Thousand Days' War

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Thousand Days' War
(Guerra de los Mil Días)
Lautaro Sinking I.jpg
The sinking of the Lautaro (20 January 1902, Panama City)
Date 17 October 1899–21 November 1902
(3 years, 1 month and 4 days)
Location ColombiaPanamaDepartments of Colombia and
the then-Department of Panama.
Result War won by conservative government. Continuation of the present day Republic of Colombia
Liberallogo.svg Colombian Liberal Party Conservative party logo.svg 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 Republic of Colombia, (including its then Department 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. This mainly affected the opposition Liberal Party, which had lost power.[2]


Throughout the 19th century, Colombia was a politically unstable country, a 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. Poor political decisions also led to economic problems.

Departments of Colombia in 1890

The detonating factor of the war was the confrontation between the Liberals and Conservatives. 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. The political environment and the increasingly dire economic situation created a powder keg.

Liberal Revolt[edit]

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 End[edit]

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 Wisconsin[edit]

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.


  • One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez, published in 1967, chronicles 100 years in Macondo, a fictional Colombian village. The novel describes the involvement of one of the village's residents, Colonel Aureliano Buendia, in the conflict between Colombia's Liberal and Conservative parties.
  • No One Writes to the Colonel by Gabriel García Márquez, published in 1961, is a novella that focuses on an impoverished, retired colonel, a veteran of the Thousand Days' War who was present at the signing of the Treaty of Neerlandia and still hopes to receive his pension promised to him some fifteen years prior.
  • Memories of My Melancholy Whores, Gabriel García Márquez, published in 2004, identifies the death date of the main character's father with the following lines: " [he] died in his widower's bed on the day the Treaty of Neerlandia was signed, putting an end to the War of the Thousand Days".[3]


  1. ^ BBC. "Colombia Timeline". Retrieved 11 May 2016. 
  2. ^ Azcarate, Camilo A. (March 1999). "Psychosocial Dynamics of the Armed Conflict in Colombia". Online Journal of Peace and Conflict Resolution. 2.1. Archived from the original on August 25, 2015. 
  3. ^ García Márquez, Gabriel (November 2006). Memories of My Melancholy Whores. Vintage Books. p. 11. Retrieved 15 November 2014. 

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