Colombia: Historical Overview                                        

For more in depth history of Colombia navigate your way through different time periods here (scroll to Venezuela, Colombia and the Guianas and click the down arrow to start)!

Pre 1500 

For thousands of years Colombia was inhabited by native peoples.  


Alonso de Ojeda was the first Spaniard to arrive in Colombia.


Cartagena and Santa Marta were the first permanent settlements to be formed.


Bogotá was founded. 


Napoleon named his brother king of Colombia. Many did not accept him as the ruler.


Most of Colombia declared independence.


The Spanish conquered Colombia.


Simon Bolivar defeated the Spanish at the Battle of Boyaca. Subsequently a new nation was formed consisting of Colombia, Panama, Venezuela and Ecuador. The new nation was called the Republic of Colombia.  


Bolivar became dictator in 1828 but he resigned in 1830 and Colombia (including what is now Panama) separated from Ecuador and Venezuela.  

19th Century

Colombia suffered 8 civil wars that took place during the 19th century.


By 1849, there were 2 political parties—one conservative, representing the landowners and the Catholic Church and the other liberal, representing the merchants and craftsmen.


Political instability continued through the late 19th century and in 1899 a terrible civil war called the War of a Thousand Days was fought. 


In 1903, Panama broke away and became an independent nation. 

Early 20th Century

In the early 20th century, Colombia was for the most part peaceful which allowed the economy to develop. Coffee exports increased. 


In 1948, another civil war broke out. It was called La Violencia. Colombia had always been dangerously divided into liberals and conservatives but the assassination of liberal politician Jorge Eliecer Gaitan on April 9, 1948 was the spark that triggered the fire. The army was on the side of the conservatives and, in 1953, General Gustavo Rojas Pinilla became dictator.  


In 1957, Rojas stepped down and the two parties (liberal and conservative) agreed to share power. Between 1957 and 1974 the presidency alternated between the two parties.  


In the 1960s, left wing guerrillas began operating in Colombia.


In the 1970s, cocaine production in Colombia increased and it continued to increase in the 1980s. The drug trade led to a great deal of violence. In the early 1980s, Colombia was hit by a severe recession.  


A nearly five-decade-long conflict between government forces and antigovernment insurgent groups, principally the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), escalated during the 1990s.


Violence in Colombia declined after 2002. Furthermore the Colombian economy grew rapidly in the early 21st century and poverty and unemployment declined.


By the end of 2006, more than 31,000 former paramilitaries demobilized and the United Self Defense Forces of Colombia (as a formal organization) ceased to function. In the wake of the paramilitary demobilization, emerging criminal groups arose, whose members included some former paramilitaries. The insurgents lacked the military or popular support necessary to overthrow the government, but continued to attack civilians. Large areas of the countryside were under guerrilla influence or were contested by security forces.  


Colombia, like the rest of the world, suffered in the recession of 2009 but the economy is now growing again.  


Colombia suffered severe floods in 2010. However tourism in Colombia began to grow rapidly


In 2012, the Colombian Government started formal peace negotiations with the FARC aimed at reaching a definitive bilateral cease-fire and incorporating demobilized FARC members into mainstream society and politics. The Colombian Government stepped up efforts to reassert government control throughout the country, and now has a presence in every one of its administrative departments.  


Despite decades of internal conflict and drug related security challenges, Colombia maintains relatively strong democratic institutions characterized by peaceful, transparent elections and the protection of civil liberties. Colombians are working hard to ensure a peaceful and bright future.