Colombia

Hello, readers (if you are still there)! Happy 2023! I apologize for the large gap between posts. With this article coming well into the year, I want to say “thank you” to all who are reading and continue to come for content.

This edition of The Flag Review is on a flag near to my heart. Today is Colombian Independence Day and what better way to celebrate it than with a review of its flag. Join me as we discuss the country of Colombia and the flag that represents it.

Colombia is a nation situated in northern South America. The nation borders five different countries, with Panama to its northwest, Venezuela to its east, and Brazil, Peru and Ecuador to its south. Its unique location on the continent makes it the only country in South America to border both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. The capital of Colombia is Bogotá, which lies in the center of the nation. Colombia is a major exporter of petroleum, coffee, and gold and is the world’s leading producer of emeralds. The nation is also known for its beautiful beaches, stunning landscapes, and diverse indigenous plants and animals; it is the third most biodiverse country in the world, behind only Brazil and Indonesia.

El Tricolor Nacional, the flag of Colombia

Before the Spanish arrived, Colombia was inhabited by many indigenous civilizations. One of the most well-known civilizations was the Muisca (or Chibcha), who inhabited the area around present-day Bogotá up until the arrival of the Spanish.

The first explorer from Europe to discover the area that is now known as Colombia was Alonso de Ojeda, who landed on its shores in 1499. Shortly after, in 1509, Spanish colonies would begin to appear along the coast of Colombia. In 1533 Cartagena was founded by the Spanish and quickly grew due to trade and the search for gold. As exploration of the New World continued, Spanish conquistadors ventured deeper into South America. The city of Santa Fe de Bogotá (Colombia’s capital) was founded in 1538 as part of the ventures by Spanish conquistadors into mainland Colombia. By this time, the Spanish had claimed most of northern South America and, north of Bogotá, established the New Kingdom of Granada, a collection of settlements which encompassed many areas of modern-day northern Colombia. The Viceroyalty of New Granada was established by the Spanish in 1717, which, over the following decades, included the New Kingdom of Granada along with other areas of present-day Colombia, Panama, Ecuador, and Venezuela.

While Spanish colonies expanded, the strength of the Spanish Empire waned, and with the weakening powers of the crown, calls for independence and sovereignty grew in New Granada. July 20, 1810, the United Provinces of New Granada, consisting of most of modern-day Colombia, declared independence from Spain. The six years in which this nation existed (1810-1816) are known as la Patria Boba, or “the Foolish Fatherland” due to the nation’s short existence. By 1816, the Spanish Empire reconquered the region and Colombia was once again ruled under the Viceroyalty of New Granada. Despite its recapture, present-day Colombia still recognizes July 20, 1810 as its official Independence Day. 

Spanish reconquest of Colombia would not last long. Just east of Colombia, the famous Simón Bolívar (known as “El Libertador”’), continued the fight for Independence in Venezuela from Spain. By 1819, Bolívar would lead the regions of Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, Panama, and Bolivia in revolution against the Spanish Empire. While the fight for independence raged, Gran Colombia was founded in 1819, which consisted of Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, and Ecuador; Simón Bolívar was elected its first president.

Despite its eventual victory against Spain, Gran Colombia would see many internal struggles in its attempts to keep northern South America united under one nation. By 1831, the nation would dissolve, leaving three independent states: Venezuela, Ecuador, and New Granada. New Granada would undergo a number of constitutional, border, and title changes in its history, from the Republic of New Granada in 1831, to the Granadine Confederation in 1858, to the United States of Colombia in 1863, to its final present-day Republic of Colombia in 1886.

Present-day Colombia has seen much political unrest since its formation. From the late 19th century and continuing into much of the 20th century, politics in Colombia was dominated by two parties, the Conservatives and Liberals. The power struggle between these political parties resulted in two separate civil wars, the Thousand Days’ War in 1899 and La Violencia in 1948 (which began with the assassination of the sitting president). La Violencia ended with a truce between the Conservative and Liberal parties, concluding the ten-year-long bloodshed. However, the truce did not resolve the political problems of the nation. 

In 1964, corruption, pressure from foreign powers due to the Cold War, and increased tension between various left and right political groups sparked a war known simply as the “Colombian conflict”, a complicated fight between multiple foreign and domestic political, paramilitary, and cartel groups. Tensions between opposing political parties gave rise to many political paramilitary and guerrilla groups, including the well-known Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The conflict, and Colombia’s coca production, also spawned large-scale illegal drug manufacturing and trade. For much of the 1970s and 1980s, Colombian drug cartels held considerable power over the country. By the 1990s, Colombia was the world’s main producer of refined cocaine. As the cartels, paramilitary government forces, and guerrilla groups all vied for control of the country, violence in Colombia continued into much of the late 20th century and early 21st century, resulting in the deaths of over 200,000 people and millions of displaced civilians. The Colombian conflict continues to this day, but attempts at peace talks have been made over the last few decades, including the famous 2016 ceasefire agreement signed between the Colombian government and FARC.

The reason I went into such detail about the history of Colombia is twofold: first, I think historical context can provide important insight into design choices of a nation’s flag. But second, and most important, I wanted to highlight that, despite instability, fighting, and shifts in power, Colombia has maintained the same flag since 1861, which shows that its people maintain loyalty to their country and recognition of their history.

The origins of Colombia’s flag, El Tricolor Nacional, comes from its history during the Spanish American wars of independence. The Venezuelan revolutionary leader, Francisco de Miranda, used the horizontal tricolor of yellow, blue, and red (all of equal size) as his personal flag during his attempt to start a revolution in Venezuela against the Spanish Empire. Sources vary on the meaning behind the colors. One suggestion I found was that the design was inspired by his fight for independence from Spain, with yellow symbolizing the Americas, red for the Spanish Empire, and blue for the Atlantic ocean separating the two. However, there is no official meaning behind the colors. The flag was first used by Miranda in 1806 in his failed attempt at revolution. However, just four years later, the Venezuelan War of Independence began and the flag design was adopted by the new government of Venezuela. The areas of Colombia and Ecuador would also join in Bolívar’s revolution and fly the same banner to represent their fight for independence.

The flag of Francisco de Miranda

Eventually, the revolutionaries would defeat the Spanish Empire and Gran Colombia was formed. It’s no surprise, then, that the same tricolor of yellow, blue, and red would be used to represent this new nation. Some sources suggested the original flag design of Gran Colombia was similar to modern-day Colombia’s flag with the yellow stripe at the top edge half the width of the flag and the red and blue stripes of equal size on the bottom half (a 2:1:1 ratio); included in this flag was the Gran Colombia coat of arms (which changed over the course of the nation’s existence) in the upper hoist (the canton). In later designs, the flag of Gran Colombia has equal size horizontal stripes with the seal of Gran Colombia in the center. Though Gran Colombia would break apart, the nations which spawned from Gran Colombia (with the exception of Panama) would maintain Miranda’s original design with minor variations. Present-day Colombia would undergo modifications to their flag before settling on their current bandera.

The flag design changes coincided with their changes in government during the early-to-mid 1800’s. For instance, as the Republic of New Granada in 1831, the flag was of three uniform bands of yellow, blue, and red, but as a vertical tricolor. The final and current flag design, “The National Tricolor”, was officially adopted on November 26, 1861. It officially arranged the three bands horizontally and made the yellow stripe double the width of the blue and red stripes.

The flag of New Grenada

The flag of Colombia closely resembles Miranda’s tricolor of yellow, blue, and red, but with the Gran Colombia stripe ratio of 2:1:1. The flag’s total proportions are considered 2:3. There are no coat of arms or charges in Colombia’s national flag, which contrasts to its flag counterparts of Venezuela (containing 8 stars in an arc shape at the flags center within the blue stripe) and Ecuador (containing the country’s coat of arms in the flag’s center).

The flag of Venezuela
The flag of Ecuador

The flag of Colombia stands as a testament to simplicity and thoughtful flag design. It’s a beautifully-crafted flag with a powerful story behind its creation. A top-tier international flag, the National Tricolor perfectly captures the vibrant culture and rich history of the country. Colombia has seen much violence over the last few decades, but its flag, whose design has endured for over 160 years and whose origins go back even further, serves as proof that the people of Colombia share a common identity, with each other and with their neighboring countries and there is more that unites Colombians than divides them.

Thank you for reading. Happy Independence Day, Colombia!


Sources

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