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Thousand Days' War
(Guerra de los Mil Días)
Lautaro Sinking I
The sinking of the Lautaro (20 January 1902, Panama City)
Date 1899–1902
Location ColombiaPanamaDepartments of Colombia and
the then-Province of Panama.
Result War won by conservative government. Continuation of the present day Republic of Colombia. Separation of Panama from Colombia.
22px Colombian Liberal Party 22px Colombian Conservative Party
Commanders and leaders
Rafael Uribe Uribe
Benjamín Herrera
Próspero Pinzón
Ramón González Valencia
Pedro Nel Ospina
Casualties and losses

The Thousand Days' War (1899–1902) (Spanish: Guerra de los Mil Días), was a civil armed conflict in the newly created Republic of Colombia, (including its then province of Panama) between the Conservative Party, the Liberal Party and its radical factions. In 1899 the ruling conservatives were accused of maintaining power through fraudulent elections. The situation was worsened by an economic crisis caused by falling coffee prices in the international market, which mainly affected the opposition Liberal Party, which had lost power.[2]


Throughout the 19th century, Colombia was a country filled with political instability, which was the factor that evolved into the main cause of the war in 1886. This was the year in which the 1863 constitution was suppressed and replaced by a more centralist and conservative document. The 1863 constitution had been criticized as a result of federalist excesses during the period in which the Liberal radicals were in power.

With Regeneración (Regeneration) period and the creation of the 1886 constitution, the centralist regime only managed to aggravate the political problems. Some departments soon began to complain about these problems to the central government. In the economic field, poor political decisions also led to economic problems.

AGHRC (1890) - Carta XIII - División política de Colombia, 1886

Departments of Colombia in 1890

The detonating factor of the war was simply the confrontation between the Liberals and Conservatives, as much among them as within their respective parties. The Conservatives had used fraudulent elections to remain in power, and this led to much anger amongst the opposition. On top of this increasingly hostile political environment, President Manuel Antonio Sanclemente was too ill to rule the country, leading to a power vacuum in the country. The political environment and the increasingly dire economic situation created a powder keg.

Liberal RevoltEdit

The intended date for the beginning of the civil war was October 20, 1899. However, due to the imprudence of some of the Liberal generals who wished to begin the war on October 17, it was moved forward. The reaction of many Liberals was hesitant, since they believed that they did not have sufficient numbers or organization. Despite this, the rebellion began in the municipality of Socorro, Santander, and the rebels awaited military reinforcements from Venezuela.

The Conservative government, however, did not simply stand idle while all of this was occurring. They prepared a military force to be sent to Bucaramanga, the capital of Santander. The force never arrived, however, because the troops refused to accept payment in "tickets", which the government had to use due to the dire economic situation. No one expected, or was prepared for, a war that would last three years and would bring disastrous ruin to the country. With time, the war spread to every corner of Colombia.


Conservative troops during the Thousand Days

The first Liberal defeats came early in the war, with the Conservative victory at the battle of Magdalena River on October 24. However, the Conservatives were in a delicate situation as well. The Conservative side had split into two factions, the Historical and National, in a frenetic attempt to bring order to the country. First, they removed president Sanclemente and replaced him with Jose Manuel Marroquin. In response, the Liberals nominated Gabriel Vargas Santos for the presidency.

With the advance of the war, it became more oppressive and cruel. The population was even driven to take part in each side in more fanatical ways, in spite of the efforts of each party to gain victories (which soon were revealed to be illusionary).

Without a doubt, the battles of Peralonso and Palonegro (in Santander) showed the country the magnitude of the damages that the war was causing. At Peralonso, the Liberals achieved victory under the leadership of Rafael Uribe Uribe. At Palonegro (May 26, 1900) the Conservatives halted the enemy in what was an extraordinarily bloody encounter.

Beginning of the EndEdit

Thousand Days War

Child soldiers in Panama during the civil war of 1895. Child soldiers figured prominently in all of Colombia's civil wars in the 19th century, including the Thousand Days

After Palonegro, the war became devoid of sense and of meaning for the parties. With their defeat, the Liberals as well were split into two different factions, this time pacifists and the warmongers. The Nationals of the Conservative side believed it was time to end the war, which by this time was focused in the province of Panama and on the coast of the Caribbean Sea.

With that decision, internationalization of the war was avoided, which Venezuela wished to do through its president Cipriano Castro (who held to Uribe Uribe as President of Colombia). Conservative troops under the command of Marroquín managed to cut Venezuelan aid to the Liberals (July 29), who at this time were suffering defeats at the hands of the Conservative General Juan B. Tovar. General Uribe saw that the Liberals would not be able to defeat the Conservatives, and therefore was inclined to surrender, albeit with certain conditions.

Treaties of Neerlandia and WisconsinEdit

The peace treaty was signed on the Neerlandia plantation on October 24, 1902, although the fighting lasted until November of that year in Panama. From late 1901, fighting between the ships Admiral Padilla (Liberal) and the Lautaro (of Chilean property, lent to the conservatives), the latter of which was defeated in front of City of Panama on January 20, 1902.

Later the threat came from the American navy, sent by the government of Theodore Roosevelt to protect the United States' future interests in the construction of the Panama Canal. The Liberals under the command of general Benjamin Herrera were then forced to lay down their arms.


Signing of the Treaty of Wisconsin

The definitive peace treaty was signed on the American battleship Wisconsin on November 21, 1902. The Liberals were represented by general Lucas Caballero Barrera, who was in charge of the united army of Cauca and Panama, and Colonel Eusebio A. Morales, who was representing general Benjamin Herrera. The Conservatives were represented by general Víctor M. Salazar, governor of the department of Panama, and general Alfredo Vázquez Cobo, chief of staff of the Conservative army on the Atlantic Coast, the Pacific, and Panama. Together, representing the entire government, they signed the end of the war.



  1. "S&S": Small, Melvin & Joel David Singer, Resort to Arms : International and Civil Wars 1816-1980 (1982)
  2. Azcarate, Camilo A. (March 1999). "Psychosocial Dynamics of the Armed Conflict in Colombia". [dead link]

External linksEdit

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