During the pre-Colombian period, the area now known as Colombia was inhabited by indigenous peoples who were primitive hunters or nomadic farmers. The Chibchas, who lived in the Bogotá region, were the largest indigenous group.
The Spanish sailed along the north coast of Colombia as early as 1500; however, their first permanent settlement, at Santa Marta, was not established until 1525. In 1549, the area was a Spanish colony with the capital at Santa Fe de Bogotá. In 1717, Bogotá became the capital of the Viceroyalty of New Granada, which included what are now Venezuela, Ecuador and Panama. The city became one of the principal administrative centers of the Spanish possessions in the New World, along with Lima and Mexico City.
On July 20, 1810, the citizens of Bogotá created the first representative council to defy Spanish authority. Full independence was proclaimed in 1813, and in 1819 the Republic of Greater Colombia was formed.
The new Republic of Greater Colombia included all the territory of the former Viceroyalty. Simon Bolívar was elected its first president and Francisco de Paula Santander, vice president. Two political parties grew out of conflicts between the followers of Bolívar and Santander and their political visions - the Conservatives and the Liberals - and have since dominated Colombian politics.
Colombia's history also has been characterized by widespread, violent conflict. Two civil wars resulted from bitter rivalry between the Conservative and Liberal parties: The War of a Thousand Days (1899-1902) claimed an estimated 100,000 lives and La Violencia (1946-1957) cost another 300,000 Colombians.
Colombia still struggles with violent conflict as drug trafficking and corruption run rampant in the country. According to SIPRI (el Instituto Internacional de Investigaciòn Sobre Paz), the internal conflict in Colombia is among the 10 most bloody in the world.
Colombia's drug trafficking problem is a growing concern that current president Álvaro Uribe has resolved to fight. A survivor of 15 assassination attempts before coming to office, Uribe has a challenging road ahead of him.
Drug trafficking continues to grow and brings into Colombia an estimated $6 billion a year. In 2000, the United States approved over $1 billion in aid to support the Colombian government's struggle against the guerrillas.
The typical school year runs from February to November. Registration and yearly fees must be paid for public schools. However, costs are lower than they would be in private schools. Public school fees cost around 4 percent of the fees for private schools. In urban areas, schools tend to be overcrowded. In rural areas, facilities are inadequate and teachers may not show up for classes.
According to the National Department of Statistics, in 2001, 16 percent of children between the ages of 5 and 17, or 1.8 million, did not attend school. In 2001, 9.6 million children attended preschool, basic primary and secondary school. Of this number, 76 percent attended public schools. Approximately 73 percent of students live in urban areas and 27 percent in rural areas.
There are good universities in almost all capital cities in the country. However, public universities are overcrowded and private universities are expensive; most poor people do not have access to them.
Additionally, according to the National Education Ministry, only 52 percent of students who attend college receive a degree. This is attributed to a lack of career counseling and a lack of economic resources.
The constitution states there is no official church or religion but it adds that the State "is not atheist or agnostic, nor indifferent to Colombians' religious sentiment." Some interpret this to mean that the State unofficially sanctions a privileged position for Roman Catholicism, which was the country's official religion until the adoption of the 1991 constitution.
The constitution recognizes parents' right to choose the type of education their children receive, including religious instruction. It also states that no student shall be forced to receive religious education in public schools. However, the Roman Catholic Church and other religious groups may provide religious instruction in public schools to students who wish to receive it or may establish parochial schools. The Roman Catholic Church has a unique agreement with the government to provide education in rural areas that have no state-run schools. These schools are tax-exempt.
Source: International Religious Freedom Report, released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, November 8, 2005, http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2005/51632.htm.
Holidays and Festivals
Colombia has produced many fine novelists, such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1982. Colombia has a saying: "There are 200 poets for every 100 inhabitants in Colombia!"
Colombia is also known for its internationally acclaimed artists (such as Botero and Obregon), its many art museums and studios, and outstanding architecture. Folk and ancient Indian cultures also contribute to a variety of arts and crafts.
Folk music and dances, opera, classical, modern and jazz are popular. Singers such as Carols Vives, Shakira and Juanes have been influential.
Sports and Games
Independence Day, July 20: Celebrated with parades.
Boyaca Battle Day, Aug. 7: Colombia's independence day.
Christmas, Dec. 25: In evangelical families, parents generally give gifts to their children during a special Christmas supper, which includes a special custard called natilla and donuts, called buñuelos, along with other sweet foods.
Visit the Compassion blog and read about Christmas in Colombia.
Football (soccer) is Colombia's main sport, with major league games played throughout the year. Tennis is popular; most hotels have facilities. Mountain climbing begins 30 miles east of Santa Marta, with peaks of up to nearly 19,000 feet. A major cycle race, the Tour of Colombia, takes place every March and April. Boxing and bullfighting (the latter at Bogotá, Cali, Medellín, Manizales and Cartagena) are also popular sports. Golf clubs allow visitors to use their facilities, and good skiing can be found on the slopes of Nevado del Ruiz (17,700 feet), 30 miles from Manizales.
Colombians eat rice, chicken, beans and fruit.
Colombians make juice from every fruit, including watermelon, cantaloupe, pineapple and papaya. They serve the juice with a plato typical (typical plate), which includes pork or beef, rice and potatoes, guacamole and fruit.
Compassion in Colombia
- ¿Como le va? (How's it going?)
- ¿Como está? (How are you?)
- Buenos dias. (Good day.)
Colombia Facts and Figures
Compassion's work in Colombia started in 1974. Currently, more than 49,300 children are registered in more than 180 child development centers. Compassion partners with churches to help them provide Colombian children with the opportunity to rise above their circumstances and become all God has created them to be.
Visit the Compassion blog to learn more about our work in Colombia.
45,013,672 (July 2008 estimate)
|307,212,123 (July 2010 estimate)
|English 82.1%, Spanish 10.7%, other Indo-European 3.8%, Asian and Pacific island 2.7%, other 0.7% (2000 census)
||Christian 90% (Roman Catholic), other 10%
||Christian 78.5% (Protestant 51.3%, Roman Catholic 23.9%, Mormon 1.7%, other Christian 1.6%), Jewish 1.7%, Buddhist 0.7%, Muslim 0.6%, other or unspecified 2.5%, unaffiliated 12.1%, none 4% (2007 est.)
Definition: Age 15 and over can read and write.
|Percentage of population using improved drinking water sources
|Percentage of population using adequate sanitation facilities
||Tropical along coast and eastern plains; cooler in highlands
||Mostly temperate, but tropical in Hawaii and Florida, arctic in Alaska, semiarid in the Great Plains west of the Mississippi River and arid in the Great Basin of the southwest; low winter temperatures in the northwest are warmed occasionally in January and February by chinook winds from the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains.
|Percentage of population urbanized
||73% (2006 estimate)
||82% (2008 estimate)
||Male: 68.71 years
Female: 76.5 years
|Male: 75.65 years
Female: 80.69 years
|Under-5 mortality rate
||21/1,000 (2006 estimate)
||8/1,000 (2008 estimate)
|GDP per capita
||$7,400 (2007 estimate)
||$46,000 (2009 estimate)
||Colombia peso (COP)
||U.S. dollar (USD)
|Number of people living with HIV/AIDS
||190,000 (2003 estimate)
||1.2 million (2007 estimate)
|Percentage of population living below $1 a day
||7% (1995-2005 study)
||Data not available
Sources for facts: The World Factbook, 2008; The State of the World's Children, 2008