Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
No Cover Image

The Making of Modern Colombia: A Nation in Spite of Itself

David Bushnell
Copyright Date: 1993
Edition: 1
Pages: 384
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Making of Modern Colombia
    Book Description:

    Colombia's status as the fourth largest nation in Latin America and third most populous—as well as its largest exporter of such disparate commodities as emeralds, books, processed cocaine, and cut flowers—makes this, the first history of Colombia written in English, a much-needed book. It tells the remarkable story of a country that has consistently defied modern Latin American stereotypes—a country where military dictators are virtually unknown, where the political left is congenitally weak, and where urbanization and industrialization have spawned no lasting populist movement. There is more to Colombia than the drug trafficking and violence that have recently gripped the world's attention. In the face of both cocaine wars and guerrilla conflict, the country has maintained steady economic growth as well as a relatively open and democratic government based on a two-party system. It has also produced an impressive body of art and literature. David Bushnell traces the process of state-building in Colombia from the struggle for independence, territorial consolidation, and reform in the nineteenth century to economic development and social and political democratization in the twentieth. He also sheds light on the modern history of Latin America as a whole.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-91390-5
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. By Way of Introduction: Colombia as a Field of Study
    (pp. vii-x)
    David Bushnell

    Colombia is today the least studied of the major Latin American countries, and probably the least understood. It has attracted the attention of specialists in Latin American literature, in good part thanks to its Nobel prize–winning novelist, Gabriel García Márquez; economists have taken note of its slow but steady economic growth, in a region better known for sharp (and in recent years mostly downward) fluctuations; and a number of political scientists have been intrigued by the peculiarities of its traditional two-party system. Nevertheless, in the papers presented at scholarly meetings and the articles published in scholarly journals, Colombia is...

  4. 1 Indians and Spaniards
    (pp. 1-24)

    In the beginning there were mountains, plains, and rivers, but especially mountains; no one geographic feature has so molded the history of Colombia as the Andes. They do not attain the same height that they have in Bolivia and Peru, but separated into three principal ranges—the Cordillera Occidental, between the Pacific Ocean and the valley of the Cauca River; the Cordillera Central, between the Cauca and the Magdalena River; and the broad Cordillera Oriental, which branches off toward Venezuela—they give the Colombian landscape its basic structure. They also determine temperature, climate, and ease of human access.

    The greatest...

  5. 2 Severing the Ties with Spain (1781–1819)
    (pp. 25-49)

    In colonial New Granada as in the rest of Spanish America, the gradual process of economic and demographic growth inevitably undermined the imperial link with Spain. The colonial people, at least those who gave thought to such matters, had more and more reason to ponder their own importance and to feel less need for the guiding hand of the mother country. By the late eighteenth century, the great majority of whites were American-born creoles rather than peninsular Spaniards; as such, they felt less attachment to the land of their forebears and more to that of their own birth. The mestizos,...

  6. 3 The Gran Colombian Experiment (1819–1830)
    (pp. 50-73)

    Immediately after the victory of Boyacá, a Venezuelan congress meeting at Angostura (today Ciudad Bolívar) on the lower Orinoco proclaimed the union of all the territory that comprised the former Viceroyalty of New Granada as a single nation with the name Republic of Colombia. At the time, the present Ecuador was entirely under Spanish rule, and New Granada had only token representation at the congress. Yet, as far as Venezuela and New Granada are concerned, the union was already a virtual fait accompli because of the way in which the military struggle for independence had been waged. Armies indiscriminately composed...

  7. 4 Independent New Granada: A Nation-State, Not Yet a Nation (1830–1849)
    (pp. 74-100)

    The Republic of New Granada lost no time in equipping itself with a formal constitution and a set of liberal political institutions. Up to midcentury—except for the highly confusing War of the Supremes (1839–1842)—it established a record of outward stability superior to that of most of Latin America. Yet the political framework directly touched the lives and affairs of only a small minority of the population. Even among those who were active participants, the nation as an abstract entity usually meant less than the provinces or regions where they lived and in which they conducted their business...

  8. 5 The Nineteenth-Century Liberal Revolution (1849–1885)
    (pp. 101-139)

    At no point in its history has Colombia (as the Republic of New Granada rechristened itself in 1863) more clearly exemplified developments on the larger Latin American scene than in the third quarter of the nineteenth century. Despite a moderate burst of outward-oriented economic growth, it remained one of the countries most poorly articulated with the North Atlantic market; but the state of its domestic economy was not far from the norm. In the political realm, it exemplified the struggle between “liberals” and “conservatives,” church and anticlericals, that currently raged in country after country. As elsewhere, liberals generally had the...

  9. 6 The Regeneration and Its Aftermath: A Positivist-Conservative Reaction (1885–1904)
    (pp. 140-154)

    The period of Liberal ascendancy in Colombia finally came to an end in the next-to-last decade of the nineteenth century. The excesses of Liberal administrations toward the church, the ultrafederalism that weakened maintenance of public order, and growing doubts concerning the Liberals’ economic policy all contributed to setting off the inevitable reaction. Squabbling with the clergy was no way to win the heartfelt allegiance of an overwhelmingly Roman Catholic population, while federalism, though as much a result as a cause of the national government’s pitiful weakness, had seemingly made a bad situation even worse. In economic matters the Liberal regime...

  10. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  11. 7 The New Age of Peace and Coffee (1904–1930)
    (pp. 155-180)

    From the loss of Panama to the worldwide economic depression, Colombia experienced the longest period of internal political stability of its independent history. The two traditional parties displayed a capacity for civilized debate and peaceful competition that provided a heartening contrast with their recent behavior; by 1930 Colombia was on the verge of being acclaimed as an exemplary Latin American democracy. The economy, meanwhile, was setting records in its pace of growth. The expansion of coffee production and exporting was the most notable feature, but bananas, petroleum, and manufacturing industry were other poles of development. Not everything was going as...

  12. 8 The Liberal Republic (1930–1946)
    (pp. 181-200)

    Colombia was one of the handful of Latin American countries that did not undergo a revolutionary change of government during the depression years. Instead, the Conservative government then in power went down to defeat in a free election and handed over power peacefully to a Liberal president. Thus began a period marked by quickening social change and political controversy that would last until 1946, when Conservatives again took control in Bogotá.

    The immediate cause of the change of party in power in 1930 was that the ruling Conservatives had split their votes between two different candidates, so that the Liberal,...

  13. 9 The Era of the Violencia (1946–1957)
    (pp. 201-222)

    The Conservative president who took office in Bogotá in August 1946, Mariano Ospina Pérez, was compared by one Colombian social scientist to a prominent U.S. contemporary: he was “the Colombian Eisenhower.”¹ That is, he was not a man of genius, much less an intellectual, but he had decent instincts and was moderate and well meaning, a born conciliator. He thus appeared to be just the person to preside over a transition from the rule of one party to another; and—like the Liberal Enrique Olaya Herrera, who had been the last Colombian to fulfill the same role—he started out...

  14. 10 The National Front: Achievements and Failures (1958–1978)
    (pp. 223-248)

    The overthrow of Rojas Pinilla was meant to usher in a new era of political reconciliation and domestic peace, which in turn would favor rapid social and economic development for Colombia. To a large extent these objectives were achieved, even though, as things turned out, the more progress was made in one area, it seemed, the more problems came to light in others. The forces that overthrew the dictatorship did remain united—so successfully that national politics became almost boring; yet Liberal and Conservative leaders were less successful in coping with the new phenomenon of leftist guerrilla insurgency. Significant economic...

  15. 11 The Latest Era: Confounding the Predictions (1978– )
    (pp. 249-282)

    The seeming contradictions in the Colombian pattern of development during the heyday of the National Front did not disappear in subsequent years. If anything, they became starker. A noticeable increase in political violence was suddenly complemented by violence resulting from a massive illegal drug trade. Meanwhile, the traditional parties continued to practice the usual political game—showing more interest in controlling rural bloc votes on a basis of sheer clientelism than in offering fresh policies and programs. Colombia also was affected by the general economic crisis that afflicted Latin America in the 1980s—a crisis prompted by deteriorating external economic...

  16. Epilogue
    (pp. 283-285)

    As Colombia entered the last decade of the twentieth century, the phenomena of guerrilla warfare and drug-related violence seemed to be winding down. The record of steady if unspectacular economic growth, under conditions of moderate annual inflation, continued, as did the country’s unusual (for Latin America) degree of financial stability. Meanwhile, on the political scene, a first post-Violenciageneration was rising to the top, led by César Augusto Gaviria. In 1990, at age forty-three, Gaviria became the youngest chief executive of the century, and he filled his government with many figures even younger than himself; one of them was the...

  17. Appendixes

    • Appendix A Population
      (pp. 286-287)
    • Appendix B Presidential Elections, 1826–1990
      (pp. 288-292)
  18. Notes
    (pp. 293-304)
  19. Bibliographical Essay
    (pp. 305-322)
  20. Index
    (pp. 323-334)
  21. Back Matter
    (pp. 335-340)