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Colombia (kəlŭmˈbēə, Span. kōlōmˈbyä), officially Republic of Colombia, republic (2020 est. pop. 50,882,891), 439,735 sq mi (1,138,914 sq km), NW South America. Bogotá is the capital and largest city. The only South American country with both a Caribbean and a Pacific coastline, Colombia is bounded on the northwest by Panama, on the northeast by Venezuela, on the south by Ecuador and Peru, and on the southeast by Brazil.


Colombia has both torrid jungles and majestic, snowcapped mountains. By far the most prominent physical features are the three great Andean chains that fan north from Ecuador. The Andean interior is the heart of the country, where in pre-Columbian days the highly advanced Chibcha lived. It has the largest concentration of population and is the area of large-scale cultivation of coffee, Colombia's major crop.

Of the three principal Andean ranges, the Western Cordillera is of the least economic importance. One of Colombia's major cities, Cali, lies just east of the range, in the upper Cauca valley. The Central Cordillera has a towering chain of volcanoes (e.g., Tolima) and is the divide between the valleys of the Magdalena and the Cauca rivers. It was until the 19th cent. an undeveloped region, but with improved transportation, the introduction of coffee culture, and the exploitation of high-grade coal reserves, its cities of Medellín and Manizales have become the economic and industrial core of the republic. A third major city in the Central Cordillera is Armenia. The Eastern Cordillera is the longest chain. Its western slopes yield coffee, and in its intermontane basins grains and cattle are raised. The area is rich in iron, coal, and emeralds. Among the leading cities of the highland basins are Tunja, Bucaramanga, and Cúcuta, in addition to Bogotá. In the eastern foothills of the Andes some hundred miles east of the capital lies a vast supply of light crude oil. Discovered in 1992, the oil fields constitute the largest find in the Americas since Alaska's Prudhoe Bay field (1969) and have revitalized Colombia's petroleum industry.

To the east of the Andes lies more than half of Colombia's territory, a vast largely undeveloped lowland. The plains are crossed by navigable rivers, tributaries of the Orinoco and Amazon systems. The northern section consists of savannas (the llanos), which are devoted to a large extent to cattle and sheep grazing. Villavicencio, at the region's western end, is its major urban center. The dense jungles of the extreme southeast are of negligible economic importance. Leticia is the country's southernmost town, and its only port on the Amazon River. A fourth mountain chain, the Cordillera del Chocó, runs parallel to the Pacific N of Buenaventura. The range's slopes yield dyewoods and hardwoods, rubber, tagua nuts (vegetable ivory) and other forest products, and gold and platinum.

On the Pacific are the ports of Buenaventura and Tumaco, terminus of a pipeline from the oil-rich area of Putumayo across the mountains. Colombia's chief ocean ports, however, lie on the Caribbean coast to the north: Santa Marta, Cartagena, and Barranquilla. At Mamonal, adjacent to Cartagena, is the terminus of the pipeline from the Barrancabermeja oil fields. In the north, separating the La Guajira peninsula from the rest of the country, is the magnificent Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, which contains Colombia's highest peak, Pico Cristóbal (18,947 ft/5,775 m). The difficult terrain in Colombia limits the availability of road and rail transportation and makes air and water travel especially important.


About 60% of Colombia's population are mestizos, and some one fifth are of European descent. Indigenous peoples, who account for only about 1% of today's population, live on the edge of some of the major cities and in remote areas. About 15% of the people are of mixed African and European descent. The small (less than 5%) black population is concentrated along the coasts and in the Magdalena and Cauca valleys. Spanish is the official language. The population is overwhelmingly Roman Catholic. There are universities in all the major cities.


Agriculture has traditionally been the chief economic activity in Colombia. An extremely wide variety of crops is grown, depending on altitude, but coffee is by far the major crop and its price on the world market has affected Colombia's economic health. Among the commercial crops, coffee is grown between elevations of 3,000 and 6,000 ft (914 and 1,829 m); bananas, cotton, sugarcane, oil palm, and tobacco are grown at lower elevations. Between 6,000 and 10,000 ft (1,829 and 3,048 m) potatoes, beans, grains, flowers, and temperate-zone fruit and vegetables are grown.

Colombia is rich in minerals, including petroleum, natural gas, coal, iron ore, nickel, gold, copper, emeralds, and platinum. The saltworks at Zipaquirá, near Bogotá, are world famous. Hydroelectric potential was developed during the 1970s and 80s. The manufacturing sector of the economy has expanded greatly in recent decades, although it is heavily dependent on imported materials. Beverages and processed foods, textiles, clothing and footwear, and chemicals are the chief products. Tourism is also a sizable source of income.

Oil replaced coffee as the nation's leading legal export in 1991. Other important official exports include petroleum-related products, coal, nickel, emeralds, apparel, bananas, and cut flowers. Cocaine is the major illicit export, accounting for about 25% of foreign exchange earnings. Once most of the raw materials were grown in Peru and Bolivia, but cultivation has increased in Colombia as a result of those nations coca-eradication programs. The drug trade (Colombia also produces heroin and grows cannabis) has brought riches to some, but has seriously disrupted the fabric of Colombian society with its violence. Industrial and transportation equipment, consumer goods, chemicals, paper products, fuels, and electricity lead Colombia's imports. The United States and Venezuela are the chief trade partners.

During the early 1990s the economy was growing quickly in comparison with that of other Latin American countries, and inflation and unemployment were under control. However, government spending and foreign debt soared in the late 1990s, the country suffered its worst recession in a century, and labor unrest and internal problems related to the drug trade continued to threaten the country's economic stability. The economy improved somewhat in the early 2000s. Colombia is a member of the Andean Community, an economic organization of South American countries.


Colombia is governed under the constitution of 1991 as amended. The president, who is elected for a single four-year term (from 2004 to 2015 a second term was permitted), is head of state and of government. The bicameral Congress consists of a 102-seat Senate, whose members are elected nationally, and a 166-seat House of Representatives, whose members are elected from multimember districts on a proportional basis. Members of both houses are elected to four-year terms. Administratively, Colombia is divided into 32 departments and the capital district.


History to 1858

Prior to the Spanish conquest, Colombia was inhabited by Chibcha, sub-Andean, and Caribbean peoples, all of whom lived in organized, agriculturally based communities. After the Spanish conquest, which began in 1525, the area of present-day Colombia formed the nucleus of New Granada (for colonial history, see New Granada). The struggle for independence was, as in all Spanish-American possessions, precipitated by the Napoleonic invasion of Spain. The revolution was, however, foreshadowed by the rising of the comuneros.

Prominent among the first revolutionary leaders was Antonio Nariño, who took part in the uprising at Bogotá on July 20, 1810. The revolution was to last nine years before the victory of Simón Bolívar at Boyacá (1819) secured the independence of Greater Colombia (Span., Gran Colombia). The new state Bolívar created included what is now Venezuela, Panama, and (after 1822) Ecuador, as well as Colombia. Cúcuta was chosen as capital. While Bolívar, who had been named president, headed campaigns in Ecuador and Peru, the vice president, Francisco de Paula Santander, administered the new nation. Political factions soon crystallized. Santander advocated a union of federal sovereign states, while Bolívar championed a centralized republic.

Although Bolívar's authority prevailed by and large in the constitutional assembly (1828), Greater Colombia soon fell apart. In 1830, Venezuela and Ecuador became separate nations. The remaining territory emerged as the republic of New Granada. Through the 19th cent. and into the 20th cent. political unrest and civil strife reappeared constantly. Strong parties developed along conservative and liberal lines; the conservatives favored centralism and participation by the church in government and education, and the liberals supported federalism, anticlericalism, and some measure of social legislation and fiscal reforms. Civil war frequently erupted between the factions. During the 19th and early 20th cent. three statesmen stand out—Tomás Cipriano de Mosquera, Rafael Núñez, and Rafael Reyes. While Mosquera was president, a treaty was concluded (1846) granting the United States transit rights across the Isthmus of Panama.

The New Nation

A new constitution in 1858 created a confederation of nine states called Granadina. Three years later (1861) under Mosquera, the country's name was changed to the United States of New Granada and in 1863 to the United States of Colombia. The antifederalist revolution of 1885 led one year later, during the presidency of Núñez, to the formation of the republic of Colombia and enactment of a conservative constitution. In 1899, five years after Núñez's death, civil war of unprecedented violence broke out and raged for three years. As many as 100,000 people were killed before the Conservatives emerged victorious. Another humiliation occurred when, after the United States had acquired the right to complete the Panama Canal (although the agreement was later rejected by the Colombian congress), the republic of Panama declared and, aided by the United States, achieved its independence from Colombia (1903).

During the semidictatorial administration (1904–9) of Reyes, internal order was restored and the country's trade and productivity were vigorously expanded. Reyes, nevertheless, had to resign because of discontent over his handling of the Panama issue. Soon afterward Colombia recognized (1914) Panama's independence in exchange for rights in the Canal Zone and the payment of an indemnity from the United States.

For the next four decades political life remained fairly peaceful, although there was economic and social unrest in the 1920s and 1930s. Colombia settled (1917) its boundary disputes with Ecuador, and in 1934 a border clash with Peru over the town of Leticia was settled by the League of Nations in Colombia's favor. Under the leadership of the liberals Olaya Herrera (1930–34), Alfonso López (1934–38), and Eduardo Santos (1938–42), wide-ranging reforms were enacted. Colombia participated in World War II on the Allied side. During the war years, internal divisions worsened. The Liberals split and in the 1946 elections presented two candidates, enabling the Conservatives to win.

Mid-Century to the Present

In 1948, while an Inter-American Conference was being held in Bogotá, the leftist Liberal leader Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, under whom the party had reunited, was assassinated, precipitating violent riots and acts of vandalism. The death of Gaitán exacerbated the enmity between social groups and plunged the country into a decade of civil strife, martial law, and violent rule that cost hundreds of thousands of lives. Political violence turned into sheer criminality (la violencia), particularly in rural areas. An archconservative dictator, Laureano Gómez, took power in 1950, when the Liberals put forward no candidate. In 1953, Gómez was ousted by a coup led by Gustavo Rojas Pinilla, the head of the armed forces. Repressive measures continued, fiscal reforms failed, the country was plunged into debt, and Rojas Pinilla became implicated in scandalously corrupt schemes.

A military junta, backed by Liberals and Conservatives alike, ousted Rojas Pinilla in 1957. The following year Alberto Lleras Camargo became president, elected under the National Front coalition agreement. The National Front presidential candidate of 1970, Misael Pastrana Borrero, won very narrowly over Rojas Pinilla, who returned to politics as the champion of the underprivileged. Colombia's economy began to recover from the setbacks of the early 1970s as economic diversification and incentives to lure foreign capital into the country were initiated. However, a high inflation rate continued to impede economic growth. In 1974 the Liberal party candidate Alfonso López Michelsen won the first presidential election following the end of the National Front.

Throughout the 1970s and 80s, Colombia's illegal drug trade grew steadily, as the drug cartels amassed huge amounts of money, weapons, and influence. The 1970s also saw the growth of such leftist rebel groups as the May 19th Movement (M-19), the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), and the National Liberation Army (ELN). The violence continued, and many journalists and government officials were killed. The 1980s saw the rise of right-wing paramilitary groups, which were organized to oppose leftist rebels but also attacked on civilians. Negotiations with the government from 1982 led FARC members to join in the formation (1985) of the Patriotic Union party, but party members and supporters were attacked and assassinated by paramilitaries and other forces. The guerrillas of the left and right both eventually became involved in the drug trade, which provided a ready source of funding.

In 1986, Virgilio Barco Vargas, of the Liberal party, was elected president; he was succeeded in 1990 by César Gaviria Trujillo, also a Liberal. In 1990 a Constitutional Assembly, which included members of the M-19 group, was elected to draft a new constitution; the document, which came into force on July 5, 1991, included protection for human rights and established citizens' rights to social security and health care. Liberal Ernesto Samper Pizano was elected president in 1994 and, though he appeared to make efforts to combat drug trafficking, he was accused of having accepted money from the Cali cocaine “cartel” for his election campaign. He was cleared of all charges (1996) by the Congress, but his administration was marked by charges of corruption and mismanagement.

The notorious Medellín drug cartel was broken in 1993, and the Cali cartel was later undermined by arrests of key leaders. Drug traffickers continued to have significant wealth and power, however, and FARC and the ELN remain actived, perpetuating a condition of instability. From the 1980s into the early 21st cent., some 3 million Colombians were displaced by political and drug-related violence. Conservative Andrés Pastrana Arango, a former mayor of Bogotá and son of Misael Pastrana, was elected president in 1998. He pledged to work with both leftist rebels and right-wing paramilitary leaders in an attempt to end more than 30 years of conflict in the country.

In Nov., 1998, Pastrana ceded an area the size of Switzerland in S central Colombia to FARC's control as a goodwill gesture, but the rebels negotiated with the government only fitfully, continued to mount attacks, expanded coca production, and essentially established a parallel government in the region under their control. The government's energies also were diverted by a severe recession in 1999 and a major earthquake that hit W Colombia early in 1999, leaving over a thousand people dead. Ongoing negotiations with the rebels in 2000 and 2001 were marred by rebel attacks and kidnappings and fighting between rebels and paramilitaries for control of coca-growing areas in Colombia. As a result, popular disenchantment with Pastrana increased, even as he moved forward with his “Plan Colombia,” a $7 billion social aid and antidrug program that included $1.3 billion in largely military aid from the United States.

In Feb., 2002, after FARC hijacked a airplane and kidnapped Senator Ingrid Betancourt, a presidential candidate, Pastrana ordered the military to attack rebel positions and reassert control over the rebel zone. FARC withdrew into the jungle and began attacks against the power grid, telecommunications facilities, and other aspects of Colombia's infrastructure, in an attempt to disrupt the lives of the largely urban population while avoiding a direct conflict with the military. In May, a hard-line rightist candidate, Álvaro Uribe Vélez, who promised to crack down on the leftist rebels, won the presidential election. Uribe, a former governor and senator who ran as an independent, declared a limited state of emergency, broadening the government's police powers, as part of his campaign against the rebels.

By the end of 2003, the government's increased use of its forces had decreased violence somewhat, but the rebels remained strong, if withdrawn into the countryside. Also, the economy improved, cocaine production—a source of rebel income—was reduced with American help, and some paramilitary forces agreed to begin disarming. Despite his resulting popularity, however, in November Uribe lost a referendum that would have increased his control over the government's budget and made other structural governmental changes; the national debt had risen to 50% of the GDP. Negotiations with the paramilitary forces continued into 2004, by which time drug traffickers had become predominant among the paramilitary leaders. Safe zones were established for paramilitaries while negotiations were ongoing, and late in the the demobilization of some paramilitaries began.

The Dec., 2004, kidnapping by bounty hunters in Venezuela of a FARC leader, who was then turned over to Colombian authorities, led to a brief crisis in Colombia's relations with Venezuela in early 2005. Colombia first denied any involvement in the incident, claiming the rebel was captured in a Colombian border town, but subsequently admitted a bounty had been paid. The dispute between the two nations was settled by Feb., 2005, when the nations' presidents met in Caracas, Venezuela.

In June the congress passed legislation designed to facilitate the disarming of paramilitary groups by shielding them from extradition and minimizing the penalties they might faced. The law was criticized for not requiring a complete cease-fire or disarmament by participating groups and for not assuring that criminal activities such as drug-trafficking would end, and it indeed subsequently appeared that some former paramilitaries continued to operate as organized crime groups and corrupt government officials. However, by mid-2006 some 31,000 paramilitary fighters were reported to have demobilized, and in Aug., 2006, Uribe ordered the arrest of a number of senior paramilitary leaders who had refused to surrender as required.

Meanwhile, the situation with respect to the leftist rebels, who continued to mount successful, if more limited, attacks, remained largely unchanged. Uribe also secured changes to the constitution permitting the popular president to run for a second consecutive term. The government began a new round of talks with the ELN in Dec., 2005, but the FARC, who remained responsible for the most significant attacks, rejected any negotiations with Uribe's government. Parties aligned with President Uribe secured a majority of seats in both houses of the congress in the Mar., 2006, elections, and Uribe himself won reelection in May. Talks with the ELN continued through 2006, but did not produce substantive results.

A supreme court investigation exposed paramilitary links to members of Colombia's congress and other politicians, with widespread links revealed in N Colombia; several members of the congress were arrested in late 2006 and 2007. The foreign minister resigned because her brother, a senator, was one of those arrested in Feb., 2007. In Mar., 2007, a leaked CIA report linked the chief of the army to paramilitary death squads that had operated in 2002; the general denied the charge. Testimony from a former paramilitary warlord in May accused the current vice president and defense minister, former government officials, and military leaders of ties to and support for the paramilitaries, who were used to fight drug cartels and leftist rebels. In May, 12 generals were forced to resign after revelations of illegal wiretaps on political leaders and government officials. Revelations about government and military ties to the paramilitaries, the rebels, and the drug dealers continued during the summer; in July, several senators, including Uribe's cousin, became the subject of an investigation into paramilitary links. Additional revelations and charges concerning ties between the paramilitaries and government and military officials were made in 2008. In August, Venezuela's leftist president, Hugo Chávez, offered to act a mediator with the rebels. Although Chávez's efforts led to the release of some hostages in 2008, they also caused strained relations between the two nations in 2007.

In Mar., 2008, a Colombian raid on rebels encamped in Ecuador led to several days of tensions between Colombia and neighboring Ecuador and Venezuela, who mobilized forces to their borders. Colombia said computer files seized in the raid had evidence of ties between the rebels and its neighbors' governments. Colombia subsequently apologized for the raid, which the Organization of American states called a violation of Ecuadorian sovereignty and the OAS charter. Although tensions subsequently eased with Venezuela, relations with Ecuador, which had broken diplomatic relations with Colombia, remained strained; full diplomatic relations were restored only in Dec., 2010. In July, 2008, Colombian forces, posing as a humanitarian group and journalists, rescued a number of hostages from FARC control, include Senator Betancourt. Revelations in 2008 that Colombian soldiers were executing civilians to inflate rebel body counts, in part to advance the careers of officers, led to the dismissal of three generals and other senior officers and, in Nov., 2008, the resignation of the army commander.

Tensions again increased with Venezuela, Ecuador, and Bolivia beginning in mid-2009 over an agreement (signed Nov., 2009) between Colombia and the United States allowing U.S. forces to use additional Colombian bases to combat drug trafficking. Venezuela especially stridently objected, characterizing the agreement as a belligerent move by the United States and threatening to break relations with Colombia. (In Aug., 2010, Colombia's constitutional court nullified the base agreement because it had not been approved by Colombia's congress.) Colombia-Venezuela relations were also strained by border incidents and Colombian accusations of Venezuelan support for Colombian rebels, including charges that Venezuela had supplied the rebels with weapons (based on the capture from the rebels of weapons purchased by Venezuela from Sweden).

In Sept., 2009, the Colombian congress approved a referendum on allowing Uribe to seek a third term, but in Feb., 2010, the constitutional court ruled it unconstitutional before it was held. The March congressional elections resulted in a victory for Uribe's party and its allies. In June, after a runoff election, Juan Manuel Santos, Uribe's former defense minister, was elected president. Colombia's perennially cyclical relations with Venezuela soured again in July, 2010, after Colombia accused Venezuela of harboring Colombian rebels. Venezuela broke off diplomatic relations with Colombia, but they were restored the following month after Santos took office and subsequently improved significantly.

In 2011 and 2012 rebels released a number of hostages in what they called peace gestures, but the government said the moves were insufficient to justify opening direct peace talks. In Sept., 2012, however, the government and FARC announced that they would engage in peace talks; the agreement to negotiate did not establish a cease-fire or rebel safe haven. The subsequent talks progressed slowly, and the government continued its operations against FARC in the absence of a final agreement until the second half of 2015, when both sides agreed to de-escalation and progress toward an agreement subsequently appeared to increase.

In late 2012 an International Court of Justice ruling that reduced Colombian territorial waters in the Caribbean in favor of Nicaragua (see San Andrés and Providencia) was denounced by Colombia, which then withdrew from treaty that established the court. In 2014 Colombia's constitutional court ruled that the ICJ decision could not be recognized by Colombia except by a treaty with Nicaragua. The Mar., 2014, legislative elections resulted in a victory for the governing coalition, but a new party led by former president Uribe and opposed to the negotations with FARC became the second largest party in the senate.

In the subsequent president election, Santos faced strong opposition from Óscar Iván Zuluaga, who was supported by Uribe, but he won reelection after a runoff. Santos subsequently secured (2015) passage of an amendment to the constitution that prohibited presidential reelection. Venezuela mounted a crackdown against Colombian migrants and smugglers in Aug.–Sept., 2015, leading thousands to flee Venezuela for Colombia and creating tense relations between the two nations.

In June, 2016, the government and FARC signed a cease-fire agreement that included provisions for the rebels to lay down their arms, and a peace accord was signed the following September. Subsequently, however, Colombian voters unexpectedly rejected the accord in a referendum. Government and FARC negotiators signed a revised accord in November, which then was approved by the Colombian congress; disarmament began in 2017, and later in the year FARC reconstituted itself as a political party, the Revolutionary Alternative Common Force (FARC).

In Feb., 2017, after some two and a half years of exploratory and preparatory talks, the government and ELN rebels began formal peace talks. A three-month cease-fire was established in October, but ELN rebels resumed attacks in Jan., 2018. In 2017 deteriorating economic conditions in Venezuela led hundreds of thousands of its citizens to migrate to Colombia, and the migration surge continued into subsequent years, with more than 1.4 million arriving by mid-2019; large numbers of people with dual Colombian-Venezuelan citizenship also left Venezuela for Colombia. In the Mar., 2018, elections for the congress the conservative parties that opposed the agreement with FARC won the most seats but did not win a majority; FARC won less than 1% of the vote. In the presidential election, Iván Duque Márquez, a political newcomer and protégé of Uribe's who called for changes to the agreement with FARC, won after a runoff in June. The new president subsequently called for the ELN to release hostages it held before he would resume peace talks. There were also increasing tensions with former FARC members and assassinations of former rebels and political activists, and the government has proved unable to exercise control in former FARC territories. In Aug., 2019, some former FARC leaders called for a return to war. In 2020-21, Duque's government increasingly cracked down on demonstrations against abusive policing of civilians and inequities in society exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.


See O. Fals-Borda, Subversion and Social Change in Colombia (rev. ed., tr. 1969); A. E. Havens and W. L. Flinn, Internal Colonialism and Structural Change in Colombia (1970); T. E. Weil et al., Area Handbook for Colombia (1970); J. M. Henao and G. Arruba, History of Colombia (tr. 2 vol., 1938; repr. 1976); J. B. Sokol et al., Colombia: Economic Development and Policy under Changing Conditions (1984); R. H. Dix, The Politics of Colombia (1986); J. Hartlyn, The Politics of Coalition Rule in Colombia (1988); B. Bagley et al., The State and Society in Colombia (1988).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(República de Colombia).

Situated in the northwestern part of South America, Colombia is bounded by Venezuela and Brazil on the east, by Peru and Ecuador on the south, by Panama and the Caribbean Sea on the northwest (Atlantic coastline, 1,600 km), and by the Pacific Ocean on the west (coastline, 1,300 km). The Caribbean islands of San Andrés and Providencia and the Pacific island of Malpelo belong to Colombia. The country has an area of 1,138,900 sq km and a population of 21,792,000 (July 1971, estimate). Its capital is the city of Bogotá.

Administratively, Colombia is divided into departments, in-tendencies, and commissaries (see Table 1).

Table 1. Administrative divisions (1972)
 Area (sq km)Population (1971, estimate)Administrative center
El César23,800399,000Valledupar
La Guajira20,200250,000Ríohacha
Magdalena22,900710,000Santa Marta
Norte de Santander20,800627,000Cúcuta
Valle del Cauca21,2002,173,000Cali
San Andrés y Providencia4029,000San Andrés
Guainía78,0004,000Puerto Inírida

Colombia is a republic. Its present constitution was adopted in 1886, with subsequent changes and amendments in 1910, 1936, 1945, 1957, 1959, and 1968. The head of state and of the government is the president, elected by the people for a four-year term; in the absence of a president his functions are performed by a president-designate elected by the Congress. The president appoints the members of government (cabinet) and governors of the departments, concludes international agreements, and is supreme commander in chief of the armed forces.

Legislative power is vested in a parliament (Congress), consisting of two houses—the Senate and the House of Representatives, elected by direct and secret popular vote. The senators and representatives are elected for four-year terms. Congress approves the state budget, works out and adopts plans and programs for developing the national economy, ratifies international agreements concluded by the government, and grants amnesty.

Between 1957 and 1974 all posts in legislative and executive bodies were equally divided between members of the Liberal and Conservative parties, and the office of president was filled by a representative of one or the other of these parties alternately. The right to vote has been granted to all citizens who have reached the age of 21.

The departments are headed by governors, who appoint the mayors of municipalities. The people of the departments elect local organs of self-government, the assemblies, which have a certain degree of autonomy, including the right to manage local finances. There are elected municipal councils in the cities.

The judicial system is headed by the Supreme Court, an appellate court consisting of 20 judges elected by the Congress for terms of five years. There are 61 judicial districts, and the district courts function as appellate courts for the various lower courts, including department and municipal courts.


Colombia’s natural features are extremely diverse. The plains of the east and north are covered with forests or savanna, and in the mountainous west, where ranges of the Andes alternate with deep depressions, the mountain slopes reflect all the elevation zones of the lower latitudes, from tropical forests to perpetual snows.

Terrain The Colombian Andes consist of three principal ranges diverging to the north—the Cordillera Occidental, Cordillera Central, and Cordillera Oriental. Characteristic of the wide (up to 270 km) Cordillera Oriental are smoothed out fringe massifs, varying in elevation from 3,000 to 3,900 m (with the exception of the Sierra de Nevada de Cocuy massif, which rises to 5,493 m), and flat basins of ancient lakes (in the central part) with elevations of 2,500–2,700 m, in one of which lies the city of Bogotá. In the southern and central parts of the Cordillera Central are a great number of extinct and active volcanoes (Huila, 5,750 m; Ruiz, 5,400 m; Tolima, 5,215 m; Cumbal, 4,764 m; Purasé, 4,700 m). In the north the Antioquia Plateau lies at an elevation of 2,000–2,500 m. The narrow Cordillera Occidental rises to an altitude of 4,250 m. The Cordillera Oriental is divided from the Cordillera Central by the Magdalena basin (30–60 km wide), and the Cordillera Central and Cordillera Occidental are separated by the basin of the Cauca and Patia rivers.

In the northeastern part of the country, extending northward from the Cordillera Oriental, lies the spur Sierra de Perijá, rising to 3,540 m above sea level. Adjoining the spur on the west is the isolated massif Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, with Colombia’s highest peak, Mount Cristóbal Colón, soaring to 5,800 m. In the northwest, along the Pacific coast, stretches the Serranía de Baudó (up to 1,810 m), separated from the Cordillera Occidental by the Atrato basin. Adjacent to the Andes on the west and north are the swampy Pacific and Caribbean lowlands. The central part of the eastern plains region is occupied by a plateau, with remnant summits of up to 910 m, sloping down to the lowlands of the Meta River in the north, to the upper reaches of the Orinoco and to the Negro in the east, and to the Caqueta and Putumayo rivers, tributaries of the Amazon, in the south.

Geological structure and minerals The southeastern part of the country belongs to the ancient South American Platform, and the northwestern section is part of the folded system of the Andes. The Archeozoic and Lower Middle Proterozoic crystalline foundation of the platform is covered by a sedimentary mantle of Cretaceous, Paleogene, and Neocene deposits. The northern and southern parts of the Cordillera Oriental are composed of crystalline and metamorphic rocks, and its middle section is formed of thick Cretaceous and Jurassic shales and sandstones, with intrusions of diorites, gabbro, and other rocks. The Cordillera Central is a huge massif of crystalline and metamorphic rocks, uplifted along fractures and covered in places by Neocene and Anthropogenic volcanic outflows and tuffs. Lying between the Cordillera Oriental and Cordillera Central is the depression of the Magdalena Valley (extending up to 600 km in length), an enormous graben filled with a thick layer of Cretaceous and Neocene-Paleogene deposits. Here are found Colombia’s largest deposits of petroleum and natural gas (near Barrancabermeja). The Cordillera Occidental is formed primarily of Jurassic and Cretaceous volcanic strata, with intrusions of diorites, gabbro, and ultrabasic rocks. The depression between the Cordillera Central and Cordillera Occidental, along the Cauca Valley and the upper reaches of the Patia River, is filled with Paleogene and Neocene deposits, with which the coal deposit near Cali is associated. The coastal range Serranía de Baudó consists of Cretaceous and Paleogene volcanic strata, with intrusions of basic rocks. Alluvial placer deposits of gold and platinum are associated with the coastal plains of the Patia, San Juan, and Atrato valleys. The deep depression of the lower reaches of the Magdalena and Sinú rivers contains deposits of petroleum and natural gas. In the Cordillera Oriental and Cordillera Central there are magmatogene deposits of iron and copper ores and of silver, and near Bogotá are found deposits of emeralds.


Climate Colombia lies in the equatorial and subequatorial climate zones, in which little monthly temperature variation occurs. In the lowlands average monthly temperatures do not exceed 29°C. At elevations of 1,000–2,000 m they range from 17° to 22°C; at elevations of 2,000–3,000 m, from 13° to 16°C. Above 4,000 m average monthly temperatures are less than 7°C. Precipitation in the Amazon region (as much as 4,000 mm annually) and in the Pacific lowlands and adjoining mountain slopes (up to 10,000 mm annually) occurs throughout almost the entire year. Moving northward, dry periods appear and lengthen and the amount of precipitation decreases, in the northeast to 200 mm annually. The leeward slopes and interior valleys are also dry.

Rivers and lakes Colombia has a dense network of rivers. The rivers are fed chiefly by rain, and their discharge usually varies greatly, which, along with their many rapids, makes navigation difficult. The principal rivers are the Magdalena, the Cauca, the Atrato, which flow into the Caribbean; the tributaries of the Orinoco, the Guaviare and Meta; and the tributaries of the Amazon, the Putumayo and Caqueta. The Magdalena carries as much as 95 percent of the river transport; the other rivers are not well suited for navigation. There are many lakes in the Cordillera Oriental and northern lowlands.

Flora and soil The moistest plains (the Pacific and Amazon lowlands) and the lower mountain slopes are covered with a thick tropical rain forest, or selva, growing on reddish yellow latérite soils. In seasonally moist regions there are grasslands, or llanos, growing on red soils (the Meta plains), as well as swampy wooded areas (the Caribbean Lowland) or deciduous-evergreen forests (primarily in the mountains), growing on brownish red latérite soils. In the extreme northeast are found xerophytic shrubs and cacti. On the moist slopes of the Andes, elevation zones are sharply defined. At an elevation of 3,000–3,200 m the mountainous tropical rain forest is replaced by equatorial alpine meadows, the paramos; perpetual snows begin at 4,700–4,800 m. The vegetation of the plateaus and of the interior slopes and valleys of the Andes has been greatly modified by economic activity.

Fauna Most of the common South American animals are found in Colombia. Forest fauna includes monkeys, jaguars, anteaters, tapirs, sloths, and, among reptiles, huge iguanas; crocodiles abound in the rivers. Among birds, toucans, parrots, and hummingbirds are common.

Natural regions Colombia’s geographic regions include the rain forests of the Pacific Lowland and the Serranía de Baudó; the savanna and shrub area of the Caribbean Lowland; the savanna plains to the north of the Guaviare; the rain-forest plateau and lowland of the Amazon region; and the Andes with their strongly dissected terrain and their altitudinal diversity in climate and vegetation.


Lukashova, E. N. Iuzhnaia Amerika. Moscow, 1958.
Vila, P. Nueva geografia de Colombia. Bogotá, 1945.
Guhl, E. Colombia. Bogotá, 1967.
Atlas escolar de Colombia. Bogotá, 1969.


The bulk of the country’s population consists of Colombians, totaling about 21 million persons (1971, estimate). The indigenous Indian population numbers between 300,000 and 400,000 persons, most of whom (Chibcha Indians) live in the southern part of the country. The eastern tropical forests are inhabited by Indians of various language families, chiefly Arawaks and Caribs. The official language is Spanish. The Colombians and the Chibcha are Catholics; the Indians who live in the forests have retained their tribal beliefs. The official calendar is the Gregorian.

Between 1963 and 1970 the population grew at an average annual rate of 3.2 percent, primarily the result of natural increase. In 1970 the economically active population totaled 5,938,000 persons (28.2 percent of the total population), of whom 45 percent were engaged in agriculture, lumbering, hunting, and fishing, 1.5 percent in mining, 13.6 percent in the processing industries, 5.3 percent in construction, 3.2 percent in transport and communications, 2 percent in banking and insurance, 9.3 percent in commerce, and 20.1 percent in services and other branches. There were 542,000 unemployed persons.

The greatest population density is found in the intermontane valleys of the central part of the country at elevations ranging from 1,000 to 3,000 m and in the Caribbean regions. More than 95 percent of the population is concentrated in the mountainous and Caribbean departments, which occupy about 40 percent of Colombia’s territory. The eastern plains and foothills and the Pacific coastal area are sparsely populated. About 60 percent of the population lives in cities (1970, estimate), as compared to 52 percent in 1964 (census). There are 21 cities with populations of more than 100,000 (1970), as compared to 16 in 1964. As of 1971 the largest cities were Bogotá (2,539,000), Medellín (1,045,000), Cali (898,000), Bananquilla (671,000), Cartagena (323,000), Bucaramanga (299,000), Manizales (288,000), Pereira (239,000), Cucuta (219,000), Montería (188,000), Ibagué (183,000), Armenia (173,000), and Santa Marta (151,000).

From ancient times the territory of present-day Colombia was settled by numerous Indian tribes. The most advanced of these, the Chibcha, followed a settled way of life, engaging in farming and livestock raising. They made extensive use of stone in building temples and carving idols, and they also produced fabrics of excellent quality, ceramic objects, and articles of gold. At the time of the Spanish invasion the Chibcha were beginning to form a unified state.

Colonial period (from the beginning of the 16th century to 1810). The Spanish discovered the territory of present-day Colombia in 1499, and at the beginning of the 16th century they began the conquest of the interior regions. In 1525 the city of Santa Marta was founded, and in 1533 the port of Cartagena. During the 1530’s the Spanish completed the conquest of the country and established a colonial regime. The city of Santa Fe de Bogotá (modern Bogotá) became the capital of the colony, which in 1538 was named New Granada. The administrative system of New Granada changed several times. In 1718 the colony became the viceroyalty of New Granada; in 1723 the viceroyalty was abolished, but it was restored in 1739. In addition to Colombia, the viceroyalty of New Granada included present-day Ecuador, Panama, and Venezuela. The Spanish established a system of compulsory labor for the indigenous population (encomienda). Plantation farming developed rapidly and the Spanish cultivated coffee, bananas, and sugarcane. For the mining of gold, silver, and emeralds, Indian labor was used initially, but from the end of the 17th century Negro slaves were brought from Africa for this purpose. In the mid-18th century a textile industry began to develop near Bogotá. Merciless exploitation on the plantations and in the mines decimated the Indian and Negro populations. At the same time there was an increase in the number of criollos, the descendants of Spanish settlers born in the colony. Spain’s economic policy (which retarded the development of a processing industry, forbade the cultivation of many crops, and established a trade monopoly), racial discrimination, and political inequality provoked dissatisfaction among different strata of the population of New Granada (merchants, petty officials, and criollo landowners) and led to insurrections against the colonialists. The most important uprising, the Communero Rebellion of 1781, was harshly suppressed by the Spanish.

War of Independence (1810–19). The war of national liberation that encompassed the entire continent at the beginning of the 19th century also engulfed New Granada. Demonstrations by the popular masses culminated in the urpising of July 20, 1810, in Bogotá, which initiated the struggle for independence from Spain. During the uprising the Revolutionary Junta was formed. At the first national congress of the provinces, convened that year, sharp conflicts arose between the representatives of different provinces. Some advocated a centralized government, and others were in favor of federation. Rivalry among the provinces hindered the unification of the patriotic forces of New Granada. S. Bolivar, who led the struggle against the colonialists in Venezuela (1810), was forced by the Spanish to retreat to Colombia, where the struggle continued. In 1815 the Spanish government sent an army of 10,000 to South America to crush the national liberation movement. In May 1816 the Spanish captured Bogotá and dealt harshly with the patriots. Despite the terror, the inhabitants of New Granada continued the struggle, creating partisan detachments and preparing for new major battles. In February 1819, Venezuela declared its independence from Spain, and on Aug. 7, 1819, the combined forces of New Granada and Venezuela decisively defeated the Spanish army at Boyacá, near Bogotá. On December 17 the federated Republic of Gran Colombia was proclaimed at Angostura (now Ciudad Bolívar). Bolívar became the president of the new republic, which included New Granada, Venezuela, and later Ecuador. The War of Independence of 1810–19 resulted in the abolition of the colonial regime and the formation of an independent state.

From independence to 1917. The establishment of a republic did not lead to profound economic and social changes. Many leaders in the War of Independence were military men, and the members of the new administration, who had at first condemned large landownership, themselves became the owners of large estates (latifundios). Internal conflicts among the criollo land-owning aristocracy led to the disintegration of Gran Colombia in 1830 and the formation of the independent states of Venezuela, Ecuador, and New Granada, which also included Panama. In 1831, J. Mosquera became president of New Granada, and in 1832 its first constitution was adopted. Political parties formed during the first half of the 19th century: the Conservative Party (large landowners) and the Liberal Party (bourgeoisie). At this time foreign capital began to enter the country, primarily that of Great Britain and the USA, which sought rights to construct a canal across the Isthmus of Panama. Great Britain, which had aided New Granada during its war against Spain, considered the country to be its debtor and regarded it as a market for industrial goods and a source of cheap raw materials. British entrepreneurs exported gold, silver, platinum, bananas, cacao, and other products from New Granada. With the aid of foreign capital, construction began on industrial enterprises and railroads, and the mining industry began to develop.

In 1851 slavery was abolished in New Granada. A constitution was adopted in 1863 establishing a federal structure and renaming the country the United States of Colombia. In 1886 a new constitution transformed the country into a centralized republic and gave it the present name of the Republic of Colombia. R. Nunez came to power in 1880 and governed, with interruptions, until 1894. Beginning his presidency as a Liberal, he subsequently became a Conservative. Nunez proclaimed an era of rebirth, of the nation’s regeneration, but his policy precipitated an economic crisis. Bitter rivalry between the parties in the struggle for power led to civil wars and numerous coups d’etat, as each party sought to attract the masses to its side. The Thou-sand-Day War (1899–1902), in which more than 100,000 Colombians perished, was the most devastating of the civil wars. Capitalism developed very slowly, and the economy continued to rest on the latifundios, which promoted the country’s dependence on foreign capital. Anglo-American rivalry in Colombia intensified. Recognizing the great strategic importance of the Isthmus of Panama, the USA had for some time been consolidating its hold on the region. An agreement concluded between the USA and Colombia in 1867 concerning the operation of a rail-road on the isthmus paved the way for the future separation of the canal (under construction from 1879) and seizure of the Canal Zone. From 1856 to 1903 the USA occupied Panama 14 times. Taking advantage of the aspirations of many Panamanians for the formation of an independent state, the USA, in order to carry out its own expansionist plans, “supported” the Panamanian movement for separation from Colombia. As a result, in November 1903, Panama seceded from Colombia and formed an independent state.

In the early 20th century, railroads were built, mineral resources were intensively developed, textile enterprises were established, and the area devoted to banana plantations was expanded. The years of World War I (1914–18) were marked by a growth of foreign capital investments. The USA forced British capital out of the most important branches of the economy, the operation of coffee and banana plantations. In 1916–18 rich deposits of petroleum were discovered in Colombia.

Since 1918. Between 1918 and 1930 the Conservatives were in power. During these years, with the growth of industrial enterprises and the discovery of petroleum deposits, the size of the working class increased. The 1920’s were marked by a mass strike movement, greatly influenced by the Great October Socialist Revolution in Russia. The ideas of Marxism-Leninism spread among the progressive workers and intelligentsia. There was a growing struggle against the oppression of the owners of latifundios and American imperialists, who tried to control the economy, directing it toward monoculture and impeding the growth of industry (in 1929, US investments in Colombia reached $260 million, and those of Great Britain totaled $38 million). Especially important was the 1928 strike of workers on the banana plantations of the United Fruit Company, joined by peasants from surrounding villages in the department of Magdalena. In July 1930 the Communist Party of Colombia (CPC) was formed. The world economic crisis of 1929–33 seriously undermined Colombia’s economy, which was oriented toward foreign markets. In 1930 a Liberal, E. Olaya Herrera, became president and attempted to improve the country’s economy with a new loan from Washington. No internal reforms were carried out, and strikes and peasant uprisings were harshly suppressed by the government. From 1932 to 1934, Colombia was at war with Peru, which had seized the Colombian region of Leticia, an area rich in rubber and cinchona trees. The war, which was extremely unpopular in both countries, was actually caused by Anglo-American rivalry in the region. The government of the left-wing Liberal A. López, which came to power in 1934, introduced such progressive reforms as free education, separation of church and state, and labor legislation, and in 1936 it enacted a law providing for agrarian reform. In 1935 diplomatic relations were established between Colombia and the USSR, and missions were exchanged in 1943. Conservatives and right-wing Liberals strongly opposed López’ work, and in 1938 he was replaced by the leader of the right-wing Liberals, E. Santos, who was closely linked with US monopolies. López’ reforms were suspended and a number of new, unequal agreements with the USA were concluded, including Colombia’s promise (1942) to supply the USA with all the rubber produced in the country for five years. The presidential elections of 1942 returned López to office, supported by the country’s progressive forces.

During World War II (1939–45), Colombia’s first major heavy industrial enterprises were built, the fuel and energy base was expanded, and there was considerable growth of coal mining. However, industry’s dependence on foreign, chiefly American, monopolies also increased. López’ efforts to limit the activity of American monopolies provoked furious attacks by the opposition. In 1945, López was forced to resign under pressure from the US embassy. The Congress appointed as provisional president Lleras Camargo, who formed a coalition government of Liberals and Conservatives. By this time the struggle in the Liberal Party between the representatives of the big bourgeoisie and the revolutionary strata of the petite bourgeoisie had intensified, leading to a schism within the party. As a result, victory in the presidential elections of 1946 went to the Conservative M. Ospina Pérez, who initiated a campaign of terror against all democratic forces. Thousands of Colombians were compelled to emigrate. The Liberal Party responded to the terror by withdrawing its members from the government and parliament. An acute political crisis gripped the country. In March 1948, Ospina Pérez formed a new Conservative cabinet.

In April 1948, J. E. Gaitán, the leader of the left-wing Liberals, was assassinated in Bogotá. The strike declared in connection with this event grew spontaneously into an armed uprising that spread throughout almost the entire country. The rebellion, in which even parts of the army and police participated, continued for several days, but it was defeated for lack of unified revolutionary leadership and solidarity among progressive forces. In May 1948 diplomatic and consular relations with the Soviet Union were broken. Ospina Perez dissolved the Congress and declared a state of siege. Troops occupied the capital.

During this period of terror L. Gómez Castro, another leader of the Conservative Party, was elected president in November 1949. Gómez Castro established an openly terroristic dictatorship. The army and armed bands of reactionaries killed tens of thousands of people, many peasants had their land confiscated, and thousands of political prisoners were tortured and shot. The reactionaries attacked the Communists with particular cruelty. In 1951, Colombia concluded a treaty of aid and friendship with the USA, and in 1952 a bilateral pact on military assistance was signed. The militarization of the country and the plundering of its natural resources by American monopolies, the continuous rise in the cost of living, and the trampling of basic democratic liberties aroused the indignation of the masses. The partisan movement, which had been growing since 1949, became wide-spread, and the peasants demanded that the land be given to those who worked it. The Seventh Congress of the CPC, held secretly in April 1952, called upon the country’s popular forces to support the partisan movement and to participate in the struggle against the military fascist dictatorship.

In June 1953, Gómez Castro was removed from power, and General G. Rojas Pinilla, the commander of the country’s armed forces, declared himself president and proclaimed a “new order” in the country. Military garrisons were stationed in all cities and major population centers. From 1953 through 1956 taxes increased more than elevenfold, and military expenditures exceeded all others. But the detachments led by Communists did not lay down their arms, and the partisan war continued. Rojas Pinilla’s intention to prolong his presidency provoked a national protest movement and resulted in the downfall of the dictator-ship in 1957. The big bourgeoisie, however, managed to secure a signed agreement providing for “parity” rule between members of the Conservative and Liberal parties. The so-called National Front of the two parties monopolized the right of political activity within the country. In 1957 the CPC emerged from underground, but it was deprived of political rights.

In May 1958 the Liberal Lleras Camargo was elected president. His antipopular policy led to a further deterioration of the workers’ position, which provoked strikes, protest demonstrations, and renewed armed uprisings in the countryside. In May 1961 strikes occurred at the sugar mills in Valle del Cauca, in August at the American Goodyear and Arrow companies, and in September at the textile plants in Medellin. The class struggle became extremely acute, the national liberation movement intensified, and partisan fighting, directed against arbitrary government power, became even more widespread. The Ninth Congress of the CPC (1961) called for the unification of all the country’s democratic forces with the aim of creating a government based on a broad democratic coalition. The policy of the National Front, carried out by the bourgeois parties, entered a period of profound crisis. A split occurred in the Liberal Party, and in May 1962 the Conservative G. Leon Valencia came to power. The social and economic crisis spread to all spheres of society, even reaching elements within the Catholic Church.

In attempting to find ways to consolidate his domestic political position, President Lleras Restrepo (1966–70) announced a program of national transformations, consisting of overall development of industry and agriculture, the creation of a society of “equal social opportunities,” and constitutional and administrative reforms. Lleras Restrepo expanded Colombia’s trade and political ties with the socialist countries. On Jan. 19, 1968, diplomatic relations were restored between the USSR and Colombia. However, the Liberal government of Lleras Restrepo was unable to implement the national transformations program. At the beginning of 1967 the peasants in some departments renewed their struggle against the arbitrary power of large landowners and the terror of government troops. In October 1967 the leaders of the Liberal Revolutionary Movement (1960–67) established an alliance with the CPC to organize a broad anti-imperialist and antioligarchic movement. Prior to the presidential elections in April 1970 an acute political confrontation arose. The Liberal and Conservative parties were divided into hostile factions, resulting in the victory (by a narrow margin) of the National Front candidate, the Conservative M. Pastrana Borrero, who represented the influential financial group. The complicated political situation persisted after the elections. During 1970–72 a state of siege was declared several times, and there were continuous class conflicts. The workers demanded wage increases and the nationalization of foreign companies. The landless peasants began to seize the estates of the large landowners. In the local elections held in April 1972 the Communists achieved notable success, sending deputies to the assemblies of the four most important departments and to numerous municipal councils. At the end of 1972 a National Opposition Alliance was created by the Communist Party and other opposition parties and factions.

In 1973 the ruling circles tried to frustrate the democratic opposition by preserving the state of siege under various pretexts, particularly in connection with guerrilla activities. The election of the Liberal A. López Michelsen to the presidency in April 1974 put an end to the National Front. However, because of the contradictory and incomplete economic and financial measures taken by the government, the political and economic situation continues to deteriorate.


Thomas, A. B. Istoriia Latinskoi Ameriki. Moscow, 1960. Pages 443–64. (Translated from English.)
Gonionskii, S. A. Ocherki noveishei istorii stran Latinskoi Ameriki. Moscow, 1964. Pages 177–200.
Revunenkov, V. G. Istoriia stran Latinskoi Ameriki v noveishee vremia. Moscow, 1963. Chapter 6, pp. 238–65.
Litavrina, E. E. Kolumbiia. Moscow, 1967.
Il’ina, N. G. Politicheskaia bor’ba v Kolumbii. Moscow, 1968.
Vieira, G. “Krest’ianskoe dvizhenie v Kolumbii i kommunisticheskaia partiia.” Problemy mira i sotsializma, 1961, no. 5.
Vieira, G. “Rost militarizma v Kolumbii i taktika kompartii.” Ibid., 1963, no. 4.
Andronova, V. P. Kolumbiia: Tserkov’ i obshchestvo. Moscow, 1970.
Ramirez, P. E. Colombia. [Havana, 1964.]
Quimbaya, A. Cuestiones colombianas: Ensayos de interpretación y crítica. [Bogotá] 1958.
Montaña Cuellar, D. Colombiapaís formal y país real. Buenos Aires [1963].
Colmenares, G. Partidos políticos y clases sociales. Bogotá, 1968.


Political parties The Conservative Party (Partido Conservador), founded during the first half of the 19th century, represents the proimperialist factions among the large landowners, members of the Catholic clergy, and part of the big bourgeoisie. The Liberal Party (Partido Liberal), also established during the first half of the 19th century, represents the interests of the bourgeoislandowning oligarchy and the national bourgeoisie and has some influence among certain strata of the peasantry and among part of the workers and intelligentsia. The National Popular Alliance (Alianza Nacional Popular), created in 1964 by the left wing of the Conservative Party, draws its members from among the petite bourgeoisie and craftsmen. The Communist Party of Colombia (Partido Comunista de Colombia) was formed in 1930.

Trade unions The Union of Colombian Workers, founded in 1946, has about 800,000 members (1975) and belongs to the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) and to the Inter-American Regional Organization of Workers. The Confederation of Colombian Workers, established in 1936, has a membership of more than 400,000 (as of 1975) and also belongs to the ICFTU and to the Regional Organization. The Trade-Union Confederation of Colombian Workers, formed in 1964, has more than 200,000 members (1975) and belongs to the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU). The “independent” trade-union organizations, which do not belong to any of the larger associations mentioned above, and the right-wing reformist group the People’s Word together have about 55,000 members (1970).


General characteristics Colombia is an agricultural country, dependent on foreign, chiefly US, capital. Direct private US capital investments totaled $745 million at the end of 1971, as compared to $193 million in 1950. State investments constitute between one-fourth and one-third of all capital investments in the economy and are channeled primarily into the infrastructure (only 8 percent was allocated for industry in 1969). In the world market, Colombia continues to be a “coffee country.” In 1970 the processing industry accounted for 18.9 percent of the gross national product (14.8 percent in 1950), the mining industry for 3 percent (3.9 percent), agriculture, lumbering, hunting, and fishing for 29.5 percent (37.6 percent), construction for 4.4 percent (2.7 percent), transportation, communications, and communal services for 8.5 percent (6.9 percent), and trade, finance, and the service field for 35.6 percent (34.1 percent). The per capita GNP was $291 in 1971.

Agriculture Large-scale landowning predominates in agriculture, and vestiges of feudalism persist, such as corvée and share-cropping. According to the 1960 census, less than 20,000 of the largest farms (1.6 percent of all holdings) had more than 15 million hectares (ha) of land, whereas more than 1 million of the smallest farms (86 percent of all holdings) occupied less than 4 million ha of land. Relative overpopulation and a landless peasantry are prominent features of the mountainous departments in central Colombia. The agrarian laws of 1961 and 1968 did not result in the redistribution of land and were directed at encouraging the growth of large farms. An important role in agriculture is played by foreign capital, both directly (for example, the banana plantations belong to the North American United Fruit Company) and indirectly (by a system of purchases, credits, and prices).

As much as two-thirds of the value of agricultural production is derived from crop cultivation; half the cultivated area is devoted to farming for domestic consumption, and the remaining land, to commercial farming, primarily on plantations. According to the 1964 agricultural census, 4.3 percent of the country’s total area is under cultivation, and nearly 30 percent consists of natural pastures. About 6 percent of the farms have machinery, and 11 percent (those of the capitalist type) use chemical fertilizers.

Colombia’s principal commercial crop is coffee (mild, aromatic varieties), accounting for about one-fourth of the value of all crops. Colombia produces 13 percent of the world’s coffee harvest. Coffee is grown on the mountain slopes of central Colombia at elevations of 1,000–2,000 m, mostly on the small plots of sharecroppers and tenant farmers. As much as two-thirds of the coffee exports are produced by the departments of Caldas, Quindío, and Risaralda. Bananas are grown everywhere, especially in the region around Santa Marta, in the Magdalena Valley, and along the coast of the Gulf of Urabá. Sugarcane plantations are concentrated in the Cauca Valley. More than three-fourths of the area planted to cotton lies in the Caribbean coastal region (the departments of Magdalena and Córdoba) and in the foothills of the Cordillera Oriental (the department of Meta). Tobacco is grown primarily in the department of Santander, and cacao is cultivated along the Pacific coast.

The basic food crops are corn and yucca, and rice and potatoes are grown on the capitalist farms. Wheat and barley are cultivated on a small scale. Among the oil-yielding plants (besides cotton), the most important are sesame (31,500 tons in 1971) and soybeans (130,000 tons). Vegetable farming is relatively well developed. (See Table 2 for the sown area and harvest of the most important agricultural crops.)

Livestock raising for meat is extensive, and more than half its output is provided by the Caribbean departments, where the most productive meat breeds of cattle are raised (the Zebu and European breeds). The eastern plains account for only about 20 percent of the cattle raised (native breeds). In the mountains near the large cities there is dairying. Sheep raising is poorly developed (in the alpine meadows and in the arid steppes of the Guajir Peninsula), as is pig farming (mostly in the Cauca Valley) and poultry raising. According to 1970–71 estimates there are 21 million head of cattle (including 2.3 million dairy cows), 1.7

Table 2. Sown area and yield of principal agricultural crops
11970–7 21970
Coffee ...............680,000845,0001,070,000336,000480,000520,000
Cotton (fiber) ...............37,000149,000208,0007,00067,000111,000
Sugarcane (raw sugar) ...............149,000317,000350,0001165,000328,000850,0001
Bananas (excluding fodder) ...............45,00050,00059,0002381,000557,000780,0002
Tobacco ...............19,00015,00025,00020,00025,00046,800
Corn ...............652,000729,000744,000701,000866,000950,000
Yuca ...............158,000120,000150,0002826,000680,0001,200,0002
Rice (unhusked) ...............142,000227,000239,000249,000450,000780,000
Potatoes ...............110,00046,00095,000481,000653,000930,000

million sheep, 3.9 million pigs, 1.1 million horses, and 900,000 goats.

About 90,000 persons are permanently employed in fishing. There are 250 vessels often or more gross registered tons (1969). In 1970 the catch amounted to 76,000 tons (spiny lobsters, shrimp, shellfish, and commercially valuable fish).

Industry After World War II (1939–45) industry developed both in the state and private sectors, the latter mostly with foreign capital. The state played a decisive role in establishing ferrous metallurgy and in developing a power industry and a paper and pulp industry. However, certain enterprises built with state funds have been transferred to private ownership, for example, the Acerías Paz del Rio metallurgical plant and the paper and pulp firm Pulpapel. Foreign capital controls the chemical and oil-refining industries, the motor-vehicle assembly plants, and the production of household electrical appliances, cement, and glass. The output of consumer goods for the most part meets domestic needs.

MINING AND ELECTRIC POWER. From 1960 to 1970 petroleum and natural gas accounted for more than three-fourths of the value of the production of the mining industry. More than two-thirds of the output is obtained from the Magdalena Valley and one-fourth from a basin in the commissary of Putumayo, where oil was discovered in the early 1960’s. Extraction is controlled primarily by American and British capital; only about 15 percent is carried out by the government-owned company Colombian Petroleum Enterprise (Empresa Colombiana de Petróleos). Up to 40 percent of the crude oil is exported. As of 1969, less than 50 percent of the natural gas, primarily casinghead gas, was used as fuel or raw material, with the remainder either burned in flares or returned to the strata. Major coalfields are found in Boy acá and Antioquia and near Cali. Other important minerals are platinum, gold, and silver, mined chiefly in Antioquia and Chocó, and emeralds (more than 90 percent of the world output), obtained from the Muzo, Cosquez, and Chivor mines in Boyacá. Iron ore is extracted at the Paz del Rio mine in Boyacá (453,000 tons in 1970, with an iron content of 47 percent). For data on the production of principal minerals see Table 3.

The rated capacity of electric power plants was 2.47 gigawatts in 1971, as compared to 911 megawatts (MW) in 1960. In 1970 some 73.8 percent of electric power was produced by hydroelectric power plants. The largest are the Bogotá Falls plant (550 MW, including 300 MW at Colejio and 125 MW at Salto), the Guadalupe Falls plant near Medellin (320 MW), and Guatapé

Table 3. Mineral production
11,008 kg in 1969 21969
Petroleum (thousand tons) ...............4,6997,58411,327
Natural gas (million eu m) ...............4041,473
Coal (thousand tons) ...............1,0102,6003,000
Platinum (kg) ...............7606497561
Gold (kg) ...............11,80013,4966,293
Silver (kg) ...............3,6004,2002,400
Emeralds (thousand carats) ...............4571,5874,3152

I plant (280 MW) on the Guatapé River. Two other hydroelectric power plants were under construction in 1973, Guatapé II (280 MW) and Alto Anchicayá (near Cali, 340 MW).

MANUFACTURING. During the postwar years the development of the processing industry was stimulated chiefly by the government’s policy of replacing imports by domestic production and of phasing out cottage industry in favor of factory production. In the mid-1960’s the growth rate of manufacturing decreased. Smallscale and cottage industries accounted for 21 percent of the conventional gross product in 1950 and for only 9 percent in 1966. The majority of enterprises have fewer than 25 workers (83.8 percent in 1966), and they employ 23.3 percent of all workers in manufacturing. Enterprises with more than 100 workers constitute only 4.6 percent of the total number of firms, but they employ 55 percent of the workers and produce about 73 percent of the total output. Some 80 percent of all employees in the processing industry work in Bogotá, Medellin, Cali, and Barranquilla. The structure of industry is shown in Table 4.

Table 4. Branch structure of industry
 Number of workers (percent)Conventional gross product (percent)
Metallurgy ...............
Machine building and metalworking ...............6.37.916.
Chemicals and oil refining ...............
Building materials ...............
Wood products and furniture ...............
Food and condiments ...............32.929.721.133.544.732.8
Textiles ...............21.218.516.
Clothing and footwear ...............7.114.410.
Paper and printing ...............
Others ...............

Ferrous metallurgy is represented by the Acerías Paz del Rio plant in Belencito, a suburb of Sogamoso, in Boyacá, which produces up to 220,000 tons of steel annually, and by small-scale conversion plants in Medellin and Cali. In 1973 a metallurgical plant was under construction in Barranquilla. Automotive assembly plants are owned by the American firms Chrysler and General Motors, the French company Renault, and the Italian concern Fiat. Spinning machines and looms are also manufactured.

In 1971, of the country’s six oil refineries, two produced more than 90 percent of the output: the Ecopetrol plant in Barrancabermeja (5.5 million tons annually) and Standard Oil of New Jersey’s plant in Cartagena (2.7 million tons annually). In 1973, construction was nearly completed on a foreign-owned refinery in Tumaco (at the terminus of the Putumayo-Pacific Ocean pipeline), expected to produce 3.8 million tons annually, and on a refinery near Cali, producing 2 million tons annually. Chemical enterprises primarily manufacture consumer products. The petrochemical industry is also being developed, and a petrochemical plant, built jointly by Colombia and Venezuela, was recently put into operation in Barranquilla.

About two-thirds of the total output of cement is produced by plants in Barranquilla (two plants), Cali, Bogotá, and Medellín. About 90 percent of all paper and cardboard is produced in the department of Valle del Cauca from sugarcane and tropical-wood wastes. In the textile industry, cotton accounts for about two-thirds of the output; more than 60 percent of the labor force is concentrated near Medellín and about 20 percent in Bogotá. The principal products of the food and condiments industry are sugar and beverages, and there is also a tobacco industry (see Table 5 for industrial output).

Table 5. Output of major industrial products
Electric power (million kW-hr) ...............1,003.32,936.65,403.5
Cement (thousand tons) ...............580.01,384.92,756.5
Synthetic fibers (thousand tons) ...............1.87.728.2
Cotton fabrics (million meters) ...............162.0277.0298
Paper and cardboard (thousand tons) ...............8.251.3198.0
Refined sugar (thousand tons) ...............156.0344.0674

Output of commercial wood totaled 3.5 million eu m in 1969.

Transportation Motor-vehicle transport plays an important role in the hauling of domestic freight. Excluding the commodities carried by pipeline, motor-vehicle transport accounted for 55 percent of the total freight turnover, river transport for 18 percent, railroads for 16 percent, coastal shipping for 10 percent, and air transport for 1 percent.

As of 1970 there were 44,200 km of roads, of which 5,300 km were paved. The most important highways are the Central Highway (Popayán-Bogotá-Cúcuta), the Western Highway (Ipiales-Cali-Medellin-Cartagena), and the Bogota-Buenaventura Highway. In 1970 the country had 127,600 trucks and 111,000 passenger cars.

As of 1970, Colombia had 3,436 km of railroads, of which half crossed rugged mountainous areas. The most important lines are the Bogotá-Falcatativá, the Cali-Buenaventura, and the Medellin-Puerto Berrio. Of the country’s 6,600 km of navigable inland waterways, only 1,550 km along the Magdalena River are economically important. The leading seaports are Buenaventura (with a 1969 cargo turnover of 2.6 million tons), Santa Marta (1 million tons), Barranquilla (900,000 tons), and Cartagena (500,000 tons); the port of Tumaco is growing rapidly. At the end of 1969 the maritime fleet numbered 31 vessels, owned jointly with Ecuador, with a total carrying capacity of 319,500 tons deadweight.

The country’s largest airport is El Dorado in Bogotá, handling 80 percent of Colombia’s international and 30 percent of its domestic passenger traffic.

Foreign trade As much as 15 percent of the gross national product is exported. Coffee accounted for 77–80 percent of the total value of exports in the early 1950’s, declining to 57–60 percent by the beginning of the 1970’s; petroleum exports have been reduced from 17–18 percent to 9–10 percent during the same period. The export of cotton, sugar, textiles, and certain other industrial products is becoming more important. Bananas, tobacco, livestock, gold, coal, and certain forest products are also exported. Between 1968 and 1970 raw materials and semifinished products accounted for an average of 40 percent of the total value of imports, machinery and equipment for 30 percent, and transport vehicles for 20 percent. Colombia’s principal trading partners are the USA (about 40 percent of exports and 50 percent of imports in 1968–70) and the Federal Republic of Germany (15 percent and 10 percent respectively). Colombia’s trade relations with the USSR and other European socialist countries are growing, accounting for 6.2 percent of exports and 2.7 percent of imports in 1970. The monetary unit is the peso; 23.05 pesos equaled $1.00 in January 1973.


Litavrina, E. Kolumbiia. Moscow, 1967.
Política de desarrollo industrial. Bogotá, 1970.
Caballero, Henrique. Historia económica de Colombia. Bogotá, 1971.


Colombia’s armed forces consist of an army, air force, navy, territorial guards, and police. The president is the commander in chief, and the minister of defense, acting through a unified staff and commanding officers of the air force and navy, has overall supervision of the military branches. The army is maintained by selective conscription, and the period of service is one year. As of 1972 the armed forces numbered 63,200 officers and men. The army of about 50,000 officers and men has eight infantry brigades; several infantry, armored cavalry, and tank battalions; and an army air corps. The weapons and military equipment are of foreign manufacture. The air force, numbering about 6,000 officers and men, has 120 aircraft, and the navy of about 7,000 officers and men is equipped with 50 vessels, including seven patrol ships and 14 patrol cutters.

Medicine and public health During the period 1965–70 the birth rate was 44.6 per 1,000 inhabitants and the general mortality rate was 10.6. The infant mortality rate is high—70.4 per 1,000 live births. The average life-span is 60 years. Pulmonary tuberculosis, syphilis, malaria, and leprosy are prevalent throughout the country. About 74 percent of the population is infected with ascariasis, between 30 and 80 percent of the population of certain regions suffers from trichocephalosis, and 80 percent of the rural population is afflicted with necatoriasis. Strongyloidiasis has been identified in 10 percent of the population, and from 42 to 67 percent of the people have amebic dysentery. Yellow fever is endemic in the plains regions. In the upper reaches of the Magdalena River outbreaks of dengue have been recorded, and cases of Venezuelan equine encephalomyelitis have been reported in the region around Espinal. Venezuelan and eastern equine encephalomyelitis are endemic along the middle course of the Magdalena River. Most physicians are in private practice. Certain groups, a very small part of the population, have access to the services of state medical institutions; only about 4 percent of industrial and office workers are covered by social insurance.

In 1970, Colombia had 671 hospitals with 47,300 beds (2.2 beds per 1,000 inhabitants), including 36,500 beds in 501 state hospitals. In 1969 there were 9,500 physicians (one for every 2,200 persons), of which about 32 percent worked in the capital, where there was a ratio of one physician for every 730 persons. Physicians are trained at nine medical faculties, graduating about 500 physicians annually. Expenditures on public health in 1968 constituted a mere 2.7 percent of the state budget.


Veterinary services Infectious, noninfectious, and parasitic diseases are widespread among farm animals. Foot-and-mouth disease (149 outbreaks in 1970) is especially dangerous. Rabies causes considerable economic losses (about $1.2 million annually); in addition to the classical form, there is a paralytic form, spread by bats, which affects cattle. Other prevalent diseases are brucellosis of cattle, swine fever, infectious equine encephalomyelitis, leptospirosis in dogs and pigs, sylvatic plague, anthrax, anaplasmosis, babesiasis, coccidiosis, and helminthiases. European and American foulbrood as well as nosema diseases have been noted in bees, and saprolegniosis in fish. There is an animal disease prevention institute in Bogotá. As of 1971 there were 1,011 veterinarians in Colombia.


The state system of education, introduced in 1903, exists alongside private educational institutions administered by the Catholic Church. Religion is a compulsory subject in the curricula of all schools. The system of preschool education includes state and private kindergartens for children between five and seven years of age. Compulsory education for children seven to 12 years of age was introduced in 1927, although according to the 1964 census, 27 percent of the population was illiterate. The elementary school offers a five-year course of instruction in the cities and four years in rural localities. Schools are segregated on the basis of sex. In 1968 there were 2.8 million pupils enrolled in elementary schools. General secondary schools offer a six-year course of study. In 1958, experimental secondary schools were established offering a general four-year curriculum followed by specialized study in the fifth and sixth years. In 1968 the secondary schools enrolled 587,000 pupils.

The Ministry of Education has organized evening courses in order to eliminate adult illiteracy. In 1965 about 109,700 persons were enrolled in 2,138 courses.

Upon completion of the five-year elementary school, young people may enroll in three- to four-year vocational programs at technical, agricultural, or arts and crafts schools. There are also seven-year secondary technical schools and six-year commercial schools. In 1965 the vocational schools had an enrollment of 71,600 students. Elementary school teachers are trained at teachers’ colleges, which had an enrollment of 57,100 in 1965; secondary school teachers receive their training at universities.

Colombia has 38 universities and 24 other state and private higher educational institutions, with a total enrollment of 58,400 in 1968. The largest university is the National University of Bogotá, founded in 1867. Also in the capital are the National Library (founded in 1777, 350,000 volumes), the National Museum (1824), the National Museum of Anthropology (1938), the Gold Museum (1939), and the Bolivar Museum (1922).


The most important centers for scholarly research in the natural sciences and technology are the universities. The National University has five scientific research institutes, including the Institute of Natural Sciences, the Radium Institute, and the National Astronomical Observatory; the Javeriana University, founded in 1622, supervises the Geophysical Institute of the Colombian Andes; and the University Del Valle founded in 1945, has one of the largest medical centers in Latin America. The need to develop national industry led to the creation of such specialized universities as the Industrial University of Santander, founded in 1948, where research is carried out in chemistry, power engineering, metallurgy, and mining and the Technological University of Pereira. Scientific research is also conducted by academies, notably the Colombian Academy of the Exact, Physical, and Natural Sciences (founded in 1931), and the National Academy of Medicine (founded in 1890), and at various institutes, including the Agustín Codazzi Geographical Institute (founded in 1935), the Colombian Institute of Technical Standards (founded in 1963), the Institute for Technological Research (founded in 1958), the Agricultural Institute (founded in 1962), and the Nuclear Research Institute (founded in 1959). There are associations and societies in various branches of the natural sciences. Although scientific studies are often conducted without fixed plans or firm financial basis, scientific work is to some extent coordinated by the Colombian Foundation for Scientific Research and the Association of Colombian Universities. In the financing of scientific research institutions a considerable role has been played by US government and private organizations, notably the National Science Foundation and the Ford, Rockefeller, and Kellogg foundations, which often determine the direction of the research as well.

In the social sciences most research is conducted in institutes attached to universities, particularly the Javeriana University and the University of the Andes. In addition, problems in the humanities are studied at the Colombian Academy of History, founded in 1902, the Cartagena Academy of History, founded in 1912, and the Colombian Academy of Jurisprudence, founded in 1894, as well as by various independent institutes, societies, and associations.


Instituciones científicas y científicos latinoamericanos. Colombia-Montevideo, 1965.
Zarubezhnye tsentry po izucheniiu Latinskoi Ameriki, part 2, issue 1. Moscow, 1970.


In 1975 about 400 periodical publications, including 37 dailies, were published in Colombia; most of them were controlled by either the Conservative Party or the Liberal Party. The largest newspapers are El Espectador (published since 1887, circulation 211,000, Liberal), El Tiempo (since 1911, circulation 200,000, Liberal), El Siglo (since 1932, circulation 50,000, Conservative), El País (since 1950, circulation about 100,000, Conservative), La República (since 1954, circulation 50,000, Conservative), El Periódico (since 1972, circulation 50,000, an independent newspaper), and Voz Proletaria (since 1957, weekly, an organ of the Communist Party of Colombia). The news agency Colombia Press, a commercial enterprise, was founded in 1955.

Radio and television broadcasting are controlled by the Ministry of Communications. The government-owned station, Radiodifusora Nacional, was founded in 1940. There are 223 private commercial stations. The largest radio networks are Caracol (57 stations), Todelar (41 stations), and Radio Cadena Nacional (41 stations). Television broadcasting was introduced in 1954. National Radio and Television operates 17 television centers, the largest of which are in Bogotá, Cali, Medellín, and Barranquilla.

Colombian literature is written in Spanish. The culture of the Indian tribes was annihilated by the Spanish colonialists during the 16th century, and prior to the late 18th century, poetry was based primarily on Spanish models.

During the national liberation struggle (the War of Independence of the Spanish colonies in America [1810–26] and its aftermath), classical revolutionary-patriotic literature reached its highest development in the publicistic writings of A. Nariño (1765–1823), F. A. Zea (1766–1822), and C. Torres (1766–1816) and in the work of the poets and playwrights J. Fernández Madrid (1789–1830), L. Vargas Tejada (1802–29), and J. M. Salazar (1785–1828), the author of the narrative poem Colombiada (published in 1852). Romantic literature began to appear in the 1830’s, represented by the poet, novelist, and playwright J. J. Ortiz (1814–92) and by the poets J. E. Caro (1817–53) and J. Arboleda (1817–62). Arboleda’s unfinished epic poem Gonzalo de Oyón (published in 1858) is an example of Indianista literature, which idealized the life of the Indian tribes of past centuries. Another romantic poet was R. Pombo (1833–1912). J. Caicedo Rojas (1816–98) and F. Pérez (1836–91) wrote historical novels. The novel María (1867) by J. Isaacs (1837–95) contains elements of romanticism and descriptions of everyday life in the costumbrista style. Realistic portrayal of manners and customs also marked the novels of J. M. Samper (1828–88) and E. Diaz Castro (1804–65), the sketches of J. M. Vergara y Vergara (1831–72), and the satirical writings of J. D. Guarin (1830–90) and J. de Dios Restrepo (1827–97). Important poets were the satirists R. Carrasquilla (1827–86) and J. P. Posada (1825–80), as well as E. Mejia (1830–1913) and G. Gutiérrez González (1826–72), who depicted everyday life. The realistic tendencies of costumbrista literature were developed by J. M. Marroquin (1827–1908), the author of the picaresque novel Bias Gil (1896). The social novels of T. Carrasquilla (1858–1940) and E. Zuleta (1864–1937) tend toward naturalism.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries modernist tendencies were reflected in the work of such poets as J. A. Silva (1865–96), G. Valencia (1873–1943), and M. A. Osorio (1883–1942), who formed the groups Symbolic Grotto and Arboleda Society. The avant-garde movement became an important current in Colombian literature after World War I (1914–18), represented by the poets L. de Greiff (born 1895), R. Maya (born 1897), and L. Vidales (born 1905).

L. C. López (1883–1950) and A. Martínez Mutis (1884–1954), the author of the anti-imperialist narrative poem The Epic of the Condor (1914), developed the traditions of “social” poetry. Social criticism became increasingly important in prose. J. E. Rivera (1889–1928) in his novel The Vortex (1924) showed the exploitation of the rubber workers in the tropical forest and laid the foundation of the “green hell” literature. Other novels exposing social evils were written by C. Uribe Piedrahita (1897–1951), E. Zalamea Borda (1907–63), and J. Buitrago (born 1904). The struggle between man and nature and pathological deviations in human psychology are depicted in the work of L. López de Mesa (born 1884), A. Alvarez Lleras (1892–1956), and especially J. Restrepo Jaramillo (1896–1945; A Novel About Three People, 1926) and D. Arango Vêlez (born 1895; the novel The Innocent, 1929). The novelist J. A. Osorio Lizarazo (born 1900), who began his career writing on psychological themes, later portrayed the lives of miners (Man Under the Earth, 1944) and dealt with the murder of the progressive leader Gaitán in 1948 (Day of Hatred, 1952). Anti-imperialist and antidictatorial ideas found expression in the publicistic writings of J. Zalamea (1905–69) and the essays of B. Sanín Cano (1861–1957).

The partisan struggle of the 1950’s was treated in a series of “novels about violence,” including Dry Wind (1953) by D. Caicedo(born 1912), The Moon and the Rifle (1960) by R. U. Gaviria, and the novels of M. Mejia Vallejo (born 1923) and C. A. Truque (born 1927). The acute conflicts of national reality were reflected in the novel Siervo the Landless (1954) by E. Caballero Calderón (born 1910) and in the novels Black Stars (1949) and Jungle and Rain (1958) by A. Palacios (born 1924). The novel One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967) by G. Garcia Marquez (born 1928) presented a picture of life which the author called “fantastic reality.” The foremost literary group is the progressive Piedra y Cielo (Stone and Heaven), founded in 1940; its members include the poets G. Pardo García (born 1902), the author of the collection There Are Stones Like Tears (1957), and C. Castro Saavedra (born 1924), whose best-known collection is Verses of a Murdered Peasant (1961).


Kuteishchikova, V. N. Roman Latinskoi Ameriki v XX veke. Moscow, 1964.
Khudozhestvennaia literatura Latinskoi Ameriki v russkoipechati, 1759–1959. Compiled by L. A. Shur. Moscow, 1960.
Shur, L. A. Khudozhestvennaia literatura Latinskoi Ameriki v russkoi pechati, 1960–1964. Moscow, 1966.
Mamontov, S. P. Ispanoiazychnaia literatura stran Latinskoi Ameriki v XX v. Moscow, 1972.
Torres-Rioseco, A. Bol’shaia Latinoamerikanskaia literatura. Moscow, 1972. (Translated from Spanish.)
Sanín Cano, B. Lettras colombianas. Mexico City, 1944.
Gómez Restrepo, A. Historia de la literatura colombiana, vols. 1–4. Bogotá [1945–46].
Orjuela, H. H. Fuentes generales para el estudio de la literatura colombiana: Guía bibliográfica. Bogotá, 1968.


The San Agustín culture, discovered in the forests of southern Colombia, dates from about the first half of the first millennium B.C. Excavation has uncovered megalithic temples, reliefs depicting animals and people at prayer, and schematic stone human figures 2–3 m in height, often with animal features. The Chibcha Indians built temples and fortifications of stone and wooden houses; and they fashioned various ceramic, copper, silver, and gold vessels, figurines, and decorative objects. The ancient traditions of braiding, weaving, and pottery have been preserved among the Indians.

From the 16th to the 18th century cities were built on a rectangular grid plan. The brick and adobe houses had galleries arranged around inner courtyards, plastered and whitewashed walls, and stone or brick portals. The colonial period produced numerous monastery churches, whose austere, monolithic masses contrast with the rich, often polychrome carving of the interior. During the 16th and 17th centuries an indigenous school of painting, both religious and secular, emerged, including portraits, allegories set amid scenes from everyday life, and murals. A striving for verisimilitude and for strong modeling characterize the work of 17th-century artists, especially the paintings and drawings of G. Vásquez. The wood carving of this period, rich drawings motifs of tropical nature and Indian art, was also distinctive.

During the 19th and early 20th centuries, although the cities generally preserved their traditional appearance, buildings were also constructed in the classical and later eclectic and art nouveau styles. P. J. Figueroa and J. M. Espinosa painted realistic portraits of the heroes of the struggle for independence, battle pictures, and landscapes, R. Torres Méndez drew scenes from the people’s daily life, and A. Urdaneta turned to themes from Colombia’s history. The portrait painters E. Garay and R. Acevedo Bernai took their inspiration from French painting, and A. de Santamaría introduced impressionism.

Industrial construction, begun in the early 20th century, led to the expansion of cities and the growth of substandard workers’ districts. Modern buildings, influenced by the architectural schools of the USA and Brazil, first appeared in the 1930’s. Since the 1940’s new quarters and residential blocks have been built in Bogotá, Cali, Cartagena, Medellín, and Barranquilla, as well as industrial complexes, banks, office buildings, hotels, stadiums, markets, and apartment houses. The use of modern materials and structural components and simple, functional designs characterize the buildings of the architects P. N. Gómez Agudelo, J. R. Montero, G. Serano Camargo, M. G. Solano, and F. Pisano. Most houses in the country, however, are of outmoded construction, and there are many huts built of mud and reeds.

In the pictorial arts since the 1930’s, interest has been awakened in social problems. The life of the working people is the subject of the frescoes and pictures of P. N. Gómez Agudelo and I. Gómez Jaramillo. The traditions of realistic genre painting and portraiture have been followed by the painters M. Diaz Vargas, E. Martinez, and J. Rodriguez Acevedo and by the sculptor J. O. Betancourt. The painters L. A. Acuña, A. Ramírez Fajardo, and R. Gómez Campuzano and the sculptor R. Rozo have turned to Mexican art and to ancient traditions to express the character of their people. Among representatives of modern trends are the painters E. Grau Araujo and F. Botero and the sculptor E. Negret.


Duque Gómez, L. Colombia: Monumentos históricos y arqueológicos, vols. 1–2. Mexico City, 1955.
Gil Tovar, F. Trayecto y signo del arte en Colombia. Bogotá, 1957.

Colombian folk music reflects the country’s distinctive ethnic composition. On the Pacific coast and in the central mountainous regions criollo music, with typically Spanish traits, predominates; in the interior regions and in the eastern part of the country the Indian musical culture has been preserved; and the folk music of the Caribbean coast has been influenced by Negro music. The main song and dance forms of criollo music are the bambuco, pasillo, torbellino, and guabina. Plucked stringed instruments predominate, notably the tiple (a type of guitar), the bandola, and the requinto. Indian music has a pentatonic scale and integrates song, dance, and instrumental accompaniment; there is a predominance of wind instruments (cane flutes and wooden horns called fotuto) and percussion instruments, including various drums, the slit drum manguare, and rattles. Negro folk music is distinguished by alternating meter, highly syncopated rhythms, polyrhythm, and a predominance of percussion instruments. The most popular dance forms are the porro, cumbia, merengue, and rumba.

Professional music, primarily sacred, arose in the early 17th century. Secular music began to develop at the end of the 18th century, and in 1784 the first instrumental ensemble, a wind orchestra, was organized in Bogotá. After independence, concerts were given regularly. Italian opera companies began touring Colombia in the 1840’s. An important contribution was made by European composers who lived in Colombia in the early 19th century, notably the Englishman E. Price, the organizer of the first Musical Philharmonic Society in Colombia, and his son J. Price, the founder of the National Academy of Music (1882; renamed the National Conservatory in 1910). Among outstanding 19th-century composers were A. Velasco, N. Q. Rachadell, E. Salas, J. J. Guarin, J. Q. Arevalo, O. Síndici (an Italian by birth, who wrote Colombia’s national anthem), and J. M. Ponce de León, the composer of the first Colombian operas, Esther (1874) and Florinda (1880). Colombia’s most important composer is G. Uribe-Holguin. Prominent 20th century musicians include the composers A. M. Valencia, J. B. Silva, J. R. Contreras, C. P. Amador, and L. A. Escobar, the conductor G. Espinosa Guillermo, who founded the National Symphony Orchestra in 1936, the singer L. Masía, and the musicologists J. I. Perdomo Escobar and E. de Lima. The center of musical life is Bogotá, the site of the Opera Theater, the National Conservatory, the National Symphony Orchestra, the National Wind Orchestra, the Folk Ballet dance company, and the scientific research center for the study of folklore affiliated with the National University. There are also conservatories and music schools in other cities.


Boletín Latino-Americano de Música, vol. 4. Bogotá, 1938.
Slonimsky, N. Music of Latin America, 2nd ed. New York [1946].
Perdomo Escobar, J. I. Historia de la música en Colombia, 3rd ed. Bogotá, 1963.


The first theatrical performances in Colombia were given in Bogotá at the end of the 18th century. Prominent playwrights of the 19th century included J. M. Salazar, L. Vargas Tejada, J. M. Samper, J. Caicedo Rojas, S. Pérez, and A. L. Gómez. Among the best-known dramatists of the first half of the 20th century were A. Alvarez Lleras and L. E. Osorio. Since the mid-1950’s there has been an upsurge of theatrical life: new companies have been formed, festivals have been held, and the National School of Dramatic Art was established. The Experimental Theater of Cali, the companies of the House of Culture and of La Mama, and the Popular Theater in Bogotá have contributed to the development of the modern Colombian theater. These groups are struggling against commercialization in the theater and are staging plays that reflect pressing problems of life in Colombia and other Latin American countries. There are also theatrical companies in Medellin and Manizales. The university theater movement has spread; festivals have been held since 1966. Meager government support and the absence of a long theatrical tradition have retarded the development of a national theater. Plays by O. Diaz, J. Zalamea, C. J. Reyes, and M. López Lemos are being produced. Among leaders in the theater are E. Buenaventura, S. Garcia, and E. Armando. Since 1968 the city of Manizales has held Latin American festivals of university theaters.


During the second decade of the 20th century the first Colombian newsreels were made, and in the 1920’s the first full-length feature films were produced. Regular film production began at the end of the 1930’s. During the 1960’s the first socially progressive films were made, including Roots of Stone (1961) and Beyond the Meridian (1968, both directed by J. M. Arzuaga), Three Colombian Stories (1964, directed by J. Luzardo and A. Mejia), Bitter Earth (1965, directed by R. Ochoa), and Beneath the Earth (1967, directed by S. Garcia, J. Pinto, A. Garcia). There have been few screen versions of literary works or films based on national folklore. The Film Library was organized in 1957, and since 1960 an international film festival has been held in Cartagena. In 1971 the Institute of Cinematography, which trains directors, screenwriters, and cameramen, was established in Bogotá, and the Association of Colombian Cinematographers was organized. As of 1972, one or two feature films were being made annually, and more than 600 films were being imported from other countries. Colombia has some 650 motion picture theaters.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


Official name: Republic of Colombia

Capital city: Bogota

Internet country code: .co

Flag description: Three horizontal bands of yellow (top, double-width), blue, and red; similar to the flag of Ecuador, which is longer and bears the Ecuadorian coat of arms superimposed in the center

National bird: Condor

National flower: Orchid (Cattleya trianae)

National tree: Wax palm (Ceroxylon quindiuense)

Geographical description: Northern South America, bor­dering the Caribbean Sea, between Panama and Venezuela, and bordering the North Pacific Ocean, between Ecuador and Panama

Total area: 440,000 sq. mi. (1,138,910 sq. km.)

Climate: Tropical along coast and eastern plains; cooler in highlands

Nationality: noun: Colombian(s); adjective: Colombian

Population: 44,379,598 (July 2007 CIA est.)

Ethnic groups: Mestizo 58%, white 20%, Afro-Colombian 14%, black 4%, mixed black-Amerindian 3%, Amerindian 1%

Languages spoken: Spanish

Religions: Roman Catholic 90%, other 10%

Legal Holidays:

All Saints' DayNov 1
Assumption DayAug 15
Battle of Boyacá DayAug 7
Cartagena Independence DayNov 11
Christmas DayDec 25
EpiphanyJan 6
Good FridayApr 22, 2011; Apr 6, 2012; Mar 29, 2013; Apr 18, 2014; Apr 3, 2015; Mar 25, 2016; Apr 14, 2017; Mar 30, 2018; Apr 19, 2019; Apr 10, 2020; Apr 2, 2021; Apr 15, 2022; Apr 7, 2023
Holy ThursdayApr 21, 2011; Apr 5, 2012; Mar 28, 2013; Apr 17, 2014; Apr 2, 2015; Mar 24, 2016; Apr 13, 2017; Mar 29, 2018; Apr 18, 2019; Apr 9, 2020; Apr 1, 2021; Apr 14, 2022; Apr 6, 2023
Immaculate ConceptionDec 8
Independence DayJul 20
Labor DayMay 1
New Year's DayJan 1
Race DayOct 12
St. Joseph's DayMar 19
Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. © 2010 by Omnigraphics, Inc.


a republic in NW South America: inhabited by Chibchas and other Indians before Spanish colonization in the 16th century; independence won by Bolívar in 1819; became the Republic of Colombia in 1886; violence and unrest have been endemic since the 1970s. It consists chiefly of a hot swampy coastal plain, separated by ranges of the Andes from the pampas and the equatorial forests of the Amazon basin in the east. Language: Spanish. Religion: Roman Catholic majority. Currency: peso. Capital: Bogotá. Pop.: 44 914 000 (2004 est.). Area: 1 138 908 sq. km (439 735 sq. miles)
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005