After a period of gradual transition toward full democracy, the government of the National Front ended when elections were held in 1974.
Extreme disparity between the wealthy and the poor contributed to widespread disillusionment that kindled a Marxist guerrilla movement dedicated to revolution.
Manufacturing, a growing sector of the economy, employed about 20 percent of the population in the early 1990s.
The country's highly diverse population of 38.5 million includes at least 15 distinct cultural and regional groups.
As of 1999, Colombia was still recovering from a recession that began in 1996.
In the face of an escalating social and political crisis, President Virgilio Barco Vargas launched a campaign in 1989 to suppress the drug trade, which resulted in hundreds of arrests, the confiscation of property worth millions of dollars, and violent retaliations by the cartels.
Christopher Columbus probably explored the mouth of the Orinoco River in 1498; Alonso de Ojeda led another expedition in 1509, and in 1525 the first Spanish city, Santa Marta, was founded on the Caribbean coast.
In 1536 the conquistador Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada sailed up the Magdalena River to search for the mythical city of El Dorado and, after defeating the Chibcha, founded Bogotá in 1538.
Bolívar renamed the territory Greater Colombia and annexed Ecuador to it in 1822; political differences led Venezuela to secede in 1829, followed by Ecuador in 1830.
The 1830s were marked by the rise of the Partido Conservador and the Partido Liberal as the most powerful rivals in national politics.
During the years of the Spanish Main, the Caribbean port city of Cartagena (founded 1533) was a point of embarkation for shipments of gold and other minerals bound for Spain.
The Spanish relied increasingly on the labor of slaves to maintain the expanding colony, and Colombia soon had one of the largest African populations on the continent.
It embraces the northernmost point in South America, Point Gallinas, and is the only country on the continent with both Caribbean and Pacific coasts.