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Years of steady growth in Colombia came to a close as the economy stagnated under the weight of foreign debt in the mid-1980s.Manufacturing, a growing sector of the economy, employed about 20 percent of the population in the early 1990s.The country's highly diverse population of 38.5 million includes at least 15 distinct cultural and regional groups.Their struggles fueled unrest throughout the century and resulted in a civil war from 1899 to 1902 that left 100,000 dead and brought the Conservatives to power.In 1902 crisis beset the country again when the United States seized the zone where the Panama Canal was being built.

After 1740 the colony formed the center of New Granada, a territory that included the greater part of what is now Colombia, Panama, and Venezuela.A movement for independence from Spain began in 1810; in 1812 the territory came under the direction of Simón Bolívar, who waged a series of campaigns that ended with the surrender of the Spanish in 1819.