Colombia Children’s Encyclopedia (2005)

By | December 15, 2021

One hundred years of instability

Colombia, the protagonist of Gabriel García Márquez’s novels, is a splendid country rich in resources and possibilities, but still upset by the effects of colonization. Social inequalities, regional development differences, connection difficulties, political divisions, production aimed at exports, foreign interference: uncertainty does not help growth

Looking forward to the real development

The western part of Colombia is occupied by the Andes; the eastern part is a plain where large rivers flow. Following the course of the Magdalena, the conquistadors entered the country, in 1539, in search of Eldorado, the legendary city with golden palaces. The Spaniards annihilated the natives, who had advanced agriculture and well-organized city-states.

The population is scarce in the forests, spread over half of the country thanks to the hot and humid climate; on the other hand, it is concentrated around the capital Bogotà and cities such as Medellín, Cali and Cartagena, considered by UNESCO as a ‘historical heritage of humanity’.

In large plantations, coffee, cocoa and bananas are grown for export; in small plots the products for local food. Many farmers illegally grow coca (80% of world production).

Colombia is rich in mineral resources: coal, oil, nickel, silver, emeralds. Oil refining is one of the main industries, with metalworking and textiles (the colorful traditional fabrics are famous).

A history of social imbalances

Liberated from Spanish rule in 1819 – together with Venezuela and Ecuador, from which it separated in 1831 – Colombia assumed its current configuration in 1903, when the province of Panama broke away from it. Since its origins, Colombia has been the scene of the violent struggle between liberals and conservatives, which in two phases (1899-1902 and 1947-57) resulted in open civil war, causing hundreds of thousands of deaths.

In 1957 the two parties decided to govern the country together and this solution, applied for about thirty years, helped to pacify the political life of Colombia, but did not solve its basic problem, namely the strong social imbalance between a small number of large landowners and a mass of poor peasants and strangers to the life of the state. The persistence of these problems favored the birth, in the 1960s, of some guerrilla movements inspired by Maoism or Castroism, whose revolutionary action – brutally opposed by far-right paramilitary formations – again plunged Colombia into chaos. Furthermore, starting from the 1980s, a series of criminal organizations dedicated to the production and trade of drugs (the narcos, or drug traffickers), who united in powerful groups (called cartels) and endowed themselves with real private armies. For Colombia political system, please check

In recent decades, Colombian authorities have tried to deal with these two serious emergencies. Negotiations have been started with the guerrilla groups – which in some cases have given positive results – to persuade them to abandon the armed struggle and participate in normal political life. As for the narcos, however, a harsh repressive action was developed, which made it possible to defeat the notorious Medellín and Cali cartels. But the survival of some guerrilla groups, the resistance of many peasants to the removal of coca plantations and persistent social imbalances mean that a situation of instability remains in Colombia.

Colombia Children's Encyclopedia (2005)