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History


Pre-Columbian era


Owing to its location, the present territory of Colombia was a corridor of early human migration from Mesoamerica and the Caribbean to the Andes and Amazon basin. The oldest archaeological finds are from the Pubenza and El Totumo sites in the Magdalena Valley 100 kilometres (62 mi) southwest of Bogotá. These sites date from the Paleoindian period (18,000–8000 BCE). At Puerto Hormiga and other sites, traces from the Archaic Period (~8000–2000 BCE) have been found. Vestiges indicate that there was also early occupation in the regions of El Abra and Tequendama in Cundinamarca. The oldest pottery discovered in the Americas, found at San Jacinto, dates to 5000–4000 BCE.
Indigenous people inhabited the territory that is now Colombia by 12,500 BCE. Nomadic hunter-gatherer tribes at the El Abra, Tibitó and Tequendama sites near present-day Bogotá traded with one another and with other cultures from the Magdalena River Valley. Between 5000 and 1000 BCE, hunter-gatherer tribes transitioned to agrarian societies; fixed settlements were established, and pottery appeared. Beginning in the 1st millennium BCE, groups of Amerindians including the Muisca, Quimbaya, and Tairona developed the political system of cacicazgos with a pyramidal structure of power headed by caciques. The Muisca inhabited mainly the area of what is now the Departments of Boyacá and Cundinamarca high plateau (Altiplano Cundiboyacense) where they formed the Muisca Confederation. They farmed maize, potato, quinoa and cotton, and traded gold, emeralds, blankets, ceramic handicrafts, coca and especially rock salt with neighboring nations. The Tairona inhabited northern Colombia in the isolated mountain range of Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. The Quimbaya inhabited regions of the Cauca River Valley between the Western and Central Ranges of the Colombian Andes. Most of the Amerindians practiced agriculture and the social structure of each indigenous community was different. Some groups of indigenous people such as the Caribs lived in a state of permanent war, but others had less bellicose attitudes. The Incas expanded their empire onto the southwest part of the country.


Spanish conquest

Alonso de Ojeda (who had sailed with Columbus) reached the Guajira Peninsula in 1499.Spanish explorers, led by Rodrigo de Bastidas, made the first exploration of the Caribbean coast in 1500. Christopher Columbus navigated near the Caribbean in 1502. In 1508, Vasco Núñez de Balboa accompanied an expedition to the territory through the region of Gulf of Urabá and they founded the town of Santa María la Antigua del Darién in 1510, the first stable settlement on the continent.
Santa Marta was founded in 1525, and Cartagena in 1533. Spanish conquistador Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada led an expedition to the interior in April 1536, and christened the districts through which he passed “New Kingdom of Granada”. In August 1538, he founded provisionally its capital near the Muisca cacicazgo of Bacatá, and named it “Santa Fe”. The name soon acquired a suffix and was called Santa Fe de Bogotá. Two other notable journeys by early conquistadors to the interior took place in the same period. Sebastián de Belalcázar, conqueror of Quito, traveled north and founded Cali, in 1536, and Popayán, in 1537; from 1536 to 1539, German conquistador Nikolaus Federmann crossed the Llanos Orientales and went over the Cordillera Oriental in a search for El Dorado, the “city of gold”. The legend and the gold would play a pivotal role in luring the Spanish and other Europeans to New Granada during the 16th and 17th centuries.
Indigenous peoples were loyal only to their own communities and therefore, the conquistadors made frequent alliances with the enemies of different indigenous communities. Indigenous allies were crucial to conquest, as well as to creating and maintaining empire. Indigenous peoples in New Granada experienced a decline in population due to conquest as well as Eurasian diseases, such as smallpox, to which they had no immunity. With the risk that the land was deserted, the Spanish Crown sold properties to all persons interested in colonise territories creating large farms and possession of mines.
In the 16th century, the nautical science in Spain reached a great development thanks to numerous scientific figures of the Casa de Contratación and nautical science was an essential pillar of the Iberian expansion.

Colonial period

In 1542, the region of New Granada, along with all other Spanish possessions in South America, became part of the Viceroyalty of Peru, with its capital at Lima. In 1547, New Granada became the Captaincy-General of New Granada within the viceroyalty.
In 1549, the Royal Audiencia was created by a royal decree, and New Granada was ruled by the Royal Audience of Santa Fe de Bogotá, which at that time comprised the provinces of Santa Marta, Rio de San Juan, Popayán, Guayana and Cartagena. But important decisions were taken from the colony to Spain by the Council of the Indies.
In the 16th century, Europeans began to bring slaves from Africa. Spain was the only European power that could not establish factories in Africa to purchase slaves and therefore the Spanish empire relied on the asiento system, awarding merchants (mostly from Portugal, France, England and the Dutch Empire) the license to trade enslaved people to their overseas territories. Also there were people who defended human rights and freedom of oppressed peoples. The indigenous peoples could not be enslaved because they were legally subjects of the Spanish Crown and to protect the indigenous peoples, several forms of land ownership and regulation were established: resguardos, encomiendas and haciendas.
In 1717 the Viceroyalty of New Granada was originally created, and 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 previously been under the 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 ways.
After Great Britain declared war on Spain in 1739, Cartagena quickly became the British forces’ top target but an upset Spanish victory during the War of Jenkins’ Ear, a war with Great Britain for economic control of the Caribbean, cemented Spanish dominance in the Caribbean until the Seven Years’ War.
The 18th-century priest, botanist and mathematician José Celestino Mutis was delegated by Viceroy Antonio Caballero y Góngora to conduct an inventory of the nature of the New Granada. Started in 1783, this became known as the Royal Botanical Expedition to New Granada which classified plants, wildlife and founded the first astronomical observatory in the city of Santa Fe de Bogotá. In July 1801 the Prussian scientist Alexander von Humboldt reached Santa Fe de Bogotá where he met with Mutis. In addition, historical figures in the process of independence in New Granada emerged from the expedition as the astronomer Francisco José de Caldas, the scientist Francisco Antonio Zea, the zoologist Jorge Tadeo Lozano and the painter Salvador Rizo.

Independence


Since the beginning of the periods of conquest and colonization, there were several rebel movements against Spanish rule, but most were either crushed or remained too weak to change the overall situation. The last one that sought outright independence from Spain sprang up around 1810, following the independence of St. Domingue (present-day Haiti) in 1804, which provided some support to the eventual leaders of this rebellion: Simón Bolívar and Francisco de Paula Santander.
A movement was initiated by Antonio Nariño, who opposed Spanish centralism and led the opposition against the Viceroyalty. Cartagena became independent in November 1811. In 1811 the United Provinces of New Granada were proclaimed, headed by Camilo Torres Tenorio. Took place the formation of two independent governments which fought a civil war – a period known as the Foolish Fatherland. The emergence of two distinct ideological currents among the liberators (federalism and centralism) gave rise to an internal clash which contributed to the reconquest of territory by the Spanish. The viceroyalty was restored under the command of Juan Sámano, whose regime punished those who participated in the uprisings. The retribution stoked renewed rebellion, which, combined with a weakened Spain, made possible a successful rebellion led by the Venezuelan-born Simón Bolívar, who finally proclaimed independence in 1819. The pro-Spanish resistance was defeated in 1822 in the present territory of Colombia and in 1823 in Venezuela.
The territory of the Viceroyalty of New Granada became the Republic of Colombia, organized as a union of the current territories of Colombia, Panama, Ecuador, Venezuela, parts of Guyana and Brazil and north of Marañón River. The Congress of Cúcuta in 1821 adopted a constitution for the new Republic. Simón Bolívar became the first President of Colombia, and Francisco de Paula Santander was made Vice President. However, the new republic was unstable and three countries emerged from the collapse of Gran Colombia in 1830 (New Granada, Ecuador and Venezuela).
Colombia was the first constitutional government in South America, and the Liberal and Conservative parties, founded in 1848 and 1849 respectively, are two of the oldest surviving political parties in the Americas. Slavery was abolished in the country in 1851.
Internal political and territorial divisions led to the dissolution of Gran Colombia in 1830. The so-called “Department of Cundinamarca” adopted the name “New Granada”, which it kept until 1858 when it became the “Confederación Granadina” (Granadine Confederation). After a two-year civil war in 1863, the “United States of Colombia” was created, lasting until 1886, when the country finally became known as the Republic of Colombia. Internal divisions remained between the bipartisan political forces, occasionally igniting very bloody civil wars, the most significant being the Thousand Days’ War (1899–1902).

20th century


The United States of America’s intentions to influence the area (especially the Panama Canal construction and control) led to the separation of the Department of Panama in 1903 and the establishment of it as a nation. The United States paid Colombia $25,000,000 in 1921, seven years after completion of the canal, for redress of President Roosevelt’s role in the creation of Panama, and Colombia recognized Panama under the terms of the Thomson–Urrutia Treaty. Colombia was engulfed in the war with Peru over a territorial dispute involving the Amazonas Department and its capital Leticia.


Soon after, Colombia achieved some degree of political stability, which was interrupted by a bloody conflict that took place between the late 1940s and the early 1950s, a period known as La Violencia (“The Violence”). Its cause was mainly mounting tensions between the two leading political parties, which subsequently ignited after the assassination of the Liberal presidential candidate Jorge Eliécer Gaitán on 9 April 1948. The ensuing riots in Bogotá, known as El Bogotazo, spread throughout the country and claimed the lives of at least 180,000 Colombians.
Colombia entered the Korean War when Laureano Gómez was elected president. It was the only Latin American country to join the war in a direct military role as an ally of the United States. Particularly important was the resistance of the Colombian troops at Old Baldy.
The violence between the two political parties decreased first when Gustavo Rojas deposed the President of Colombia in a coup d’état and negotiated with the guerrillas, and then under the military junta of General Gabriel París.
After Rojas’ deposition, the Colombian Conservative Party and Colombian Liberal Party agreed to create the “National Front”, a coalition which would jointly govern the country. Under the deal, the presidency would alternate between conservatives and liberals every 4 years for 16 years; the two parties would have parity in all other elective 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. Despite the progress in certain sectors, many social and political problems continued, and guerrilla groups were formally created such as the FARC, the ELN and the M-19 to fight the government and political apparatus.
Since the 1960s, the country has suffered from an asymmetric low-intensity armed conflict between the government forces, left-wing guerrilla groups and right-wing paramilitaries. The conflict escalated in the 1990s, mainly in remote rural areas. Since the beginning of the armed conflict, human rights defenders have fought for the respect for human rights, despite staggering opposition. Several guerrillas’ organizations decided to demobilize after peace negotiations in 1989–1994.
The United States has been heavily involved in the conflict since its beginnings, when in the early 1960s the U.S. government encouraged the Colombian military to attack leftist militias in rural Colombia. This was part of the U.S. fight against communism.
On 4 July 1991, a new Constitution was promulgated. The changes generated by the new constitution are viewed as positive by Colombian society.


21st century

The administration of President Álvaro Uribe (2002–10), adopted the democratic security policy which included an integrated counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency campaign. The Government economic plan also promoted confidence in investors.
As part of a controversial peace process the AUC (right-wing paramilitaries) as a formal organization had ceased to function. In February 2008, millions of Colombians demonstrated against FARC and other outlawed groups.
After peace negotiations in Cuba, the Colombian government of President Juan Manuel Santos and guerrilla of FARC-EP announced consensus on a 6-point plan towards peace. The first peace accord was submitted to voters in a national referendum and was rejected with 50.2% voting against it and 49.8% voting in favor, on a 37.4% turnout. Afterward, the Colombian government and the FARC signed a revised peace deal in November 2016, which the Colombian congress approved.
The Government began a process of assistance, attention and comprehensive reparation for victims of conflict. In 2016, President Santos was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Colombia shows modest progress in the struggle to defend human rights, as expressed by HRW. In terms of international relations, Colombia and Venezuela have agreed to restore diplomatic relations.

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