Colombia History

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The history of Colombia is the subject that studies the development of the Colombian nation since the discovery of its territory by the Spaniards to current days. Generally it includes the Pre-Hispanic periods, but the existence of many different groups and peoples in the territory of what is today Colombia obliges to consider it separately (see Pre-Hispanic Colombia). The history of Colombia is related to the history of Latin America and the broader history of South America.

Normally, the history of Colombia is divided in the following periods: the discovery and conquest of the territory by the Spaniards during the 16th century; the colonial time (17th and 18th centuries); the early national period from Colombian independence through the consolidation of the Republic (1821 - 1888); and the modern period.


The 16th century was a period when the Spanish explorers entered the territory subjecting the indigenous population and founding the first European cities in the Americas.

Colonial Period

By the end of the 17th century, the Spanish had established their colonial system in the territory. The Colombian Colony is one of the most important periods of its history because the main elements of modern-day Colombian identity (including its language, traditions, mentality, religiosity, and politics) were created.

Early National Period

During the two first decades of the 19th century, Colombia was rent by battles and political discussions over how the new nation would be established. After the expulsion of the Spanish in 1819, the fathers of the nation founded the new country that included Venezuela, Ecuador and Panama, but it was dissolved in 1830 leaving Colombia and Panama together until Panama split off 1903.

The 19th century was a time of deep political instability as Colombians were trying to form the conception of state. Fights of power among different groups caused eight civil wars (1839-1841, 1851, 1854, 1859, 1862, 1876-1877, 1884-1885, 1895 and 1899-1902).[1]

Modern Era

The 20th century began in Colombia with the War of the Thousand Days (1899-1902]] that destroyed the national economy and led the country to the lost of Panama in 1903. The liberal government of president Rafael Reyes (1904-1909) started an industrialization program for the country, developing its infrastructures and encouraging foreign investment. Between 1932 and 1934 Colombia had its only international war with Peru, defending its sovereignty in the Amazon Basin. In 1949, the charismatic presidential candidate Jorge Eliecer Gaitán was murdered in Bogotá at the same time that the city was the seat of the Conference of the American Nations that created the Organization of American States. The crime caused national disturbances known as El Bogotazo that led Colombia to political instability for the rest of the century.

After the resign of the dictatorial president Gustavo Rojas Pinilla, the two traditional political parties (Liberals and Conservatives) signed an agreement to share power known as the National Front (1958-1978). The creation of the National Front led opposition groups to form the Colombian guerrillas (FARC and EPL). During the 1970's, Colombia drug traffickers gained formidable power and influence over the politics and economy of the country while increasing a general state of violence. The drug cartels also created paramilitary groups to fight the Communist guerrillas, a fight responsible for many human rights violations in various parts of the territory.

The end of the century was occupied by dialogues of peace between the government of President Andrés Pastrana (1998-2001) and the FARC guerrillas, but it was not successful. In 2002, President Álvaro Uribe Vélez was elected, and he introduced a new proposal known as "Democratic Security". With him, the paramilitary groups surrendered to the state in 2004 and the guerrillas lost control over most parts of Colombia.


  1. Pedro L. Reyes Gutiérrez, "Amor sin fronteras: los primeros apóstoles de los lazarinos en Colombia" [Love without Borders: The First Apostles of the Lepers in Colombia] (Colombia: Published by the Salesian Community of Bucaramanga, 2004), p. 29.