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Social problems worsened as the birth rate rose and farmers displaced by new technology moved to the cities, where they found their skills inapplicable in an industrial economy.
During the 1980s, producers of illegal drugs flourished, banded together in cartels, and threatened the country's political and social stability through campaigns of bombings, abductions, murders, and the assassinations of officials, judges, and newspaper editors.
During the years of the Spanish Main, the Caribbean port city of Cartagena (founded 1533) was a point of embarkation for shipments of gold and other minerals bound for Spain.
The Spanish relied increasingly on the labor of slaves to maintain the expanding colony, and Colombia soon had one of the largest African populations on the continent.
After a period of gradual transition toward full democracy, the government of the National Front ended when elections were held in 1974.
Extreme disparity between the wealthy and the poor contributed to widespread disillusionment that kindled a Marxist guerrilla movement dedicated to revolution.
Christopher Columbus probably explored the mouth of the Orinoco River in 1498; Alonso de Ojeda led another expedition in 1509, and in 1525 the first Spanish city, Santa Marta, was founded on the Caribbean coast.
In 1536 the conquistador Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada sailed up the Magdalena River to search for the mythical city of El Dorado and, after defeating the Chibcha, founded Bogotá in 1538.
During his first years in office, he sought to restore the population's faith in the government by pursuing an aggressive policy against the cartels, encouraging the formation of new political parties, and offering a role in national affairs to Indians and former guerrillas.The eastern plains, or llanos, account for 60 percent of the country's territory and are sparsely populated, as are the coastal lowlands.To the southeast lie the undeveloped tropical rain-forests of the Amazon basin.Colombia lies in the northwest corner of South America and covers an area of 439,735 square miles (1,138,914 square kilometers), about three times the size of Montana.