The Republic of Colombia is a country in north-western South America. It is bound to the north by Panama and the Caribbean Sea, to the east by Venezuela and Brazil, to the south by Ecuador and Peru, and to the west by the Pacific Ocean.
Spanish explorers arrived in the area around 1500, at which time they encountered many Chibchan peoples who they subjugated through warfare, disease, exploitation, and conquest. They soon established settlements that eventually grew into the provinces which where part of the Captaincy General of New Granada. As it became a Viceroyalty in 1717, some other provinces of northwestern South America came under its jurisdiction. An independence movement sprang up around 1810 that finally succeeded in 1819 when the territory of the Viceroyalty of New Granada became the Republic of Greater Colombia (Gran Colombia).
Internal political and territorial divisions led to the secession of Venezuela and Quito (today's Ecuador) in 1830 and the remaining Department of Cundinamarca was renamed New Granada until 1856 when it became the Granadine Confederation until 1863 when it became the United States of Colombia until 1886 when it became the Republic of Colombia. Internal divisions remained, occasionally igniting civil war and contributing to the US-sponsored secession of Panama in 1903. The country continues to be plagued by guerrilla insurgents such as FARC, counter-insurgency paramilitary groups such as AUC and the effects of the influential drug trade, which are hampering political and economic reforms and leading to disruptions of public life and international concern.
The western half of Colombia is dominated by the Andes, which split into three great mountain ranges, the Western, Central and Eastern Cordillera. In between the ranges the Cauca and Magdalena rivers flow into the low-lying plains along the Caribbean coast. The highlands are home to some occasionally active volcanoes and the highest point is the Pico Cristobal Colon at 5,775 m.
Colombia's economy suffered from weak domestic demand, austere government budgets, and a difficult security situation. The current government faces economic challenges ranging from pension reform to reduction of unemployment. Two of Colombia's leading exports, oil and coffee, face an uncertain future; new exploration is needed to offset declining oil production, while coffee harvests and prices are depressed.
Problems in public security are a concern for Colombian business leaders, who are calling for progress in the government's peace negotiations with insurgent groups. Colombia is looking for continued support from the international community to boost economic and peace prospects.
Colombia has a diverse population that reflects its colourful history and the peoples that have populated her from ancient, to colonial and modern times. The historic amalgam of three main groups; indigenous Amerindians, Spanish colonists, and imported African slaves, are the basis of Colombia's current demographics.
Race mixing between these three was widespread and has produced distinct groups that now constitute much of the population. The country's largest ethnic group are known as mestizos (58%) and are the result of intermingling between Spaniards and Amerindians. Whites are mainly creoles, descendants of Spanish colonist, and constitute the largest minority (20%) followed closely by mulattos (14%) which are descended from the unions of Spaniards and African slaves. The remainder of the population is comprised of unmixed descendants of African slaves (4%) and zambos who descend from the mixture of African slaves and Amerindians (3%). Today, only about 1% of the people can be identified as fully Amerindian on the basis of language and customs. The predominant religion in Colombia is Roman Catholicism.
Colombia is the third-most populous country in Latin America, after Brazil and Mexico. Movement from rural to urban areas has been heavy. The urban population increased from 57% of the total population in 1951 to about 74% by 1994. Thirty cities have a population of 100,000 or more. The nine eastern lowlands departments, constituting about 54% of Colombia's area, have less than 3% of the population and a density of less than one person per square kilometre.