The first Jews arrived in Colombia around the 1500's. Most were considered Marranos, a derogatory word used by the Spanish in reference to Jews that had "converted" to Catholicism. Despite their Christian baptism, the suspicion was that they were secretly still practicing Judaism. In 1636, during the Inquisition of Cartagena, don Blas de Paz Pinto, the leader of a small group of marranos was tortured and killed and soon thereafter, the small Jewish community disappeared completely.
The next wave of Jews came in the 1800's from Jamaica and Curacao. They practiced Judaism even though it was not legal to do so at the time.
In 1853, the Colombian Legislature passed laws that made it possible to practice religions other than Catholicism. In 1886, new Constitutional reforms brought some limitations on the Catholic Church’s power over the country. However, it wasn’t until the New Constitution of 1991, that the Catholic Church was fully separated from the government, and Colombia no longer had an official religion. This allowed other religious groups to apply for full legal recognition by the Government.
The following information is from an article by Sarah Szymkowicz at the Jewish Virtual Library:
The Jews in Colombia are concentrated in a few professions. Most Jewish immigrants started out and are still involved in commerce and business. Jews have played a large role in developing new industries in Colombia since World War II. Some Jews tried farming when they first came to Latin America, but failed in their efforts.
Most of the Jews in Colombia are concentrated in Bogota. There are small communities in Cali, Barranquilla and Medellin. The size of the Ashkenazi and Sephardi population is about the same. There are nine synagogues throughout the country. In Bogota the Ashkenazi, Sephardi and German Jews each run their own religious and cultural institutions. One organization, Confederacion de Asociaciones located in Bogota is the central organization that unites all Jews and Jewish institutions in Colombia.
Due to the unstable economy and violence against Jews, many Jews have left Colombia. In the mid-1990s the population was 5,650 and, in the early twenty-first century, the Jewish population has decreased to 4,200. Most of the Jews that have left have gone to settle in Miami and other parts of the United States.