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Gran Colombia

Gran Colombia (Spanish for "Great Colombia'") is a name used today for the state that encompassed a great part of the territory of northern South America and part of southern Central America during the years 1819 to 1831. This short-lived republic encompassed the territories of present-day Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, and Panama. The first three were the successor states to Gran Colombia at its dissolution. Since its territory corresponded more or less to the original jurisdiction of the former Viceroyalty of New Granada, it also claimed the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, the Mosquito Coast, "Guayana Esequiba" in Guyana and small parts of what today are Peru and Brazil.

Its existence was marked by a struggle between those who supported a highly centralized state with a strong presidency and those who supported a decentralized, federal form of government. At the same time another, three-way, political division emerged between those who supported the legitimacy of the Constitution of Cucuta, which created the nation, and two groups who sought to do away with the Constitution, either in favor of breaking up the nation into smaller republics or maintaining the union but creating an even stronger presidency. The faction that favored constitutional rule coalesced around Vice-President Francisco de Paula Santander, while those that supported the creation of an even stronger presidency were led by President Simon Bolivar. The two originally had been allies in the war against Spanish rule, but by 1825 their differences had become public and were an important part of the political instability from that year onward.

Origin of the name

The official name of the country at the time was the Republic of Colombia. Historians adopted the term "Gran Colombia" to distinguish this republic from the present-day Republic of Colombia, which began using the same name in 1863.Bushnell, The Santander Regime, 12.

The name "Colombia" comes from the Spanish version of the eighteenth-century New Latin word, "Columbia," itself based on the name of Christopher Columbus (Cristoforo Colombo in Italian with the cognate Cristobal Colon in Spanish). It was the term preferred by the revolutionary Francisco de Miranda as a reference to the New World, especially to all American territories and colonies under Spanish rule. He used an improvised, quasi-Greek version of the name, Colombeia, meaning "papers and things relating to Colombia," as the title of his archive of his revolutionary activities. Bolivar and other Spanish American revolutionaries also used the word "Colombia" in the continental sense. The establishment by decree of a nation with the name Colombia by the 1819 Congress of Angostura gave the term a specific geographic and political reference.


The Republic of Gran Colombia comprised more or less the former territories of the Viceroyalty of New Granada, which it claimed under the legal principle of uti possidetis. It united the territories of the former Second Republic of Venezuela, the United Provinces of New Granada and the Presidency of Quito (which was still under Spanish rule).


Before a new constitution could be written by the Congress of Cucuta, the Congress of Angostura appointed Bolivar and Santander president and vice-president, respectively. Under the Constitution of 1821 the country was divided into twelve departments governed by an intendant. Departments were further divided into thirty-six provinces headed by a governor, who had overlapping powers with the intendants. Military affairs at the department level were overseen by a commandant general, who could also be the intendant. All three offices were appointed by the central government. The central government, which temporarily was to reside in Bogota, consisted of a presidency, a bicameral congress and a high court (the Alta Corte). The president was the head of the executive branch of both the central and local governments. The president could be granted extraordinary powers in military fronts, such as the area that became Ecuador. A vice-president assumed the presidency in case of the absence, death, demotion, or illness of the president. Since President Bolivar was absent from Gran Colombia for the early years of its existence, executive power was wielded by the vice-president, Santander. The vote was given to persons who owned 100 pesos in landed property or had an equivalent income from a profession. Elections were indirect.Bushnell, The Santander Regime, ii, 18-21.Gibson, The Constitutions of Colombia, 37-40.


Since the new nation was quickly proclaimed after Bolivar's unexpected victory in New Granada, its government was temporarily set up as a federal republic, made up of three departments headed by a vice-president and with capitals in the cities of Bogota (Department of Cundinamarca), Caracas (Department of Venezuela), and Quito (Department of Quito).Bushnell, The Santander Regime, 10-13. In that year, none of the provinces of Quito, nor many in Venezuela and New Granada, were free yet.

The constitution of the new republic was drafted in 1821 at the Congress of Cucuta, establishing the republic's capital in Bogota. Simon Bolivar and Francisco de Paula Santander were elected as the nation's president and vice-president. A great degree of centralization was established by the assembly at Cucuta, since several New Granadan and Venezuelan deputies of the Congress, who formerly had been ardent federalists, now came to believe that centralism was necessary in order to successfully manage the war effort against the royalists. To break up regionalist tendencies and to set up efficient central control of local administration, a new territorial division was implemented by 1824. The departments of Venezuela, Cundinamarca and Quito were split into various smaller departments, each governed by an intendant appointed by the central government, with the same powers that Bourbon intendants had.Bushnell, The Santander Regime, 14-21. Realizing that not all of the provinces were represented at Cucuta because many areas of the nation remained in royalist hands, the Congress called for a new constitutional convention to meet in ten years.

In the first years of existence, Gran Colombia helped other provinces still at war with Spain to become independent: all of Venezuela except Puerto Cabello were liberated at the Battle of Carabobo, Panama joined the federation in November 1821 and provinces of Pasto, Guayaquil and Quito in 1822. The Gran Colombian army later consolidated the independence of Peru in 1824. Bolivar and Santander were re-elected in 1826.

Federalists and separatists

As the war against Spain came to an end in the mid-1820s, federalist and regionalist sentiments, that had been purposely suppressed for the sake of winning the war, arose once again. There were new calls for a modifications of the political division and the related economic and commercial disputes between regions reappeared. Ecuador had important economic and political grievances. Since the end of the eighteenth century its textile industry had suffered because trade had been opened up allowing cheaper textiles to enter the region. After independence, Gran Colombia adopted a low-tariff policy, which benefited regions which had an almost exclusively agricultural economy, like Venezuela. Moreover, from 1820 to 1825 the area was ruled directly by Bolivar because of the extraordinary powers granted to him. His top priority was the war in Peru against the royalists, not solving Ecuador's economic problems, Having been incorporated later into Gran Colombia, Ecuador was also underrepresented in all branches of the central government and Ecuadorians had little opportunity to rise to command positions in the Gran Colombian army. Even local political offices were often staffed by Venezuelans and New Granadans. No outright separatist movement emerged in Ecuador, but these problems were never resolved in the ten-year existence of the nation.Bushnell, The Santander Regime, 310-317

The strongest calls for a federal arrangement came from Venezuela, where there was strong federalist sentiment among the region's liberals, many of whom had not fought in the war of independence but had supported Spanish liberalism in the previous decade, and who now allied themselves with the conservative Commandant General of the Department of Venezuela, Jose Antonio Paez, against the central government.Bushnell, The Santander Regime, 287-305. In 1826 Venezuela came close to seceding from Gran Colombia. That year Congress began impeachment proceedings against Paez, who resigned his post on April 28 but reassumed it two days later in defiance of the central government. Support for Paez and his revoltwhich came to be known as the Cosiata (the "insignificant thing" in colloquial regional Spanish) in Venezuelan historyspread throughout Venezuela, aided by the fact that it did not explicitly stand for anything, except defiance to the central government. Nevertheless, the support Paez received from across the Venezuelan political spectrum posed a serious threat to the unity of the country. In July and August, the municipal government of Guayaquil and a junta in Quito issued declarations of support for Paez's actions. Bolivar, for his part, used the developments to promote the conservative constitution he had just written for Bolivia, which found support among conservative Ecuadorians and the Venezuelan military officialdom, but was generally met with indifference or outright hostility among other sectors of society and, most importantly for future political developments, by Vice-President Santander himself. Two assemblies met in Venezuela by November to discuss the future of the region, but no formal independence was declared at either. That same month skirmishes broke out between the supporters of Paez and Bolivar in the east and south of Venezuela. By the end of the year Bolivar was in Maracaibo preparing to march into Venezuela with an army, if necessary. Ultimately political compromises prevented this. In January, Bolivar offered the rebellious Venezuelans a general amnesty and the promise to convene a new constitutional assembly before the ten-year period established by the Constitution of Cucuta, and Paez backed down and recognized Bolivar's authority. The reforms, however, never fully satisfied the different political factions in Gran Colombia and no permanent consolidation was achieved. The instability of the state's structure was now apparent to all.Bushnell, The Santander Regime, 325-335, 343-345.

In 1828 the new constitutional assembly, the Convention of Ocana, began its sessions. At its opening, Bolivar again proposed a new constitution based on the Bolivian one, but this suggestion continued to be unpopular. The Convention fell apart when pro-Bolivar delegates walked out rather than sign a federalist constitution. After this failure Bolivar appointed himself dictator, but failed to hold the nation together. As the collapse of the nation became evident in 1830, Bolivar resigned from the presidency. Internal political strife between the different regions intensified even as General Rafael Urdaneta temporarily took power in Bogota, attempting to use his authority to ostensibly restore order, but actually hoping to convince Bolivar to return to the presidency and the nation to accept him. The federation finally dissolved in the closing months of 1830, and was formally abolished in 1831. Venezuela, Ecuador and New Granada came to exist as independent states.

War with Peru


The dissolution of Gran Colombia represented the failure of Bolivar's vision. The former Department of Cundinamarca (as established in in 1819 at Angostura) became a new country, the Republic of New Granada. In 1863, New Granada changed its name officially to United States of Colombia, and in 1886 adopted its present day name: the Republic of Colombia. Panama, which voluntarly became part of the Gran Colombia in 1821, remained a department of the Republic of Colombia until 1903, when in great part as a consequence of the Thousand Days War of 18991902 ,it became independent with the backing of the United States.

With the exception of Panama , the countries that were created have similar flags, reminiscent of the flag of Gran Colombia:

See also

Military career of Simon Bolivar

Federal Republic of Central America - another post-independence state on the American continent that underwent a similar fate.

Peru-Bolivian Confederation

Flag of Gran Colombia

External links

"Gran Colombia," Flags of The World

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This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article Gran Colombia

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