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social sciences

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Colombia, officially known as the Republic of Colombia, is the fourth largest country in South America, and the second most populous (after Brazil), with a population of approximately 44.6 million people. It has an ethnically diverse populace, a result of the intermingling of original native inhabitants, imported African slaves, Spanish colonists, and other European and Middle Eastern immigrants.

The majority of Colombians speak Spanish, and Colombia has the third largest Spanish-speaking population in the world, after Mexico and Spain.

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The country is bordered on the east by Venezuela and Brazil; the west by the Pacific Ocean; the north by the Caribbean Sea and the northwest by Panama; and the south by Ecuador and Peru.

Bogotá, the country's capital and largest city, is Colombia's main commercial and cultural center. Bogotá is also the hub of Colombia's gay and lesbian life and the nucleus of the country's glbtq political rights movement.

The resort town of Cartagena, on the northern coast of Colombia, is one of the country's most visited destinations by tourists because of its ancient walled city, vibrant cultural life, and public beaches. As such, it also has a small but sociable gay presence catering to the needs of glbtq travelers.

While some civil rights progress has been achieved in recent years, glbtq persons in Colombia continue to be the victims of discrimination and violent hate crimes because of their sexual orientation.

As noted in the 2005 Report of the High Commissioner of the United Nations for Human Rights in Colombia, "Lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgendered persons were victims of murders and threats in acts of 'social cleansing.' This population was also often victim of arbitrary detentions and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment by members of the national police force. At the same time, there have been complaints of harassment against gay persons by members of illegal armed groups."

Although Colombia has no laws providing for either civil unions or same-sex marriage, between February 2007 and April 2008 three significant rulings of the Colombian Constitutional Court extended common-law inheritance, health care, and social security rights to registered same-sex couples who have cohabitated two or more years. These rulings marked an historic recognition of gay couples under Colombian law, departing from the country's conservative past.


The territory comprising what is now known as Colombia was originally inhabited by indigenous tribes including the Muisca, Quimbaya, and Tairona.

A period of conquest and colonization began with the arrival of Spanish explorers in 1499, which ultimately led to the creation of the Viceroyalty of New Granada (comprising modern-day Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, and Panama). Santa Fe de Bogotá, one of the first permanent Spanish settlements, was founded in 1538 and was later made the capital of the Viceroyalty.

On July 20, 1810, citizens of Bogotá created the first representative council to defy Spanish authority. Full independence from Spain was proclaimed in 1813, and in 1819 the Republic of Greater Colombia (also known by historians as "Gran Colombia" to distinguish the nation from that of the present-day Republic of Colombia) was formed to include all the territory of the former Viceroyalty. Simón Bolívar was elected its first president, with Francisco de Paula Santander as vice president.

In 1830, internal political and territorial disputes led to the succession of Venezuela and Ecuador and the collapse of "Gran Colombia." In the aftermath, Colombia and Panama merged as the Republic of New Granada. Nine different governments followed, each rewriting the constitution. What is now known as the Republic of Colombia was declared in 1886.

Tensions between two of Colombia's oldest political parties--the Conservatives, who believe in a strong central government and a powerful church, and the Liberals, who believe in a decentralized government and a less influential church--have frequently erupted into violence. In 1899, a civil war broke out, commonly known as La Guerra de los Mil Días (The War of a Thousand Days), which lasted until 1902. Panama declared its independence from the Republic a year later.

In 1948, the country was again engulfed in another civil conflict, known as La Violencia, which ended in 1958 when an alliance with former Conservative and Liberal leaders led to the creation of a bipartisan coalition known as El Frente Nacional (The National Front). This parity system between the two parties was terminated in 1978.

Over the past several decades, government forces, left-wing guerillas, and right-wing paramilitaries have been engaged in the country's longest-running armed conflict, fuelled by the lucrative cocaine trade and violent drug cartels.

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