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Zo Singh

Dr. Burton Van Edwards

History 451-A

Final Paper (Republic of Colombia)

Throughout Colombian history, no century like the twentieth brought so many changes and events into Colombian life. It was the contradictory century of peace and violence. It began with the promises of beatitude agreed in 1902 aboard the Wisconsin Steamer, which ended the Thousand-Day War, and ended the wave of violence generated by the chaotic mix of subversion, paramilitarism, and drug trafficking. For mankind the perspective is the same. The 20th Century was born under the sign of Belle Époque showcased in aviation, the automobile and cinema; But these wonders of science and human ingenuity did not prevent the dark side of life from plunging us into the two most catastrophic wars imaginable in universal history since the Trojan War: the First (1914-1918) and the Second (1939-1945) World Wars, whose mortality exceeds the sum of those produced in all previous conflicts of humanity. But in the twentieth century man began the conquest of space, reached the moon and revolutionized communications with the Internet. At the beginning of the century, no one would have dreamed that one day he might be visiting the great museums of the world without moving from his house.

The 20th century in Colombia had a similar development. At the beginning of the century, Colombia was a country that comprised of five million people, at  most. In comparison, Colombia’s population has grown to forty million inhabitants, and if, in relation to the developed nations, it continues on this exponential path it may replicate the five hundred percent growth achievement it did these past one-hundred years  (January 1, 1901 to December 31, 2000). In other words: in 1901 Colombia ranked 100th among the 120 nations that existed then; In 2000 they ranked 60 among the 199 that are now on the world map.

This essay will mention how Colombian life passed in the second half of the twentieth century to the present. Among the main topics to be covered are: how Colombian international relations evolved, history of politics and ideologies, economic development, how society was transformed, and lastly, aspects of the environment, among others.


International Relations

Since the 1940s, Colombia has had a more active participation in international relations; Most well-known for their efforts and participation in the creation of organizations that sought the establishment of world peace and the defense of the American continent. Since then, Colombia, along with other Latin American nations, have built their commitment to international relations. Colombia has been a more frequent attendee at world summits, conferences and agreements, etc. They uphold their involvement and keep interest in international efforts to remain on the same page as their Latin American counterparts. Many occasions were for economic and political commitments, defending Colombian interests with the United States and the world. After the Second World War, some diplomatic and political situations were modified in the international arena. The United States, a country that already excelled in America, promoted the creation of regional organizations to stop any “threats from abroad”. After 1945 a new bipolar order was formed, which was characterized by the antagonism of the United States and the Soviet Union, which for decades, under the so-called Cold War, struggled to expand their areas of ideological influence. Latin America was a key player in defending US interests. In effect, at the end of the 1940s, some continental organizations were created with tasks related to these interests: the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance -TIAR- and the Organization of American States (OAS). The fear of a Soviet expansion made the United States consider Latin America a strategic place for its foreign policy. In this context, the objective is to analyze the role played by Colombia in international politics and in diplomatic matters during the consolidation of the new world order, particularly in the Latin American context. There were several Colombian diplomats who were, in different organizations, exercising a leading role in the constitution of the parameters of the new world order. The period 1945-1950 included temporary Colombian participation in the creation of different international organizations. The year 1950 closed the period of creation of the main organizations that were influenced by the bipolar order; many of them were still enforcing and operating organizations as of the year 2010.

Based on Tickner these are some highlights of Colombian international relations since 1945 :

1950s: Colombia participates in the Korean War as the only Latin American country in the Western Hemisphere, in addition to the United States and Canada. This is one of the greatest evidences of the close relations between Colombia and the North American countries. In 1958, with the First Conference on the Law of the Sea, a process of maritime delimitation with its neighbors began for Colombia. It begins with Venezuela and the situation of the Archipelago of Los Monjes.

1970s: Colombia, in 1973, restores relations with Cuba. In addition, Venezuela joins the Andean Community in 1973, and three years later Chile withdraws as a full member of this organization. In 1977, the Torrijos-Carter Treaties were signed between Panama and the United States, Colombia was part of it as a member of the OAS.  In addition to this, Colombia began its process of defining its maritime boundaries.

1980s: The beginning of this decade comes with the annulment of the Esguerra-Bárcenas treaty for not having a precedent of maritime delimitation when it was signed, also for political reasons argued by Nicaragua. On the other hand, Venezuela and Colombia are faced by the Caldas Corvette Crisis in 1987.

1990s: The 1990s began with the new political constitution that determines Colombia’s foreign policy guidelines. The end of the century was marked by the international economic crisis that affected Colombia. Finally, in 1993, Colombia defines its borders with Jamaica through the Sanín-Robertson Treaty.

2000s: The beginning of the century begins with the claim filed by Nicaragua before the International Court of Justice in claiming the sovereignty of the Archipelago of San Andrés, Providencia and Santa Catalina in 2001. In 2003, during the invasion of Iraq, Álvaro Uribe’s government, backed the actions of the United States, during his term the relations with his neighbors were affected. In 2007, the International Court of Justice declared that the Esguerra-Bárcenas Treaty does establish Colombia’s sovereignty over the San Andrés archipelago.


Politics/ Ideologies

Since the beginning of the 20th century, Colombia has not known peace. The beginning of the century surprised Colombia with a civil war between the liberal and conservative parties of the time. This culminated with the signing of the Treaty of Peace of Neerlandia in 1902, the victory of conservatives, hundreds of thousands of dead and a devastated country. The country lived in relative calm until April 9, 1948 when the so-called caudillo of the people, Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, was assassinated in Bogotá.

The assassination of the popular leader sparked another partisan violence, especially in the countryside, at a time known as “La Violencia,” which although it did not generate the declaration of a civil war as such, did lead to the systematic “death of some 300,000 people throughout nearly two decades” (Anselma). These decades consisted of irregular conflict and the massive displacement of some two million people in a country that, at that time, had 11 million inhabitants. The irregular war ended with a pact between the Liberal and Conservative parties, which agreed to rotate power with the establishment of a National Front.

In this context of anticommunist struggle, of peasant and popular mobilization towards social conquests, and of a closed and unrepresentative political system consolidated with the National Front (FARC) was born in 1964. The remnants of the liberal guerrillas of La Violencia and the hand of a peasant named Pedro Antonio Marín, who called himself “Manuel Marulanda” and who was known as “Tirofijo.” This guerrilla leader died in the jungle of natural death in 2008.

FARC Ideals

The FARC is a Marxist guerrilla group largely made up of peasants. “Figures from the government speak of about 6,500 men and women in arms, who say they fight for the people, for the poor and for equity among Colombians” (Anselma) However, these goals have been blurred by their actions in recent decades, especially those related to drug trafficking and the killing and abduction of civilians.


Conflict figures

According to official figures, at least six million Colombians have been victims of the armed conflict, most of them displaced from the countryside by rebels and paramilitary groups who were born in the late 1970s as a response to actions of the guerrillas. At least 220,000 people were killed in Colombia in the context of this latest armed conflict between 1958 and 2012, according to data from the National Historical Memory Center. A report from the same state agency reveals that between 1970 and 2010 almost 40,000 people were kidnapped in the country and 33% of those crimes are attributed to the FARC.

Efforts for Peace

Since the very birth of the guerrillas, various governments, without luck, have wanted to negotiate with the FARC. The most recent efforts go back to the government under President Belisario Betancur (1982-1986), who bet all his political capital to peace with the FARC. From that peace process the Patriotic Union was born, a leftist political movement that in the years 80’s and 90’s saw at least 3,000 of its members and sympathizers assassinated by narco-paramilitaries and corrupt military.

In 1998, newly-elected President Andrés Pastrana again bet on reconciliation and negotiated with the FARC for almost all of his government term. At the outset it cleared 42,000 square kilometers of the national territory to advance the negotiations and other concessions. The process ended when in February 2002 the guerrilla group hijacked a plane in mid-flight and took a senator.

Tithing the FARC, in September 2012 the current president Juan Manuel Santos announced that his government was going to start a new peace process with that guerrilla. The following October, the negotiating table settled in Oslo, Norway, and then moved definitively to Havana.

The agreement so far

In almost three years of negotiation, negotiating delegations in Cuba (neutral territory) have reached key agreements on issues such as agrarian reform in the country, participation in the guerrillas’ policies and the joint fight between the government and the FARC against drug trafficking. “In present day, the most complicated point of the process must be sealed: the reparation of victims, which includes the issue of transitional justice, or how the FARC will pay for their crimes. The group raised in arms has warned that its members will not pay their debt in jail” (Idler).

Overall, Colombia experienced a sensitive and controversial situation when it comes to politics and ideologies, leading to approximately 50 years of misfortune and conflict. The situation is being worked from both sides to reach an agreement and sign peace for the betterment of the country and all of the citizens.


Economic Activity

Volume and structure of exports.

The country’s trade went through three major phases during the century. First, the golden era of strong expansion between 1905 and 1937. Despite the Great Depression, Colombian coffee volumes continued to grow for a few years after the global crisis. “Second, an era of fall and stability for almost 50 years that is of stagnation, mono-export and rationing of foreign exchange” (Colombia Economy). And finally, two decades consisting of diversification and moderate expansion between 1987 and 2007; this phases is where mining and oil played an important role. The first half of the century was dominated by coffee exports that performed remarkably at the beginning of the century but were affected by restrictions on European markets in World War II (1939-1945). During the second half of the century several coffee booms failed to prevent the decline of Colombian participation in the world market and to stagnate the country’s income for this concept. Although the pact of quotas meant some stability, its end in 1989 ended up stagnating the real income provided by coffee for Colombia. Local markets Colombia sells to increased their buying participation with countries that had lower wages than the Colombians, such as Africans and Vietnam. “Export diversification was notable after 1968 when incentives were introduced that led most of the productive activities to the outside world and ended up reducing the share of coffee to 6% of exports in 2007” (Colombia Economy). This was a rapid decline in comparison to 1960 where it constituted 80% of the total. Most notable of the recent change in the structure of “Colombian exports was the growing importance of mining (coal, nickel and gold) and oil, which in 2007 reached 42% of the total, while manufacturing represented a good 47%” (Colombia Economy). The threat of the phenomenon is what some economists have called “the curse of natural resources,” when mining incomes undermine the profitability of other exports, and the production of tradable goods in general, by revaluing the exchange rate of the country in question. However, this is not necessary if the economy is diversified and the government saves the incomes it receives, thus neutralizing the forces that lead to strengthening the national currency. The change in the structure of exports reflects greater dynamics of industrial and agroindustrial activities, especially of mining. In this way, the exchange rate is again exposed to the bonanzas of the raw materials, which in turn frequently restrain the development of manufacturing and agro industrial exports.

Protection and openness of the economy.

At the beginning of the century there was a very high external tax, because the government was protecting the local markets and generating income for the state through taxes. This is a trend that is unleashed especially during the Reyes administration (1903-1909). It is a myth then to ensure that protection begins in the country with the depression of the 1930s for the purpose of protecting a domestic industry, using as a mechanism that substitutes large import practices. The protection would be used ideologically later to justify the permanence of the tariffs fixed during the Great Depression when they were no longer required. When there was already an industrial bourgeoisie, with some power to influence public policies, they pushed for more than tariff’s at the time to increase local income. This concept deteriorated over time when measures of exchange control and granting of import licenses, quotas and other forms of restriction that led to rationing imports and decrease their use in the national economy. At the beginning of the century there existed an external tariff, which, rather than protecting domestic activities, had the purpose of generating income for the State. The change in the structure of exports reflects a greater dynamics of industrial and agroindustrial activities.


Social Aspects.

To begin with, the Colombian population is not homogeneous. Since its inception, “Colombians in general are a mixture of three races mainly: natives of the region, black slaves from Africa, and Europeans” (Albelda). All of them provide Colombian society with a legacy of customs and beliefs that make this population truly special. Although there are population sectors in which one of the above groups is conserved or one of the previous groups predominates, the mix of these breeds has created in Colombian man a phenotype with characteristics of each group. “Popular sayings such as “indigenous malice”, the ability to “work as blacks” or “to work as slaves” to “earn as targets” are still appealed to the characteristics of the average Colombian inhabitant” (Albelda).

In Colombia there is a clear distinction between the different social classes. However, there seems to be a tendency to belong to one of them (political class) to enjoy the benefits and comparative advantages granted by another distinguishable class (economic-business elites). There is also no greater variation among representatives of the political class in Colombia. Families that have been in power, from the Presidency of the Republic to the councilman of municipality, are numerous examples: “Juan Manuel Santos, who holds the Presidency in the period 2012-2016, nephew-grandson of Enrique Santos Montejo, who held the same position between 1938-1942. Misael Pastrana Borrero, occupying the same position between 1970-1974, father of the also former president Andrés Pastrana Arango, who occupied it between 1998-2002. The notorious brothers Samuel and Iván Moreno Rojas, grandchildren of the general Gustavo Rojas Pinilla who exerted the dictatorial mandate like President between 1953-1957”(Albelda). The examples are many but suffice to infer that Colombia has been governed by an almost familiar dynasty during the little more than 200 years of existence as a Republic.


Environmental Issues

The environmental deterioration in Colombia is increasing day after day despite the efforts of the government and national and international organizations that fight to counteract the negative effects of human intervention on ecosystems. The detriment of the quality of life is due to a number of factors, such as the excessive growth of cities, air pollution, soil degradation, extraction of mining resources, extensive farms, among others, affecting the whole population.

Some important factors of environmental deterioration in Colombia include:

Added to the environmental and social problems generated by some economic activities in specific regions of the country, other factors of environmental deterioration that affect a large part of the population can be identified below. These factors are being focused on today, but no formalized plan has been proposed yet. According to, Colombian Nature Conservation and Environmental Issues, some of the main causes include:

Air Pollution: Gas emissions from transport and industry generate critical problems, especially in the Bogota-Soacha, Cali- Yumbo, Medellín-Valle de Aburrá corridors. Every year about 6,000 people die due to air pollution.

Disordered urban growth: The deterioration of the quality of life is a consequence of informal urbanization and affects the whole urban population, although this type of housing tends to concentrate on the periphery of cities.

Solid waste: About 30% of the waste produced by more than half of the country’s municipalities goes to open dumps; A person in Colombia generates 0.71 kg of waste per day, of which 70% are organic materials.

Degradation of soils: Erosion, salinization and deforestation are the three main problems of the country in soil degradation.

Today, Colombia is a better country than 50 years ago. If you look at the opportunities your people have to live longer, access more and better essential services and choose your destination with greater freedom. But inequality, poverty and violence continue to unbalance the balance and prevent the development of its population. Based on a study realized on 2012, Colombia presents positive figures, such as the increase in life expectancy, which rose from 65.4 years in 1980 to 73.5 years in 2010. While 30 years ago a Colombian student studied on average 8.3 years ago remains in classrooms ,3 years. And the annual income of each citizen went from US $ 5,653 to US $ 8,589.  People in the country are also positive: the general perception of satisfaction is rated at 7.3 out of 10, while 82% of the population feels satisfied with their work, 84% with their health, 75% with their Freedom to choose and 69% with their standard of living in general. The contrast is in factors such as inequality and poverty. The concentration of wealth is a fact, and although it is evident the increase of the Gross Domestic Product per capita, this does not reflect an equal welfare in all the social layers. A country with 44% of its population on the poverty line and 16% in poverty levels is not a nation of equalities or opportunities. And it shows that the incomes of its National GDP fail to produce the social benefits that are expected. The remnant of violence that affects the country that other factor that entered the road towards full human development. Security policies have reduced the destructive capacity of the guerrillas, drug trafficking and paramilitarism, despite their effects.




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