President: Juan Manuel Santos (2010)
Land area: 401,042 sq mi (1,038,699 sq km); total area: 439,736 sq mi (1,138,910 sq km)
Population (2014 est.): 46,245,297 (growth rate: 1.07%); birth rate: 16.73/1000; infant mortality rate: 15.02/1000; life expectancy: 75.25
Capital and largest city (2011 est.): Santafé de Bogotá, 8.743 million
Other large cities: Medellín, 3,497,800; Cali, 2,352,000; Barranquilla, 1,836,000; Bucaramanga 1,065,000
Monetary unit: Colombian Peso
Colombia is bordered on the northwest by Panama, on the east by Venezuela and Brazil, and on the southwest by Peru and Ecuador. Through the western half of the country, three Andean ranges run north and south. The eastern half is a low, jungle-covered plain, drained by spurs of the Amazon and Orinoco Rivers, inhabited mostly by isolated tropical-forest Indian tribes. The fertile plateau and valley of the eastern range are the most densely populated parts of the country.
Little is known about the various Indian tribes who inhabited Colombia before the Spanish arrived. In 1510 Spaniards founded Darien, the first permanent European settlement on the American mainland. In 1538 they established the colony of New Granada, the area's name until 1861.
After a 14-year struggle, during which time Simón Bolívar's Venezuelan troops won the battle of Boyacá in Colombia on Aug. 7, 1819, independence was attained in 1824. Bolívar united Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, and Ecuador in the Republic of Greater Colombia (1819–1830), but he lost Venezuela and Ecuador to separatists. Two political parties dominated the region: the Conservatives believed in a strong central government and a powerful church; the Liberals believed in a decentralized government, strong regional power, and a less influential role for the church. Bolívar was himself a Conservative, while his vice president, Francisco de Paula Santander, was the founder of the Liberal Party.
Santander served as president between 1832 and 1836, a period of relative stability, but by 1840 civil war had erupted. Other periods of Liberal dominance (1849–1857 and 1861–1880), which sought to disestablish the Roman Catholic Church, were marked by insurrection. Nine different governments followed, each rewriting the constitution. In 1861, the country was called the United States of New Granada; in 1863 it became the United States of Colombia; and in 1885, it was named the Republic of Colombia.
In 1899, a brutal civil war broke out, the War of a Thousand Days, that lasted until 1902. The following year, Colombia lost its claims to Panama because it refused to ratify the lease to the United States of the Canal Zone. Panama declared its independence in 1903.