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Colombia Human Rights - History

Colombia Human Rights - History

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The law provides for the right of workers to form and join unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes, and it prohibits antiunion discrimination. Members of associated workers’ cooperatives are not allowed to form unions, since the law recognizes members of a cooperative as owners. The law prohibits members of the armed forces and police from forming or joining unions. The law provides for automatic recognition of unions that obtain 25 signatures from potential members and that comply with a registration process. Public-sector employees legally have the right to bargain collectively. The government and employers generally respected freedom of association and collective bargaining in practice. Workers faced some obstacles to exercising those rights, and the government faced numerous challenges effectively enforcing applicable laws governing those two rights.

The law permits associated workers’ cooperatives (CTAs), collective pacts, and union contracts. Under collective pacts employers may negotiate accords on pay and labor conditions with workers in workplaces where no union is present or where a union represents less than one-third of employees. Law and regulations prohibit the use of CTAs and collective pacts to undermine the right to organize and bargain collectively, including by extending better conditions to nonunion workers through such pacts. Through a union contract, a company may contract a union, at times formed explicitly for this purpose, for a specific job or work; the union then in essence serves as an employer for its members. Workers who belong to a union that has a union contract with a company do not have a direct employment relationship with either the company or the union. Labor disputes for workers under a union contract may be decided through an arbitration panel versus labor courts if both parties agree.

The law does not permit members of the armed forces, police, and persons performing “essential public services” to strike. Before conducting a strike, unions must follow prescribed legal procedures, including entering into a conversation period with the employer, presenting a list of demands, and gaining majority approval in the union for a strike. The law limits strikes to periods of contract negotiations or collective bargaining and allows employers to fire trade unionists who participate in strikes or work stoppages ruled illegal by the courts.

The government has the authority to fine labor-rights violators. The government sought to enforce most applicable labor laws, but a lack of an inspection strategy, as well as an overburdened judicial system, inhibited speedy and consistent application. The maximum penalty for violations of law, including those that prohibit the misuse of CTAs, is 5,000 times the minimum monthly wage, or COP 3.4 billion ($1.13 million). The law also stipulates that offenders repeatedly misusing CTAs or other labor relationships shall receive the maximum penalty and may be subject to losing their legal status to operate. Employers who engage in antiunion practices may also be imprisoned for up to five years, although government officials admitted a fine was more likely than imprisonment. Prohibited practices include impeding workers’ right to strike, meet, or otherwise associate, and extending better conditions to members of collective pacts than to union members. Through March the government reported fines on certain subcontracting entities for abusive forms of subcontracting at a value of COP 2.283 billion ($761,000).

The Ministry of Labor’s Special Investigations Unit continued to exercise its power to investigate and impose sanctions in any jurisdiction. The vice minister for labor relations decides on a case-by-case basis whether to assign the Special Investigations Unit or the regional inspectors to investigate certain sites. The unit was reportedly overburdened with cases, resulting in denials of recent union requests for review by the unit.

The Ministry of Labor leads a tripartite Inter-Institutional Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Human Rights of Workers, with participation by the government, organized labor groups, and business community. The commission met in August.

As part of its commitments under the 2011 Colombian Action Plan Related to Labor Rights (Labor Action Plan), the government continued to take steps to protect internationally recognized labor rights. Labor inspections by the Ministry of Labor for abusive subcontracting in the five priority sectors of palm oil, sugar, ports, mines, and cut flowers remained infrequent, however. Critics claimed inspections lacked necessary rigor, assessed fines were not collected, and abusive subcontracting continued. The government continued to engage in regular meetings with unions and civil society groups.

The Ministry of Labor, in collaboration with the International Labor Organization (ILO), continued a virtual training program to prepare labor inspectors to identify antiunion conduct. It also implemented methods, including contract and process maps, as strategic planning tools to prioritize interventions. The ministry continued to employ a telephone- and internet-based complaint mechanism to report alleged labor violations. Union members complained that existing systems did not allow citizens to register anonymous complaints and noted that complaints registered through the telephone and internet systems do not result in action.

Judicial police, the Technical Investigation Body, and prosecutors investigating criminal cases of threats and killings are required to determine during the initial phase of an investigation whether a victim is an active or retired union member or is actively engaged in union formation and organization, but it was unclear whether they did so. It could take several months to transfer cases from regional field offices of the Attorney General’s Office to the Attorney General’s Human Rights Directorate, and cases are transferred only with the approval of the attorney general in response to direct requests, instead of automatically.

The government continued to include in its protection program for labor activists persons engaged in efforts to form a union, as well as former unionists under threat because of their past activities. Through July the NPU provided protection to 440 trade union leaders or members (others protected included journalists, human rights advocates, and land restitution claimants). Approximately 12 percent of the NPU’s budget was dedicated to unionist protection. Between January 1 and September 30, the NPU processed 171 risk assessments of union leaders or members; 96 of those cases were assessed as posing an “extraordinary threat,” and the NPU provided them protection measures. The NPU reported that through June, the average time needed to implement protection measures upon completion of a risk analysis was 50 days in regular cases or five days for emergency cases. NGOs, however, complained about slow processing times.

The protection and relocation of teachers falls under the Ministry of National Education and the departmental education secretaries, but the NPU retains some responsibilities for the risk analysis and protection of family members. Through July 31, the NPU evaluated 99 threat cases against teachers and found 62 to be of extraordinary risk.

In cases of unionist killings from previous years, the pace of investigations and convictions remained slow, and high rates of impunity continued. Labor groups stated more needed to be done to address impunity for perpetrators of violence against trade unionists and the large number of threat cases. The Attorney General’s Office indicated it prioritized cases in order of severity and had a backlog of lower-priority cases. As of July 31, the Attorney General’s Office reported 753 sentences against 620 persons in cases of violence against unionists since 2006 that were filed in the Human Rights Directorate. Between January 1 and July 31, the Attorney General’s Office reported 78 sentences in cases of violence against union leaders.

Violence, threats, harassment, and other practices against trade unionists continued to affect the exercise of the right to freedom of association and collective bargaining. According to the Attorney General’s Office, through July 31, 166 teachers were registered as victims in cases of homicide.

The National Union School (ENS), a labor rights NGO and think tank, reported 14 trade unionists were killed through August. ENS and other labor groups stated that focusing on killings alone masked the true nature and scope of the violence against labor activists. Labor groups noted that in some regions nonlethal violations continued to increase. ENS reported during the same period 94 death threats, four nonlethal attacks, nine arbitrary detentions and 16 cases of harassment, and one case of an illegal raid.

For example, in June unidentified gunmen killed Mauricio Velez Lopez, national vice president of the National Public University Workers Union (Sintraunal).

Unions cited multiple instances in which companies fired employees who formed or sought to form new unions. Some employers continued to use temporary contracts, service agencies, and other forms of subcontracting to limit worker rights and protections. Fines assessed by the government did little to dissuade violators because fines were often not collected. In the first eight months of the year, the government reported 1,211 workers benefited from 14 formalization agreements that the Ministry of Labor reached with employers in Bogota and the departments of Amazonas, Barrancabermeja, Caqueta, Casanare, Valle del Cauca, Cesar, Choco, Huila, Norte de Santander, Putumayo, Quindio, and Uraba.

Labor confederations and NGOs reported that business owners in several sectors used “simplified stock corporations” (SAS), union contracts, foundations, or temporary service agencies in attempts to circumvent legal restrictions on cooperatives. While in theory SAS workers may exercise their right to organize and bargain collectively with SAS management, it appeared that in some cases the SAS had little or no control over the conditions of employment. The Ministry of Labor stated that an SAS, like any corporate structure, may be fined for labor violations if they occurred.

According to ENS, Indupalma, a large employer in the palm sector located in the municipality of San Alberto, Cesar Department, employed more than 1,500 workers through illegal cooperatives. This reportedly was the only company in the region that continued using labor intermediation with illegal cooperatives with no sanctions or corrective measures by the Ministry of Labor.

Metal and mineworkers’ union SINTRAIME reported that inspections for abusive subcontracting carried out by the Ministry of Labor at the Drummond coalmines were ineffective in safeguarding the freedom of workers to organize.

Colombia: The IACHR must listen to the voices of victims of human rights violations

The voices of victims of violence, abuses and police repression must dominate the agenda of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) during its visit to Colombia between 8 and 10 June, said Amnesty International today.

Amnesty International is continuing to monitor, verify and document the excessive use of force and human rights violations against peaceful demonstrators in Bogotá, Cali, Pereira, Popayán, Madrid and Facatativá, among other cities. The organization has verified audiovisual material showing the indiscriminate and disproportionate use of lethal and less lethal weapons by the Colombian police, in particular ESMAD (mobile riot police units), which have resulted in serious injuries and the deaths of dozens of people, according to reports by human rights organizations on the ground.

“In addition to the complaints of victims of human rights violations in the context of the violent repression of protests by the security forces, we have received grave reports of continuing violence against communities in rural areas of the country. The repression against Indigenous peoples, Afro-Colombian communities, community leaders and human rights defenders continues. These voices have been ignored for decades it is time for the Colombian authorities to acknowledge that social discontent is a consequence of that violence and abandonment,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International.

“The IACHR must hear first-hand the testimonies of hundreds of victims who are demanding truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-repetition for the human rights violations committed in the context of the repression of protests guarantee the space to listen to the voices of historically marginalized communities and include analysis of the structural causes that have fuelled social discontent.”

Reports from human rights organizations and platforms highlight the constant police repression since the start of the National Strike. The campaign Defender la Libertad es Asunto de Todas has reported that between 28 April and 2 June there had been 76 homicides, mostly of young people, 34 of which were allegedly caused by the actions of the security forces in the context of the demonstrations. The campaign also reported that 988 people sustained injuries as a result of the excessive use of force by ESMAD 74 of those wounded had eye injuries. The NGO Temblores reported that as of 31 May, there had been 3,789 cases of unwarranted police violence and 1,649 protesters had been arbitrarily arrested.

Reports indicate that there have been 151 attacks against human rights defenders in the context of demonstrations. They include Daniela Soto, a young Indigenous woman from the Sa’th Tama Kiwe reserve, leader of the Cauca Regional Indigenous Council (CRIC) and a human rights defender, who was seriously injured on 9 May in Cali and the killing of Sebastián Jacanamejoy, a young Indigenous defender, on 28 May during a demonstration in Cali.

There are also an alarming number of reports of people feared missing in the context of the National Strike. At the end of a month of mobilizations, the Working Group on Forced Disappearances had recorded 775 people feared disappeared, the whereabouts of 327 of whom remain unknown, and urged the relevant institutions to activate the search and location mechanisms urgently. The Working Group has documented cases indicating that members of the police and ESMAD were responsible for carrying out hundreds of arbitrary arrests which were not registered or overseen by supervisory bodies.

“The Colombian authorities must act with due diligence to investigate reports of enforced disappearances in the context of social mobilization and activate search mechanisms, as a matter of priority. These practices are aimed at instilling fear to silence the voices of peaceful protesters. The silence of Iván Duque’s government in the face of these crimes is unacceptable. The IACHR’s visit is a beacon of hope for thousands of families who are still looking for their loved ones,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas.

The Ombudsperson’s Office reported that it has verified 106 cases of gender-based violence against women and people with diverse sexual orientation and gender identity. Such incidents have been reported in various parts of Colombia, including the departments of Valle del Cauca, Cauca, Antioquia, Nariño and Boyacá, among others. The accounts of survivors of sexual violence committed by members of the security forces are heartrending, and describe torture, cruel and inhuman treatment, psychological violence and sexual abuse and harassment, aimed at instilling fear and punishing them for their participation in the demonstrations.

Amnesty International is also concerned at repeated statements by national authorities that criminalize social protests – which are largely peaceful – and thereby justify the excessive use of force against the population. The authorities have an obligation to recognize that peaceful protest is a right and that it must be protected.

The statements of President Duque and other high-ranking officials about the alleged “terrorist purposes” of the peaceful marches must stop. The militarized response to the protests in Colombia, provided for by Decree 575, issued on 28 May, is in breach of Colombia’s international human rights obligations.

In addition to an environment in which those who exercise their right to peacefully protest are stigmatized, there are credible reports that people in civilian clothes, acting with the acquiescence and acceptance of the security forces, have killed and injured protesters in several cities. The situation in Cali is of particular concern, where images and videos have circulated of heavily armed civilians repressing protesters with the acquiescence and acceptance of police officers. Amnesty International has received worrying reports of more than 55 violent deaths in Cali in which members of the security forces and armed civilians were allegedly implicated.

In this context of violence, the Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP) reported that, between 28 April and 4 May, there were 87 physical attacks against journalists covering National Strike demonstrations. They also reported 42 threats, nine cases of arbitrary detention and 13 instances of material being deleted. Amnesty International is concerned about the reported attacks on journalists and reiterates that the authorities must respect the freedom of the press and guarantee that those engaged in journalistic activities are able to cover events safely.

The IACHR has an opportunity to help ensure that impunity does not prevail in the cases of the thousands of people demanding justice, truth and reparation. Amnesty International believes that the visit can make a fundamental contribution to overcoming the human rights crisis in the country. In this context, victims must have accessible channels to obtain information on the visit to ensure that their testimonies are heard by the IACHR.

Finally, Amnesty International calls on the Colombian authorities to guarantee that the IACHR can carry out its visit without undue interference, so that it can meet with all the authorities, organizations, individuals and communities that it deems necessary and pertinent to fulfil its mandate. The authorities must also provide the necessary travel facilities and refrain from using security as an excuse to restrict the IACHR’s work, as well as guaranteeing the safety of people who come before the IACHR and ensuring that they are not subjected to threats, reprisals or actions aimed at discrediting them.

Colombia’s Recent Civil Unrest Has Led To A Spiraling Of Ongoing Human Rights Violations

What started at the end of last month as a protest gathering hundreds of thousands of Colombians across the country against a new tax reform introduced by the government has quickly turned into death, violence, and deep social unrest in many cities and towns of the South American nation.

At the core of the conflict are high taxation rates and preexistent fragile economic conditions, which have left many Colombians on the brink of poverty and hunger. These factors are among the main reasons why protesters rejected the reform, despite official governmental attempts to underscore the importance of the reform for the rehabilitation of Colombia's economy, which has been severely impacted by the COVID-19 crisis.

Following four days of riots in several Colombian cities, which saw from the beginning a considerable presence of armed police forces, President Ivan Duque declared the revocation of the reform. Nevertheless, protesters did not stop marching, increasingly moved by passion and rage while expressing their demands for a long-awaited change in Colombian society, economy, and politics.


To date, at least 42 people, all civilians except for one police officer, have lost their lives mainly because of police and military brutality during protests. Local human rights organisations, as well as the UN, have denounced the use of coercive repression against citizens. Members of the Indigenous community have been falsely accused of carrying arms at peaceful protests and have therefore also been victims of police violence and of social and racial stigmatisation.

The UN has also called on Colombia to launch an impartial and rigorous investigation into alleged cases of murders sexual violence and rapes torture arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance of protesters, human rights defenders, and journalists carried out by the national police and the military. The country has also been accused of violating the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, which state that force can be used exclusively within the parameters necessity, proportionality, and imminent threat. The inquiry should identify all the actors responsible for violations, set out appropriate reparations and compensation for victims and families, as well as disclose the locations of detainees.


The social conflict in Colombia has seen widespread violations by governmental authorities and police and military forces of peoples’ fundamental human rights, which are protected by international human rights treaties.

First, the right to peaceful assembly and association, protected under article 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), has been violated by the governmental decision to resort to military assistance and the use of force against protesters.

Second, the right to freedom of opinion and expression, as enshrined under article 19 of the UDHR and article 19 of the ICCPR, is being violated by governmental interference with media and journalists’ capacity to deliver transparent and accurate news in safety to the citizens all over the country.

Finally, the rights to life, liberty, and security , consecrated under article 3 of UDHR and articles 6, 9, and 10 of the ICCPR, are not being respected due to the arbitrary incarcerations, life deprivation, and forced disappearances carried out by the military.

Such human rights violations constitute a considerable breach of Colombia’s obligations under international human rights law. Although the unrest is far from over, the Colombian government must urgently take all necessary measures to uphold, protect, and promote such rights, cease the violence, and provide for the urgent restoration of democracy in a politically and socioeconomically vulnerable country.

Colombia human rights update March 2021

As Colombian authorities appear incapable of containing the human rights violations taking place across the country – even in situations involving state security forces – March saw more murders of social activists and former combatants in the peace process. Despite urgent recommendations from international organisations, including the United Nations, certain security mechanisms have still not been implemented, while there is a backlog of requests for protective measures for at-risk individuals.

Here is an overview of cases of human rights violations in March 2021.

N.B. This article does not claim to provide a definitive list of all human rights violations committed in Colombia. Various others are likely to have been committed during the period.

1 March – Indigenous leader Jaime Basilio was murdered in San Onofre, department of Sucre in northern Colombia. He was a senior community official in the village of Libertad. He was shot dead in his home at around 8pm and, according to INDEPAZ, is the 28 th social activist murdered in 2021.

2 March – An 82-year-old peasant farmer, named as Orlando Mesa, was killed during reported fighting between security forces and paramilitaries belonging to the AGC in Carmen de Bolívar, department of Bolívar. A 15-year-old boy was also injured. While the navy said the military operation killed two paramilitary commanders, community organisations said that no fighting had occurred and that gunfire from a helicopter struck Orlando’s house in the village of Huamanga.

2 March – The Bishop of Buenaventura, Ruben Jaramillo, received death threats over his opposition to paramilitary groups operating in the city, Colombia’s largest Pacific port. The majority African-Colombian population continues to suffer high levels of human rights violations, including killings, forced displacement, threats and forced recruitment of minors. In January 2021 alone, Buenaventura saw 22 murders and at least 653 people forced from their homes.

3 March – At least 48 indigenous families, totalling 168 people, were displaced from their homes in the Murindó zone of Antioquia, where fighting between armed groups has heavily impacted communities in recent weeks. More than 400 other people were at immediate risk.

3 March– Indigenous political leader Carmen Ofelia Cumbalaza was murdered in Cumbal, Nariño, where she was standing as the first woman candidate for political party, the Indigenous Authorities of Colombia (AICO). The mother-of-three was found dead in her home with gunshot wounds. According to INDEPAZ, she is the 29 th social activist murdered in 2021.

3 March – Political candidate Luis Hermídes Álvarez was murdered in the town of Río de Oro, department of César, eight days after his 78-year-old father José Ever Álvarez was also killed there (25 February). Both men had stood for the Liberal party in Río de Oro in the most recent municipal elections. Luis’ murder takes the number of social activists killed this year to 31.

4 March – Eight youths were reported missing in the Bajo Cauca region as they travelled from Puerto Valdivia, Antioquia, to the northern coastal city of Barranquilla, where they were scheduled to play a game of football. Several armed groups are active in Bajo Cauca, where they are known to have forcibly recruited young people and committed multiple other violations, including several killings of social activists.

6 March– Five young peasant farmers were killed in a pool hall in Abrégo, Norte de Santander. Armed men entered the premises and ordered those inside to lie face down on the ground before proceeding to open fire. Five other people were injured. The five dead men were named as Winston Prada Puentes, Heimer Ortiz Ballesteros, José Luis Vega Plata, Jesús Alberto Vega and Robinson Garay Barbosa. ‘Our municipality is in mourning over this violent episode that has caused pain to many families, a bloody event that has abruptly ended the lives of a number of young peasant famers,’ said Ábrego’s mayor. In June 2019, the National Ombudsman issued an Early Alert for the town, urging authorities to take security measures to protect the community. In many cases, attacks have taken place in specific zones despite alerts already being in place.

7 March– Nasa indigenous leader Bernardo Palco survived an assassination attempt in the Puerto Umbria zone of Putumayo, southern Colombia, when two men dressed in black opened fire at him. The attack took place just 4kms from a military station and close to mining operations owned by Canadian company Emerald Energy. Residents of Puerto Umbria have reported recent threats apparently distributed by paramilitary group Comandos de la Frontera.

8 March – ESMAD riot police attacked indigenous community members with teargas and projectiles in operations to destroy coca crops in Puerto Caicedo, Putumayo. Community leader Jhon Fredy Narváez Acue was injured.

9 March – Threats were sent to regional organisers in the National Movement for Victims of State Crimes (MOVICE), whose members have faced previous acts of aggression, including in late 2020. The latest threats were directed at organisers in the Sucre region, named as Argemiro Lara, Andrés Narvaez, Gilberto Pérez Chamorro and Miguel Barreto.

14-16 March – Five people were murdered across three days in the El Plateado zone of Cauca, in apparent related attacks. On Sunday 14 March, 31-year-old Maye Cuenú Valencia was killed, while the following day two men, Uber Tumbo and Luis Uber Camayo, were killed. Two more people were killed on Tuesday 16 March.

15 March – More than 400 people were displaced from their homes in Olaya Herrera, Nariño, due to fighting between armed groups. Last year saw an almost 20 per cent rise in cases of forced displacement in Nariño.

16 March – ESMAD riot police attacked women-led protests over the activity of palm oil company Palmagro and mining companies in El Paso, department of César, northern Colombia. The protests began on 15 March, with organisers saying the industrial operations have created an environmental and humanitarian crisis in the zone. A number of fatal cases of cancer have been linked to toxic mining expulsions, while several families have been forced to leave their homes. The diversion of a local river has left them struggling to access clean water, while wells dug in response have dried up due as the mining has drained water away. Protesters say they were attacked and beaten by ESMAD agents as they blocked a main road into the zone.

17 March – The bodies of two young Awá indigenous men were found with signs of torture in Tumaco, southern Colombia, a month after they were abducted by an armed group. Miguel García Pai, 23 years old, and Alvaro Pascal García, 18, of the San Jacinto community had been missing since 16 February.

17 March – Indigenous leader María Bernarda Juajibioy was murdered in Orito, Putumayo. María was the current mayor of the Camentzá Biyá reservation. At around 6.45pm, she was attacked while travelling with a group of women. Her one-year-old granddaughter was also killed. She is the 34 th social activist killed in 2021.

17 March – A couple were murdered, Lorena Escobar and Armando Nuñez, along with the boatman who was transporting them, Duber Scarpeta, after armed assailants intercepted them in the vicinity of San José de Fragua, Caquetá.

20 March– Colombia’s 18 th massacre of 2021 was committed in Cáceres, Antioquia, with three members of the same family killed: a 60-year-old woman, her 38-year-old daughter and 17-year-old grandson. Reports said the attack was carried out by paramilitary organisation Los Caparros after the teenager refused to join their ranks.

21 March – Three men were killed in an attack in the northern city of Barranquilla, after armed assailants attacked them in one of the victims’ home. The dead men were named as Hernando Padilla Aguirre, Léider Anaya Martínez and Carlos Osorio Marín.

22 March – Four young members of the indigenous community San Andrés de Pisimbalá were abducted in Cauca. The captors subsequently killed Gilberto Findicué and wounded Alex Cunacué, while the other two managed to escape unharmed. Gilberto is the 35 th social activist murdered in 2021, according to INDEPAZ.

23 March – Residents of the Parte Baja del Río Saija community in Timbiquí, Chocó, have been facing forced displacement and confinement by fighting between security forces and an armed group which operates in the zone. Reports said over a thousand families, predominantly indigenous and African-Colombian, had been affected since violence escalated at the weekend.

23 March – FARC former combatant Carlos Andrés Bustos Cortes was killed in Puerto Asís, a zone in southern Colombia where several social activists have been murdered amid widespread human rights violations. Carlos was in the reincorporation process and based at the ETCR transition zone Heiler Mosquera. He and a friend were travelling by motorbike when armed men intercepted them, before killing Carlos and injuring the woman he was with. Although registered with the National Protection Unit – the official security organ for those at-risk – Carlos had not received any protective measures. He is the 262 nd FARC former combatant murdered since entering the reincorporation process, and the 13 th in 2021, according to INDEPAZ.

26 March – A car bomb explosion in front of the town hall in Corinto, Cauca, injured 43 people, at least four of whom were in a critical condition. Eleven of the injured were employed at the town hall. Corinto is located in a major drugs trafficking route, where several armed groups are believed to be active. In a statement condemning the attack, the UN Mission in Colombia called for ‘the implementation of concrete measures for the comprehensive protection of all communities as well as the strengthening of security guarantees in the territories affected by this violence.’

26 March – The offices in Bogota of the MAIS indigenous political party suffered a break-in in which a computer containing sensitive information was stolen and a party member violently assaulted. It is the latest in a series of assaults on the offices of progressive parties and organisations in the capital.

26 March– Up to 3,000 residents of five villages in the Charco zone of Nariño were forced to leave their homes because of fighting between different armed in groups. The mayor called for international organisations to intervene in the instability, which he said had prevented hundreds of people from evacuating the area. The affected villages were Santa Catalina, Mata Plátano, El Carmelo, Las Mercedes and El Guil.

27 March – Four people were killed in Cartago, Valle del Cauca, in what INDEPAZ said was the 22 nd massacre of the year so far. The attack was carried out close to the central market and claimed the lives of two men and two women, named as John Denis Aguirre Sánchez (36 years old), Julio César Montaño Betancourt (54), Leydi Yohana García Restrepo (28) and Milagros Wilquin Hernández (40). Earlier that same day, a taxi driver was murdered in the town, with two other people injured in the incident.

28 March – The 23 rd massacre of the year took place in Jamundí, Valle del Cauca. Two men and a women were found dead in the centre of the Villa Colombia zone, apparently after being forced into a vehicle by armed assailants. The victims were named as Ramiro Delgado, who was a local community organiser, Melba Carreño and José Mestizo.

28 March – 35-year-old Ramiro Ascue Yule, an indigenous community member, was killed at his home in Toribío, Cauca. He was the son of indigenous leader Carmelina Yule and his brother was also murdered last year. He is the 37 th social activist murdered in 2021.

28 March – Environmental defender Geovanny Hoyos survived an attack in Cali, when gunmen opened fire after he had attended a community meeting in the city’s Comuna 18 neighbourhood.

29 March – Trade union leader Carlos Vidal was murdered in Florida, Valle del Cauca. He was president of the SINTRACOS union for workers in the sugar industry. He was shot dead while walking his dog close to his home at around 5pm. Colombia is by far the world’s deadliest country for trade unionists. He is the 38 th social activist murdered in 2021.

29 March – The bodies of Awá indigenous leader José Santos López, 54 years old, and Jhon Edwar Martínez, 22, were found, the day after four armed men abducted them in Tumaco, Nariño, one of the worst-affected regions of the country in terms of violence against indigenous communities. José was a former governor in the reservation El Gran Sábalo. His death is the 40 th murder of a social activist in 2021.

Colombia: Ivan Cepeda's Struggle Against History

As Colombia struggles to free itself from a vortex of violence, union members, human rights.

Blood unjustly spilled is not forgotten in Colombia.

Ivan Cepeda has lived much of his life doing exactly this—speaking out loudly and bravely about killers not held accountable.

As a consequence, he can also testify to the dangers that he and others face for standing up or just being in the way.

"I'm permanently threatened," Cepeda says. "I've been threatened since I can remember."

Sometimes, however, the danger seems more imminent, and that was the case last April when Human Rights Watch and others appealed to Colombia's president to make sure Cepeda doesn't fall victim amid a slew of threats.

A round of threats from a shady criminal group in early August targeted Cepeda, leftist politicians, a number of union leaders, human rights activists and members of a law firm closely linked to union and human rights groups.

Yet despite the threats, he continues, denouncing injustice and raising questions about former President Alvaro Uribe's alleged links with right-wing paramilitary groups.

The situation he finds himself in is not unfamiliar—his father lived under constant threat.

Ivan Cepeda joined the long line of survivors in 1994 with the assassination of his father, Manuel Cepeda, a leading leftist senator in Colombia. His father was a member of the Union Patriotica, a political party that saw over 2,000 of its members assassinated and hundreds more disappear in the 1990s.

His father's death led him on a search to find the killers and to create a foundation to follow through with this task. Eventually he became the head of the National Movement for Victims of State Crimes, an organization that links over 200 Colombian human rights groups.

Like his father, his human rights work has exposed him to threats and some lengthy stretches of forced exile. And like his father, he has become an elected politician. He is a member of Colombia's Congress, one of a small number of leftist politicians.

When he speaks about human rights violations, he goes back to an issue that haunts the history of his father's death.

It's the network that allegedly linked right-wing paramilitaries to the armed forces and, ultimately, to Colombian politicians and elite during the decades of violence. Two army sergeants were convicted in his father's death, and Cepeda has long searched for the masterminds behind the killing.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights in May 2010 faulted the Colombian government for failing to protect Manuel Cepeda and strongly criticized it for not carrying out a full investigation of his murder. "It can be established that other members of the Army and members of one or several paramilitary groups took part in the planning and execution of the murder," the court said.

The role of the right-wing militias and the criminal groups that they have reportedly spawned is a major concern for Cepeda.

"There was a very partial demobilization," he says, referring to the government's efforts to break up and pacify the militias nearly a decade ago. "Today they are not armed groups. But they are a political-social effort that has achieved a parallel structure to the state."

He worries too about Colombians' many human rights battles. Women. Indigenous. Afro-Colombians. Workers' struggle for unions and decent work and pay. Health care workers, unpaid and unsupported. He is deeply concerned about the fate of small rural communities, many of them indigenous or Afro-Colombian, that are caught up in the sprawl of mining operations and other businesses run by international and Colombian firms.

In his very small government office, he turns towards his computer and flicks on pictures of mining operations and then talks about how new routes have been created to transport the extracted resources to the coast.

"People have been told to move," he says, his voice rising. "It's a total effect. It's an environmental disaster. It's a total violation of the rights of people."

As for a turnaround in the struggle for human rights, he is cautious. It is a view shared by many who count Colombia's long-lingering scars: nearly five million displaced, over 200,000 killed in five decades of wars, whole swaths of land polluted with land mines, blistering outrage among the poor.

"The problem is that we've had a war for 50 years. Sometimes there are improvements but in a state of war, you can't expect human rights."

Just as Cepeda has suffered for his willingness to speak out about human rights, so have others.

Sixty-nine human rights activists were killed last year, a 40 percent one year increase as attacks overall jumped by nearly 50 percent, according to Somos Defensores, a leading human rights organization. And there were 37 human rights activists killed in the first six months of this year, according to the group.

Among the 11,200 persons who received some form of protection from the Colombian government in 2012, 1,452 were human rights activists, according to the U.S. State Department's Human Rights Report on Colombia.

One of those was Ivan Cepeda.

When he travels, he uses an armored car. Protective shields cover his home. And wherever he goes, so does a guard.


The name "Colombia" is derived from the last name of the Italian navigator Christopher Columbus (Italian: Cristoforo Colombo, Spanish: Cristóbal Colón). It was conceived as a reference to all of the New World. [18] The name was later adopted by the Republic of Colombia of 1819, formed from the territories of the old Viceroyalty of New Granada (modern-day Colombia, Panama, Venezuela, Ecuador, and northwest Brazil). [19]

When Venezuela, Ecuador, and Cundinamarca came to exist as independent states, the former Department of Cundinamarca adopted the name "Republic of New Granada". New Granada officially changed its name in 1858 to the Granadine Confederation. In 1863 the name was again changed, this time to United States of Colombia, before finally adopting its present name – the Republic of Colombia – in 1886. [19]

To refer to this country, the Colombian government uses the terms Colombia and República de Colombia.

Pre-Columbian era

Owing to its location, the present territory of Colombia was a corridor of early human civilization from Mesoamerica and the Caribbean to the Andes and Amazon basin. The oldest archaeological finds are from the Pubenza and El Totumo sites in the Magdalena Valley 100 kilometres (62 mi) southwest of Bogotá. [20] 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. [21]

Indigenous people inhabited the territory that is now Colombia by 12,500 BCE. Nomadic hunter-gatherer tribes at the El Abra, Tibitó and Tequendama sites near present-day Bogotá traded with one another and with other cultures from the Magdalena River Valley. [22] A site including eight miles (13 km) of pictographs that is under study at Serranía de la Lindosa was revealed in November 2020. [23] Their age is suggested as being 12,500 years old (c. 10,480 B.C.) by the anthropologists working on the site because of extinct fauna depicted. That would have been during the earliest known human occupation of the area now known as Colombia.

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, Zenú, 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 especially rock salt with neighboring nations. The Tairona inhabited northern Colombia in the isolated mountain range of Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. [24] The Quimbaya inhabited regions of the Cauca River Valley between the Western and Central Ranges of the Colombian Andes. [25] Most of the Amerindians practiced agriculture and the social structure of each indigenous community was different. Some groups of indigenous people such as the Caribs lived in a state of permanent war, but others had less bellicose attitudes. [26]

European annexation

Alonso de Ojeda (who had sailed with Columbus) reached the Guajira Peninsula in 1499. [27] [28] Spanish explorers, led by Rodrigo de Bastidas, made the first exploration of the Caribbean coast in 1500. [29] Christopher Columbus navigated near the Caribbean in 1502. [30] 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. [Note 2] [31]

Santa Marta was founded in 1525, [32] and Cartagena in 1533. [33] 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 provisionally its 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. [34] [35] 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 [36] 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". [37] [38] The legend and the gold would play a pivotal role in luring the Spanish and other Europeans to New Granada during the 16th and 17th centuries. [39]

The conquistadors made frequent alliances with the enemies of different indigenous communities. Indigenous allies were crucial to conquest, as well as to creating and maintaining empire. [40] 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. [41] [42] Regarding the land as deserted, the Spanish Crown sold properties to all persons interested in colonized territories, creating large farms and possession of mines. [43] [44] [45]

In the 16th century, the nautical science in Spain reached a great development thanks to numerous scientific figures of the Casa de Contratación and nautical science was an essential pillar of the Iberian expansion. [46]

Colonial exchange

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 in Lima. [47] 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. [48] But important decisions were taken from the colony to Spain by the Council of the Indies. [49] [50]

In the 16th century, European slave traders had begun to bring enslaved Africans to the Americas. Spain was the only European power that did not establish factories in Africa to purchase slaves the Spanish Empire instead relied on the asiento system, awarding merchants from other European nations the license to trade enslaved peoples to their overseas territories. [52] [53] This system brought Africans to Colombia, although many spoke out against the institution. [Note 3] [Note 4] The indigenous peoples could not be enslaved because they were legally subjects of the Spanish Crown. [58] To protect the indigenous peoples, several forms of land ownership and regulation were established by the Spanish colonial authorities: resguardos, encomiendas and haciendas. [43] [44] [45]

The Viceroyalty of New Granada was established in 1717, then temporarily removed, and then re-established in 1739. Its capital was Santa Fé de Bogotá. This Viceroyalty included some other provinces of northwestern South America that had previously been under the jurisdiction of the Viceroyalties of New Spain or Peru and correspond mainly to today's Venezuela, Ecuador, and Panama. So, 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. [59] [60]

Great Britain declared war on Spain in 1739, and the city of Cartagena quckly became a top target for the British. A massive British expeditionary force was dispatched to capture the city, but after initial inroads devastating outbreaks of disease crippled their numbers and the British were forced to withdraw. The battle became one of Spain's most decisive victories in the conflict, and secured Spanish dominance in the Caribbean until the Seven Years' War. [51] [61]

The 18th-century priest, botanist and mathematician José Celestino Mutis was delegated by Viceroy Antonio Caballero y Góngora to conduct an inventory of the nature of New Granada. Started in 1783, this became known as the Royal Botanical Expedition to New Granada. It classified plants and wildlife, and founded the first astronomical observatory in the city of Santa Fe de Bogotá. [62] In July 1801 the Prussian scientist Alexander von Humboldt reached Santa Fe de Bogotá where he met with Mutis. In addition, historical figures in the process of independence in New Granada emerged from the expedition as the astronomer Francisco José de Caldas, the scientist Francisco Antonio Zea, the zoologist Jorge Tadeo Lozano and the painter Salvador Rizo. [63] [64]


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 and culminated in the Colombian Declaration of Independence, issued on 20 July 1810, the day that is now celebrated as the nation's Independence Day. [65] This movement followed the independence of St. Domingue (present-day Haiti) in 1804, which provided some support to an eventual leader of this rebellion: Simón Bolívar. Francisco de Paula Santander also would play a decisive role. [66] [67] [68]

A movement was initiated by Antonio Nariño, who opposed Spanish centralism and led the opposition against the Viceroyalty. [69] Cartagena became independent in November 1811. [70] In 1811 the United Provinces of New Granada were proclaimed, headed by Camilo Torres Tenorio. [71] [72] The emergence of two distinct ideological currents among the patriots (federalism and centralism) gave rise to a period of instability. [73] Shortly after the Napoleonic Wars ended, Ferdinand VII, recently restored to the throne in Spain, unexpectedly decided to send military forces to retake most of northern South America. The viceroyalty was restored under the command of Juan Sámano, whose regime punished those who participated in the patriotic movements, ignoring the political nuances of the juntas. [74] 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. [75] [76] The pro-Spanish resistance was defeated in 1822 in the present territory of Colombia and in 1823 in Venezuela. [77] [78] [79]

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. [80] The Congress of Cúcuta in 1821 adopted a constitution for the new Republic. [81] [82] Simón Bolívar became the first President of Colombia, and Francisco de Paula Santander was made Vice President. [83] However, the new republic was unstable and three countries emerged from the collapse of Gran Colombia in 1830 (New Granada, Ecuador and Venezuela). [84] [85]

Colombia was the first constitutional government in South America, [86] and the Liberal and Conservative parties, founded in 1848 and 1849, respectively, are two of the oldest surviving political parties in the Americas. [87] Slavery was abolished in the country in 1851. [88] [89]

Internal political and territorial divisions led to the dissolution of Gran Colombia in 1830. [84] [85] 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. [86] [90] Internal divisions remained between the bipartisan political forces, occasionally igniting very bloody civil wars, the most significant being the Thousand Days' War (1899–1902). [91]

20th century

The United States of America's intentions to influence the area (especially the Panama Canal construction and control) [92] led to the separation of the Department of Panama in 1903 and the establishment of it as a nation. [93] 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. [94] Colombia and Peru went to war because of territory disputes far in the Amazon basin. The war ended with a peace deal brokered by the League of Nations. The League finally awarded the disputed area to Colombia in June 1934. [95]

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 9 April 1948. [96] [97] The ensuing riots in Bogotá, known as El Bogotazo, spread throughout the country and claimed the lives of at least 180,000 Colombians. [98]

Colombia entered the Korean War when Laureano Gómez was elected 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. [99]

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. [100] [101]

After Rojas' deposition, the Colombian Conservative Party and Colombian Liberal Party agreed to create the National Front, a coalition that would jointly govern the country. Under the deal, the presidency would alternate between conservatives and liberals every 4 years for 16 years the two parties would have parity in all other elective offices. [102] 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. [103] [104] Despite the progress in certain sectors, many social and political problems continued, and guerrilla groups were formally created such as the FARC, the ELN and the M-19 to fight the government and political apparatus. [105]

Since the 1960s, the country has suffered from an asymmetric low-intensity armed conflict between government forces, leftist guerrilla groups and right wing paramilitaries. [106] The conflict escalated in the 1990s, [107] mainly in remote rural areas. [108] Since the beginning of the armed conflict, human rights defenders have fought for the respect for human rights, despite staggering opposition. [Note 5] [Note 6] Several guerrillas' organizations decided to demobilize after peace negotiations in 1989–1994. [13]

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. Mercenaries and multinational corporations such as Chiquita Brands International are some of the international actors that have contributed to the violence of the conflict. [106] [13] [112]

Beginning in the mid-1970s Colombian drug cartels became major producers, processors and exporters of illegal drugs, primarily marijuana and cocaine. [113]

On 4 July 1991, a new Constitution was promulgated. The changes generated by the new constitution are viewed as positive by Colombian society. [114] [115]

21st century

The administration of President Álvaro Uribe (2002–10), adopted the democratic security policy which included an integrated counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency campaign. [116] The Government economic plan also promoted confidence in investors. [117] As part of a controversial peace process the AUC (right-wing paramilitaries) as a formal organization had ceased to function. [118] In February 2008, millions of Colombians demonstrated against FARC and other outlawed groups. [119]

After peace negotiations in Cuba, the Colombian government of President Juan Manuel Santos and guerrilla of FARC-EP announced a final agreement to end the conflict. [120] However, a referendum to ratify the deal was unsuccessful. [121] [122] Afterward, the Colombian government and the FARC signed a revised peace deal in November 2016, [123] which the Colombian congress approved. [124] In 2016, President Santos was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. [125] The Government began a process of attention and comprehensive reparation for victims of conflict. [126] [127] Colombia shows modest progress in the struggle to defend human rights, as expressed by HRW. [128] A Special Jurisdiction of Peace has been created to investigate, clarify, prosecute and punish serious human rights violations and grave breaches of international humanitarian law which occurred during the armed conflict and to satisfy victims' right to justice. [129] During his visit to Colombia, Pope Francis paid tribute to the victims of the conflict. [130]

In June 2018, Ivan Duque, the candidate of the right-wing Democratic Centre party, won the presidential election. [131] On 7 August 2018, he was sworn in as the new President of Colombia to succeed Juan Manuel Santos. [132]

Colombia's relations with Venezuela have fluctuated due to ideological differences between both governments. [133] Colombia has offered humanitarian support with food and medicines to mitigate the shortage of supplies in Venezuela. [134] Colombia's Foreign Ministry said that all efforts to resolve Venezuela's crisis should be peaceful. [135] Colombia proposed the idea of the Sustainable Development Goals and a final document was adopted by the United Nations. [136] In February 2019, Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro cut off diplomatic relations with Colombia after Colombian President Ivan Duque had helped Venezuelan opposition politicians deliver humanitarian aid to their country. Colombia recognized Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó as the country's legitimate president. In January 2020, Colombia rejected Maduro's proposal that the two countries would restore diplomatic relations. [137]

The geography of Colombia is characterized by its six main natural regions that present their own unique characteristics, from the Andes mountain range region shared with Ecuador and Venezuela the Pacific Coastal region shared with Panama and Ecuador the Caribbean coastal region shared with Venezuela and Panama the Llanos (plains) shared with Venezuela the Amazon Rainforest region shared with Venezuela, Brazil, Peru and Ecuador to the insular area, comprising islands in both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. [138] It shares its maritime limits with Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Jamaica, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic. [139]

Colombia is bordered to the northwest by Panama, to the east by Venezuela and Brazil, and to the south by Ecuador and Peru [140] it established its maritime boundaries with neighboring countries through seven agreements on the Caribbean Sea and three on the Pacific Ocean. [139] It lies between latitudes 12°N and 4°S and between longitudes 67° and 79°W.

Part of the Ring of Fire, a region of the world subject to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, [141] in the interior of Colombia the Andes are the prevailing geographical feature. Most of Colombia's population centers are located in these interior highlands. Beyond the Colombian Massif (in the southwestern departments of Cauca and Nariño), these are divided into three branches known as cordilleras (mountain ranges): the Cordillera Occidental, running adjacent to the Pacific coast and including the city of Cali the Cordillera Central, running between the Cauca and Magdalena River valleys (to the west and east, respectively) and including the cities of Medellín, Manizales, Pereira, and Armenia and the Cordillera Oriental, extending northeast to the Guajira Peninsula and including Bogotá, Bucaramanga, and Cúcuta. [138] [142] [143]

Peaks in the Cordillera Occidental exceed 4,700 m (15,420 ft), and in the Cordillera Central and Cordillera Oriental they reach 5,000 m (16,404 ft). At 2,600 m (8,530 ft), Bogotá is the highest city of its size in the world. [138]

East of the Andes lies the savanna of the Llanos, part of the Orinoco River basin, and in the far southeast, the jungle of the Amazon rainforest. Together these lowlands make up over half Colombia's territory, but they contain less than 6% of the population. To the north the Caribbean coast, home to 21.9% of the population and the location of the major port cities of Barranquilla and Cartagena, generally consists of low-lying plains, but it also contains the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain range, which includes the country's tallest peaks (Pico Cristóbal Colón and Pico Simón Bolívar), and the La Guajira Desert. By contrast the narrow and discontinuous Pacific coastal lowlands, backed by the Serranía de Baudó mountains, are sparsely populated and covered in dense vegetation. The principal Pacific port is Buenaventura. [138] [142] [143]

The main rivers of Colombia are Magdalena, Cauca, Guaviare, Atrato, Meta, Putumayo and Caquetá. Colombia has four main drainage systems: the Pacific drain, the Caribbean drain, the Orinoco Basin and the Amazon Basin. The Orinoco and Amazon Rivers mark limits with Colombia to Venezuela and Peru respectively. [144]

Protected areas and the "National Park System" cover an area of about 14,268,224 hectares (142,682.24 km 2 ) and account for 12.77% of the Colombian territory. [145] Compared to neighboring countries, rates of deforestation in Colombia are still relatively low. [146] Colombia had a 2018 Forest Landscape Integrity Index mean score of 8.26/10, ranking it 25th globally out of 172 countries. [147] Colombia is the sixth country in the world by magnitude of total renewable freshwater supply, and still has large reserves of freshwater. [148]


The climate of Colombia is characterized for being tropical presenting variations within six natural regions and depending on the altitude, temperature, humidity, winds and rainfall. [149] The diversity of climate zones in Colombia is characterized for having tropical rainforests, savannas, steppes, deserts and mountain climate.

Mountain climate is one of the unique features of the Andes and other high altitude reliefs where climate is determined by elevation. Below 1,000 meters (3,281 ft) in elevation is the warm altitudinal zone, where temperatures are above 24 °C (75.2 °F). About 82.5% of the country's total area lies in the warm altitudinal zone. The temperate climate altitudinal zone located between 1,001 and 2,000 meters (3,284 and 6,562 ft) is characterized for presenting an average temperature ranging between 17 and 24 °C (62.6 and 75.2 °F). The cold climate is present between 2,001 and 3,000 meters (6,565 and 9,843 ft) and the temperatures vary between 12 and 17 °C (53.6 and 62.6 °F). Beyond lies the alpine conditions of the forested zone and then the treeless grasslands of the páramos. Above 4,000 meters (13,123 ft), where temperatures are below freezing, the climate is glacial, a zone of permanent snow and ice. [149]


Colombia is one of the megadiverse countries in biodiversity, [151] ranking first in bird species. [152] As for plants, the country has between 40,000 and 45,000 plant species, equivalent to 10 or 20% of total global species, which is even more remarkable given that Colombia is considered a country of intermediate size. [153] Colombia is the second most biodiverse country in the world, lagging only after Brazil which is approximately 7 times bigger. [15]

Colombia is the country with the planet's highest biodiversity, having the highest rate of species by area as well as the largest number of endemisms (species that are not found naturally anywhere else) of any country. About 10% of the species of the Earth live in Colombia, including over 1,900 species of bird, more than in Europe and North America combined. Colombia has 10% of the world's mammals species, 14% of the amphibian species and 18% of the bird species of the world. [154]

Colombia has about 2,000 species of marine fish and is the second most diverse country in freshwater fish. It is also the country with the most endemic species of butterflies, is first in orchid species, and has approximately 7,000 species of beetles. Colombia is second in the number of amphibian species and is the third most diverse country in reptiles and palms. There are about 1,900 species of mollusks and according to estimates there are about 300,000 species of invertebrates in the country. In Colombia there are 32 terrestrial biomes and 314 types of ecosystems. [155] [156]

The government of Colombia takes place within the framework of a presidential participatory democratic republic as established in the Constitution of 1991. [115] In accordance with the principle of separation of powers, government is divided into three branches: the executive branch, the legislative branch and the judicial branch. [157]

As the head of the executive branch, the President of Colombia serves as both head of state and head of government, followed by the Vice President and the Council of Ministers. The president is elected by popular vote to serve a single four-year term (In 2015, Colombia's Congress approved the repeal of a 2004 constitutional amendment that changed the one-term limit for presidents to a two-term limit). [158] At the provincial level executive power is vested in department governors, municipal mayors and local administrators for smaller administrative subdivisions, such as corregimientos or comunas. [159] All regional elections are held one year and five months after the presidential election. [160] [161]

The legislative branch of government is represented nationally by the Congress, a bicameral institution comprising a 166-seat Chamber of Representatives and a 102-seat Senate. [162] [163] The Senate is elected nationally and the Chamber of Representatives is elected in electoral districts. [164] Members of both houses are elected to serve four-year terms two months before the president, also by popular vote. [165]

The judicial branch is headed by four high courts, [166] consisting of the Supreme Court which deals with penal and civil matters, the Council of State, which has special responsibility for administrative law and also provides legal advice to the executive, the Constitutional Court, responsible for assuring the integrity of the Colombian constitution, and the Superior Council of Judicature, responsible for auditing the judicial branch. [167] Colombia operates a system of civil law, which since 2005 has been applied through an adversarial system.

Despite a number of controversies, the democratic security policy has ensured that former President Uribe remained popular among Colombian people, with his approval rating peaking at 76%, according to a poll in 2009. [168] However, having served two terms, he was constitutionally barred from seeking re-election in 2010. [169] In the run-off elections on 20 June 2010 the former Minister of defense Juan Manuel Santos won with 69% of the vote against the second most popular candidate, Antanas Mockus. A second round was required since no candidate received over the 50% winning threshold of votes. [170] Santos won nearly 51% of the vote in second-round elections on 15 June 2014, beating right-wing rival Óscar Iván Zuluaga, who won 45%. [171] Iván Duque won in the second round with 54% of the vote, against 42% for his left-wing rival, Gustavo Petro. His term as Colombia's president runs for four years beginning 7 August 2018. [172]

Foreign affairs

The foreign affairs of Colombia are headed by the President, as head of state, and managed by the Minister of Foreign Affairs. [173] Colombia has diplomatic missions in all continents. [174]

Colombia was one of the 4 founding members of the Pacific Alliance, which is a political, economic and co-operative integration mechanism that promotes the free circulation of goods, services, capital and persons between the members, as well as a common stock exchange and joint embassies in several countries. [175] Colombia is also a member of the United Nations, the World Trade Organization, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the Organization of American States, the Organization of Ibero-American States, and the Andean Community of Nations. [176] [177] [178] [179] [180] Colombia is a global partner of NATO. [181]


The executive branch of government is responsible for managing the defense of Colombia, with the President commander-in-chief of the armed forces. The Ministry of Defence exercises day-to-day control of the military and the Colombian National Police. Colombia has 455,461 active military personnel. [182] And in 2016 3.4% of the country's GDP went towards military expenditure, placing it 24th in the world. Colombia's armed forces are the largest in Latin America, and it is the second largest spender on its military after Brazil. [183] [184] In 2018, Colombia signed the UN treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. [185]

The Colombian military is divided into three branches: the National Army of Colombia the Colombian Air Force and the Colombian Navy. The National Police functions as a gendarmerie, operating independently from the military as the law enforcement agency for the entire country. Each of these operates with their own intelligence apparatus separate from the National Intelligence Directorate (DNI, in Spanish). [186]

The National Army is formed by divisions, brigades, special brigades, and special units, [187] the Colombian Navy by the Naval Infantry, the Naval Force of the Caribbean, the Naval Force of the Pacific, the Naval Force of the South, the Naval Force of the East, Colombia Coast Guards, Naval Aviation, and the Specific Command of San Andres y Providencia [188] and the Air Force by 15 air units. [189] The National Police has a presence in all municipalities.

Administrative divisions

Colombia is divided into 32 departments and one capital district, which is treated as a department (Bogotá also serves as the capital of the department of Cundinamarca). Departments are subdivided into municipalities, each of which is assigned a municipal seat, and municipalities are in turn subdivided into corregimientos in rural areas and into comunas in urban areas. Each department has a local government with a governor and assembly directly elected to four-year terms, and each municipality is headed by a mayor and council. There is a popularly elected local administrative board in each of the corregimientos or comunas. [190] [191] [192] [193]

In addition to the capital four other cities have been designated districts (in effect special municipalities), on the basis of special distinguishing features. These are Barranquilla, Cartagena, Santa Marta and Buenaventura. Some departments have local administrative subdivisions, where towns have a large concentration of population and municipalities are near each other (for example, in Antioquia and Cundinamarca). Where departments have a low population (for example Amazonas, Vaupés and Vichada), special administrative divisions are employed, such as "department corregimientos", which are a hybrid of a municipality and a corregimiento. [190] [191]

Click on a department on the map below to go to its article.

Largest cities and towns

Colombia is a highly urbanized country with 77.1% of the population living in urban areas. The largest cities in the country are Bogotá, with 7,387,400 inhabitants, Medellín, with 2,382,399 inhabitants, Cali, with 2,172,527 inhabitants, and Barranquilla, with 1,205,284 inhabitants. [194]

Historically an agrarian economy, Colombia urbanized rapidly in the 20th century, by the end of which just 15.8% of the workforce were employed in agriculture, generating just 6.6% of GDP 19.6% of the workforce were employed in industry and 64.6% in services, responsible for 33.4% and 59.9% of GDP respectively. [196] [197] The country's economic production is dominated by its strong domestic demand. Consumption expenditure by households is the largest component of GDP. [198] [16] [199]

Colombia's market economy grew steadily in the latter part of the 20th century, with gross domestic product (GDP) increasing at an average rate of over 4% per year between 1970 and 1998. The country suffered a recession in 1999 (the first full year of negative growth since the Great Depression), and the recovery from that recession was long and painful. However, in recent years growth has been impressive, reaching 6.9% in 2007, one of the highest rates of growth in Latin America. [14] According to International Monetary Fund estimates, in 2012, Colombia's GDP (PPP) was US$500 billion (28th in the world and third in South America).

Total government expenditures account for 27.9 percent of the domestic economy. External debt equals 39.9 percent of gross domestic product. A strong fiscal climate was reaffirmed by a boost in bond ratings. [200] [201] [202] Annual inflation closed 2017 at 4.09% YoY (vs. 5.75% YoY in 2016). [203] The average national unemployment rate in 2017 was 9.4%, [204] although the informality is the biggest problem facing the labour market (the income of formal workers climbed 24.8% in 5 years while labor incomes of informal workers rose only 9%). [205] Colombia has free-trade zones (FTZ), [206] such as Zona Franca del Pacifico, located in the Valle del Cauca, one of the most striking areas for foreign investment. [207]

The financial sector has grown favorably due to good liquidity in the economy, the growth of credit and the positive performance of the Colombian economy. [17] [208] [209] The Colombian Stock Exchange through the Latin American Integrated Market (MILA) offers a regional market to trade equities. [210] [211] Colombia is now one of only three economies with a perfect score on the strength of legal rights index, according to the World Bank. [212]

The electricity production in Colombia comes mainly from Renewable energy sources. 69.93% is obtained from the hydroelectric generation. [214] Colombia's commitment to renewable energy was recognized in the 2014 Global Green Economy Index (GGEI), ranking among the top 10 nations in the world in terms of greening efficiency sectors. [215]

Colombia is rich in natural resources, and its main exports include mineral fuels, oils, distillation products, fruit and other agricultural products, sugars and sugar confectionery, food products, plastics, precious stones, metals, forest products, chemical goods, pharmaceuticals, vehicles, electronic products, electrical equipment, perfumery and cosmetics, machinery, manufactured articles, textile and fabrics, clothing and footwear, glass and glassware, furniture, prefabricated buildings, military products, home and office material, construction equipment, software, among others. [216] Principal trading partners are the United States, China, the European Union and some Latin American countries. [217] [218]

Non-traditional exports have boosted the growth of Colombian foreign sales as well as the diversification of destinations of export thanks to new free trade agreements. [219]

In 2017, the National Administrative Department of Statistics (DANE) reported that 26.9% of the population were living below the poverty line, of which 7.4% in "extreme poverty". The multidimensional poverty rate stands at 17.0 percent of the population. [6] The Government has also been developing a process of financial inclusion within the country's most vulnerable population. [220]

Recent economic growth has led to a considerable increase of new millionaires, including the new entrepreneurs, Colombians with a net worth exceeding US$1 billion. [221] [222]

The contribution of Travel & Tourism to GDP was US$5,880.3bn (2.0% of total GDP) in 2016. Tourism generated 556,135 jobs (2.5% of total employment) in 2016. [223] Foreign tourist visits were predicted to have risen from 0.6 million in 2007 to 4 million in 2017. [224] [225]

Science and technology

Colombia has more than 3,950 research groups in science and technology. [226] iNNpulsa, a government body that promotes entrepreneurship and innovation in the country, provides grants to startups, in addition to other services it and institutions like Apps.co provide. Co-working spaces have arisen to serve as communities for startups large and small. [227] [228] Organizations such as the Corporation for Biological Research (CIB) for the support of young people interested in scientific work has been successfully developed in Colombia. [229] The International Center for Tropical Agriculture based in Colombia investigates the increasing challenge of global warming and food security. [230]

Important inventions related to medicine have been made in Colombia, such as the first external artificial pacemaker with internal electrodes, invented by the electronics engineer Jorge Reynolds Pombo, invention of great importance for those who suffer from heart failure. Also invented in Colombia were the microkeratome and keratomileusis technique, which form the fundamental basis of what now is known as LASIK (one of the most important techniques for the correction of refractive errors of vision) and the Hakim valve for the treatment of Hydrocephalus, among others. [231] Colombia has begun to innovate in military technology for its army and other armies of the world especially in the design and creation of personal ballistic protection products, military hardware, military robots, bombs, simulators and radar. [232] [233] [234]

Some leading Colombian scientists are Joseph M. Tohme, researcher recognized for his work on the genetic diversity of food, Manuel Elkin Patarroyo who is known for his groundbreaking work on synthetic vaccines for malaria, Francisco Lopera who discovered the "Paisa Mutation" or a type of early-onset Alzheimer's, [235] Rodolfo Llinás known for his study of the intrinsic neurons properties and the theory of a syndrome that had changed the way of understanding the functioning of the brain, Jairo Quiroga Puello recognized for his studies on the characterization of synthetic substances which can be used to fight fungus, tumors, tuberculosis and even some viruses and Ángela Restrepo who established accurate diagnoses and treatments to combat the effects of a disease caused by the Paracoccidioides brasiliensis, among other scientists. [236] [237] [238]


Transportation in Colombia is regulated within the functions of the Ministry of Transport [239] and entities such as the National Roads Institute (INVÍAS) responsible for the Highways in Colombia, [240] the Aerocivil, responsible for civil aviation and airports, [241] the National Infrastructure Agency, in charge of concessions through public–private partnerships, for the design, construction, maintenance, operation, and administration of the transport infrastructure, [242] the General Maritime Directorate (Dimar) has the responsibility of coordinating maritime traffic control along with the Colombian Navy, [243] among others and under the supervision of the Superintendency of Ports and Transport. [244] The road network in Colombia has a length of about 215,000 km of which 23,000 are paved. [245] Rail transportation in Colombia is dedicated almost entirely to freight shipments and the railway network has a length of 1,700 km of potentially active rails. [245] Colombia has 3,960 kilometers of gas pipelines, 4,900 kilometers of oil pipelines, and 2,990 kilometers of refined-products pipelines. [245]

The target of Colombia's government is to build 7,000 km of roads for the 2016–2020 period and reduce travel times by 30 per cent and transport costs by 20 per cent. A toll road concession programme will comprise 40 projects, and is part of a larger strategic goal to invest nearly $50bn in transport infrastructure, including: railway systems making the Magdalena river navigable again improving port facilities as well as an expansion of Bogotá's airport. [246]

With an estimated 50 million people in 2020, Colombia is the third-most populous country in Latin America, after Brazil and Mexico. [4] At the beginning of the 20th century, Colombia's population was approximately 4 million. [247] Since the early 1970s Colombia has experienced steady declines in its fertility, mortality, and population growth rates. The population growth rate for 2016 is estimated to be 0.9%. [248] About 26.8% of the population were 15 years old or younger, 65.7% were between 15 and 64 years old, and 7.4% were over 65 years old. The proportion of older persons in the total population has begun to increase substantially. [249] Colombia is projected to have a population of 55.3 million by 2050. [250]

The population is concentrated in the Andean highlands and along the Caribbean coast, also the population densities are generally higher in the Andean region. The nine eastern lowland departments, comprising about 54% of Colombia's area, have less than 6% of the population. [142] [143] Traditionally a rural society, movement to urban areas was very heavy in the mid-20th century, and Colombia is now one of the most urbanized countries in Latin America. The urban population increased from 31% of the total in 1938 to nearly 60% in 1973, and by 2014 the figure stood at 76%. [251] [252] The population of Bogotá alone has increased from just over 300,000 in 1938 to approximately 8 million today. [253] In total seventy-two cities now have populations of 100,000 or more (2015). As of 2012 [update] Colombia has the world's largest populations of internally displaced persons (IDPs), estimated to be up to 4.9 million people. [254]

The life expectancy is 74.8 years in 2015 and infant mortality is 13.1 per thousand in 2016. [255] [256] In 2015, 94.58% of adults and 98.66% of youth are literate and the government spends about 4.49% of its GDP on education. [257]


More than 99.2% of Colombians speak Spanish, also called Castilian 65 Amerindian languages, two Creole languages, the Romani language and Colombian Sign Language are also used in the country. English has official status in the archipelago of San Andrés, Providencia and Santa Catalina. [9] [258] [259] [260]

Including Spanish, a total of 101 languages are listed for Colombia in the Ethnologue database. The specific number of spoken languages varies slightly since some authors consider as different languages what others consider to be varieties or dialects of the same language. Best estimates recorded 71 languages that are spoken in-country today – most of which belong to the Chibchan, Tucanoan, Bora–Witoto, Guajiboan, Arawakan, Cariban, Barbacoan, and Saliban language families. There are currently about 850,000 speakers of native languages. [261] [262]

Ethnic groups

Human biological diversity and ethnicity [1]

Colombia is ethnically diverse, its people descending from the original native inhabitants, Spanish colonists, Africans originally brought to the country as slaves, and 20th-century immigrants from Europe and the Middle East, all contributing to a diverse cultural heritage. [263] The demographic distribution reflects a pattern that is influenced by colonial history. [264] Whites live all throughout the country, mainly in urban centers and the burgeoning highland and coastal cities. The populations of the major cities also include mestizos. Mestizo campesinos (people living in rural areas) also live in the Andean highlands where some Spanish conquerors mixed with the women of Amerindian chiefdoms. Mestizos include artisans and small tradesmen that have played a major part in the urban expansion of recent decades. [265]

The 2018 census reported that the "non-ethnic population", consisting of whites and mestizos (those of mixed European and Amerindian ancestry), constituted 87.58% of the national population. 6.68% is of African ancestry. Indigenous Amerindians constitute 4.31% of the population. Raizal people constitute 0.06% of the population. Palenquero people constitute 0.02% of the population. 0.01% of the population are Roma. An extraofficial estimate considers that the 49% of the Colombian population is Mestizo or of mixed European and Amerindian ancestry, and that approximately 37% is White, mainly of Spanish lineage, but there is also a large population of Middle East descent in some sectors of society there is a considerable input of German and Italian ancestry. [266]

Many of the Indigenous peoples experienced a reduction in population during the Spanish rule [267] and many others were absorbed into the mestizo population, but the remainder currently represents over eighty distinct cultures. Reserves (resguardos) established for indigenous peoples occupy 30,571,640 hectares (305,716.4 km 2 ) (27% of the country's total) and are inhabited by more than 800,000 people. [268] Some of the largest indigenous groups are the Wayuu, [269] the Paez, the Pastos, the Emberá and the Zenú. [270] The departments of La Guajira, Cauca, Nariño, Córdoba and Sucre have the largest indigenous populations. [1]

The Organización Nacional Indígena de Colombia (ONIC), founded at the first National Indigenous Congress in 1982, is an organization representing the indigenous peoples of Colombia. In 1991, Colombia signed and ratified the current international law concerning indigenous peoples, Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, 1989. [271]

Sub-Saharan Africans were brought as slaves, mostly to the coastal lowlands, beginning early in the 16th century and continuing into the 19th century. Large Afro-Colombian communities are found today on the Pacific Coast. [272] Numerous Jamaicans migrated mainly to the islands of San Andres and Providencia. A number of other Europeans and North Americans migrated to the country in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including people from the former USSR during and after the Second World War. [273] [274]

Many immigrant communities have settled on the Caribbean coast, in particular recent immigrants from the Middle East and Europe. Barranquilla (the largest city of the Colombian Caribbean) and other Caribbean cities have the largest populations of Lebanese, Palestinian, and other Levantines. [275] [276] There are also important communities of Chinese, Japanese, Romanis and Jews. [263] There is a major migration trend of Venezuelans, due to the political and economic situation in Venezuela. [277] In August 2019, Colombia offered citizenship to more than 24,000 children of Venezuelan refugees who were born in Colombia. [278]


The National Administrative Department of Statistics (DANE) does not collect religious statistics, and accurate reports are difficult to obtain. However, based on various studies and a survey, about 90% of the population adheres to Christianity, the majority of which (70.9%–79%) are Roman Catholic, while a significant minority (16.7%) adhere to Protestantism (primarily Evangelicalism). Some 4.7% of the population is atheist or agnostic, while 3.5% claim to believe in God but do not follow a specific religion. 1.8% of Colombians adhere to Jehovah's Witnesses and Adventism and less than 1% adhere to other religions, such as the Baháʼí Faith, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Mormonism, Hinduism, Indigenous religions, Hare Krishna movement, Rastafari movement, Orthodox Catholic Church, and spiritual studies. The remaining people either did not respond or replied that they did not know. In addition to the above statistics, 35.9% of Colombians reported that they did not practice their faith actively. [279] [280] [281]

While Colombia remains a mostly Roman Catholic country by baptism numbers, the 1991 Colombian constitution guarantees freedom of religion and all religious faiths and churches are equally free before the law. [282]

Colombia lies at the crossroads of Latin America and the broader American continent, and as such has been hit by a wide range of cultural influences. Native American, Spanish and other European, African, American, Caribbean, and Middle Eastern influences, as well as other Latin American cultural influences, are all present in Colombia's modern culture. Urban migration, industrialization, globalization, and other political, social and economic changes have also left an impression.

Many national symbols, both objects and themes, have arisen from Colombia's diverse cultural traditions and aim to represent what Colombia, and the Colombian people, have in common. Cultural expressions in Colombia are promoted by the government through the Ministry of Culture.


Colombian literature dates back to pre-Columbian era a notable example of the period is the epic poem known as the Legend of Yurupary. [284] In Spanish colonial times, notable writers include Juan de Castellanos (Elegías de varones ilustres de Indias), Hernando Domínguez Camargo and his epic poem to San Ignacio de Loyola, Pedro Simón, Juan Rodríguez Freyle (El Carnero), [285] Lucas Fernández de Piedrahita, and the nun Francisca Josefa de Castillo, representative of mysticism.

Post-independence literature linked to Romanticism highlighted Antonio Nariño, José Fernández Madrid, Camilo Torres Tenorio and Francisco Antonio Zea. [286] [287] In the second half of the nineteenth century and early twentieth century the literary genre known as costumbrismo became popular great writers of this period were Tomás Carrasquilla, Jorge Isaacs and Rafael Pombo (the latter of whom wrote notable works of children's literature). [288] [289] Within that period, authors such as José Asunción Silva, José Eustasio Rivera, León de Greiff, Porfirio Barba-Jacob and José María Vargas Vila developed the modernist movement. [290] [291] [292] In 1872, Colombia established the Colombian Academy of Language, the first Spanish language academy in the Americas. [293] Candelario Obeso wrote the groundbreaking Cantos Populares de mi Tierra (1877), the first book of poetry by an Afro-Colombian author. [294] [295]

Between 1939 and 1940 seven books of poetry were published under the name Stone and Sky in the city of Bogotá that significantly impacted the country they were edited by the poet Jorge Rojas. [296] In the following decade, Gonzalo Arango founded the movement of "nothingness" in response to the violence of the time [297] he was influenced by nihilism, existentialism, and the thought of another great Colombian writer: Fernando González Ochoa. [298] During the boom in Latin American literature, successful writers emerged, led by Nobel laureate Gabriel García Márquez and his magnum opus, One Hundred Years of Solitude, Eduardo Caballero Calderón, Manuel Mejía Vallejo, and Álvaro Mutis, a writer who was awarded the Cervantes Prize and the Prince of Asturias Award for Letters. [299] [300] Other leading contemporary authors are Fernando Vallejo, William Ospina (Rómulo Gallegos Prize) and Germán Castro Caycedo.

Visual arts

Colombian art has over 3,000 years of history. Colombian artists have captured the country's changing political and cultural backdrop using a range of styles and mediums. There is archeological evidence of ceramics being produced earlier in Colombia than anywhere else in the Americas, dating as early as 3,000 BCE. [301] [302]

The earliest examples of gold craftsmanship have been attributed to the Tumaco people [303] of the Pacific coast and date to around 325 BCE. Roughly between 200 BCE and 800 CE, the San Agustín culture, masters of stonecutting, entered its "classical period". They erected raised ceremonial centres, sarcophagi, and large stone monoliths depicting anthropomorphic and zoomorphic forms out of stone. [302] [304]

Colombian art has followed the trends of the time, so during the 16th to 18th centuries, Spanish Catholicism had a huge influence on Colombian art, and the popular baroque style was replaced with rococo when the Bourbons ascended to the Spanish crown. [305] [306] More recently, Colombian artists Pedro Nel Gómez and Santiago Martínez Delgado started the Colombian Murial Movement in the 1940s, featuring the neoclassical features of Art Deco. [301] [302] [307] [308]

Since the 1950s, the Colombian art started to have a distinctive point of view, reinventing traditional elements under the concepts of the 20th century. Examples of this are the Greiff portraits by Ignacio Gómez Jaramillo, showing what the Colombian art could do with the new techniques applied to typical Colombian themes. Carlos Correa, with his paradigmatic "Naturaleza muerta en silencio" (silent dead nature), combines geometrical abstraction and cubism. Alejandro Obregón is often considered as the father of modern Colombian painting, and one of the most influential artist in this period, due to his originality, the painting of Colombian landscapes with symbolic and expressionist use of animals, (specially the Andean condor). [302] [309] [310] Fernando Botero, Omar Rayo, Enrique Grau, Édgar Negret, David Manzur, Rodrigo Arenas Betancourt, Oscar Murillo, Doris Salcedo and Oscar Muñoz are some of the Colombian artists featured at the international level. [301] [311] [312] [313]

The Colombian sculpture from the sixteenth to 18th centuries was mostly devoted to religious depictions of ecclesiastic art, strongly influenced by the Spanish schools of sacred sculpture. During the early period of the Colombian republic, the national artists were focused in the production of sculptural portraits of politicians and public figures, in a plain neoclassicist trend. [314] During the 20th century, the Colombian sculpture began to develop a bold and innovative work with the aim of reaching a better understanding of national sensitivity. [302] [315]

Colombian photography was marked by the arrival of the daguerreotype. Jean-Baptiste Louis Gros was who brought the daguerreotype process to Colombia in 1841. The Piloto public library has Latin America's largest archive of negatives, containing 1.7 million antique photographs covering Colombia 1848 until 2005. [316] [317]

The Colombian press has promoted the work of the cartoonists. In recent decades, fanzines, internet and independent publishers have been fundamental to the growth of the comic in Colombia. [318] [319] [320]


Throughout the times, there have been a variety of architectural styles, from those of indigenous peoples to contemporary ones, passing through colonial (military and religious), Republican, transition and modern styles. [321]

Ancient habitation areas, longhouses, crop terraces, roads as the Inca road system, cemeteries, hypogeums and necropolises are all part of the architectural heritage of indigenous peoples. [322] Some prominent indigenous structures are the preceramic and ceramic archaeological site of Tequendama, [323] Tierradentro (a park that contains the largest concentration of pre-Columbian monumental shaft tombs with side chambers), [324] the largest collection of religious monuments and megalithic sculptures in South America, located in San Agustín, Huila, [304] [325] Lost city (an archaeological site with a series of terraces carved into the mountainside, a net of tiled roads, and several circular plazas), and the large villages mainly built with stone, wood, cane, and mud. [326] Architecture during the period of conquest and colonization is mainly derived of adapting European styles to local conditions, and Spanish influence, especially Andalusian and Extremaduran, can be easily seen. [327] When Europeans founded cities two things were making simultaneously: the dimensioning of geometrical space (town square, street), and the location of a tangible point of orientation. [328] The construction of forts was common throughout the Caribbean and in some cities of the interior, because of the dangers posed to Spanish colonial settlements from English, French and Dutch pirates and hostile indigenous groups. [329] Churches, chapels, schools, and hospitals belonging to religious orders cause a great urban impact. [330] Baroque architecture is used in military buildings and public spaces. [331] Marcelino Arroyo, Francisco José de Caldas and Domingo de Petrés were great representatives of neo-classical architecture. [330]

The National Capitol is a great representative of romanticism. [332] Wood was extensively used in doors, windows, railings, and ceilings during the colonization of Antioquia. The Caribbean architecture acquires a strong Arabic influence. [333] The Teatro Colón in Bogotá is a lavish example of architecture from the 19th century. [334] The quintas houses with innovations in the volumetric conception are some of the best examples of the Republican architecture the Republican action in the city focused on the design of three types of spaces: parks with forests, small urban parks and avenues and the Gothic style was most commonly used for the design of churches. [335]

Deco style, modern neoclassicism, eclecticism folklorist and art deco ornamental resources significantly influenced the architecture of Colombia, especially during the transition period. [336] Modernism contributed with new construction technologies and new materials (steel, reinforced concrete, glass and synthetic materials) and the topology architecture and lightened slabs system also have a great influence. [337] The most influential architects of the modern movement were Rogelio Salmona and Fernando Martínez Sanabria. [338]

The contemporary architecture of Colombia is designed to give greater importance to the materials, this architecture takes into account the specific natural and artificial geographies and is also an architecture that appeals to the senses. [339] The conservation of the architectural and urban heritage of Colombia has been promoted in recent years. [340]


Colombia has a vibrant collage of talent that touches a full spectrum of rhythms. Musicians, composers, music producers and singers from Colombia are recognized internationally such as Shakira, Juanes, Carlos Vives and others. [341] Colombian music blends European-influenced guitar and song structure with large gaita flutes and percussion instruments from the indigenous population, while its percussion structure and dance forms come from Africa. Colombia has a diverse and dynamic musical environment. [342]

Guillermo Uribe Holguín, an important cultural figure in the National Symphony Orchestra of Colombia, Luis Antonio Calvo and Blas Emilio Atehortúa are some of the greatest exponents of the art music. [343] The Bogotá Philharmonic Orchestra is one of the most active orchestras in Colombia. [344]

Caribbean music has many vibrant rhythms, such as cumbia (it is played by the maracas, the drums, the gaitas and guacharaca), porro (it is a monotonous but joyful rhythm), mapalé (with its fast rhythm and constant clapping) and the "vallenato", which originated in the northern part of the Caribbean coast (the rhythm is mainly played by the caja, the guacharaca, and accordion). [345] [346] [347] [348] [349]

The music from the Pacific coast, such as the currulao, is characterized by its strong use of drums (instruments such as the native marimba, the conunos, the bass drum, the side drum, and the cuatro guasas or tubular rattle). An important rhythm of the south region of the Pacific coast is the contradanza (it is used in dance shows due to the striking colours of the costumes). [345] [350] [351] Marimba music, traditional chants and dances from the Colombia South Pacific region are on UNESCO's Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. [352] [353] [354]

Important musical rhythms of the Andean Region are the danza (dance of Andean folklore arising from the transformation of the European contredance), the bambuco (it is played with guitar, tiple [355] and mandolin, the rhythm is danced by couples), the pasillo (a rhythm inspired by the Austrian waltz and the Colombian "danza", the lyrics have been composed by well-known poets), the guabina (the tiple, the bandola and the requinto are the basic instruments), the sanjuanero (it originated in Tolima and Huila Departments, the rhythm is joyful and fast). [356] [357] [358] [359] [360] Apart from these traditional rhythms, salsa music has spread throughout the country, and the city of Cali is considered by many salsa singers to be 'The New Salsa Capital of the World'. [345] [361] [362]

The instruments that distinguish the music of the Eastern Plains are the harp, the cuatro (a type of four-stringed guitar) and maracas. Important rhythms of this region are the joropo (a fast rhythm and there is also tapping as a result of its flamenco ancestry) and the galeron (it is heard a lot while cowboys are working). [345] [363] [364] [365]

The music of the Amazon region is strongly influenced by the indigenous religious practices. Some of the musical instruments used are the manguaré (a musical instrument of ceremonial type, consisting of a pair of large cylindrical drums), the quena (melodic instrument), the rondador, the congas, bells, and different types of flutes. [366] [367] [368]

The music of the Archipelago of San Andrés, Providencia and Santa Catalina is usually accompanied by a mandolin, a tub-bass, a jawbone, a guitar and maracas. Some popular archipelago rhythms are the Schottische, the Calypso, the Polka and the Mento. [369] [370]

Popular culture

Theater was introduced in Colombia during the Spanish colonization in 1550 through zarzuela companies. Colombian theater is supported by the Ministry of Culture and a number of private and state owned organizations. The Ibero-American Theater Festival of Bogotá is the cultural event of the highest importance in Colombia and one of the biggest theater festivals in the world. [371] Other important theater events are: The Festival of Puppet The Fanfare (Medellín), The Manizales Theater Festival, The Caribbean Theatre Festival (Santa Marta) and The Art Festival of Popular Culture "Cultural Invasion" (Bogotá). [372] [373] [374]

Although the Colombian cinema is young as an industry, more recently the film industry was growing with support from the Film Act passed in 2003. [375] Many film festivals take place in Colombia, but the two most important are the Cartagena Film Festival, which is the oldest film festival in Latin America, and the Bogotá Film Festival. [376] [377] [378]

Some important national circulation newspapers are El Tiempo and El Espectador. Television in Colombia has two privately owned TV networks and three state-owned TV networks with national coverage, as well as six regional TV networks and dozens of local TV stations. Private channels, RCN and Caracol are the highest-rated. The regional channels and regional newspapers cover a department or more and its content is made in these particular areas. [379] [380] [381]

Colombia has three major national radio networks: Radiodifusora Nacional de Colombia, a state-run national radio Caracol Radio and RCN Radio, privately owned networks with hundreds of affiliates. There are other national networks, including Cadena Super, Todelar, and Colmundo. Many hundreds of radio stations are registered with the Ministry of Information Technologies and Communications. [382]


Colombia's varied cuisine is influenced by its diverse fauna and flora as well as the cultural traditions of the ethnic groups. Colombian dishes and ingredients vary widely by region. Some of the most common ingredients are: cereals such as rice and maize tubers such as potato and cassava assorted legumes meats, including beef, chicken, pork and goat fish and seafood. [383] [384] Colombia cuisine also features a variety of tropical fruits such as cape gooseberry, feijoa, arazá, dragon fruit, mangostino, granadilla, papaya, guava, mora (blackberry), lulo, soursop and passionfruit. [385] Colombia is one of the world's largest consumers of fruit juices. [386]

Among the most representative appetizers and soups are patacones (fried green plantains), sancocho de gallina (chicken soup with root vegetables) and ajiaco (potato and corn soup). Representative snacks and breads are pandebono, arepas (corn cakes), aborrajados (fried sweet plantains with cheese), torta de choclo, empanadas and almojábanas. Representative main courses are bandeja paisa, lechona tolimense, mamona, tamales and fish dishes (such as arroz de lisa), especially in coastal regions where kibbeh, suero, costeño cheese and carimañolas are also eaten. Representative side dishes are papas chorreadas (potatoes with cheese), remolachas rellenas con huevo duro (beets stuffed with hard-boiled egg) and arroz con coco (coconut rice). [385] [383] Organic food is a current trend in big cities, although in general across the country the fruits and veggies are very natural and fresh. [387] [388]

Representative desserts are buñuelos, natillas, Maria Luisa cake, bocadillo made of guayaba (guava jelly), cocadas (coconut balls), casquitos de guayaba (candied guava peels), torta de natas, obleas, flan de mango, roscón, milhoja, manjar blanco, dulce de feijoa, dulce de papayuela, torta de mojicón, and esponjado de curuba. Typical sauces (salsas) are hogao (tomato and onion sauce) and Colombian-style ají. [385] [383]

Some representative beverages are coffee (Tinto), champús, cholado, lulada, avena colombiana, sugarcane juice, aguapanela, aguardiente, hot chocolate and fresh fruit juices (often made with water or milk). [385] [383]


Tejo is Colombia's national sport and is a team sport that involves launching projectiles to hit a target. [389] But of all sports in Colombia, football is the most popular. Colombia was the champion of the 2001 Copa América, in which they set a new record of being undefeated, conceding no goals and winning each match. Colombia has been awarded "mover of the year" twice. [390]

Colombia is a hub for roller skaters. The national team is a perennial powerhouse at the World Roller Speed Skating Championships. [391] Colombia has traditionally been very good in cycling and a large number of Colombian cyclists have triumphed in major competitions of cycling. [392]

Baseball is popular in cities like Cartagena and Barranquilla. Of those cities have come good players like: Orlando Cabrera, Édgar Rentería, who was champion of the World Series in 1997 and 2010 [393] and others who have played in Major League Baseball. Colombia was world amateur champion in 1947 and 1965. [394]

Boxing is one of the sports that has produced more world champions for Colombia. [395] [396] Motorsports also occupies an important place in the sporting preferences of Colombians Juan Pablo Montoya is a race car driver known for winning 7 Formula One events. Colombia also has excelled in sports such as BMX, judo, shooting sport, taekwondo, wrestling, high diving and athletics, also has a long tradition in weightlifting and bowling. [397] [398] [399]

The overall life expectancy in Colombia at birth is 74.8 years (71.2 years for males and 78.4 years for females). [255] Healthcare reforms have led to massive improvements in the healthcare systems of the country, with health standards in Colombia improving very much since the 1980s. Although this new system has widened population coverage by the social and health security system from 21% (pre-1993) to 96% in 2012, [401] health disparities persist.

Through health tourism, many people from over the world travel from their places of residence to other countries in search of medical treatment and the attractions in the countries visited. Colombia is projected as one of Latin America's main destinations in terms of health tourism due to the quality of its health care professionals, a good number of institutions devoted to health, and an immense inventory of natural and architectural sites. Cities such as Bogotá, Cali, Medellín and Bucaramanga are the most visited in cardiology procedures, neurology, dental treatments, stem cell therapy, ENT, ophthalmology and joint replacements because of the quality of medical treatment. [ citation needed ]

A study conducted by América Economía magazine ranked 21 Colombian health care institutions among the top 44 in Latin America, amounting to 48 percent of the total. [400] A cancer research and treatment centre was declared as a Project of National Strategic Interest. [402]

The educational experience of many Colombian children begins with attendance at a preschool academy until age five (Educación preescolar). Basic education (Educación básica) is compulsory by law. [403] It has two stages: Primary basic education (Educación básica primaria) which goes from first to fifth grade – children from six to ten years old, and Secondary basic education (Educación básica secundaria), which goes from sixth to ninth grade. Basic education is followed by Middle vocational education (Educación media vocacional) that comprises the tenth and eleventh grades. It may have different vocational training modalities or specialties (academic, technical, business, and so on.) according to the curriculum adopted by each school. [404]

After the successful completion of all the basic and middle education years, a high-school diploma is awarded. The high-school graduate is known as a bachiller, because secondary basic school and middle education are traditionally considered together as a unit called bachillerato (sixth to eleventh grade). Students in their final year of middle education take the ICFES test (now renamed Saber 11) to gain access to higher education (Educación superior). This higher education includes undergraduate professional studies, technical, technological and intermediate professional education, and post-graduate studies. Technical professional institutions of Higher Education are also opened to students holder of a qualification in Arts and Business. This qualification is usually awarded by the SENA after a two years curriculum. [405]

Bachilleres (high-school graduates) may enter into a professional undergraduate career program offered by a university these programs last up to five years (or less for technical, technological and intermediate professional education, and post-graduate studies), even as much to six to seven years for some careers, such as medicine. In Colombia, there is not an institution such as college students go directly into a career program at a university or any other educational institution to obtain a professional, technical or technological title. Once graduated from the university, people are granted a (professional, technical or technological) diploma and licensed (if required) to practice the career they have chosen. For some professional career programs, students are required to take the Saber-Pro test, in their final year of undergraduate academic education. [404]

Public spending on education as a proportion of gross domestic product in 2015 was 4.49%. This represented 15.05% of total government expenditure. The primary and secondary gross enrolment ratios stood at 113.56% and 98.09% respectively. School-life expectancy was 14.42 years. A total of 94.58% of the population aged 15 and older were recorded as literate, including 98.66% of those aged 15–24. [257]

Our Impact Youth Voices for Peace

Despite gains made through prior USAID initiatives, Colombia still faces challenges in securing ongoing respect and protection for human rights. Vulnerable populations generally lack knowledge of protection mechanisms and of government efforts to prevent and respond to human rights violations. USAID’s Human Rights Activity (HRA) uses a three-pronged strategy — promote a culture of human&hellip

My Name is Tania

In Cartagena, Colombia, life can be hard, and even dangerous, for transgender people. But one activist refuses to accept the status quo. Meet Tania, a young philosophy student, who is stepping up and fighting back.

Youth in Conflict-Affected Areas

The USAID Human Rights Activity increases the capacity of governments and local organizations to promote human rights and protect vulnerable populations. Chief of Party Kelly Brooks shares insights on youth development in Colombia.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons


Rape and Domestic Violence: Although prohibited by law, rape of men or women, including spousal rape, remained a serious problem. The law provides for sentences ranging from eight to 30 years’ imprisonment for violent sexual assault. For acts of spousal sexual violence, the law mandates prison sentences of six months to two years. By law femicide is punishable with penalties of 21 to 50 years in prison, longer than the minimum sentence of 13 years for homicide.

Violence against women, as well as impunity for perpetrators, continued to be a problem. Members of illegal armed groups, including former paramilitary members and guerrillas, also continued to rape and abuse women and children sexually.

The government continued to employ the Elite Sexual Assault Investigative Unit interagency unit in Bogota, which was dedicated to the investigation of sexual assault cases. From January to August, the Attorney General’s Office opened 26,968 new investigations for sexual crimes, compared with 28,942 in 2018.

The law requires the government to provide victims of domestic violence immediate protection from further physical or psychological abuse.

The Ministry of Defense continued implementing its protocol for managing cases of sexual violence and harassment involving members of the military. The district secretary of women, in Bogota, and the Ombudsman’s Office offered free legal aid for victims of gender violence and organized courses to teach officials how to treat survivors of gender violence respectfully.

The law augments both imprisonment and fines if a crime causes “transitory or permanent physical disfigurement,” such as acid attacks, which have a penalty of up to 50 years in prison.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C, but isolated incidents were reported in several indigenous communities in different parts of the country. Two-thirds of women from the Embera community had undergone FGM/C, according to the UN Population Fund.

Sexual Harassment: The law provides measures to deter and punish harassment in the workplace, such as sexual harassment, verbal abuse or derision, aggression, and discrimination, which carries a penalty of one to three years’ imprisonment. Nonetheless, NGOs reported sexual harassment remained a pervasive and underreported problem in workplaces and in public.

Coercion in Population Control: Coerced abortion is not permitted under the law. The law allows the involuntary surgical sterilization of children with cognitive and psychosocial disabilities in certain cases.

Through August 18, the Attorney General’s Office reported opening 18 investigations related to cases of forced abortion.

Discrimination: Although women have the same legal rights as men, discrimination against women persisted. The Office of the Advisor for the Equality of Women has primary responsibility for combating discrimination against women, but advocacy groups reported that the office remained seriously underfunded. The government continued its national public policy for gender equity.


Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth within the country’s territory in most cases. Most births were registered immediately. If a birth is not registered within one month, parents may be fined and denied public services.

Child Abuse: Child abuse was a serious problem. The Attorney General’s Office reported that 53 percent of its nearly 27,000 investigations into sexual crimes through July 31 involved a minor younger than 14. The Colombian Family Welfare Institute (ICBF) reported that between January and July 31, there were 6,150 cases of sexual abuse against children.

Early and Forced Marriage: Marriage is legal at the age of 18. Boys older than 14 and girls older than 12 may marry with the consent of their parents. According to UNICEF, 5 percent of girls were married before age 15 and 23 percent before age 18.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Sexual exploitation of children remained a problem. The law prohibits sexual exploitation of a minor or facilitating the sexual exploitation of a minor and stipulates a penalty of 14 to 25 years in prison, with aggravated penalties for perpetrators who are family members of the victim and for cases of sexual tourism, forced marriage, or sexual exploitation by illegal armed groups. The law prohibits pornography using children younger than 18 and stipulates a penalty of 10 to 20 years in prison and a fine for violations. The minimum age for consensual sex is 14. The penalty for sexual activity with a child younger than 14 ranges from nine to 13 years in prison. The government generally enforced the law.

The Attorney General’s Office reported opening 796 investigations related to cases of child pornography and sentenced 24 perpetrators. In September, Liliana Campo Puello, whom authorities charged with running an extensive child trafficking ring for the purposes of sexual exploitation, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to eight years in prison. Her father, Carlos Enrique Campo Caballero, was also convicted and sentenced to 56 months’ imprisonment. The judge in the case accused Puello of continuing to operate the trafficking ring while imprisoned. In 2018 authorities in Cartagena arrested Puello as part of a three-day operation, during which they arrested 18 persons and charged them with the sexual exploitation of more than 250 women and girls. Prosecutors alleged that some of the women and girls were tattooed and trafficked for purposes of commercial sexual exploitation. Media reported authorities conducted several raids to dismantle networks of sexual exploitation of minors in Cartagena and other cities in 2018. In total, 42 persons were captured, and goods valued at 154 billion Colombian pesos ($49 million) were seized. Commercial sexual exploitation of children in mining areas remained widespread.

Displaced Children: The NGO Consultancy for Human Rights and Displacement estimated in 2016 that 31 percent of persons registered as displaced since 1985 were minors at the time they were displaced (see also section 2.e.).

International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.


The Jewish community, which had an estimated 5,000 members, continued to report instances of anti-Israeli rhetoric connected to events in the Middle East, accompanied by anti-Semitic graffiti near synagogues as well as demonstrations in front of the Israeli embassy that were sometimes accompanied by anti-Semitic comments on social media. In particular the Colombian Confederation of Jewish Communities expressed concern over the presence of BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) Colombia, which aggressively promotes the boycott of Israeli products, culture, and travel and does not actively counter the conflation of anti-Israeli policies with anti-Semitic rhetoric.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law punishes those who arbitrarily restrict the full exercise of the rights of persons with disabilities or harass persons with disabilities, but enforcement was rare. The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical and mental disabilities but does not explicitly prohibit discrimination against persons with sensory or intellectual disabilities. No law mandates access to information and telecommunications for persons with disabilities.

The Office of the Presidential Advisor for Human Rights under the high counselor for postconflict, public security, and human rights, along with the Human Rights Directorate at the Ministry of Interior, is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. According to Somos Defensores and other NGOs, the law was seldom enforced.

Although children with disabilities attended school at all levels, advocates noted the vast majority of teachers and schools were neither trained nor equipped to educate children with disabilities successfully. Advocacy groups also stated children with disabilities entered the education system later than children without disabilities and dropped out at higher rates. Persons with disabilities were unemployed at a much higher rate than the general population.

In 2013 the State Council ordered all public offices to make facilities accessible to persons with disabilities and asked public officials to include requirements for accessibility when granting licenses for construction and occupancy. The State Council also asked every municipality to enforce rules that would make all public offices accessible to persons with disabilities “in a short amount of time.” It was not clear if much progress had been made.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

According to the 2018 national census, approximately 9.3 percent of the country’s population described themselves as being of African descent. A 2011 UN report estimated Afro-Colombians made up 15 to 20 percent of the population, while human rights groups and Afro-Colombian organizations estimated the proportion to be 20 to 25 percent.

Afro-Colombians are entitled to all constitutional rights and protections, but they faced significant economic and social discrimination. According to a 2016 UN report, 32 percent of the country’s population lived below the poverty line, but in Choco, the department with the highest percentage of Afro-Colombian residents, 79 percent of residents lived below the poverty line.

In 2010 the government approved a policy to promote equal opportunity for black, Afro-Colombian, Palenquera, and Raizal populations. (Palenquera populations inhabit some parts of the Caribbean coast, Raizal populations live in the San Andres archipelago, and Blacks and Afro-Colombians are Colombians of African descent who self-identify slightly differently based on their unique linguistic and cultural heritages.) The Ministry of Interior provided technical advice and funding for social projects presented by Afro-Colombian communities.

The National Autonomous Congress of Afro-Colombian Community Councils and Ethnic Organizations for Blacks, Afro-Colombians, Raizals, and Palenqueras, consisting of 108 representatives, met with government representatives on problems that affected their communities.

Indigenous People

The constitution and law give special recognition to the fundamental rights of indigenous persons, who make up approximately 3.4 percent of the population, and require the government to consult beforehand with indigenous groups regarding governmental actions that could affect them.

The law accords indigenous groups perpetual rights to their ancestral lands, but indigenous groups, neighboring landowners, and the government often disputed the demarcation of those lands. Traditional indigenous groups operated 710 reservations, accounting for approximately 28 percent of the country’s territory. Illegal armed groups often violently contested indigenous land ownership and recruited indigenous children to join their ranks.

The law provides for special criminal and civil jurisdictions within indigenous territories based on traditional community laws. Legal proceedings in these jurisdictions were subject to manipulation and often rendered punishments more lenient than those imposed by civilian state courts.

Some indigenous groups continued to assert they were not able to participate adequately in decisions affecting their lands. The constitution provides for a “prior consultation” mechanism for indigenous communities, but it does not require the government to obtain the consent of those communities in all cases. Indigenous communities joined together to hold weeks-long protests known as the “Minga for Defending Life, Territory, Democracy, Justice, and Peace” that closed highways as they called for increased government attention to systemic violence facing indigenous communities.

The government stated that for security reasons, it could not provide advance notice of most military operations, especially when in pursuit of enemy combatants, and added that it consulted with indigenous leaders when possible before entering land held by their communities.

Despite special legal protections and government assistance programs, indigenous persons continued to suffer discrimination and often lived on the margins of society. They belonged to the country’s poorest population and had the highest age-specific mortality rates.

Killings of members and leaders of indigenous groups remained a problem. According to the NGO National Indigenous Organization of Colombia, since the signing of the peace accord, 177 indigenous persons had been killed. For example, on June 23, the press reported the killing of Carlos Biscue, an indigenous leader on the Huellas Indigenous Reservation in Caloto, Cauca. Biscue, an agricultural producer and community organizer, was shot by armed intruders during a party in his honor. On October 29, FARC dissidents allegedly involved in narcotrafficking killed five members of the Nasa indigenous community, including the indigenous reserve governor and spiritual leader, in La Luz village in the semiautonomous municipality of Taceuyo, Cauca. On the following day, the government announced the deployment of 2,500 troops to the area to reinforce security, restore order, and capture those responsible. President Duque also announced plans to accelerate implementation of the Cauca Social Plan, a program to create greater socioeconomic opportunities for the inhabitants of Cauca through interventions in the areas of education, entrepreneurship, infrastructure, and rural development.

Despite precautionary measures ordered by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, ethnic Wayuu children continued to die of malnutrition. The United Nations and the government reported an increase in binational Wayuu families, including children, arriving in Colombia due to deteriorating conditions in Venezuela. The National Indigenous Organization of Colombia reported that a series of threats and armed confrontations led to the displacement of indigenous persons from the Jurado municipality. According to the indigenous organization, more than 1,500 Embera Katio, Jumara Carra, Wounaan, and Embera persons had been displaced to Santa Terecita and Dos Bocas.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

There were no reports of official discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing, statelessness, or access to education or health care. The Ministry of Interior issued a public policy framework to guarantee the effective exercise of the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons. The framework has three pillars: protection of civil and political rights promotion of democratic participation and the right to health care, education, work, housing, recreation, sport, and culture.

Despite government measures to increase the rights and protection of LGBTI persons, there were reports of societal abuse and discrimination as well as sexual assault. NGOs claimed transgender individuals, particularly transgender men, were often sexually assaulted in so-called corrective rape. In 2017 (the most recent data available), the Ombudsman’s Office reported 155 cases of abuse against LGBTI persons: 60 percent of these involved psychological abuse, 27 percent physical violence, 11 percent economic discrimination, and 2 percent sexual violence. NGOs claimed that 109 LGBTI individuals were killed in 2017, with most victims being gay men or transgender women. In August, LGBTI activist and teacher Ariel Lopez was killed by armed intruders in his home in Barranquilla. Lopez had coordinated programs aimed at supporting implementation of the 2016 peace accord and strengthening and protecting LGBTI rights.

Transgender individuals cited barriers to public services when health-care providers or police officers refused to accept their government-issued identification. Some transgender individuals stated that it was difficult to change their gender designation on national identity documents and that transgender individuals whose identity cards listed them as male were required to show proof they had performed mandatory military service or obtained the necessary waivers from that service.

Established in 2013, the National Bureau of Urgent Cases (BNCU) is an interagency group that deals with cases of violence and discrimination against LGBTI persons. It comprises the Ombudsman’s Office, the Office of the Attorney General, the National Police, the Office of the Presidential Advisor for Human Rights, the NPU, and the Ministry of Interior. The BNCU continued to hold meetings with local authorities and civil society concerning the proper implementation of protections for LGBTI persons and maintained a list of urgent cases requiring further investigation by national authorities. During the year the BNCU defended the rights of LGBTI persons to display public affection and to enjoy public spaces without fear of prosecution from local authorities.

In its most recent demographic and health survey (2015), the government reported that 67 percent of women and 59 percent of men surveyed approved the recognition of legal rights for same-sex couples, although only 30 percent of women and 26 percent of men approved of adoption by such couples, reflecting low to moderate levels of social acceptance throughout the country.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

There were no confirmed reports of societal violence or discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS. In its most recent demographic and health survey (2015), the government reported the responses of 78 percent of those surveyed indicated discriminatory attitudes towards persons with HIV/AIDS, reflecting low levels of social acceptance throughout the country.

‘Sufficient Motive to Kill’

From the moment police inspectors arrived here to investigate the disappearance of Julio Henríquez, they were stonewalled.

“The law of silence prevailed,” a police report said.

Mr. Henríquez’s wife and older daughter had faced the same fears when they rushed to this village after getting the phone call that he had been abducted. “Leave it alone,” they were told, which infuriated Nadiezhda Henríquez Chacín, 42, now a human rights lawyer and a fierce one.

“They will kill me one day, but it won’t be because I was afraid,” she said in an interview in Bogotá.

An ardent environmentalist, her father himself had been fearless, determined to work alongside farmers and fishermen to reclaim the rugged region from the drug trade, she said. On his large property, he was creating a nature preserve, planting indigenous trees and uprooting marijuana and coca planted without his consent.

He was not antidrug in a moralistic way, but alarmed by the deforestation caused by coca cultivation, his daughter said.

Mr. Giraldo maintained at a hearing in Colombia that he had no direct involvement in Mr. Henríquez’s disappearance, but that he had instructed his men, “Everything that smells of subversion has to be removed from the area.”

And Mr. Henríquez had belonged to the M-19 guerrilla movement, though he had been granted amnesty 17 years before his abduction. But his new activism — he had just formed a nongovernmental organization called Mother Earth — was a real-time threat, an ex-paramilitary soldier, Carmelo Sierra, told prosecutors.

“It’s obvious Mr. Hernán did not agree with what this man was proposing to the peasants, because he grows coca — and because encroaching on his turf was sufficient motive to kill somebody,” Mr. Sierra testified. “The Mafia does not forgive.”

Mr. Sierra said Mr. Giraldo had sent a son, El Grillo (the Cricket), to deliver a warning: Leave town or deal with the consequences. But Mr. Henríquez did not budge. So seven of Mr. Giraldo’s men were plucked from a morning lineup, instructed to change into civilian clothing, loaded onto a flatbed and sent down the mountain “to disappear the gentleman from the NGO.”

“I sincerely do not know what happened to him,” Mr. Sierra testified. “I don’t know if they slit his throat, or chopped him into pieces. I don’t know how he died nor where they buried him.”

Eight months later, antidrug agents investigating Mr. Giraldo’s business were murdered along with tourists and a hotel worker at a beachside restaurant. This unleashed a big counternarcotics operation and then a bloody paramilitary power struggle, at the end of which Mr. Giraldo’s “resistance front” suffered a hostile takeover by another warlord, Rodrigo Tovar-Pupo.

In 2004, Mr. Giraldo and Mr. Tovar-Pupo were indicted in Washington in a conspiracy to manufacture and distribute cocaine bound for the United States. In a superseding indictment the next year, prosecutors said the two men controlled or were involved in the shipment of thousands of kilograms of cocaine that left northern Colombia on “go-fast boats,” rigged with extra motors and fuel.

In 2006, Mr. Giraldo and over a thousand of his fighters laid down their arms — 597 of them along with 73,400 rounds of ammunition — in the paramilitary peace process.

The next year, Mr. Giraldo’s lawyer provided coordinates that ultimately led the authorities to Mr. Henríquez’s decomposed body in a clandestine grave. Nadiezhda Henríquez attended the exhumation with her mother. It was a chilling coda to years of hoping against hope.

“I never thought we would find him as we found him: in a mountain tomb, so very green, beneath a tree, near streams that turn into rivers, with moss and stone of the Sierra Nevada,’’ Ms. Henríquez said in a statement filed with the court on Thursday. “With his two hands tied behind his back and two coups de grâce shots to the head, in clothing that was not his, missing a shoe, missing a foot, missing part of his mouth. Only bones.”

Mr. Henríquez’s family distrusted the Justice and Peace process, and pushed for Mr. Giraldo to be tried in an ordinary criminal court for the forced disappearance. In 2009, after his extradition, he was convicted in absentia, and sentenced to 38½ years in prison and reparations of 1,000 grams of gold, about $43,000.

By that point, though, he was beyond the reach of Colombian justice. So the Henríquezes took their fight to America.

Colombia anti-government protest death toll rises as unrest continues

“These brutal abuses are not isolated incidents by rogue officers, but rather the result of systemic shortcomings of the Colombian police,” said José Miguel Vivanco, the group’s director for the Americas. “Comprehensive reform that clearly separates the police from the military and ensures adequate oversight and accountability is needed to ensure that these violations don’t occur again.”

The report presents a panorama of more widespread violence than what Colombian authorities have acknowledged. It says Human Rights Watch has received “credible information” reporting a total of 68 deaths during the protests, 34 of which it was able to confirm, including two police officers.

Colombia’s government has reported 18 deaths related to the protests and says an additional nine are under investigation. The country’s human rights ombudsman, meanwhile, reported late Monday that it had confirmed 58 deaths related to the protests.

Thousands of Colombians have turned out across the country for mostly peaceful protests against the administration of President Iván Duque. The protests started over proposed tax increases on public services, fuel, wages and pensions, but it has morphed into a general demand for the government to do more for the most vulnerable in society, such as Indigenous and Afro Latino people.

The administration withdrew the tax proposal just days after the protests began, but the unrest has continued and grown as reports emerged of police violence, deaths and disappearances.

Human Rights Watch said its investigation into the police response to the nationwide protests that began April 28 found that the majority of fatal victims suffered injuries to vital organs, including head and chest, which experts said “are consistent with being caused with the intent to kill.”

The report says that among those killed by police was Kevin Agudelo, who died during a peaceful demonstration May 3 in Cali, a city in southwestern Colombia that has been the epicenter of the protests. Witnesses said anti-riot police fired flash bang cartridges and teargas when demonstrators blocked cars at a traffic circle, prompting several demonstrators to throw rocks.

“One witness said he heard shots that sounded like live ammunition,” the report says. “He said that Agudelo, who had been hiding behind a post, then ran toward him along with another protester. The witness said he saw a police officer shoot Agudelo from a short distance. The other protester was also injured, he said. Human Rights Watch reviewed three videos that appear consistent with the witnesses’ accounts, in which Agudelo is seen lying next to the injured protester”

The organization reviewed a photo of his body that showed wounds to the chest and arms, which the report said forensic experts concluded were consistent with being shot by live ammunition.

Authorities have been slow to investigate the reports of violence, and as of Saturday, only four people had been indicted in connection with two homicides that occurred during the protests. Of the 170 police officers under disciplinary investigation, only two have been suspended, according to Human Rights Watch. Official public data indicates most of these investigations are for abuse of authority and 13 are linked to homicides.

The police have also been accused gender-based and sexual violence. The Ombudsman’s Office, an agency in charge of protecting human rights, has reported 14 cases of sexual assault and 71 cases of gender-based violence, including physical and verbal assault.

Police have arrested more than 1,000 people for crimes allegedly committed during the protests, but hundreds of them were released because judges found no evidence linking them to the crime or concluded they were not guaranteed due process.

The president has said all cases of police abuse will be investigated and duly punished. However, Duque has insisted that they are isolated cases.

“Colombia is not a country that violates human rights, we have difficulties, but we face them with justice,” presidential counselor for human rights, Nancy Patricia Gutiérrez, told reporters Tuesday.


  1. Macdomhnall

    In my opinion someone here is obsessed

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