Colombian History and Culture
Colombia is an ethnic mosaic, reflected in its culture, folklore, arts and craft. The different roots and traditions of the |Indian, Spanish and Africans have produced interesting fusions, particularly in crafts, sculpture and music. Indian basket ware, weaving and pottery also date back to pre-Colombian times but now fuse modern techniques with traditional designs. Colombian music incorporates bother the African rhythms of the Caribbean, Cuban Salsa, and heavily Spanish influenced Andean music. The chart topping Shakira had her humble beginnings in Barranquilla.
The country's literary giant is Gabriel Garcia Marquez, whose works mix myths, dreams and reality in style critics have dubbed "magic realism". Garcia Marquez insists his work is documentary, which says a lot about the nature, rhythm and perception of life in Colombia. The best of the exciting new writers is Moreno Duran, who has been burdened with the reputation of being the best Latin American novelist to emerge since the so-called "boom" of the 1950's and 60's.
Spanish is Colombia’s official language, and except for some remote Indian tribes, all Colombians speak it. There are also about 65 Indian languages and nearly 300 dialects still used in country areas. While English is included in the school curriculum, it is little known and rarely spoken.
Colombian cuisine consists largely of chicken, pork, potatoes, rice, beans and soup. Interesting regional dishes include "ajiaco", a Bogotano specialty soup make with chicken and potato, "hormiga culona", a sophisticated dish unique to Santander, consisting mainly of fried ants, and "lechona", a whole suckling pig spit roasted and stuffed with rice and dried peas, a specialty of Tolima.
Pre 20th Century History
Pre Colombian cultures existed in scattered pockets of the Andean region and on the Pacific and Atlantic coasts. Among the most outstanding were the Tayrona, Sinu, Muisca, Quimbaya, Tierradentro and San Augustine. Many of the tribes produced accomplished
gold work and pottery, and some left behind burial chambers and rock paintings, which have helped anthropologists piece together, their cultures.
In 1499, Alonso de Ojeda, a companion of Christopher Columbus, landed on the Guajira Peninsula. The wealth of the local Indians began the myth of Eldorado, with tragic results. The shores of present day Colombia became the target of numerous Spanish expeditions in search of the wealth of gold. Though they initially tolerated the Spaniards, the Indians rebelled when the colonists tried to enslave them and confiscate their lands. In spite of their efforts, the Indians were poorly equipped against the might of Spain and the desire for riches, and it wasn't long before most of the country was conquered by the Spanish and a number of towns including Cartagena, founded in 1533, were established and prospering. In 1544, the country was incorporated into the viceroyalty of Peru, where it remained until 1739 when it became a part of New Granada, comprising of the territories of present day Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador and Panama.
Alone with slavery, the Spanish monopoly over commerce, taxes and duty slowly gave way to protest towards the end of the 18th century. During this period, the first stirrings of national autonomy occurred. It wasn't until; 1819, however, that the Venezuelan Liberator Simon Bolivar and his army appeared and independence was achieved. Ten years of uneasy confederation with Venezuela and Ecuador followed in the form of Gran Colombia, until regional differences between the three finally undermined the union.
Political currents born in the independence struggle were formalized in 1849 when the two parties, dominated by Creole elites, were established. The Conservatives with centralist tendencies, and the Liberals, with federalist leanings. The parties divided the nation into partisan camps, eventually leading to insurrection, civil chaos and war. In the course of the 19th century, the country experienced no less than 50 insurrections and eight civil wars, culminating in the bloody war of a Thousand Days in 1899.
The struggle between the Conservatives and Liberals broke out again in 1948 with "La Violencia", the most destructive of Colombia's civil wars in which nearly 300,000 people died. It soon developed revolutionary overtones, and both parties decided to support a military coup to retain power. There coup, led by General Gustavo Rojas in 1953, was short lived failing in 1957 when the two parties, now the national Front, agreed to share power for the next 16 years.
The National Front collapsed in 1974 when Liberal President Alfonso Lopez Michaelson was elected, but a modified version of the two party system continued for another 17 years. meanwhile the political climate encouraged the emergence of left wing guerrilla groups such as The national Liberation Army (ELN), Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the April Movement (M19) who successfully undermined government power.
Another threat was the setting of paramilitary death squads against any group that opposed the drug cartels in Medellin and Cali, and by 1990, escalating violence threatened to bring the country to a standstill. In 1991, a new constitution strengthened government control. In June of that year, Pablo Escabar, head of the Medellion drug cartel and alleged mastermind of the terror campaign, surrendered. He escaped a year later, but was located and killed in December 1993.
Drug trafficking continued to grow, courtesy of the determined Cali cartel, bringing in an estimated six billion U.S. dollars a year. The arrest of the Cali cartel leader Gilberto Rodriguez Orijuela in June 1995 was a further feather in the government’s cap, but did little to alter the dynamics of the drug trade. Then-president, Ernesto Samper, spent much of his years in office refuting that drug money financed his election campaign. Samper's Liberal Party successor, Horacio Serpa, 1998 election to Independent conservative Andres Pastrana, the man who had previously brought to light Samper's Cali connections.
In May 2002, moderate right independent Alvaro Uribe was elected president. A fierce adversary of the guerrillas, the war intensified in his first few months. In a 2003 security plan, he vowed to reinforce Colombia's security and to eradicate drug crops. His fight, however, is far from over. Traffickers have found new routes out of Colombia and right wing paramilitaries are gaining a strong foothold in urban areas. Colombia is also home to 3 million internally displaced people.
The Constitutional Court amended laws so that Uribe could be stand for re-election in 2005. As expected, he was re-elected.
Colombia gets about 740 million US dollars a year from Uncle Sam. The US has agreed to help demobilize former members of groups on the US State Department list of known terrorists. It is also backing an aid package to spray coca fields and fight drug trafficking. However farmers are simply moving to other areas to cultivate, and lately, even planting coca in national parks where laws prevent spraying.