Page:EB1911 - Volume 06.djvu/731

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710
[HISTORY
COLOMBIA


succeeding ones, together with one-half of the unpaid interest since 1896, would also be met. It is worthy of note that this debt, principal and accumulated interest, exceeded six and a half millions sterling in 1873, and that the bondholders surrendered about 60% of the claim in the hope of securing the payment of the balance. It is also worthy of note that Panama refused to assume any part of this debt without a formal recognition of her independence by Colombia, and even then only a sum proportionate to her population. The internal debt of Colombia in June 1906 was as follows:—

Consolidated 5,476,887 dollars silver,
Floating 2,345,658 dollars gold.

Whether or not this included the unpaid war claims was not stated.

Money.—The monetary system, which has been greatly complicated by the use of two depreciated currencies, silver and paper, has been undergoing a radical reform since 1905, the government proposing to redeem the depreciated paper and establish a new uniform currency on a gold basis. The paper circulation in 1905 exceeded 700,000,000 pesos. The issue began in 1881 through the Banco Nacional de Colombia, its value then being equal to that of the silver coinage. Political troubles in 1884–1885 led to a suspension of cash payments in 1885, and in 1886 Congress made the notes inconvertible and of forced circulation. In 1894 the Banco Nacional ceased to exist as a corporation, and thenceforward the currency was issued for account of the national treasury. On October 16, 1899—the outstanding circulation then amounting to 46,000,000 pesos,—the government decreed an unlimited issue to meet its expenditures in suppressing the revolution, and later on the departments of Antioquia, Bolívar, Cauca, and Santander were authorized to issue paper money for themselves. This suicidal policy continued until February 28, 1903, when, according to an official statement, the outstanding paper circulation was:—

  Pesos.  
National government issues 600,398,581
Department of Antioquia 35,938,495.60
  ”  ” Bolívar 18,702,100
  ”  ” Cauca 44,719,688.70
  ”  ” Santander 750,000
  ——————
  700,598,865.30

So great was the depreciation of this currency that before the end of the war 100 American gold dollars were quoted at 22,500 pesos. The declaration of peace brought the exchange rate down to the neighbourhood of 10,000, where it remained, with the exception of a short period during the Panama Canal negotiations, when it fell to 6000. This depreciation (10,000) was equivalent to a loss of 99% of the nominal value of the currency, a paper peso of 100 centavos being worth only one centavo gold. International commercial transactions were based on the American gold dollar, which was usually worth 100 pesos of this depreciated currency. Even at this valuation, the recognized outstanding circulation (for there had been fraudulent issues as well) amounted to more than £1,400,000. In 1903 Congress adopted a gold dollar of 1.672 grammes weight .900 fine (equal to the U.S. gold dollar) as the monetary standard created a redemption bureau for the withdrawal of the paper circulation, prohibited the further issue of such currency, and authorized free contracts in any currency. Previous to that time the law required all contracts to specify payments in paper currency. Certain rents and taxes were set aside for the use of the redemption bureau, and a nominally large sum has been withdrawn from circulation through this channel. On the 1st of January 1906, another monetary act came into operation, with additional provisions for currency redemption and improvement of the monetary system. A supplementary act of 1906 also created a new national banking institution, called the Banco Central, which is made a depository of the public revenues and is charged with a considerable part of their administration, including payments on account of the foreign debt and the conversion of the paper currency into coin. The new law likewise reaffirmed the adoption of a gold dollar of 1.672 grammes .900 fine as the unit of the new coinage, which is:—

Gold:—  
 Double condor = 20 dollars.
 Condor = 10  ”
 Half condor =  5  ”
 Dollar (mon. unit) = 100 cents.
Silver:—  
 Half dollar = 50 cents.
 Peseta = 20  ”
 Real = 10  ”
Nickel:—5 cents.  
Bronze:—2 cents and 1 cent.  

The silver coinage (.900 fine) is limited to 10%, and the nickel and bronze coins to 2% of the gold coinage. The new customs tariff, which came into force at the same time, was an increase of 70% on the rates of 1904, and provided that the duties should be paid in gold, or in paper at the current rate of exchange. This measure was designed to facilitate the general resumption of specie payments.

Weights and Measures.—The metric system of weights and measures has been the legal standard in Colombia since 1857, but its use is confined almost exclusively to international trade. In the interior and in all domestic transactions the old Spanish weights and measures are still used—including the Spanish libra of 1.102 ℔ avoirdupois, the arroba of 25 libras (12½ kilogrammes), the quintal of 100 libras (50 kilog.), the carga of 250 libras (125 kilogs.), the vara of 80 centimetres, and the fanega. The litre is the standard liquid measure. {109%}


History

The coast of Colombia was one of the first parts of the American continent visited by the Spanish navigators. Alonso de Ojeda touched at several points in 1499 and 1501; and Columbus himself visited Veragua, Portobello, and other places in his last voyage in 1502. In 1508 Ojeda obtained from the Spanish crown a grant of the district from Cape Vela westward to the Gulf of Darien, while the rest of the country from the Gulf of Darien to Cape Gracias-a-Dios was bestowed on his fellow-adventurer, Nicuessa. The two territories designated respectively Nueva Andalucia and Castella de Oro were united in 1514 into the province of Tierra-firma, and entrusted to Pedro Arias de Avila. In 1536–1537 an expedition under Gonzalo Jimenez de Quesada made their way from Santa Marta inland by the river Magdalena, and penetrated to Bogotá, the capital of the Muiscas or Chibchas. Quesada gave to the country the name of New Granada.

By the middle of the century the Spanish power was fairly established, and flourishing communities arose along the coasts, and in the table-lands of Cundinamarca formerly occupied by the Muiscas. For the better government of the colony the Spanish monarch erected a presidency of New Granada in 1564, which continued till 1718, when it was raised to the rank of a viceroyalty. In the following year, however, the second viceroy, D. Jorge Villalonga, Count de la Cueva, expressing his opinion that the maintenance of this dignity was too great a burden on the settlers, the viceroyalty gave place to a simple presidency. In 1740 it was restored, and it continued as long as the Spanish authority, including within its limits not only the present Colombia, but also Venezuela and Ecuador. An insurrection against the home government was formally commenced in 1811, and an incessant war against the Spanish forces was waged till 1824.

In 1819 the great national hero, Bolivar (q.v.), effected a union between the three divisions of the country, to which was given the title of the Republic of Colombia; but in 1829 Venezuela withdrew, and in 1830, the year of Bolivar’s death, Quito or Ecuador followed her example. The Republic of New Granada was founded on the 21st of November 1831; and in 1832 a constitution was promulgated, and the territory divided into eighteen provinces, each of which was to have control of its local affairs. The president was to hold office for four years; and the first on whom the dignity was bestowed was General Francisco de Paula Santander. His position, however, was far from enviable; for the country was full of all the elements of unrest and contention. One of his measures, by which New Granada became responsible for the half of the debts of the defunct republic of Colombia, gave serious offence to a large party, and he was consequently succeeded not, as he desired, by José Maria Obando, but by a member of the opposition, José Ignacio de Marquez. This gave rise to a civil war, which lasted till 1841, and not only left the country weak and miserable, but afforded an evil precedent which has since been too frequently followed. The contest terminated in favour of Marquez, and he was succeeded in May 1841 by Pedro Alcantara Herran, who had assisted to obtain the victory. In 1840 the province of Cartagena had seceded, and the new president had hardly taken office before Panama and Veragua also declared themselves independent, under the title of the State of the Isthmus of Panama. Their restoration was, however, soon effected; the constitution was reformed in 1843; education was fostered, and a treaty concluded with the English creditors of the republic. Further progress was made under General Tomas de Mosquera from 1845 to 1848; a large part of the domestic debt was cleared off, immigration was encouraged, and free trade permitted in gold and tobacco. The petty war with Ecuador, concluded by the peace of Santa Rosa de Carchi, is hardly worthy of mention. From 1849 to 1852 the reins were