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Colombia, officially the Republic of Colombia, is a constitutional republic in northwestern South America.  Colombia is bordered to the east by Venezuela and Brazil, to the south by Ecuador and Peru; to the north by the Caribbean Sea; to the northwest by Panama; and west by the Pacific Ocean.  Colombia also shares maritime borders with Venezuela, Jamaica, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica.  With a population of over 45 million people, Colombia has the 29th largest population in the world and the second largest in South America, after Brazil.  Colombia has the third largest Spanish-speaking population in the world after Mexico and Spain.

It is very ethnically diverse, and the interaction between descendants of the original native inhabitants, Spanish colonists, Africans brought as slaves and twentieth century immigrants from Europe and the Middle East has produced a rich cultural heritage.  This has been also influenced by Colombia's varied geography.

The territory of what is now Colombia was originally inhabited by indigenous nations including the Muisca, Quimbaya, and Tairona.  The Spanish arrived in 1499 and initiated a period of conquest and colonization killing or taking as slaves almost 90% of the native population, and then creating the Vice Royalty of New Granada (comprising modern-day Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, the northwest region of Brazil and Panama) with its capital in Bogota.  Independence from Spain was won in 1819, but by 1830 "Gran Colombia" had collapsed with the secession of Venezuela and Ecuador.  What is now Colombia and Panama emerged as the Republic of New Granada.  The new nation experimented with federalism as the Granadine Confederation (1858), and then the United States of Colombia (1863), before the Republic of Colombia was finally declared in 1886.  Panama seceded in 1903 under pressure to fulfill financial responsibilities towards the United States government to build the Panama Canal.

Colombia has a long tradition of constitutional government.  The Liberal and Conservative parties, founded in 1848 and 1849 respectively, are two of the oldest surviving political parties in the Americas.  However, tensions between the two have frequently erupted into violence, most notably in the Thousand Days War (1899-1902) and La Violencia, beginning in 1948.  Since the 1960s, government forces, left-wing insurgents and right wing paramilitaries have been engaged in the continent's longest running armed conflict.  Fueled by the cocaine trade, this escalated dramatically in the 1980s.  Nevertheless, in the recent decade (2000s) the violence has decreased significantly.

The Colombian economy is the fourth largest in Latin America.  It has experienced accelerating growth between 2002 and 2007, chiefly due to improvements in domestic security, rising commodity prices, and to the Uribe Administration's pro-market economic policies.  Inequity, underemployment, and narco-trafficing remain significant challenges, and Colombia's infrastructure requires major improvements to sustain economic expansion.


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