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History, Independence from Spain

Battle of Boyaca, Paula Santander, president of Gran Colombia, Gran Colombia, New Granada

In the wars that followed, Venezuelan independence leader Simon Bolivar became the outstanding revolutionary and military figure in South America. In 1819 forces under Bolivarís leadership defeated Spanish royalists at the Battle of Boyaca, resulting in the liberation of New Granada. The newly independent territory became part of the Republic of Colombia (also known as Gran Colombia), which included present-day Colombia, Panama, and, after their liberation, Venezuela and Ecuador.

Following the liberation of Venezuela in 1821, a congress elected Bolivar as president of Gran Colombia and Francisco de Paula Santander, a leader of independence forces in New Granada, as vice president. It was Santander who ran the government while Bolivar was fighting to free Ecuador and Peru from Spain.

The new republic was short-lived. In 1828, after the South American wars for independence were over, Bolivar personally took over the executive power in Gran Colombia. His attempts to establish a centralized government with himself as dictator resulted in a quarrel and break with Santander. Bolivar resigned from office in 1830. In 1831 New Granada (including present-day Colombia and Panama) became a separate state.

In 1832 Santander was elected president. Able and progressive, he succeeded in setting up the apparatus of government. He established financial order, promoted education, and moderated the conflict between partisans of the established church and advocates of the separation of church and state. After Santanderís term expired in 1837, New Granada continued to prosper, despite a civil war that raged intermittently from 1839 to 1842.

Politically, the leadership divided into two distinct factions, from which developed Colombiaís two traditional political parties: the Liberals and the Conservatives. Through much of Colombiaís history, these political parties struggled with each other to determine government policy. Liberals have been devoted to states' rights, universal suffrage, and separation of church and state. Conservatives have believed in centralized government, preservation of class and church privileges, and retaining close government connections with the church.

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