Colombia is a constitutional republic in northwestern South America, bordered to the east by Venezuela and Brazil and to the south by Ecuador and Peru; to the north by the Caribbean Sea; to the northwest by Panama; and to the west by the Pacific Ocean. With a population of over 45 million people, Colombia has the second largest population in South America, after Brazil.
The territory of what is now "Colombia" was originally inhabited by indigenous people, which included the Muisca, Quimbaya and Tairona. The Spanish arrived in 1499 and initiated a period of conquest and colonization, creating the Viceroyalty of New Granada (comprising modern-day Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, the northwest region of Brazil and Panama) with its capital in Bogotá. Although independence from Spain was won in 1819, by 1830 “Gran Colombia” collapsed with the secession of Venezuela and Ecuador.
Colombia has one of the longest and most stable traditions of constitutional government in Latin America.
The Liberal and Conservative parties, founded in 1848 and 1849 respectively, are two of the oldest surviving political parties in the Americas. However, tensions between the two have frequently erupted into violence, most notably in the Thousand Days War (1899–1902) and La Violencia, beginning in 1948.
Since the 1960s, government forces, left-wing insurgents and right-wing paramilitaries have been engaged in the continent's longest-running armed conflict, which is fueled by the cocaine trade. In the past decade the violence has decreased significantly as many paramilitary groups have demobilized as part of a controversial peace process with the government, and the guerrillas have lost control in many areas where they once dominated.
Colombia is a standing middle power with the fourth largest economy in Latin America. However, inequality and unequal distribution of wealth are still widespread. In 1990, the ratio of income between the poorest and richest 10 per cent was 40-to-one. Following a decade of economic restructuring and the recession, this ratio climbed to 80-to-one in the year 2000. Overall, extreme inequality continues to persist in Colombia, following the trend of most Latin American countries.
Colombia is very ethnically diverse, and the interaction between descendants of the original native inhabitants, Spanish colonists, Africans brought as slaves and twentieth-century immigrants from Europe and the Middle East has produced a rich cultural heritage. This has also been influenced by Colombia's varied geography. The majority of the urban centers are located in the highlands of the Andes mountains, but Colombian territory also encompasses Amazon rainforest, tropical grassland and both Caribbean and Pacific coastlines. Ecologically, Colombia is one of the world's 17 megadiverse countries (the most biodiverse per unit area).