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Chibcha, Muisca, Family lineage, illegal drug trade, Colombians

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Colombia, country in South America, situated in the northwestern part of the continent. Colombia is blessed with natural resources, including beautiful beaches, dramatic mountains, and lush rain forests, but it is notorious for political unrest and the violent influence of powerful drug cartels. And despite a long history of democratic government, Colombia has one of the most rigidly stratified class systems in Latin America.

Colombia is the only country in South America with coasts on both the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean. Its neighbors on the east are Venezuela and Brazil; on the south, Ecuador and Peru; and to the northwest, Panama. The capital and largest city is Bogota.

Prior to the arrival of Europeans in the Americas, a number of indigenous groups, including the Chibcha (Muisca), occupied the land that makes up present-day Colombia. From the 16th century to the 19th century, Colombia was a colony of Spain. The country achieved independence in 1819. Following independence, Colombia became a republic with an elected government.

Colombian society is divided between the upper and lower classes, with a large and growing gap between them. A substantial middle class developed during the 20th century, a product in part of fairly widespread land ownership associated with the country’s coffee economy. Many of the attitudes that led to Colombia’s sharp class divisions originated in 16th-century Spain and became ingrained in Colombian society during the colonial period. Family lineage, inherited wealth, and racial background continue to be powerful determinants of status. Economic progress during the last 100 years has been substantial, but political, social, and economic power continues to be concentrated in the hands of the small upper class.

Since the mid-20th century, Colombia has been torn by violence. Struggles between left-wing guerrillas, right-wing paramilitary groups, and the Colombian armed forces have convulsed much of the countryside. Colombia has also been plagued by an illegal drug trade that flourished in the country as a consequence of the growing demand for narcotics, particularly cocaine, in the United States and other rich, industrialized countries. The Colombian government has attempted to limit drug production and negotiate a peaceful settlement with the rebel forces. At the beginning of the 21st century, however, Colombia still experienced upheaval, and violence had become a daily experience for many Colombians.


For younger readers

DuBois, Jill. Colombia. Marshall Cavendish, 1991. For readers in grades 5 to 8.

Markham, Lois. Colombia: The Gateway to South America. Benchmark, 1997. For readers in grades 4 to 7.

Morrison, Marion. Colombia. Children's Press, 1999. A survey of the geography, history, people, industries, and culture of Colombia; for younger readers.


Bergquist, Charles, and others, eds. Violence in Colombia 1990-2000: Waging War and Negotiating Peace. Scholarly Resources, 2001. Essays by Columbian scholars on the crisis facing the country.

Bushnell, David. The Making of Modern Colombia: A Nation in Spite of Itself. University of California Press, 1993. Political history.

Ewald, Wendy. Magic Eyes: Scenes from an Andean Childhood. Bay, 1992. A moving and intimate look at poverty in a small Colombian town.

Garcia Marquez, Gabriel.Trans. Edith Grossman. News of a Kidnapping. Knopf, 1997. Study of contemporary Colombian culture, politics, and drug lords by a Nobel Prize-winning author.

McFarlane, Anthony. Colombia Before Independence. Cambridge University Press, 1993. A survey of Colombia's economic and political development under Spanish rule during the 18th century.

Randall, Stephen J. Colombia and the United States: Hegemony and Interdependence. University of Georgia Press, 1992. Diplomatic history of relations between Colombia and the United States.

Safford, Frank, and Marco Palacios. Colombia: Fragmented Land, Divided Society. Oxford University Press, 2001. A comprehensive history, from pre-Columbian times to the present.


Bergquist, Charles, B.A., M.A., Ph.D. Professor of History, University of Washington. Author of Coffee and Conflict in Colombia, 1886-1910, and coeditor of Violence in Colombia, 1990-2000: Waging War and Negotiating Peace.

Robinson, David J., B.A., Ph.D. Dellplain Professor of Latin American Geography, Syracuse University. Director of Latin American Studies Program, Global Affairs Institute, Maxwell School, Syracuse University. Editor of Migration in Colonial Latin America and other books.

Microsoft ® Encarta ® 2009. © 1993-2008 Microsoft Corporation.

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