Bogotá Capital• Medellín • Cali • Barranquilla • Cartagena • Cúcuta • Soledad • Ibagué • Bucaramanga • Soacha • Villavicencio • Santa Marta • Pereira • Bello • Valledupar • Montería • Pasto • Buenaventura • Manizales • Neiva •
|THE COLOMBIA COAT OF ARMS|
|Map of Colombia within South America|
|Map of Colombia|
Flag Description of Colombia: three horizontal bands of yellow (top, double-width), blue, and red; the flag retains the three main colors of the banner of Gran Colombia, the short-lived South American republic that broke up in 1830; various interpretations of the colors exist and include: yellow for the gold in Colombia's land, blue for the seas on its shores, and red for the blood spilled in attaining freedom; alternatively, the colors have been described as representing more elemental concepts such as sovereignty and justice (yellow), loyalty and vigilance (blue), and valor and generosity (red); or simply the principles of liberty, equality, and fraternity similar to the flag of Ecuador, which is longer and bears the Ecuadorian coat of arms superimposed in the center
note: similar to the flag of Ecuador, which is longer and bears the Ecuadorian coat of arms superimposed in the center
OFFICIAL NAME: Republic of Colombia
FORM OF GOVERNMENT: Republic
OFFICIAL LANGUAGE: Spanis
h MONEY: Peso
AREA: 439,619 square miles (1,138,910 square kilometers)
MAJOR MOUNTAIN RANGES: Andes, Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta
MAJOR RIVERS: Magdalena, Cauca, Atrato, Sinú
Head of state and government President: Juan Manuel Santos
Official religion: none1
Monetary unit peso (Col$)
Total area (sq mi) 440,831
Total area (sq km) 1,141,748 Urban-rural population
- Urban: (2011) 75.3%
- Rural: (2011) 24.7%
Life expectancy at birth
- Male: (2012) 71.6 years
- Female: (2012) 78.2 years
Literacy: percentage of population age 15 and over literate
- Male: (2010) 93.3%
- Female: (2010) 93.5%
GNI per capita (U.S.$) (2013) 7,560
1The 1973 concordat with the Vatican declares that Roman Catholicism is of fundamental importance to the Colombian community.
BACKGROUND OF COLOMBIA
Colombia was one of the three countries that emerged from the collapse of Gran Colombia in 1830 (the others being Ecuador and Venezuela). A 40-year insurgent campaign to overthrow the Colombian Government escalated during the 1990s, undergirded in part by funds from the drug trade. Although the violence is deadly and large swaths of the countryside are under guerrilla influence, the movement lacks the military strength or popular support necessary to overthrow the government. While Bogota continues to try to negotiate a settlement, neighboring countries worry about the violence spilling over their borders. Four decades of conflict have turned Colombia into one of the world's worst humanitarian hotspots, with millions caught up in the crossfire between leftist rebels, cocaine smugglers and far-right paramilitary militias.
- Colombia, officially Republic of Colombia, Spanish República de Colombia , country of northwestern South America. Its 1,000 miles (1,600 km) of coast to the north are bathed by the waters of the Caribbean Sea, and its 800 miles (1,300 km) of coast to the west are washed by the Pacific Ocean. The country is bordered by Panama, which divides the two bodies of water, on the northwest, Venezuela and Brazil on the east, and Peru and Ecuador on the south. It is more than twice the size of France and includes the San Andrés y Providencia archipelago, located off the Nicaraguan coast in the Caribbean, some 400 miles (650 km) northwest of the Colombian mainland. The population is largely concentrated in the mountainous interior, where Bogotá, the national capital, is situated on a high plateau in the northern Andes Mountains.
The only American nation that is named for Christopher Columbus, the “discoverer” of the New World, Colombia presents a remarkable study in contrasts, in both its geography and its society. The lofty snow-tipped peaks of the country’s interior cordilleras tower high above equatorial forests and savannas where surviving Indian groups still follow the lifeways and traditions of their ancestors. In the cooler mountains, at intermediate elevations, modern cities are juxtaposed with traditional rural landscapes where mestizo farmers cultivate their small plots of coffee, corn (maize), and other crops. The more accessible Atlantic lowlands, dominated by large livestock haciendas and a tri-ethnic population, have a distinctively different character.
Colombia strongly reflects its history as a colony of Spain. It is often referred to as the most Roman Catholic of the South American countries, and most of its people are proud of the relative purity of their Spanish language. Its population is heavily mestizo (of mixed European and Indian descent) with substantial minorities of European and African ancestry. The economy is traditionally based on agriculture, particularly coffee and fruit production, but industries and services are increasing in importance. Colombia is the most populous nation of Spanish-speaking South America. More than one-third of its inhabitants live in the six largest metropolitan areas, of which Bogotá is the largest. The nation’s political instability has been historically tied to the unequal distribution of wealth, and the illicit trade in drugs (mainly cocaine) remains a major disruptive factor in Colombian life.
There are broadly five areas in Colombia that can be distinguished to climate and landscape. The Andes Mountains in the West. Here lives the majority of the population mainly in the cities of millions like Bogota, Medellin and Cali. (Red) The Caribbean coast. Also here are a few major population centers such as Cartagena and Barranquilla (Purple) The Pacific Coast (Pink) The plains of the Orinoco (Yellow) The forest of the Amazon (the Orinoco and Amazon region covers 54% of the combined area of Colombia, but only 3% of Colombians lives there) (Green)
Colombia lies almost on the equator but because the height differences therer are four different climate zones. 83% of the country lies below 1000 meters with the average temperature is 24 °c. 9% of the land located between 1000 meters and 2000 meters with an average temperature of 18 °c. 6% of the land area is between 2000 and 3000 meters with an average temperature of 12 °c. Snow is found above 4500 meters altitude.
The seasons in Colombia are more characterized by rainfall than by temperature changes. In the low areas on the Caribbean coast (the north) there is a dry season from December to March, the rest of the year is rainy. In the south, the rainy season interrupted by a period of less rainy nature in June and July, and on the Pacific coast a dry season almost is non-existent.
Colombia is nicknamed the "gateway to South America" because it sits in the northwestern part of the continent where South America connects with Central and North America. It is the fifth largest country in Latin America and home to the world's second largest population of Spanish-speaking people.
Colombia is a land of extremes. Through its center run the towering, snow-covered volcanoes and mountains of the Andes. Tropical beaches line the north and west. And there are deserts in the north and vast grasslands, called Los Llanos, in the east.
Dense forests fill Colombia's Amazon Basin, which takes up nearly the country's entire southern half. In northwest Colombia, a warm, wet, jungle-filled area called the Chocó reaches across the Panama border.
Location: Northern South America, bordering the Caribbean Sea, between Panama and Venezuela, and bordering the North Pacific Ocean, between Ecuador and Panama
Geographic coordinates: 4 00 N, 72 00 W
Map references: South America
- total: 1,138,910 sq km
- land: 1,038,700 sq km
- water: 100,210 sq km
- note: includes Isla de Malpelo, Roncador Cay, Serrana Bank, and Serranilla Bank
Area - comparative: slightly less than three times the size of Montana
- total: 6,004 km border countries: Brazil 1,643 km, Ecuador 590 km, Panama 225 km, Peru 1,496 km (est.), Venezuela 2,050 km
- Coastline: 3,208 km (Caribbean Sea 1,760 km, North Pacific Ocean 1,448 km)
- territorial sea: 12 nm
- exclusive economic zone: 200 nm
continental shelf: 200-m depth or to the depth of exploitation
Climate: tropical along coast and eastern plains; cooler in highlands
Terrain: flat coastal lowlands, central highlands, high Andes Mountains, eastern lowland plains
- lowest point: Pacific Ocean 0 m
- highest point: Pico Cristobal Colon 5,775 m
- note: nearby Pico Simon Bolivar also has the same elevation
Natural resources: petroleum, natural gas, coal, iron ore, nickel, gold, copper, emeralds, hydropower
- arable land: 2.42%
- permanent crops: 1.67%
other: 95.91% (2001)
Irrigated land: 8,500 sq km (1998 est.) Natural hazards: highlands subject to volcanic eruptions; occasional earthquakes; periodic droughts
Environment - current issues: deforestation; soil and water quality damage from overuse of pesticides; air pollution, especially in Bogota, from vehicle emissions
Environment - international agreements:
- party to: Antarctic Treaty, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Marine Life Conservation, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94, Wetlands
- signed, but not ratified: Law of the Sea
Geography - note: only South American country with coastlines on both the North Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea
HISTORY OF COLOMBIA
Colombia's history began well over 13,000 years ago, as evidence of human occupation dates to that era.
Over time, many Andean and Caribbean cultures inhabited the area, including the Tayrona, SinÃº, Muisca, Quimbaya, Tolima, Calima, Tierradentro, San AgustÃn, NariÃ±o and Tumaco peoples.
The Spanish arrived along the coastal areas of Colombia in the early 1500s and the country became Spain's chief source of gold; Cartagena and Bogota were founded by mid-century.
Spain eventually increased taxation of the colonists to fund their home-front war expenses, and the subsequent anger and uprising that occurred were the seeds of the revolution to come.
In 1819, Simon Bolivar (a national hero) and his armies defeated the Spanish, and the independent Republic of Gran was formed; it included Colombia, Ecuador, Panama and Venezuela.
By the early 20th century, all of the original partners had withdrawn from the association, and in 1905, Colombia was finally on its own.
Since then it has survived a hurricane of political assassinations, internal governmental conflicts, guerrilla activities and drug wars. After all of that it remains one of the most attractive and mysterious countries on the South American continent.
Political and internal unrest, has for the most part, limited tourism to the Caribbean coastal resorts and towns, with special emphasis on Cartagena. International business travel is commonplace (to and from) the country's major cities.
Colombia's people are as varied as its landscape. Most citizens are descended from three ethnic groups: Indians, African people brought to Colombia to work as slaves, and European settlers. This rich cultural mix makes the country's foods, music, dance, and art diverse and unique.
Population: 42,954,279 (July 2005 est.)
- Age structure:
0-14 years: 30.7% (male 6,670,950/female 6,516,371) 15-64 years: 64.2% (male 13,424,433/female 14,142,825) 65 years and over: 5.1% (male 968,127/female 1,231,573) (2005 est.)
- Median age:
total: 26.04 years male: 25.14 years female: 26.93 years (2005 est.)
- Population growth rate: 1
Birth rate: 20.82 births/1,000 population (2005 est.) Death rate: 5.59 deaths/1,000 population (2005 est.) Net migration rate:-0.31 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2005 est.)
- Sex ratio: at birth: 1.03 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 1.02 male(s)/female 15-64 years
- 0.95 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.79 male(s)/female total population: 0.96 male(s)/female (2005 est.)
- Infant mortality rate: total: 20.97 deaths/1,000 live births
male: 24.92 deaths/1,000 live births female: 16.89 deaths/1,000 live births (2005 est.)
- Life expectancy at birth: total population: 71.72 years
male: 67.88 years female: 75.7 years (2005 est.)
- Total fertility rate: 2.56 children born/woman (2005 est.)
HIV/AIDS - adult prevalence rate: 0.7% (2003 es HIV/AIDS - people living with HIV/AIDS: 190,000 (2003 est.) HIV/AIDS - deaths: 3,600 (2003 est.) Nationality: noun: Colombian(s) adjective: Colombian
- Ethnic groups: mestizo 58%, white 20%, mulatto 14%, black 4%, mixed black-Amerindian 3%, Amerindian 1%
- Religions: Roman Catholic 90%, other 10%
- Languages: Spanish
- Literacy: definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 92.5% male: 92.4% female: 92.6% (2003 est.)
ECONOMY OF COLOMBIA
In the colonial period the economy was based almost entirely on gold mining, including the robbing of the metal from Indian graves (guacas). The modern economy is much more broadly based, with the exploitation of hydrocarbon fuels and several metals, agricultural production, and the manufacture of goods for export and home consumption. Private enterprise dominates the economy, and direct government participation is limited to such industries as the railways, petroleum, and telecommunications. The government has attempted to foster economic stability and to encourage private enterprise through indirect measures, such as a favourable system of taxation and the extension of credit to new industries. Regional development organizations, such as the Cauca Valley Corporation, have been established to promote more balanced industrial growth, with emphasis on hydroelectric power development and flood control. Economic growth was quite substantial through the mid-20th century, but in subsequent decades inflation and unemployment grew alarmingly as the growth rate declined. Nevertheless, Colombia was one of the few Latin American countries not to suffer a debt crisis in the 1980s, and in many ways during that decade it had the healthiest economy in the region.
Agriculture remains a major component of the Colombian economy, although industrial development since the 1940s has been remarkable. A substantial proportion of Colombian land is uncultivated because of the prevalence of poor soils and unfavourable climatic conditions. The eastern plains are sparsely inhabited, the Pacific coast is still in forest because of high rainfall, and large areas in the Magdalena valley remain in open range or are unused.
Colombia has an abundance of nonrenewable resources, including reserves of gold, coal, and petroleum; its renewable resources include rich agricultural lands and its rivers, which have been harnessed increasingly for hydroelectric power. Gold deposits, particularly in the west-central section of the country, have been important since colonial times. In some areas the gold-bearing gravels also contain silver and platinum. The coalfields of La Guajira are the largest in all of northern South America. Ferronickel reserves are located along the San Jorge River, and there is a large copper deposit in western Antioquia. The Cordillera Oriental has long been an important source of rock salt, marble, limestone, and, especially, Colombia’s highly prized emeralds; the country is the major world producer of emeralds.
Petroleum reserves have long been exploited in the Magdalena and Catatumbo river valleys, and major new fields were opened in the Llanos and in Amazonia in the late 20th century. Colombia’s potential for hydroelectric power is greater than any other nation on the continent except Brazil, and hydroelectric plants generate roughly three-fourths of the nation’s electricity; however, severe droughts (notably in 1992–93) have occasionally interrupted service, and supplemental thermoelectric plants have been built in many areas.
- Agriculture, forestry, and fishing
The mountainous character of much of Colombia’s territory, along with the attendant climatic variations of the different vertical zones, allows for the production of an unusually wide range of both tropical and temperate-zone crops, from bananas and sugarcane to wheat, barley, and potatoes. Modern agricultural techniques are employed chiefly in those areas where they are adaptable to the topography. Chemical fertilizers are widely used, and large tracts of flatter lands have been placed under irrigation. Many farmers with small holdings, especially in the mountains, nevertheless cling to traditional methods of farming.
Coffee has long represented the backbone of the Colombian economy, bringing premium prices on the world market and constituting about half of all legal exports. Trade in coffee has always been sensitive to sharp price fluctuations, however. In 1975, after a severe Brazilian frost destroyed that nation’s coffee crop, prices soared for Colombian coffee exports, and the nation consequently suffered high levels of inflation. During other periods, low coffee prices have stalled economic development. Although coffee had declined to about one-eighth of legal exports by the mid-1990s, the country was still second only to Brazil in its production. The labour-intensive crop grows best at elevations between 3,300 and 6,300 feet (1,000 and 1,900 metres). The farms or estates (fincas) on which it is produced are concentrated in the central parts of the three Andean ranges; a few are on the slopes of the Santa Marta Mountains. Holdings tend to be small. Colombian coffee traditionally has been grown under nitrogen-fixing leguminous shade trees, but, with the introduction of the high-yielding caturra variety, plantings have increasingly been made in the open sunlight.
Bananas and plantains rank as important fruit crops. Most of the bananas are exported from plantations in the Urabá region of the Caribbean coast. Sugarcane is a major crop in the warm and temperate zones, but most of the large plantations and processing plants are located on the alluvial lands of the Cauca valley near Cali. Some of the sugar is exported, but domestic markets consume the bulk of the production.
Corn (maize), the traditional staple of rural peoples, especially those in the mountains, is grown everywhere except in the páramos zones. In some areas it is widely consumed as a form of beer called chicha. In the cooler highlands of the Nariño plateau and in the Cordillera Oriental, potatoes are a prominent crop. In the lowlands the production of rice has increased rapidly, most of it grown under irrigation. Cassava (yuca) in the tierra caliente and wheat on the páramos margins are other major food crops. Kidney beans and sorghum are also widely grown.
Locally grown cotton supplies the large Colombian textile industry. Other less significant crops are tobacco, sesame, African oil palms, cacao, peanuts (groundnuts), grapes, soybeans, and citrus fruits. Cut flowers are shipped by air freight in substantial volume from large greenhouses on the Sabana de Bogotá.
Stock raising is a major activity and source of wealth, especially in the lowlands. The Sinú and San Jorge river valleys, the savannas of the Atlantic lowlands, and the Llanos are the regions with most of the beef cattle. Dairying is especially well developed on the high plateaus of the Cordillera Oriental. Poultry raising has expanded as a result of the application of modern techniques.
The rich resource of the forests has not been fully exploited, because access roads to them are few. Where forests are accessible, cutting has been heavy and reforestation programs have been implemented both by the government and by private concerns such as paper manufacturers. The lumber industry is in the process of development, and by the late 20th century there were numerous factories for the manufacture of different types of plywood for domestic use and export.
Ocean fishing is little developed for a country that faces two great seas. The maritime tradition is of minor proportion. River fish constitute the more abundant catch, although stocks have been reduced as a result of pollution and siltation.
Before the enactment of neoliberal reforms in the 1990s, the Institute of Industrial Development supplied the necessary capital for enterprises too large to be privately financed, investing large sums to strengthen the metalworking industry, to set up motor-vehicle assembly plants, to stimulate the construction of railroad cars and fishing vessels, and to encourage the manufacture of paper, vegetable oils, and petroleum derivatives. Despite these developments, the greater part of Colombian industrial activity continues to be carried on by small enterprises that produce consumer goods.
- MINING AND QUARRYING
Coal, petroleum, and gold are chief among Colombia’s long list of extraction and processing industries. Gold production comes largely from dredges operating in the west-central departments of Antioquia and Chocó. The export of ferronickel was initiated in 1985 from a major ore deposit, Cerro Matoso, in the upper reaches of the San Jorge River. Coal is mined in the Andean region for local markets, but production now centres on the great Cerrejón deposits in La Guajira, connected by rail to a modern port at the extreme end of the peninsula.
Petroleum development began in the Magdalena River valley in the early 1900s, and by the early 1980s some 100,000 barrels per day were being produced. With the development of two major petroleum fields in the northern Llanos and in Amazonia in the late 1980s and ’90s, production jumped to 440,000 barrels per day in 1990 and some 800,000 by the end of the decade. Pipelines across the Andes linking these fields to ocean terminals have also raised the export potential, although terrorist attacks on the lines have interrupted production and caused enormous environmental damage. The older fields in the Magdalena River valley and in the Catatumbo River region facing Venezuela still produce important quantities of petroleum. The industry is controlled as a government monopoly, but foreign companies are partners in exploration and development. The major refineries are at Barrancabermeja on the Magdalena River and Cartagena on the Caribbean coast.
The tendency toward import substitution (substituting domestically produced goods for imports) began during the Great Depression of the 1930s and continued into the 1950s and ’60s, when Colombia became practically self-sufficient in the production of nondurable consumer goods. Development later slowed, and in the 1980s and ’90s manufacturing accounted for the same one-fifth of the gross domestic product that it had in the early 1960s.
The textile industry employs the largest share of workers and contributes a substantial part of the national income. In addition to supplying the national market, the larger firms, concentrated in Medellín, also export fabric and yarn. Food processing and chemical production rank with textiles as leading Colombian industries. Production of industrial chemicals, in part to supply the textile industry, has increased steadily. There is also an important output of pharmaceuticals. The integrated iron and steel mill at Paz de Río, in Boyacá department, utilizes local raw materials and supplies a large share of the country’s ferrous metal needs.
Bogotá, Medellín, and Cali, along with the Caribbean coastal cities of Barranquilla and Cartagena, are the principal industrial centres. The interior location of the first three has placed them at a significant disadvantage in both processing of imported materials and producing for export, but the demands of the growing domestic market, coupled with substantial investments by foreign concerns in productive facilities, have enabled them to sustain substantial growth, especially since World War II. Cheap electric power distributed through a national grid has been an important developmental factor.
- Finance and trade
The banking system is composed of a central bank (the Banco de la República) and more than 30 general banking institutions, some of which are partly foreign-owned. The Monetary Commission, created by the government in 1963, is the highest authority in matters involving the extension of credit. Such credit is extended through the central bank, which also issues currency, acts as banker for the government and other banks, serves as a guardian and administrator of the country’s international reserves, and acts as a clearinghouse.
Foreign trade is concerned principally with the exportation of raw materials and the importation of machinery and manufactured goods. Colombia’s single largest trading partner is the United States. Trade with the countries of the European Union also is significant, as is trade with neighbouring Andean countries.
Exports consist largely of crude petroleum and petroleum products, coffee, chemicals, textiles, fresh-cut flowers, and coal. By the 1970s and ’80s the illegal trade in Colombian marijuana and cocaine, especially with the United States, had become a major source of income, at times exceeding the value of legal exports. Despite government efforts to combat the Colombian drug cartels, intercept cocaine shipments, and eradicate coca fields through aerial spraying, cocaine remained a potent factor in the national economy. In addition, opium poppy cultivation and heroin trafficking grew in prominence by the late 1990s. Imports consist mainly of machinery and transportation equipment, chemical products, crude petroleum and petroleum products, base metals and metal products, and paper and paper products
Transportation plays a particularly vital role in Colombia, where the problems of a diverse and difficult terrain are being overcome to unify the country. By far the most important means of surface transportation is the road system, about one-eighth of which is paved. Two parallel main roads extend toward the interior from the Caribbean ports, one following the Cordillera Oriental to Bogotá and Santa Marta, the other passing through Medellín, Cali, and Popayán to the Ecuadoran border. A branch from the first leads to Cúcuta and into Venezuela. There is, however, no overland communication with Panama and Central America, because of the difficult terrain of the Darién Gap, which separates Panama and Colombia and breaks up the northern and southern sections of the Pan-American Highway. Road extension and improvement is a priority of the government, for most domestic cargo today moves by truck. Frequent landslides make highway maintenance difficult. One of the most important transverse routes passes through the Cordillera Central, linking Bogotá with Cali (in the Cauca valley) and Buenaventura, the major Pacific port.
Perhaps in no other country has air transport played so major a role as in Colombia. The government-controlled airline Avianca claims to be the oldest commercial airline operating in the Western Hemisphere. Frequent flights link all important cities, reducing travel times inordinately from those on the tortuous, indirect, and slow mountain highways. Most people travel by air in Colombia, which is claimed to have proportionally the highest rate of air travel in the world, and airlines handle four times more cargo tonnage than the national railroad system. The principal international airport is Bogotá’s El Dorado, and there are others at Medellín, Cali, Cartagena, Barranquilla, and Isla San Andrés. The last serves the large tourist industry there.
The role of railroads has become increasingly secondary. The standard-gauge lines are owned by the government. The main line is the Ferrocarril del Atlántico, which runs north for 600 miles (1,000 km) between Bogotá and the seaport of Santa Marta. At Puerto Berrío in the Magdalena valley the main line connects with another that passes westward through Medellín and on southward to Cali and the port of Buenaventura. This and other regional lines are frequently closed by landslides.
The Magdalena River no longer plays the vital role in transportation that it once did, although it still carries some bulk cargo, especially petroleum. Travelers en route to Bogotá in earlier times moved by riverboat as far as La Dorada, where the trip to the interior capital continued overland. The Sinú, Atrato, and Meta rivers are also navigable, but these, too, are used less frequently. Consideration has been given to the possibility of uniting the nation’s Caribbean and Pacific coasts by the construction of a canal between the Atrato and San Juan rivers; that project has not gained momentum, however, because the nearby Panama Canal has proved a convenient and cost-effective link.
Cargo ships ply the waters of both the Caribbean and the Pacific, which are joined to the north by the Panama Canal. The Caribbean ports of Cartagena, Barranquilla, and Santa Marta have relatively deep water and are equipped with modern port facilities and services; however, silt deposited by the Magdalena River at its mouth requires constant dredging to maintain shipping access to the Barranquilla wharves. On the Pacific coast the port of Buenaventura, on a mangrove-lined embayment, offers easy access and modern installations.
Colombia has a long history of democracy. Like the United States, the country is run by a president, who is elected every four years. Laws are made by a House of Representatives and a Senate.
Colombia's biggest trading partner is the United States, which buys 40 percent of the country's exports. Colombia sends a variety of items overseas, including coffee, bananas, oil, coal, gold, platinum, and emeralds.
One of Colombia's worst exports, though, is illegal drugs. With help from the United States, the Colombian government is carrying out Plan Colombia, a costly and wide-ranging effort to rid the country of the gangs, called cartels, that produce illegal drugs for sale around the world.
- Country name:
conventional long form: Republic of Colombia conventional short form: Colombia local long form: Republica de Colombia local short form: Colombia
- Government type: republic; executive branch dominates government structure
- Capital: Bogota
- Administrative divisions:
32 departments (departamentos, singular - departamento) and 1 capital district* (distrito capital); Amazonas, Antioquia, Arauca, Atlantico, Distrito Capital de Bogota*, Bolivar, Boyaca, Caldas, Caqueta, Casanare, Cauca, Cesar, Choco, Cordoba, Cundinamarca, Guainia, Guaviare, Huila, La Guajira, Magdalena, Meta, Narino, Norte de Santander, Putumayo, Quindio, Risaralda, San Andres y Providencia, Santander, Sucre, Tolima, Valle del Cauca, Vaupes, Vichada
- Independence: 20 July 1810 (from Spain)
- National holiday: Independence Day, 20 July (1810)
- Constitution: 5 July 1991
- Legal system: based on Spanish law; a new criminal code modeled after US procedures was enacted into law in 2004; judicial review of executive and legislative acts; accepts compulsory ICJ jurisdiction, with reservations
- Suffrage: 18 years of age; universal
- Executive branch:
chief of state: President Alvaro URIBE Velez (since 7 August 2002); Vice President Francisco SANTOS (since 7 August 2002); note - the president is both the chief of state and head of government head of government: President Alvaro URIBE Velez (since 7 August 2002); Vice President Francisco SANTOS (since 7 August 2002); note - the president is both the chief of state and head of government cabinet: Cabinet consists of a coalition of the two dominant parties - the PL and PSC - and independents elections: president and vice president elected by popular vote for a four-year term; election last held 26 May 2002 (next to be held May 2006) election results: President Alvaro URIBE Velez received 53% of the vote; Vice President Francisco SANTOS was elected on the same ticket
- Legislative branch:
bicameral Congress or Congreso consists of the Senate or Senado (102 seats; members are elected by popular vote to serve four-year terms) and the House of Representatives or Camara de Representantes (166 seats; members are elected by popular vote to serve four-year terms) elections: Senate - last held 10 March 2002 (next to be held March 2006); House of Representatives - last held 10 March 2002 (next to be held March 2006) election results: Senate - percent of vote by party - NA%; seats by party - PL 28, PSC 13, independents and smaller parties (many aligned with conservatives) 61; House of Representatives - percent of vote by party - NA%; seats by party - PL 54, PSC 21, independents and other parties 91
- Judicial branch:
four roughly coequal, supreme judicial organs; Supreme Court of Justice or Corte Suprema de Justicia (highest court of criminal law; judges are selected by their peers from the nominees of the Superior Judicial Council for eight-year terms); Council of State (highest court of administrative law; judges are selected from the nominees of the Superior Judicial Council for eight-year terms); Constitutional Court (guards integrity and supremacy of the constitution; rules on constitutionality of laws, amendments to the constitution, and international treaties); Superior Judicial Council (administers and disciplines the civilian judiciary; resolves jurisdictional conflicts arising between other courts; members are elected by three sister courts and Congress for eight-year terms)
- Political parties and leaders:
Colombian Communist Party or PCC [Jaime CAICEDO]; Conservative Party or PSC [Carlos HOLGUIN Sardi]; Democratic Pole or PDI [Samuel MORENO Rojas]; Liberal Party or PL [Juan Fernando CRISTO] note: Colombia has about 60 formally recognized political parties, most of which do not have a presence in either house of Congress
- Political pressure groups and leaders:
two largest insurgent groups active in Colombia - Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia or FARC and National Liberation Army or ELN; largest anti-insurgent paramilitary group is United Self-Defense Groups of Colombia or AUC
- International organization participation:
BCIE, CAN, CDB, CSN, FAO, G-3, G-24, G-77, IADB, IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICC, ICCt, ICFTU, ICRM, IDA, IFAD, IFC, IFRCS, IHO, ILO, IMF, IMO, Interpol, IOC, IOM, ISO, ITU, LAES, LAIA, Mercosur (associate), MIGA, NAM, OAS, OPANAL, OPCW, PCA, RG, UN, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNHCR, UNIDO, UPU, WCL, WCO, WFTU, WHO, WIPO, WMO, WToO, WTO
- Diplomatic representation in the US:
chief of mission: Ambassador Luis Alberto MORENO Mejia chancery: 2118 Leroy Place NW, Washington, DC 20008 telephone:  (202) 387-8338 FAX:  (202) 232-8643 consulate(s) general: Atlanta, Beverly Hills, Boston, Chicago, Houston, Miami, New Orleans, New York, San Francisco, San Juan (Puerto Rico), and Washington, DC
- Diplomatic representation from the US:
chief of mission: Ambassador William B. WOOD embassy: Calle 22D-BIS, numbers 47-51, Apartado Aereo 3831 mailing address: Carrera 45 #22D-45, Bogota, D.C., APO AA 34038 telephone:  (1) 315-0811 FAX:  (1) 315-2197
- Flag description:
three horizontal bands of yellow (top, double-width), blue, and red; similar to the flag of Ecuador, which is longer and bears the Ecuadorian coat of arms superimposed in the center
CULTURE LIFE OF COLOMBIA
Geography has played a critical role in shaping Colombian culture, particularly in regard to regional isolation. Prior to the arrival of the first Europeans in the 16th century, the aboriginal populations of the area that was to become Colombia had achieved a high level of cultural development. Because they built largely of wood and occupied a tropical area of generally moderate to high rainfall, they left little evidence of their achievements. All groups had some form of social organization, but, except for the Chibcha of the Cordillera Oriental, they were organized in small chiefdoms (cacigazcos) under chiefs (caciques) whose authority was sharply limited geographically. Agriculture, pottery making, and weaving were all but universal. Some groups—for example, the Chibcha, Quimbaya, Tairona, Sinú, and Calima—had developed great skills in metalworking (especially goldsmithing), sculpture, and ceramics. The San Agustín culture, centred in the headwaters area of the Magdalena River, left giant anthropomorphic figures carved of stone that have been an enigma for archaeologists. While groups of Caribbean origin were warlike and practiced ritual cannibalism, others from the interior possessed a rich mythology and a religion that upheld ethical standards and norms on questions of private ownership and the prevention of crime.
Until the mid-1970s it was thought that no indigenous group had left any large architectural monuments such as those erected by the Aztecs, Mayas, or Incas. The excavation, beginning in 1976, of a 1,500-acre (600-hectare) city apparently built about ad 900 by the Tairona in the Santa Marta massif, however, marked a turning point in the study of Colombia’s prehistory.
The Andean Indians, particularly the Chibcha, practiced sedentary agriculture and were able to offer but small resistance to the Spanish invaders. They became the great biological and cultural contributors to the process of racial amalgamation, or mestizaje. The low demographic density of the pre-Hispanic population and its swift destruction during the colonial period led to the formation of a rather open society and to the substitution of Hispanic forms of culture for the indigenous ones. The most widely used native language, Chibcha, virtually disappeared in the 18th century.
From colonial times, Bogotá—the “Athens of South America”—has been the nation’s cultural centre, and most cultural institutions are located within the metropolitan area. Other cities of cultural prominence include Cali, Medellín, Manizales, Tunja, and Cartagena.
- The arts
The arts in Colombia are fostered and developed by conservatories and schools in several cities either in connection with the universities or independently and by the growing number of concert halls and galleries. Persons of middle income levels display considerable curiosity and the desire to be informed about contemporary artistic developments, and this same spirit is found among the artists themselves. There is no distinct national school of art. The most outstanding Colombian artist is the painter and sculptor Fernando Botero, whose themes reach beyond regional tastes and temporal values to people worldwide. Numerous exhibitions in the 1990s exposed Botero’s work to a broad international audience.
The Nobel Prize for Literature awarded to Gabriel García Márquez in 1982 provided recognition of a national literary tradition that Colombians believe constitutes a basic element of the national character, as they boast that more poets than soldiers have occupied the presidency. García Márquez is best known for his Cién años de soledad (1967; One Hundred Years of Solitude), a novel steeped in magic realism, chronicling a century of life in the fictional town of Macondo, which is seen as a microcosm of Colombian society. Many of his other works are also inspired by events in Colombian history and culture, yet their symbolism and significance extend to Latin America as a whole.
Handicrafts suffered a decline from the colonial period to the early years of the republic, but since the early 1930s interest in them has revived. Most notable are the growth in textile production and renewed activity in the manufacture of ceramics and pottery, chiefly in the municipalities of Ráquira, Espinal, and Malambo. Basket weaving, harness making, and passementerie (fancy edging or trimming on clothing or upholstery) are also popular.
Popular traditions concerning manners and customs, music, legends, and food preparation continue in somewhat attenuated form in their places of origin. Perhaps the most deeply rooted folkloric form of expression is that of music. The tunes and melodies of the indigenous groups are sung only in limited geographic areas. The music of the mestizo can be divided into that of the Andes, the plains, and the Atlantic lowlands and the Pacific coast and include such genres as the bambuco, the cumbia, and the vallenato. Some musical forms of the colonial period also have survived.
- Cultural institutions
The history and culture of Colombia’s indigenous peoples are revealed in several museums of outstanding reputation. The Gold Museum in Bogotá possesses the world’s finest and largest collection of worked gold, the product of extraordinarily skilled craftsmen, whereas the Bogotá Museum of Colonial Art has a rich collection of criollo (Creole) religious sculpture and painting. The National Museum displays treasures and relics dating from prehistoric times to the present and possesses various collections of Colombian painting and sculpture. The July 20 Museum contains documents from the period of independence.
No less important vehicles for the diffusion of culture are the National Library and the Bank of the Republic Library, the latter containing a vast amount of reading material, exposition and music halls, and a concert theatre. Outside Bogotá there are other institutions of this kind, including the Zea Museum in Medellín and the House of Don Juan de Vargas in Tunja.
- Daily life and social structure
Although regional differences are slowly disappearing, people are often known by the administrative department in which they live, and Antioqueños, Santandereanos, Tolimenses, Nariñenses, Bogotanos, and Boyacanses are recognized by their dress, diet, and speech. The most socially and economically prominent group is the Antioqueños, who migrated from Antioquia southward along the Cordilleras Central and Occidental during the 19th century. Numbering some five million, the Antioqueños grow about three-fourths of the nation’s coffee crop and control much of Colombia’s trade, banking, and industry. Until the death of drug cartel leader Pablo Escobar in 1993, Antioqueños dominated the drug trade.
Colombian class structure is still based on a combination of occupation, wealth, and ethnicity, albeit with some regional differences. The vast majority of the population belongs to the “marginal” classes, who lack steady employment and must eke out a living by any possible means, and the lower classes, who are mainly physical labourers. Members of these two groups are largely of African, American Indian, or mixed descent. At the middle and upper echelons of the social structure are those who have more highly skilled work, including the professions. Although the middle classes have such occupations, they lack the wealth (and perhaps the European heritage) of the upper class. At the apex of the upper class is a tiny group of wealthy, traditional families, of which almost all are of pure Spanish background.
A major preoccupation among traditional Colombian elites is the protection of one’s family pride and name—known collectively as one’s abolengo. Family ties are key in business and political life, and it is common to find young men or women following their fathers’ footsteps into the political arena. In addition, elite cliques called roscas (the name of a twisted pastry) often act behind the scenes in business and political dealings, and learning how to associate with these controlling groups is requisite for members of the middle class and aspirants to the upper classes.
Popular regional foods include arroz con coco (“rice with coconut”) in coastal areas, ajicaco (a stew) in and near Bogotá, and frijoles (beans) and chicharrones (pork rinds) in Medellín. White rum is a typical drink of the Caribbean coast, as is aguardiente (an anise-flavoured liqueur) in the highlands, and Colombian beer is ubiquitous.
- Sports and recreation
Since the 1960s regional fairs have been held in various parts of the country to celebrate occurrences of local importance. They are government-subsidized and, with the aid of modern means of communication, have promoted and preserved popular tunes and dances as well as traditional costumes. Fiestas in Colombia vary locally, but the pre-Lenten Carnival is especially celebrated nationally, reaching a particular intensity at Barranquilla and elsewhere along the Caribbean coast.
Organized sports have grown steadily in popularity among the Colombians, and without question the most widely played and watched sport is football (soccer). The most intense football rivalries are between pairs of teams in each of the three largest cities—Millonarios and Santa Fé in Bogotá, Nacional and Deportivo Independiente in Medellín, and América and Deportivo in Cali. The Colombian national team has qualified for several World Cup finals.
Basketball and baseball draw an increasing number of fans, and golf, tennis, and skiing are played by the smaller numbers who can afford them. Automobile racing is another attraction. Bicycle racing culminates each year with the Tour of Colombia (Vuelta de Colombia), covering some 1,200 miles (2,000 km) in 12 days. Perhaps the only indigenous sport is tejo, a game derived from the Chibcha Indians that is similar to quoits. Colombians enjoy gambling, especially at government-sponsored lotteries that fund social programs. Like many other Latin American peoples, Colombians attend bullfights, an inheritance of their Spanish culture.
- Press and broadcasting
Although freedom of the press has generally been established in Colombia, the degree to which the press can exercise its rights has been somewhat dependent upon the government in power, as well as the danger of retaliation from drug bands and guerrilla groups. Newspapers have traditionally been the most widely available source of political information and have been the least controlled, while radio and television, regarded more as entertainment media, have received stricter government control. Newspapers have often been the voices of particular political parties; two noted Bogotá newspapers, El tiempo and El espectador, for instance, have usually been identified with the Liberal Party philosophy.
History of Colombia
NATURE OF COLOMBIA
With its vast rain forests, sprawling savannas, huge mountains, and 1,800 miles (2,900 kilometers) of coastline on two oceans, Colombia is one of the most biologically diverse countries on Earth. Even though it takes up less than one percent of the world's land area, about 10 percent of all animal species live in Colombia.
Much of Colombia's forest habitats have been undisturbed for many millions of years. This has given wildlife a chance to evolve into many different species. Animals from jaguars to caimans to poison dart frogs all call Colombia's jungles home. The mountains provide habitat for huge Andean condors and rare spectacled bears, South America's only bear species.
Thousands of years ago, Colombia was nearly completely covered in jungle. But people have cleared most of the trees to create farmland, and now only a handful of areas have their original forests. The government has set up several national parks to protect habitats, but damage to the environment continues.
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