The Republic of Colombia (República de Colombia) is a transcontinental country largely situated in the northwest of South America, with territories in Central America. Colombia shares a border to the northwest with Panama, to the east with Venezuela and Brazil, to the south with Ecuador and Peru. It shares its maritime limits with Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, and Haiti. It is a unitary, constitutional republic comprising thirty-two departments. Colombia is one of the most ethnically and linguistically diverse countries in the world giving rise to a rich cultural heritage. This has also been influenced by Colombia’s varied geography, and the imposing landscape of the country has resulted in the development of very strong regional identities. The urban centers are mostly located in the highlands of the Andes mountains. Colombian territory also encompasses Amazon rainforest, tropical grassland and both Caribbean and Pacific coastlines. The capital and largest city is Bogotá.
Due to its location, the present territory of Colombia was a corridor of early human migration from Mesoamerica and the Caribbean to the Andes and Amazon. The oldest archaeological finds are from the Pubenza and El Totumo sites in the Magdalena Valley 100 kilometers southwest of Bogotá. These sites date from the Paleoindian period (18,000–8000 BCE). At Puerto Hormiga and other sites, traces from the Archaic Period (~8000–2000 BCE) have been found. Vestiges indicate that there was also early occupation in the regions of El Abra and Tequendama in Cundinamarca. The oldest pottery discovered in the Americas, found at San Jacinto, dates to 5000–4000 BCE.
Aboriginal people inhabited the territory that is now Colombia by 10,500 BCE. Nomadic hunter-gatherer tribes at the El Abra and Tequendama sites near present-day Bogotá traded with one another and with other cultures from the Magdalena River Valley. Between 5000 and 1000 BCE, hunter-gatherer tribes transitioned to agrarian societies; fixed settlements were established, and pottery appeared.
Beginning in the 1st millennium BCE, groups of Amerindians including the Muisca, Quimbaya, and Tairona developed the political system of cacicazgos with a pyramidal structure of power headed by caciques. The Muisca inhabited mainly the area of what is now the Departments of Boyacá and Cundinamarca high plateau (Altiplano Cundiboyacense) where they formed the Muisca Confederation. They farmed maize, potato, quinoa and cotton, and traded gold, emeralds, blankets, ceramic handicrafts, coca and salt with neighboring nations. The Taironas inhabited northern Colombia in the isolated Andes mountain range of Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. The Quimbayas inhabited regions of the Cauca River Valley between the Occidental and Central cordilleras. Some groups of indigenous people as the Caribs lived in a state of permanent war, but others had less bellicose attitudes. The Incas expanded their empire on the southwest part of the country.
Alonso de Ojeda (who had sailed with Columbus) reached the Guajira Peninsula in 1499. Spanish explorers, led by Rodrigo de Bastidas, made the first exploration of the Caribbean littoral in 1500. Christopher Columbus navigated near the Caribbean coast in 1502. In 1508, Vasco Núñez de Balboa accompanied an expedition to the territory through the region of Gulf of Urabá and they founded the town of Santa María la Antigua del Darién in 1510, the first stable settlement on the continent.
In 1514, Don Lorenzo Galindez de Carvajal was appointed by a royal warrant the hereditary title and duties of Correo Mayor of the Indias and lands to be discovered. The Correo Mayor represented the office of Postmaster General. Many years passed before a descendant of Don Carvajal arrived in Lima to take office. However, there are records of letters and mail from as early as 1534, letters sent to the Consejo de Indias by the first conquerors. From that time until well into the eighteenth century, mail was carried within the country but organized privately by Inca mail runners, the Chasquis. These letters contain manuscript markings like “By Chasqui”, “In his hands” or “By a friend”, terms used well into the nineteenth century.
Santa Marta was founded in 1525 and Cartagena in 1533. Spanish conquistador Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada led an expedition to the interior in April 1536, and christened the districts through which he passed “New Kingdom of Granada”. In August, 1538, he founded a provisional capital near the Muisca cacicazgo of Bacatá, and named it “Santa Fe”. The name soon acquired a suffix and was called Santa Fe de Bogotá. Two other notable journeys by early conquistadors to the interior took place in the same period. Sebastián de Belalcázar, conqueror of Quito, traveled north and founded Cali in 1536 and Popayán in 1537. From 1536 to 1539, German conquistador Nikolaus Federmann crossed the Llanos Orientales and went over the Cordillera Oriental in a search for El Dorado, the “city of gold”. The legend and the gold would play a pivotal role in luring the Spanish and other Europeans to New Granada during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
In 1542, the region of New Granada, along with all other Spanish possessions in South America, became part of the Viceroyalty of Peru, with its capital at Lima. In 1547, New Granada became the Captaincy-General of New Granada within the viceroyalty. In 1549, the Royal Audiencia was created by a royal decree, and New Granada was ruled by the Royal Audience of Santa Fe de Bogotá, which at that time comprised the provinces of Santa Marta, Rio de San Juan, Popayán, Guayana and Cartagena. Important decisions were taken from the colony to Spain by the Council of the Indies.
Indigenous groups were loyal only to their own communities and for this reason the conquistadors made frequent alliances with different groups of indigenous peoples who would be key to defeating other groups of Amerindians. Indigenous peoples in New Granada experienced a decline in population due to conquest as well as Eurasian diseases, such as smallpox, to which they had no immunity. With the risk that the land was deserted, the Spanish Crown sold properties to the governors, conquerors and their descendants creating large farms and possession of mines.
In the sixteenth century, Europeans began to bring slaves from Africa. Portuguese, French, English and Dutch traders supplied the Spanish America with African slaves. There were also people who defended human rights and the freedom of oppressed peoples. The indigenous peoples could not be enslaved because they were legally subjects of the Spanish Crown. To protect and exploit the indigenous peoples, several forms of land ownership and regulation were established: resguardos, encomiendas and haciendas. Repopulation was achieved by allowing colonization by farmers and their families who came from Spain.
A postal service was established in Peru and part of what is today Ecuador, using the old Inca mail runners, the Chasquis, as well as the existing routes. References show that the Correo Mayor officials didn’t start operating in Colombian territory until about 1717. The Correo Mayor period ended in 1768, when the Spanish Crown took back the postal services monopoly and named José Antonio de Pando Postmaster General of the Viceroyalties of Peru and New Granada. He travelled throughout the countries and established new postal routes, appointed administrators and set tariffs.
In 1717, the Viceroyalty of New Granada was originally created, and then it was temporarily removed, to finally be reestablished in 1739. The Viceroyalty had Santa Fé de Bogotá as its capital. It included additional provinces of northwestern South America which had previously been under the jurisdiction of the Viceroyalties of New Spain or Peru and correspond mainly to today’s Venezuela, Ecuador and Panama. Bogotá became one of the principal administrative centers of the Spanish possessions in the New World, along with Lima and Mexico City, though it remained somewhat backward compared to those two cities in several economic and logistical ways.
After Great Britain declared war on Spain in 1739, Cartagena quickly became the British forces’ top target but an upset Spanish victory during the War of Jenkins’ Ear, a war with Great Britain for economic control of the Caribbean cemented Spanish dominance in the Caribbean until the Seven Years’ War.
The earliest identifiable mail of the Spanish period dates from after 1750 when handstamps of origin came into use in main towns. The first postal markings were introduced by Pando as early as 1771. Spanish mails to Europe went by casual ship. Interest centers on the Isthmus of Panama, where numerous forwarding agents dealt with the transmission of mail. Their cachets are known from 1834.
The eighteenth-century priest, botanist and mathematician José Celestino Mutis was delegated by Viceroy Antonio Caballero y Góngora to conduct an inventory of the nature of the New Granada. Started in 1783, this became known as the Royal Botanical Expedition to New Granada which classified plants, wildlife and founded the first astronomical observatory in the city of Santa Fe de Bogotá. In July 1801, the Prussian scientist Alexander von Humboldt reached Santa Fe de Bogotá where he met with Mutis.
Since the beginning of the periods of conquest and colonization, there were several rebel movements against Spanish rule, but most were either crushed or remained too weak to change the overall situation. The last one that sought outright independence from Spain sprang up around 1810, following the independence of St. Domingue (present-day Haiti) in 1804, which provided some support to the eventual leaders of this rebellion: Simón Bolívar and Francisco de Paula Santander.
A movement was initiated by Antonio Nariño, who opposed Spanish centralism and led the opposition against the viceroyalty. Cartagena became independent in November 1811. This caused the formation of two independent governments which fought a civil war — a period known as the Foolish Fatherland. In 1811, the United Provinces of New Granada were proclaimed, headed by Camilo Torres Tenorio. Despite the successes of the rebellion, the emergence of two distinct ideological currents among the liberators (federalism and centralism) gave rise to an internal clash which contributed to the reconquest of territory by the Spanish. The viceroyalty was restored under the command of Juan Sámano, whose regime punished those who participated in the uprisings. The retribution stoked renewed rebellion, which, combined with a weakened Spain, made possible a successful rebellion led by the Venezuelan-born Simón Bolívar, who finally proclaimed independence in 1819. The pro-Spanish resistance was defeated in 1822 in the present territory of Colombia and in 1823 in Venezuela.
The territory of the Viceroyalty of New Granada became the Republic of Colombia, organized as a union of the current territories of Colombia, Panama, Ecuador, Venezuela, parts of Guyana and Brazil and north of Marañón River. The name “Colombia” is derived from the last name of Christopher Columbus and was conceived by the Venezuelan revolutionary Francisco de Miranda as a reference to all the New World, but especially to those portions under Spanish and Portuguese rule. The name was adopted by the Republic of Colombia of 1819. The Congress of Cúcuta in 1821 adopted a constitution for the new Republic. Simón Bolívar became the first President of Colombia, and Francisco de Paula Santander was made Vice President. However, the new republic was unstable and three countries emerged from the collapse of Gran Colombia in 1830 (New Granada, Ecuador and Venezuela).
Colombia was the first constitutional government in South America, and the Liberal and Conservative parties, founded in 1848 and 1849 respectively, are two of the oldest surviving political parties in the Americas. Slavery was abolished in the country in 1851.
A very detailed and precise set of rules on how a postal system should work, now known as the Pando Manuscript, was used until about 1822, when General Santander established new routes and rates in the new Republic of Colombia.
Internal political and territorial divisions led to the dissolution of Gran Colombia in 1830. The so-called “Department of Cundinamarca” adopted the name “New Granada”, which it kept until 1858 when it became the “Confederación Granadina” (Granadine Confederation). After a two-year civil war in 1863, the “United States of Colombia” was created, lasting until 1886, when the country finally became known as the Republic of Colombia. Internal divisions remained between the bipartisan political forces, occasionally igniting very bloody civil wars, the most significant being the Thousand Days’ War (1899–1902).
In 1842, British packet agents were appointed at Panama and Chagres to control transfer of mails between the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company and the Pacific Steam Navigation Company. They were issued with their own handstamps. A U.S. Mail Despatch Agency was in existence in 1847 and used stamps of the United States (obliterated with a red grid). Additional offices at Cartagena and Santa Martha were opened by the British in the 1840s.
The States of Colombia existed from February 27, 1855 in the Republic of New Granada and the Granadine Confederation, where they were called “federal states”. In the United States of Colombia they were called “sovereign states”.
The first stamp of Colombia was a black 20 centavos revenue stamp issued on September 1, 1858 (unlisted in the Scott Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue). The central government of the Granadine Confederation, was responsible for inter-state services and all outgoing and incoming mail to and from other countries. For these purposes national postage stamps were issued from 1859, bearing the inscription CONFED. GRANADINA CORREOS NACIONALES (Scott #1-8). In 1861, a series of stamps in five values was issued inscribed ESTADOS UNIDOS DE NUEVA GRANADA, or the United States of New Granada (Scott #13-18). Later in 1861, the United States of New Granada became the United States of Colombia and stamps were issued marked ESTADOS UNIDOS DE COLOMBIA until 1886.
The Congress of the Grenadine Confederation passed a law on June 3, 1859 authorizing the sovereign states of Colombia to establish their own postal services. In 1863, the United States of Colombia, as it had now become, made up of eight sovereign states, confirmed and authorized the states’ power to operate their own postal services and issue postage stamps. These were only valid for postage within the state, although a few examples are known of stamps that were sent to other states and even to Europe. These sovereign states were:
- Tolima. On July 12, 1861, after raising in arms against the constitutional government of President Mariano Ospina Rodríguez, General Tomás Cipriano de Mosquera created the Sovereign State of Tolima, carved out of the Sovereign State of Cundinamarca.
These individual posts were established due to the country’s poor natural communications, and also in pursuance of their sovereign rights. They operated concurrently with (but were separate from) the national post. From 1863 until various dates between 1886 and 1906, they issued their own stamps; the last such stamps were withdrawn by decree on July 28, 1906.
Starting in 1865, British and French packet agents exercised mail facilities in Colombia with obliterators and datestamps using stamps of Britain or France, as follows:
- Panama — Great Britain, 1865-84; France, 1872-74.
- Cartagena — Great Britain, 1865-81.
- Santa Martha — Great Britain, 1865-81; France, 1865-72 and 1875.
- Colon-Aspinwall — Great Britain, 1870-81; France, 1865-81.
- Savanilla — Great Britain, 1872-81; Framce, 1872-81.
In 1886, the newly created Republic of Colombia abolished the states and divided the country into the departments of Colombia. The constituent states of Colombia continued to issue separate stamps until the early 1900s. The stamps issued by the Republic of Colombia were inscribed REPÚBLICA DE COLOMBIA, the fourth name change since 1859, and subsequently changed into just COLOMBIA.
The Cúcuta Chamber of Commerce was founded around the year 1890 as a non-profit entity of the government of Colombia, attached to the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Tourism. The Chamber organized a mail service named Correo del Comercio (Business mail), a service which operated between 1890 and 1915. The mail service was intended to improve the communication between the Santander Provinces and Venezuela and to create faster access to the coast of Maracaibo. Mail was handled between Cúcuta and the gulf of Maracaibo in Venezuela, which at the time had a permanent marine communication with Europe and North America. The chamber never issued stamps for this service, only a few registration labels. Stamps of the national postal system were used at the official postage rates cancelled by various types of CORREO DEL COMERCIO handstamps.
The United States of America’s intentions to influence the area (especially the Panama Canal construction and control) led to the separation of the Department of Panama in 1903 and the establishment of it as a nation. The United States paid Colombia $25,000,000 in 1921, seven years after completion of the canal, for redress of President Roosevelt’s role in the creation of Panama, and Colombia recognized Panama under the terms of the Thomson–Urrutia Treaty. Colombia was engulfed in the war with Peru over a territorial dispute involving the Amazonas department and its capital Leticia.
Soon after, Colombia achieved some degree of political stability, which was interrupted by a bloody conflict that took place between the late 1940s and the early 1950s, a period known as La Violencia (“The Violence”). Its cause was mainly mounting tensions between the two leading political parties, which subsequently ignited after the assassination of the Liberal presidential candidate Jorge Eliécer Gaitán on April 9, 1948. The ensuing riots in Bogotá, known as El Bogotazo, spread throughout the country and claimed the lives of at least 180,000 Colombians.
Colombia entered the Korean War when Laureano Gómez was elected as President. It was the only Latin American country to join the war in a direct military role as an ally of the United States. Particularly important was the resistance of the Colombian troops at Old Baldy.
From 1953 to 1964, the violence between the two political parties decreased first when Gustavo Rojas deposed the President of Colombia in a coup d’état and negotiated with the guerrillas, and then under the military junta of General Gabriel París Gordillo. After Rojas’ deposition, the Colombian Conservative Party and Colombian Liberal Party agreed to create the “National Front”, a coalition which would jointly govern the country. Under the deal, the presidency would alternate between conservatives and liberals every four years for 16 years; the two parties would have parity in all other elective offices. The National Front ended La Violencia, and National Front administrations attempted to institute far-reaching social and economic reforms in cooperation with the Alliance for Progress. In the end, the contradictions between each successive Liberal and Conservative administration made the results decidedly mixed. Despite the progress in certain sectors, many social and political problems continued, and guerrilla groups were formally created to fight the government and political apparatus.
Since the 1960s, the country has suffered from an asymmetric low-intensity armed conflict between the government forces, left-wing guerrilla groups and right-wing paramilitaries. The conflict escalated in the 1990s, mainly in remote rural areas. Since the beginning of the armed conflict, human rights defenders have staged heroic acts to show the importance of standing up against injustice and fighting for the respect for human rights, despite staggering opposition. Five out of the seven guerrilla groups decided to demobilize after peace negotiations in 1989–1994. The United States has been heavily involved in the conflict since its beginnings, when in the early 1960s the U.S. government encouraged the Colombian military to attack leftist militias in rural Colombia. This was part of the U.S. fight against communism.
On July 4, 1991, a new Constitution was promulgated. The changes generated by the new constitution are viewed as positive by Colombian society. The administration of President Álvaro Uribe (2002–10), adopted the democratic security policy which included an integrated counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency campaign. The Government economic plan also promoted confidence in investors.
In 2012, the administration of President Juan Manuel Santos (2010–present), began a dialogue in Havana, Cuba between the Government of Colombia and guerrilla of FARC-EP with the aim to find a political solution to the armed conflict. After almost four years of peace negotiations, the Colombian state and the FARC announced consensus on a six-point plan towards peace and reconciliation. The Government also began a process of assistance and reparation for victims of conflict. In October 2016, President Santos was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his resolute efforts to bring the country’s more than 50-year-long war to an end, despite the fact that the pact was rejected with 50.2% voting against it and 49.8% voting in favor.
Colombia shows modest progress in the struggle to defend human rights. In terms of international relations, Colombia has moved from a period of tension and animosity with Venezuela, towards a positive outlook and a spirit of cooperation. Colombia has also won a seat on the Security Council of the United Nations.
Scott #545 was issued on January 10, 1947, to call attention to Colombia’s coffee production industry. The 5 centavo engraved and lithographed by Waterlow & Sons Ltd. of London on paper bearing a watermark of wavy lines and a perforation gauge of 12½. Coffee production in Colombia has a reputation as producing mild, well balanced coffee beans. Colombia’s average annual coffee production of 11.5 million bags is the third total highest in the world, after Brazil and Vietnam; though highest in terms of the arabica bean. The beans are exported to United States, Germany, France, Japan, and Italy. Most coffee is grown in the Colombian coffee growing axis region. In 2011, UNESCO declared the “Coffee Cultural Landscape” of Colombia, a World Heritage Site.
The coffee plant had spread to Colombia by 1790. The oldest written testimony of the presence of coffee in Colombia is attributed to a Jesuit priest, José Gumilla. In his book The Orinoco Illustrated (1730), he registered the presence of coffee in the mission of Saint Teresa of Tabajé, near where the Meta river empties into the Orinoco. Further testimony comes from the archbishop-viceroy Caballero y Gongora (1787) who registered the presence of the crop in the north east of the country near Giron (Santander) and Muzo (Boyaca) in a report that he provided to the Spanish authorities.
The first coffee crops were planted in the eastern part of the country. In 1835, the first commercial production was registered with 2,560 green coffee bags that were exported from the port of Cucuta, near the border with Venezuela. A priest named Francisco Romero is attributed to have been very influential in the propagation of the crop in the northeast region of the country. After hearing the confession of the parishioners of the town of Salazar de la Palmas, he required as penance the cultivation of coffee. Coffee became established in the departments of Santander and North Santander, Cundinamarca, Antioquia, and the historic region of Caldas.
Despite these early developments, the consolidation of coffee as a Colombian export did not come about until the second half of the ninteenth century. The great expansion that the world economy underwent at that time allowed Colombian landowners to find attractive opportunities in international markets. Little by little, the United States became the most important consumer of coffee in the world, while Germany and France became the most important markets in Europe.
The then large Colombian landowners had already tried to exploit the new opportunities that the expansion of the international markets offered. Between 1850 and 1857, the country experienced a significant increase in tobacco and quinine exports, and thereafter leather and live cattle. These early efforts in the export of agricultural commodities turned out too fragile; they in fact were only reactionary attempts to find the greatest profitability from the high international prices of the time, rather than attempts to create a solid and diversified export platform. The production of these sectors went into period of decline when the respective bonanza of their international prices terminated, hence a true industrial consolidation was prevented.
With the fall of international prices, that registered the transition from the nineteenth to the twentieth century, the profitability of the large estates plummeted. As if this was not enough, the Thousand Days War, which took place during the first years of the new century, also negatively influenced the important landowners, making it impossible for them to maintain their plantations in good conditions; this circumstance summed to the fact that these producers had incurred in large amounts of foreign debt in order to further develop their plantations, which finally ruined them. The coffee estates of Santander and North Santander entered into crisis and the estates of Cundinamarca and Antioquia stalled.
The crisis that affected the large estates brought with it one of the most significant changes of the Colombian coffee industry. Since 1875, the number of small coffee producers had begun to grow in Santander as well as in some regions of Antioquia and in the region referred to as Viejo or Old Caldas. In the first decades of the twentieth century, a new model to develop coffee exports based on the rural economy had already been consolidated, supported by internal migration and the colonization of new territories in the center and western regions of the country, principally in the departments of Antioquia, Caldas, Valle, and in the northern part of Tolima. Both the expansion of this new coffee model and the crisis that affected the large estates allowed the western regions of Colombia to take the lead in the development of the coffee industry in the country.
This transformation was very favorable for the owners of the small coffee estates that were entering the coffee market. The cultivation of coffee was a very attractive option for local farmers, as it offered the possibility of making permanent and intensive use of the land. Under this productive model of the traditional agriculture, based on the slash and burn method, the land remained unproductive for long periods of time. In contrast, coffee offered the possibility of having an intense agriculture, without major technical requirements and without sacrificing the cultivation of subsistence crops, thus generating the conditions for the expansion of a new coffee culture, dominated by small farms.
Although this new breed of coffee made of country farmers demonstrated a significant capacity to grow at the margin of current international prices, Colombia did not have a relatively important dynamism in the global market of this product. During the period between 1905 and 1935, the coffee industry in Colombia grew dynamically thanks to the vision and long term politics derived from the creation of the Federación Nacional de Cafeteros de Colombia (National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia) in 1927.
The union of local farmers and small producers around the Federation has permitted them to confront logistical and commercial difficulties that would not have been possible individually. With time and through the research made at Cenicafé, founded in 1938, and the Federation’s agricultural Extension Service, improved cultivation systems. More efficient spatial patterns were developed that permitted the differentiation of the product and supported its quality. Currently the Land of Coffee in Colombia includes all of the mountain ranges and other mountainous regions of the country, and generates income for over 500,000 coffee farming families.
The National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia was founded in 1927 as a business cooperative that promotes the production and exportation of Colombian coffee. It currently represents more than 500,000 producers, most of whom are small family owned farms. The federation supports research and development in the production of coffee through grants to local universities and through federation sponsored research institutes. The federation also monitors production to ensure export quality standards are met. The Federation was founded with three objectives: 1) to protect the industry, 2) to study its problems, and 3) to further its interests.
Juan Valdez is a fictional character who has appeared in adverts for the National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia since 1958, representing a Colombian coffee farmer. The adverts were designed by the Doyle Dane Bernbach ad agency, with the goal of distinguishing 100% Colombian coffee from coffee blended with beans from other countries. The trademark made its first TV appearance in 1983. Valdez typically appears alongside his mule Conchita, carrying sacks of harvested coffee beans. He has become an icon for Colombia as well as coffee in general, and Juan Valdez’s iconic appearance is frequently mimicked or parodied in television and other media.
Regional climate change associated with global warming has caused Colombian coffee production to decline since 2006 from 12 million 132-pound bags, the standard measure, to nine million bags in 2010. Average temperatures have risen 1 degree Celsius between 1980 and 2010, with average precipitation increasing 25 percent in the last few years, disrupting the specific climatic requirements of the Coffea arabica bean.