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A country in the extreme north-west of the South American continent, the only South American country with coasts on both the Pacific and the Atlantic oceans, separated by the isthmus of Panama. To the east is Venezuela, and to the south Brazil, Peru, and Ecuador.


The northern end of the Andes occupies the north-western half of the country, breaking into three great cordilleras which enclose high, cool plateaux. Running from them are several large rivers to water the hot northern coastal plains. South-east of the Andes, plains of rich pasture stretch away to the east and to the south, where the land falls in forested terraces towards the headstreams of the Amazon.


Colombia has a wide range of agricultural crops and is virtually self-sufficient in food production. About 5% of Colombia's total area is arable, while 30% is permanent pasture land. Colombia has large reserves of crude oil (another major oilfield was discovered in 1991), coal, natural gas, gold, precious stones, platinum, bauxite, and copper. Coffee accounts for half of exports, and industrial products such as textiles, iron, chemicals, and petroleum products are also exported. Political instability has deterred much-needed foreign investment, and disrupted agriculture. Cannabis and coca are cultivated illicitly on a vast scale for the manufacture of illegal drugs.


Colombia was occupied by the Chibcha Indians before the Spanish conquest. The first permanent European settlements were made on the Caribbean coast, Santa Marta being founded in 1525 and Cartagena eight years later. Colonization of the interior was led by Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada, who defeated the Chibchas and founded the city of Bogotá in 1538. The region was initially part of the viceroyalty of Peru, but a different political status came with the establishment of the viceroyalty of New Granada in the first half of the 18th century. The viceroy sitting in Bogotá was given jurisdiction over Colombia, but also over Venezuela, Ecuador, and Panama. Colombia remained a viceroyalty of Spain until the battle of Boyacá (1819) during the Spanish–South American Wars of Independence, when, joined with Venezuela, it was named by Simón Bolívar the United States of Colombia. In 1822 under his leadership New Granada, Panama, Venezuela, and Ecuador were united as the Republic of Gran Colombia, which collapsed in 1830. In 1832 a constitution for New Granada was promulgated by Francisco Santander, which was amended in 1858 to allow a confederation of nine states within the central republic, which is now known as the Granadine Confederation. In 1863 the country was renamed the United States of Colombia. The constitution of 1886 abolished the sovereignty of the states and the presidential system of the newly named Republic of Colombia was established. The War of the Thousand Days (1899–1902), encouraged by the USA, led to the separation of Panama from Colombia (1903). Violence broke out again in 1948 and moved from urban to rural areas, precipitating a military government between 1953 and 1958. A semi-representative democracy was restored that achieved a degree of political stability, and Colombia's economy has recovered from the setbacks of the early 1970s as diversification of production and foreign investment have increased. Agriculture is the chief source of income in Colombia, but it is estimated that the country's illegal drugs trade supplies some 80% of the world's cocaine market. During the 1980s Colombia achieved sustained economic growth and a successful record of external debt management, but the drug trade increasingly dominated both internal affairs and its relations with the USA. At the same time numerous extremist guerrilla groups, of both Left and Right, resorted to violence, including assassinations. In 1990 the ruling Liberal Party convened a Constitutional Assembly, which produced a new constitution, followed by an agreement by some guerrillas (most notably the notorious M-19) to demobilize and take part in the political process, while several drug traffickers surrendered. However, violence continued to be a major problem. Further attempts to establish a dialogue between the government and the guerrillas were made in 1999, but ended in failure in 2002.


Subjects: History

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