independence. Many writers wrote about the struggle for existence of rural peasants. 

National Dance

Colombia has very rich dance culture. Nowadays the most popular are salsa, vallenato and reggaeton.

The most popular traditional dance is cumbia. It is based on the slaves experience and represents a courtship ritual. The dance combines Spanish and African traditions.


Colombia is a country with long and dramatic history. Modern Colombia was emerged in 1830 from the collapse of Gran Colombia.  From 1830 until the 1990s was the long period of constant conflicts between Colombian government and insurgent groups. The strongest group that was financed by the drug trade and the mafia was the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). In the end of 2006 FARC was demobilized. The insurgents hadn’t necessary support to wage war against the government but they often attacked against civilians.

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Nowadays some countryside areas are under the control of guerrilla and security forces. The Government started formal peace negotiations with the FARC in October 2012. The aim of the negotiations is a ceasefire and incorporating into society and politics the demobilized FARC members. The Colombian Government reasserted government control in all administrative departments of the country.  Strong democratic institutions and the protection of civil liberties are developing in the modern Colombia.

Concerning the economic development, Colombia depends on world oil market and is very vulnerable to a drop in oil prices. The inadequate infrastructure is the main problem of the economic development. The unemployment rate is one of the highest in the Latin America.

Colombian culture in general is the result of the mix of three races: European, African and the Native Americans, and it is very rich, colorful and diverse.

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