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Dear visitor: Summer is here, and you may be thinking about a well-deserved vacation, family get-togethers, BBQs with neighborhood friends. More than likely, making a donation to Catholic Answers is not on your radar right now. But this is exactly the time we most need your help. The “summer slowdown” in donations is upon us, but the work of spreading the gospel and explaining and defending the Faith never takes a break. Your gift today will change lives and save souls for Christ this summer! The reward is eternal. Thank you and God bless.

Republic of Colombia

Forms the northwest corner of the South American Continent

Click to enlarge

Colombia, REPUBLIC OF (formerly UNITED STATES OF COLOMBIA), forms the northwest corner of the South American Continent. It is bounded on the north by the Caribbean Sea, on the east by Venezuela, on the south by Brazil and Peru, on the southwest by Ecuador. The Pacific Ocean bounds it on the west and on the northwest the Republic of Panama and the Gulf of Darien. Its area is variously calculated at from 450,000 to about 500,000 square miles, but exact data are not obtainable. Colombia has at least eleven active or dormant volcanoes, the tallest of which, Huila, rises to about 19,000 feet and seems to be the highest point in the country. Almost on the Caribbean shores are the mud-volcanoes of Turbaco. The republic is highly favored by nature in most parts of its territory, and capable of producing nearly every staple. It is very rich in useful tropical plants. The animal kingdom, too, is far better represented than farther south along the Pacific coast. The climate shows all possible varieties, from the moist heat of the lowlands to the bitter cold of the mountain wastes.

Since 1870 no census of the population has been attempted. Today the number of inhabitants is variously estimated, four millions being a likely conjecture. One estimate (made in 1904) gives 3,917,000 souls; another, two years later, 4,680,000, of which 4,083,000 for the sixteen departments, 120,000 for the federal district, and 427,000 for the intendancies. Four-fifths at least of this population resides in the mountainous western half, the eastern lowlands being mostly held by wild Indian bands. The number of aborigines is given at about 150,000, without reliable basis, however, for this estimate. The most populous city is the capital, Bogota, situated at an altitude of 9000 feet above the sea, with 85,000 inhabitants; Medellin, in the department of Antioquia (4600 feet above the sea) comes next, with 50,000 souls, then Barranquilla, Colombia’s most active seaport, with 32,000 (later accounts say 55,000). Negroes and mulattoes are numerous, and mestizos form a large proportion of the people. In the mountains the pure Indian has been reduced by amalgamation to a small proportion of the inhabitants and most of the aboriginal stocks have completely disappeared as such. Near the Gulf of Maracaibo the Goajiros still maintain autonomy, but the Tayronas, Panches, Musos, are practically extinct. Around Bogota there are descendants of the Chibchas (q.v.), a sedentary tribe once of considerable numerical importance, for aborigines.

HISTORY.—The earliest information concerning the territory which was to become in the nineteenth century the Republic of Colombia goes back to the year 1500 and comes down to us from Rodrigo de Bastidas and Alonzo de Ojeda. But even a few months before these explorers, Christbval Guerra and Pero Alonzo Nino had coasted Venezuela and, possibly, the northern shores of Colombia, gathering pearls and gold. Bastidas saw the snowy range of Santa Marta in 1500, and Ojeda settled on the coast near by. The Spanish colonies on the Isthmus of Darien (since 1903, the republic of Panama, but previously a province of Colombia) and the discovery of the South Sea by Balboa (q.v.) directed the course of exploration of Colombia to its northwestern and Pacific sections. The banks of large rivers, Atrato, Cauca, and Magdalena, were also explored and conquered at an early period. The valleys, especially that of the Cauca, were inhabited by comparatively numerous agricultural tribes, who also gathered gold by washing and worked it into figures, ornaments, and sometimes vessels. Much of the precious metal was found in graves. The Indians of Antioquia, Ancerma, Cali, and Lile, though living in villages, were cannibals, and wars of extermination had to be waged against them. The languages of these peoples have wellnigh disappeared, as well as the tribes themselves, and their classification in four principal groups, Catios, Nutabes, Tahamies, and Yamacies (of which the first two held both banks of the Cauca), requires confirmation. In western Colombia the Spaniards penetrated to the northern confines of Ecuador (Pasto, Popayan) comparatively early, and there met other explorers from their own people coming up from Quito. This led to strife and even to bloodshed.

The valley of the Magdalena formed the natural route into the interior. The Indian tribes around, and to the south of, the Santa Marta Mountains (Chimilas, Panches, Tayronas, Musos) were of a sedentary and warlike character, and offered a protracted resistance. It seems that they belonged to the linguistic stock of the Chibcha (or Muysca), and considerable gold was found among them, chiefly in burial places. Up to 1536, Tamalameque (about 9° N. lat.) had been the most southern point reached from Santa Marta. In the beginning of that year, however, an important expedition was set on foot under the command of Pedro Fernandez de Lugo, with the object of penetrating into the unknown mountains to the south. Lugo soon died, but his lieutenant Gonzalo Ximenez de Quesada persevered, and reached the plateau, where he found the numerous tribes of the Chibcha established in formal settlements, and rich in gold and in emeralds obtained from the country of the Musos where they are still obtained. By August, 1538, Cundinamarca (by which name the Chibcha range is mostly known) was occupied by Quesada after considerable warfare with the natives, and the city of Santa Fe de Bogota was founded as capital of the “Kingdom of New Granada”, which continued the official designation of Colombia until its independence was achieved. Upon the conquest of the Chibcha country followed expeditions to the east and southeast, in quest of the “Gilded Man” (el Dorado) with little more than geographical results. These expeditions led towards the region now forming the Republic of Venezuela.

The establishment of a German administration in Venezuela, by the Welser family, in 1529, also led the Spaniards and Germans into Colombia from the East. Ambrosius Dalfinger (1529-32) reached Tamalameque and, in 1538, when Quesada was beginning to organize his recent conquest at Bogota, he was surprised by the arrival of a force from Venezuela commanded by the German leader Nicolas Federmann. Shortly after this another body of Spaniards reached the plateau of Cundinamarca from the Cauca Valley. This was the expedition headed by Sebastian Belalcazar of Quito. Each of the three commanders having acted independently, each claimed the territory as his conquest, but Quesada succeeded in buying his rivals off, and remained master of the field, thus avoiding bloodshed.

New Granada, under its own audiencia established in 1563, formed part of the Spanish Viceroyalty of Peru until 1718, was then severed from Peru for four years, then again placed under an audiencia, and finally, in 1751, constituted a separate viceroyalty. During the seventeenth century, the ports of the Colombian coast were exposed to the formidable attacks of pirates. In 1671 the notorious Morgan took Panama and sacked it. and the most horrible cruelties were committed upon its inhabitants. Two years later it was the turn of Santa Marta. In 1679 the French Baron de Pointe took and pillaged Cartagena (founded 1510). Religious strife, too, between the secular and some of the regular clergy, and between the bishops and the civil authorities, troubled Cartagena, Popayan, and other dioceses. Extreme measures of taxation, exorbitant duties, provoked a popular uprising in 1781. The country remained in a state of ferment, which was aggravated by the downfall of Spain before the power of Napoleon. Miranda made in 1806 an attempt at insurrection, directed in the first instance against Venezuela, but threatening New Granada as well, had it succeeded. On July 20, 1810, a revolutionary junta met at Bogota, and in the following year “The United Provinces of New Granada” were proclaimed. These embraced also Venezuela and Ecuador, and soon two parties appeared among the revolutionists, so that, previous to 1816, three civil wars had taken place. Bolivar, who appeared upon the scene in 1810, was unable to establish harmony. Spain could do almost nothing to recover its colonies until 1815, when a respectable force under General Morillo landed in Venezuela. This united the !factions again, and for five years a war of extermination was carried on in the three states. During that period the Republic of Colombia was proclaimed, in 1819. The revolutionists suffered many reverses, for Morillo was an able military leader. Of the actions fought in this bloody war, that at Sogamoso (June 12, 1819) decided the fate of the remnants of the Spanish army, and the engagement at Carabobo, near Valencia in Venezuela (June 24, 1821), was the last of any consequence. The Republics of Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela became united under the name of Colombia. In 1829, however, Ecuador and Venezuela seceded, and Colombia was left alone.

In 1831 Colombia became “The Republic of New Granada”. Thirty years later it called itself “United States of Colombia”. In 1886, the “sovereign states” were reduced to departments of a “centralized republic” styled “The Republic of Colombia”, under which name it is known today. No country of Spanish America has been, since its independence, so often and so violently disturbed, internally, as Colombia. With a single exception (Parra, 1876-80), every presidential term has been marked by one or more bloody revolutions. Panama seceded for a while, in 1856. The events of 1903 made the separation between Colombia and Panama definitive. Since 1904, conditions seem to have at last become more settled. Reorganization, after so many periods of disorder and anarchy, seems to be the aim of the present Government of Colombia.

Hardly was the territory now known as the Republic of Colombia discovered, when the Church, working in accord with the King of Spain, hastened to the natives. In spite of the honest intentions of the Spanish kings, their agents were in many cases obstacles to the religious progress of the country. What progress was attained was due to the efforts of the Dominican, Franciscan, Jesuit, and other missionaries. This great work was often opposed by the colonists and government officials who looked solely to their own worldly prosperity. The religious of the Society of Jesus, with whose history the name of the Colombian city of Cartagena is so gloriously associated (see Saint Peter Claver), were also the first during the Colonial period to found colleges for secondary instruction; eight or ten colleges were opened in which the youth of the country, and the sons of the Spaniards, were educated. In the Jesuit College of Bogota the first instruction in mathematics and physics was given. In the expulsion of the Jesuits by Charles III the Church in New Granada lost her principal and most efficacious aid to the civilization of the country, which was practically paralyzed for many years. To this day the traveler may see the effects of this arbitrary act in the immense plains of the regions of Casanare, converted in the space of one century into pasture lands for cattle, but which were once a source of great wealth, and which would have been even more so.

It is only within the last ten years that the Catholic Church, owing to the peace and liberty which she now enjoys, has turned her eyes once more to Casanare; a vicariate Apostolic has been erected there, governed by a bishop of the Order of St. Augustine, who with the members of his order labors among the savages and semi-savages of these plains.

PRESENT CONDITIONS.—The legislative power of the nation is vested in a Congress consisting of the Senate and the House of Representatives. Senators are elected for six years. Each senator has two substitutes elected with him. Every department is entitled to three senators, and the whole body is renewed, upon the completion of the term of service of one-third of its members, every two years. One representative and two substitutes correspond to a population of 50,000, and their term of office is four years. Congress, besides legislation, has power to interfere with the action of the executive in matters of contracts and treaties. The executive is headed by the president, who has a vice-president and a substitute (or designado); the last takes office in case both president and vice-president become incapacitated. While the presidential term has varied from six to four years, the actual incumbent (1908), Rafael Reyes, is in possession of the office for ten years. There is a cabinet of ministers and a consultative body called the “Council of State”, composed of six members with the vice-president at its head. The president appoints the members of the Supreme Court for life, or during good behavior. The judicial districts have their superior as well as inferior courts. Courts of Commerce may be instituted when necessary, and trial by jury obtains in criminal cases. The Constitution of 1886, amended in 1904 and 1905, explicitly provides (Art. 38) that “the Catholic Apostolic Roman Religion is that of the Nation; the public authorities will protect it and cause it to be respected as an essential element of social order. It being understood that the Catholic Church is not and shall not be official, and shall preserve its independence”. The next following article guarantees to all persons freedom from molestation “on account of religious opinions”, and Art. 40 lays it down that “the exercise of all cults not contrary to Christian morality or the laws is permitted”. A concordat, entered into between the Holy See and the Republic of Colombia in 1887, now regulates in detail the relations between Church and State. These relations are at present (1908) thoroughly cordial, while dissenters are in no way interfered with on account of their religious peculiarities. The ecclesiastical organization of Colombia consists of four provinces: Bogota, with four suffragans, lbague, Nueva Pamplona, Socorro, and Tunja; Cartagena, with two suffragans, Santa Marta and Panama; Medellin, with two suffragans, Antioquia and Manziales; and Popayan, with two suffragans, Garzon and Pasto. There are also two vicariates Apostolic: Casanare and Goajira; and three prefectures Apostolic: Caqueta, Piani di S. Martino, and Intendenza Orientale. (See Archdiocese of Santa Fe de Bogota. Diocese of Cartagena. etc.)

Article 41 of the Constitution provides that “public education shall be organized and directed in accordance with the Catholic Religion. Primary instruction at the expense of the public funds shall be gratuitous and not obligatory. “There are no educational statistics attainable of any recent date. In 1897 it was stated there were 2026 colleges and primary schools with 143,076 pupils. Of private educational establishments no data exist. Only the faculties of medicine and natural sciences are in operation at the national capital. A School of Arts and Trades is conducted by the Salesians, and there are normal schools in five departments. Secondary institutions are almost exclusively in the hands of the Catholic clergy and religious corporations. The minister of public instruction is the official head of the department of education.

The material development of Colombia has necessarily been much retarded by the political disturbances which have occurred since the first quarter of the nineteenth century and have made its history a continuous succession of civil wars. In 1898 Colombia had 8600 miles of telegraph, but the service is very defective. Railroad lines are in operation with an aggregate length of 411 miles, the longest being only 65 miles. The metric system has been in use for weights and measures since 1857. Metallic currency has nearly disappeared, inconvertible paper forming the circulating medium. The reestablishment of gold coinage has lately been proposed. The paper currency, in 1906, had lost 99 per cent of its nominal value, 10,000 Colombian pesos (paper currency) being equal to 100 dollars. It is hoped, however, that with internal peace these unfortunate conditions will rapidly change for the better, since Colombia has unlimited natural resources. The history of the foreign debt of this republic is a series of borrowings and attempted settlements of accumulated capital and interest, rendered impossible by political disturbances. The budget for 1905-1906 amounted to £4,203,823. There are no official or general statistics of either exports or imports. Partial data, however, may give some general idea of the principal articles of Colombian produce. The Colombian gold mines up to 1845 yielded £71-200,000. Another source states it at £115,000,000 up to 1886. The same authority (Restrepo) estimates the silver-production during the same period at £6,-600,000. The average output of rock-salt from 1883 to 1897 has been 11,000 tons per year. The exploitation of the emerald mines in the Province of Musos yielded the Government, in 1904, £10,000, but the production was not always so high in former times. Among vegetable products coffee takes the first rank for export, but the annual figures have varied according to the political state of the country. Thus, in 1899, before the revolution, 254,410 bags of coffee were exported from Barranquilla. In the year following only 86,917. Peace being restored, 574,270 bags could be shipped from the same port in 1904. In the same year 24,000 tons of bananas left Barranquilla for the United States, and tobacco and india-rubber may soon figure largely in Colombian export lists.


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