The political system of the Republic of Colombia is based on the presidential constitution of 1886 which was amended many times. Colombia succeeded in 1819 in breaking free of colonial domination after nearly 10 years of fight for independence under the leadership of Simón Bolívar. The country is a united state headed by the president elected for four years. The Spanish Alonso de Ojeda was the first European to reach the coast of Colombia in 1499. He was followed by other travelers who were mainly attracted by gold deposits. In 1538 they established the town of Bacatá (later Bogotá) that became a flourishing center later on.
In 1547 the Spanish established the Captaincy General of New Granada which included the today’s Colombia, Panama, Ecuador and Venezuela. In 1748 these territories were declared the Spanish Viceroyalty. In 1791 the first revolt against the Spanish colonial government erupted, spreading out in fight for freedom under the leadership of Simón Bolívar. In 1819 they defeated the Spaniards in the battle of Boyacá, and the independent state of Great Colombia was declared. Bolívar became the first president of the new republic. However, he failed to implement his plan to create a Pan-American Confederation comprising also North America and other Latin American countries. In 1829 - 1830 Ecuador and Venezuela seceded, the other countries were named New Granada again, and in 1863 they were renamed to Colombia. In 1903, with support of the USA, the province of Panama seceded from the union as well (Colombia recognized its independence in 1921). In 1830 Bolívar resigned and he died in the same year. In 1885 Colombia adopted its republican constitution.
Two equally strong parties operated in Colombia until the end of the 19th century: Liberals who advocated the idea of a free union of states and separation between Church and state, and Conservatives who promoted a strictly united state and close links between the government and the Roman Catholic Church. Conflicts between the two parties have led since 1840 to constant unrests and civil wars which continued through the 20th century.
In 1948 the Liberal presidential candidate Jorge Eliécer Gaitán was assassinated. Unrests and civil war broke out, raging until 1950 and claiming the lives of 200,000 Colombians. In 1953 -1957 the military dictatorship of the general Rojas Pinilla gained control. After his deposition in 1957, the constitution was amended and the National Front coalition of Liberals and Conservatives created, whereby both parties agreed to govern jointly from 1974. In 1974 the first presidential elections took place, ending in a victory of Liberals led by the president López Michelsen. Liberals won also in 1978 under the leadership of Julio César Turbay Ayalya. In 1982 the Conservative candidate Belisario Betancur Cuartas became president. He was succeeded in 1986 - 1990 by Virgílio Barco, a Liberal. In the summer of 1989 the life-and-death struggle between the government and drug traffickers started. Up to 22,000 people became victims of violence in 1990. Social disparities, high unemployment and crime rate contribute to destabilization of the political situation in Colombia. The ruling Liberal Party won the parliamentary elections on 13 March 1994 and its candidate Ernesto Samper was elected president. The party confirmed its position as a leader in the country in the parliamentary elections in 1998. They took place in the atmosphere of civil war, with the voter turnout being 40 percent. The Conservative candidate Andrés Pastrana won the presidential elections.