Colombia flag

PRESIDENT: Juan Manuel Santos (July 2010 - 2015)

POPULATION: 44.2 million

KEY EXPORTS: Coffee, refined cocaine

Andrew Clem blog


Colombia blog archives

Recent chronology

Aug. 2000Pres. Clinton visited Colombia, waiving human rights conditions thus allowing delivery of $1.3 billion aid package to fight drugs. House Speaker Hastert joined him.
Sept. 2000Police discovered a 100-foot long submarine under construction, for drug smuggling. Growing resistance to U.S. eradication program.
Nov. 2000Anti-drug advisor Barry McCaffrey visited Bogota, vowing long-term U.S. support for Colombia. FARC lays siege to Puerto Asis, demanding end to eradication program.
Feb. 2001Pres. Pastrana meets with Manuel Marulanda in Los Pozos (eastern jungle) to negotiate peace terms.
Mar. 2001Diplomats from 25 countries (Lat. Amer., Eur., etc.) met with FARC leaders. U.N. envoy Jan Egeland met with Manuel Marulanda.
Apr. 2001Right-wing AUC paramilitary forces take control of portion of Magdalena River valley that Pastrana had agreed to give to ELN.
May 2001U.S. Army 7th Spec. Forces Group is training new anti-drug battalions at Larandia army base (Caqueta province) under "Plan Colombia."
Aug. 2001Three Irish Republican Army members are arresed, accused of teaching urban bombing skills.
Sept. 2001Sec. State Colin Powell visits Colombia, as U.S. assesses how to fight drugs without getting involved in civil war.
Oct. 2001FARC expands its domain beyond the refuge area granted to it by Pastrana. AUC paramilitary kills 24 villagers.
Nov. 200115 mayors sign separate peace agreements with ELN rebels, asking National Police to leave.
Jan. 2002FARC and government agree to timetable for peace talks; cease fire by April.
Feb. 2002After airliner was hijacked, Pastrana ended peace talks, and sent troops to retake refuge that he granted to FARC three years ago.
May 2002117 villagers were massacred in Bellavista (northwest), by bomb thrown by FARC rebel during battle with AUC.
May 2002Independent Alvaro Uribe won the presidential elections with a majority in the first round. He called for doubling defense spending and creating an armed people's militia.
June 2002FARC launches counteroffensive, trying to retake land from AUC in four northern provinces.
Aug. 2002While Alvaro Uribe was being sworn in, several bomb blasts rocked the capital city of Bogota, killing at least 14 people. Government declared a "state of internal upheaval," empowering Uribe to issue emergency decrees for 90 days. Colombia's air force launched attacks on guerrillas in the southern provinces.
Oct. 2002Colombian Army patrols northern region aggressively, hoping to prevent an attack against the oil pipeline. Army was welcomed by residents of poor neighborhoods of Medellin, weary of being pushed around by the guerrillas.
Nov. 2002United Colombian Self-Defense Forces paramilitary group (AUC) declared a cease fire, one of the few hopeful signs in recent months.
Jan. 2003FARC guerrillas terrorize villages in response to offensive by Colombian Army.
Feb. 2003FARC guerrillas released an American journalist whom they had taken hostage. Bogota and other cities suffered a deadly wave of car bombings. U.S. special forces are becoming more involved in the civil war. U.S. plane on an anti-drug surveillance mission crashed, rebels kill an American survivor.
Mar. 2003Pres. Uribe ordered a purge of police officers and justice officials, after learning that some had abetted bombing attacks. Three Peruvians who had joined FARC were captured by Colombian army. FARC insists on an exchange for Ingrid Betancourt, a former presidential candidate, whom they took hostage. Three more Americans killed in another plane crash near Larandia.
Apr. 2003Pres. Uribe met with Venezuelan Pres. Hugo Chavez to discuss preventing Colombian guerrillas from using Venezuela as a sanctuary. Three members of the Irish Republican Army go on trial for conspiring with FARC.
May 2003Ten hostages were killed by FARC guerrillas during a failed rescue attempt by Colombian army. The dead included the governor of the departament of Antioquia, a former defense minister, and several military officers.
June 2003Army troops occupied oil and telecommunications installations to forestall any sabotage or disruptions, as government prepares to lay off 40,000 employees. FARC called on the Rio Group countries to enter into a dialogue to hear its side of the story in the ugly civil war.
July 2003 Pres. Uribe began pursuing a dialogue with paramilitary AUC. He visited Arauca and temporarily transferred the government there as a gesture of defiance to FARC. State Dept. released $31.6 milllion aid, certifying human rights. Bishop Jose Luis Serna is investigated for helping rebels.
Sept. 2003Paramilitary AUC takes advantage of cease fire by taking over land in northwest.
Oct. 2003Three kidnapped American defense contractors plead with government to negotiate with FARC. Air force bombs bridges, etc. in FARC territory.
Nov. 2003Over 800 AUC paramilitary troops turn in their weapons at ceremony in Medellin, first step in Uribe's plan to demobilize the 18,000-man force.
Jan. 2004Army counteroffensive into rebel territory encountes stiff resistance; calls for more air support. OAS agrees to monitor disarmament of AUC paramilitary units. Rebel leader Ricardo Palmera (son of rich banker) is captured.
Mar. 2004Govt. announces 37 pounds of cocaine were found on board Colombia's flagship Gloria, just as Peru's pres. Toledo arrives for anti-drug talks.
Nov. 2004Pres. Bush visits Uribe in Cartagena (avoiding historic part of town), pledged more U.S. aid to fight drugs. He toured a shanty town with Orlando Cabrera of Red Sox.
Dec. 20041,400 AUC paramilitary troops give up weapons in disarmament ceremony in Tibu, raising slim hopes for peace.
Jan. 2005Colombia hired bounty hunters in Venezuela to abduct Rodrigo Granda, a leader of FARC from Caracas.
May 2005Two U.S. soldiers are arrested on drug trafficking charges and sales of ammunition to rebels, near Bogota's Tolemaida air base, where Americans are based.
Aug. 2005Rebels massacre 14 coca workers in feud among factions. Growing complaints about the lack of enforcement of demobilization of AUC paramilitary forces. Over 8,000 have handed in weapons in last two years, including hundred at Cristales this month, but 20,000 remain.
July 2005Colombian government complained to Ecuador that it's not doing enough to control the guerrillas who take sanctuary on the Ecuador side.
Aug. 2005100+ people died when a boat from Ecuador carrying passengers in the cargo hold sank in rough seas off the coast of Colombia, apparently headed to U.S.
Sept. 2005Large protest against the proposed free trade agreement with Andean countries in Colombia.
Oct. 2005Constitutional Court gave preliminary approval to a constitutional amendment that would allow President Uribe to run for reelection next May.
Dec. 2005Pres. Uribe ordered ELN leader Francisco Galan released from prison in September as an olive branch gesture, leading to peace negotiations with ELN mediated by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, et al.
Mar. 2006ELN pledged not to make any attacks during the March 12 congressional elections.
May 2006A judge ruled that the peace agreement that was supposed to disarm the United Self-Defense Forces (AUC) militias is not valid because it is too lenient. Pres. Uribe is reelected in first round, with 62%.

SOURCE: Washington Post, CNN, etc.

External links

Colombia map Lat Am & Peru map


Most of the western half of Colombia consists of the Andes Mountains, interspersed with several broad valleys where lush vegetation thrives. The climate in the middle elevations is so nice that the central part of the country is known as "the land of eternal spring." With ideal agricultural conditions, Colombia is a major exporter of coffee beans and more dangerous drugs. It is very hard to travel across the mountain ranges, but travel in a north-south direction along the valleys is somewhat easier. Rugged terrain made it difficult to achieve political unity, and the provinces of Colombia retain a distinct sense of identity, much like the states in Brazil. The eastern half of Colombia is flat jungle, part of the Amazon basin. Some petroleum and natural gas deposits have been found along the northeastern border with Venezuela.


Colombia originally encompassed land now belonging to three countries that seceded from it: Venezuela (1830), Ecuador (1830), and Panama (1903). For many decades development was hindered by inadequate transportation network, and parts of the country remained backward while other parts benefited from the coffee boom of the late 19th Century. Colombia experienced less social turmoil during the Depression of the 1930s than most other Latin American countries, but there was a rising clamor for reform after World War II. The leader of this movement, Gaitan, was assassinated in 1948, sparking a horrible series of bloody street riots that coincided with the Inter-American conference in Bogota. Murder begat more murder in an escalating cycle of revenge that lasted for a full decade, a period known as "La Violencia." To avoid a total bloodbath, the two main political parties (the Liberals and the Conservatives) agreed to alternate in power in 1958, and this seemed to keep the country on a democratic path while the rest of South America experienced repeated violent military coups. This arrangement squelched social pressures and grievances, however, leading some discontented leaders to resort to guerrilla warfare in the 1960s and thereafter. The growing market for illegal drugs in the United States provided a source of funds for the rebel groups, and by the 1990s they had become little more than front organizations for drug traffickers.


Colombian society is generally conservative, typical of most highland countries in Latin America. The dialect of Spanish spoken in the interior regions includes the archaic vos (the informal version of "you") instead of , which predominates elsewhere. The Catholic Church has a stronger role here than almost any other Latin American country. Thus, divorce is illegal, so many people feel they have no choice but to "live in sin."

Gabriel Garcia Marquez is Colombia's greatest literary figure. His breakthrough novel was One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967), a multi-generational saga of backwardness and brutality that takes place in a fictitious isolated town in the mountain valleys of Colombia. He is known as a leader of the "magical realist" style, dramatizing the unbearable tensions between reality and social norms by use of outrageous events and characterizations that always keep you in doubt about what is real and what is imagination. Like most Latin American writers, Garcia Marquez was once strongly leftist, admiring Fidel Castro, but has mellowed over the years.

Colombia is home to cumbia music, which evokes a melancholy mood with a slow but heavy beat. Accordions are prominent in this genre and most other genres in Colombia. A fine example of Colombia's accordion-based popular folk music is Ivan Cuesta's "Caballo Viejo" (Old Horse). There is also a thriving pop/rock music scene among whom the leading artists are Carlos Vives, Andres Cabas, and Shakira.

Tiny diamond Baseball: minor interest. Other leading sports: Soccer, horse-riding, bullfighting, bicycling.


Bogota, the capital city of Colombia, known as "the land of eternal spring" for its lush and beautiful tropical gardens.
(Photo by Remey L. Clem)


In spite of Colombia's violent social climate, there have been occasional windows of peaceful change. In 1994 one of the rebel groups, the M-19, agreed to lay down its arms and enter civilian political life on peaceful terms. This followed the example of El Salvador, where the FMLN rebels agreed to a permanent armistice in 1991, and it was the strategy pursued by former President Pastrana. Thanks to the huge profits to be made in the growing drug trade, however, the other guerrilla factions have opted for "permanent revolution," pretending to negotiate when it's expedient, and gradually wearing down the state's capacity to provide security. In response, many property owners have given up on the government and have set up a network of right-wing militia groups that use terror tactics to intimidate anyone daring to question the status quo. These groups have come together to form the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC). Former President Pastrana had tried to appease the rebel forces by granting them a large "safe haven" south of the capital city Bogota (see map), but the gesture was seen as a sign of weakness and the plan backfired. There are two main rebel factions in Colombia: the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which was founded in the 1960s by disillusioned soldiers and officers, and the Army of National Liberation (ELN). Both have degenerated into nothing more than vicious mafia bands who make their living off narcotics trafficking.

One of President Alvaro Uribe's major initiatives has been to train and equip local militia forces in rural areas, a tactic that had mixed success in Peru. (On one occasion in 1988, several innocent journalists in Peru were killed by vengeful peasant militias who mistook them for terrorists.) "Hometown patrols" have only had partial succes in replacing the right-wing "self-defense forces," some of which continue to operate. After months of increasing involvement, the Bush administration decided to reduce the profile of U.S. forces, so as not to get sucked into the civil war, which many people fear would be another Vietnam.

Colombia is almost unique among Latin American countries in having a fairly stable two-party system. In recent years, however, ad hoc offshoot factions have been formed, such as the right-wing "Movement of National Salvation" in 2002.

Alternative (Independent?) Democratic Pole Others Liberal Radical Change Social National Unity Party Conservative
Samuel Moreno Cesar Gaviria Juan Manuel Santos Carlos Holguin
S: 11 / CD: 42 S: 21 / CD: 42 S: 17 / CD: 36 S: 20 / CD: 15 S: 20 / CD: 30 S: 18 / CD: 29

NOTE: Width of each column shows each party's approximate strength. Colors and positions (left to right) represent ideological leanings, which are often vague. Numbers show how many seats each party has in the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies. Minor parties are not shown.

SOURCES: CIA World Factbook, U.S. State Dept.