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Republic of Colombia

República de Colombia


FLAG: The national flag consists of three horizontal stripes; the yellow upper stripe is twice as wide as each of the other two, which are blue and red.

ANTHEM: Himno Nacional, beginning "O gloria inmarcesible, júbilo inmortal" ("O unwithering glory, immortal joy").

MONETARY UNIT: The Colombian peso (c$) of 100 centavos is a paper currency. There are coins of 10, 20, and 50 centavos and of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, and 50 pesos, and notes of 100, 200, 500, 1,000, 2,000, 5,000 and 10,000 pesos. Commemorative gold coins of various denominations also have been minted. c$1 = us$0.00043 (or us$1 = c$2,324.08) as of 2005.

WEIGHTS AND MEASURES: The metric system is the official standard, but Spanish units such as the botella, vara, fonegada, arroba, and quintal also are used.

HOLIDAYS: New Year's Day, 1 January; Epiphany, 6 January; St. Joseph's Day, 19 March; Labor Day, 1 May; Day of St. Peter and St. Paul, 29 June; Independence Day, 20 July; Battle of Boyacá, 7 August; Assumption, 15 August; Columbus Day, 12 October; All Saints' Day, 1 November; Independence of Cartagena, 11 November; Immaculate Conception, 8 December; Christmas, 25 December. Movable religious holidays include Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Ascension, Sacred Heart, and Corpus Christi. In addition there are six official commemorative days.

TIME: 7 am = noon GMT.


Colombia is the only South American country with both Caribbean and Pacific coastlines. The fourth-largest country in South America, it has a total area of 1,138,910 sq km (439,736 sq mi), including insular possessions, and extends 1,700 km (1,060 mi) nnwsse and 1,210 km (750 mi) nnessw. Comparatively, the area occupied by Colombia is slightly less than three times the size of the state of Montana. Bordered on the n by the Caribbean Sea, on the ne by Venezuela, on the se by Brazil, on the sw by Peru and Ecuador, on the w by the Pacific Ocean, and on the nw by Panama, the Colombian mainland is located entirely within the tropics. Its total boundary length is 6,004 km (3,731 mi). Its coastlines extend 3,208 km (1,993 mi).

Also held by the Republic of Colombia (though claimed by Nicaragua) are the archipelago of San Andrés and Providencia in the Caribbean Sea, about 190 km (120 mi) off the coast of Nicaragua, and the islands of Malpelo, Gorgona, and Gorgonilla in the Pacific Ocean. (In 2001 Nicaragua filed a claim in the International Court of Justice regarding these islands.) Colombia also holds the uninhabited Caribbean islands of Quita Sueño Bank, Roncador Cay, and Serrana Bank, to which the United States renounced all rights under the Treaty of Quita Sueño, ratified by the US Senate in July 1981; Nicaragua also disputes this claim. Colombia has a dispute with Venezuela over maritime rights in the Gulf of Venezuela. Negotiations have been going on unsuccessfully since 1970, and in August 1987, a Colombian naval vessel entered the disputed region in an apparent attempt to make Venezuela more responsive.

Colombia's capital city, Bogotá, is located in the center of the country.


The Andes Mountains divide just north of Colombia's southern border with Ecuador into three separate chains, or cordilleras, known as the Cordillera Occidental (western), the Cordillera Central, and the Cordillera Oriental (eastern). The western and central cordilleras run roughly parallel with the Pacific coast, extending northward as far as the Caribbean coastal lowlands. They are alike in geological structure, both being composed of massive crystalline rocks. The Cordillera Central is the highest range of the Colombian Andes, with several volcanic cones whose snow-covered peaks rise to about 5,500 m (18,000 ft), notably Huila (5,750 m/18,865 ft). The third chain, the Cordillera Oriental, runs northeastward, bifurcating into an eastern branch, the Sierra de los Andes, which slopes down to Venezuela, and a second branch, the Sierra de Perijá, which continues northward to terminate on the border between Venezuela and Colombia just south of the Guajira Peninsula. This range is composed of folded stratified rocks over a crystalline core.

On the margin of the Caribbean stands the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, an isolated block of mountains composed of a triangular massif of granite, whose highest elevation is Pico Cristóbal Colón (5,775 m/18,947 ft), the tallest peak in Colombia. In the town of Arboletes in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, there are a number of active mud volcanoes, one of the largest of which fills a volcanic crater and attracts many locals and tourists who swim and bathe in the mud lake. West of the Cordillera Occidental but not geologically a part of the Andean chain is the low Serranía de Baudó, which skirts the Pacific and extends into the Isthmus of Panama.

Separating the three principal Andean ranges are Colombia's two major rivers, the Cauca (1,014 km/630 mi), which flows northward between the western and central cordilleras, and the Magdalena (1,553 km/965 mi), which divides the central and eastern cordilleras. After emerging from the mountains, the two rivers become one and descend through marshy lowlands to the Caribbean. The area south and east of the Andean ranges is largely composed of river plains divided among the effluents of the Orinoco and Amazon rivers. Open plains immediately adjoin the mountains, but as the distance from the cordillera increases, the plains give way to largely uninhabited and unexplored jungle. The Pacific coastal area is also characterized by jungle vegetation. Principal rivers on the Pacific coast include the Baudó, San Juan, and Patía.


Colombia's climatic variations are determined by altitude, and seasons are periods of lesser or greater rainfall, with little or no temperature change. The country may be divided vertically into four regions. The hot country, ortierra caliente, is the tropical zone, reaching from sea level to roughly 1,100 m (3,500 ft), where the mean annual temperature is 24°c to 27°c (7581°f); at sea level, temperatures have a mean maximum of 38°c (100°f) and a minimum of 18°c (64°f). Between 1,100 m (3,500 ft) and 2,000 m (6,500 ft) is the temperate zone, ortierra templada, where the average year-round temperature is about 18°c (64°f). Between 2,000 m (6,500 ft) and 3,000 m (10,000 ft) is the cold country, ortierra fría, with temperatures averaging a little over 13°c (55°f). Above the 3,000-m (10,000-ft) level the temperature varies from 13°c to -17°c (55°f to 1°f), according to altitude. The annual mean temperature at the capital, Bogotá (altitude 2,598 m/8,525 ft), is 14°c (57°f).

Rainfall is heaviest on the west coast and in the Andean area; rainy and dry seasons, or "winter" and "summer," generally alternate in three-month cycles, as in Bogotá, where precipitation occurs most heavily and consistently during the periods of April to June and October to December. Northern areas have only one long rainy season, from May through October. The annual average rainfall is 107 cm (42 in).


More than 45,000 species of plants have been identified in Colombia, but it is predicted that when the region is thoroughly explored that number may be doubled. At the highest (3,0004,600 m/10,00015,000 ft) and coldest level of mountain meadows, called páramos, the soil supports grasses, small herbaceous plants, and dense masses of low bushes. In the intermontane basins some vegetables, European-introduced grains, and corn are found, along with the bushes, trees, and meadow grasses indigenous to the region. The temperate areas support extensive and luxuriant forests, ferns, mosses, trees of the laurel family, Spanish cedars, vegetables, and grain crops. The tropical zone may be divided into four main groups according to the amount of rainfall received: desert like areas supporting arid plants, deciduous forests, rain forests, and grass plains. Palm trees of various species abound in the tropics and there are many edible fruits and vegetables.

Animal life is abundant, especially in the tropical area. Among carnivorous species are puma, a variety of smaller cats, raccoons, and mustelids. Herbivores include the tapir, peccary, deer, and large tropical rodents. Sloths, anteaters, opossums, and several types of monkeys are also found, as well as some 1,665 species and subspecies of South American and migratory birds. As of 2002, there were at least 359 species of mammals, 708 species of birds, and over 51,200 species of plants throughout the country.


Colombia's main environmental problems are soil erosion, deforestation, and the preservation of its wildlife. Soil erosion has resulted from the loss of vegetation and heavy rainfall, and the soil has also been damaged by overuse of pesticides. Deforestation has resulted from the commercial exploitation of the country's forests, which cover approximately 47.8% of the country. Between 1981 and 1985, 820,000 hectares (2,260,000 acres) were lost each year, and 8,000 hectares (20,000 acres) were reforested. Between 1983 and 1993, Colombia lost another 5.8% of its forest and woodland. from 19902000, the rate of deforestation was estimated at 0.4% per year. Air pollution from vehicle emissions is also a problem, especially in Bogotá. Safe drinking water is available to 99% of urban dwellers and 70% of the rural population.

The Colombian government has initiated several programs to protect the environment. By 1959, the Amazon forests, the Andean area, and the Pacific coast were protected. In 1973, the government created the National Resources and Environment Code. The main environmental agency is the Institute for Development of Renewable Natural Resources and the Environment (INDERENA), established in 1969. Among other activities, it has undertaken extensive projects in the training of personnel in conservation, fishing, and forestry. The Colombian Sanitary Code, in force since January 1982, establishes pollution control standards. The National Environmental Education Plan for 199194 introduces environmental issues in the elementary schools. In 2003, about 10.2% of the total land area was nationally protected. Los Katios National Park is a natural UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are three Ramsar wetland sites.

According to a 2006 report issued by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), threatened species included 39 types of mammals, 86 species of birds, 15 types of reptiles, 208 species of amphibians, 23 species of fish, and 222 species of plants. Endangered species in Colombia include the tundra peregrine falcon, Cauca guan, gorgeted wood-quail, red siskin, pinche, five species of turtle (green sea, hawksbill, olive ridley, leatherback, and arrau), two species of alligator (spectacled caiman and black caiman), and two of crocodile (American and Orinoco). The Colombian grebe and the Caribbean monk seal have become extinct.


The population of Colombia in 2005 was estimated by the United Nations (UN) at 46,039,000, which placed it at number 28 in population among the 193 nations of the world. In 2005, approximately 5% of the population was over 65 years of age, with another 32% of the population under 15 years of age. There were 98 males for every 100 females in the country. According to the UN, the annual population rate of change for 20052010 was expected to be 1.7%; the government sought to reduce adolescent fertility, which it viewed as too high. The projected population for the year 2025 was 58,294,000. The population density was 41 per sq km (105 per sq mi), with about 95% of the population residing in the mountainous western half of the country.

A rapid transfer of population to urban centers has taken place since the 1950s, and during the 1990s, over a million people were internally displaced. The UN estimated that 75% of the population lived in urban areas in 2005, and that urban areas were growing at an annual rate of 1.96%. The capital city, Bogotá, had a population of 7,290,000 in that year. The populations of other major metropolitan areas were as follows: Medellín, 3,236,000; Cali, 2,583,000; and Barranquilla, 1,918,000. Other metropolitan areas include Cartagena, Bucaramanga, and Cúcuta.


Despite government inducements, such as the granting of agricultural land in the eastern plains, immigration has been insignificant, partly because of guerrilla activity and violence. Emigration is small but significant, since many of those who leave the country are scientists, technicians, and doctors. Between 1951 and 1985, some 218,724 Colombians settled in the United States. In 1990 there were more persons in the United States of Colombian birth304,000than of any other South American nationality.

As of May 1997, more than 900,000 people had been internally displaced by the violence between the leftist guerrillas and government forces. Though estimates varied, studies agree that displacement is pan-national and on the rise. Twenty-seven provinces within Colombia have been affected by the internal displacement in as far as most of the displaced people have moved to the cities of Colombia. According to SISDESC (System of Information on the Families Displaced by Violence in Colombia), in 1997, every two hours two families were displaced by violence in the country. Between 1985 and 2004, Colombia's internally displaced population numbered 3,100,000.

While the level of external displacement does not match the level of internal displacement, there is a steady outflow of people fleeing the country. The three neighboring countries most affected by cross-border movements are Panama, Ecuador, and Venezuela. In 1999, about 3,000 Colombians from the north of Santander Department fled to Venezuela in response to the armed conflict in the region. In 2004, there were 141 refugees in Colombia, 85 asylum seekers, and 2,000,000 internally displaced persons. As of 2005, the net migration rate of Colombia was estimated as 0.31 migrants per 1,000 population. The government views the migrant levels as satisfactory.


The predominant racial strain in Colombia is the mestizo (mixed white and Amerindian), constituting about 58% of the total population. An estimated 20% of the inhabitants are of unmixed white ancestry; 14% are mulatto (black-white); 4% are black; 3% are zambo (black-Amerindian); and 1% are pure Amerindian. Blacks and mulattoes are concentrated in the coastal regions and tropical valleys. Pure Amerindians are rapidly disappearing; the remaining few live mainly in inaccessible and barren regions. The principal Amerindian culture of Colombia during the pre-Columbian period was that of the Chibcha, whose descendants are today chiefly concentrated in the departments of Cundinamarca, Boyacá, Santander, and Norte de Santander. The Motilones, one of the few surviving Amerindian groups untouched by civilization in South America, inhabit the region west of Lake Maracaibo and the Venezuelan border; they are famous for their lethal weapon, the black palm bow and arrow. Small, diverse Amerindian groups also inhabit the eastern extremities of the Colombian plains region, the south, and the western coastal jungles.


The official language, Spanish, is spoken by all but a few Amerindian tribes. Spanish as spoken and written by educated Colombians is generally considered the closest to Castilian in Latin America.


Roman Catholicism was the country's official religion until the adoption of the 1991 constitution. The current law states that there is no official or state religion but adds that the state is "not atheist or agnostic, nor indifferent to Colombians' religious sentiment." Some have interpreted this as meaning that the Roman Catholic Church retains a privileged position; however, a 1994 constitutional court decision declared unconstitutional any official government reference to religious characterizations of the country.

According to a national poll commissioned by the nation's leading newspaper, El Tiempo, 81% of the people are Roman Catholic and about 14% belong to other Christian denominations. Officials from the Roman Catholic Church, however, estimate that 90% of the population is Roman Catholic. Protestant groups such as the Seventh-Day Adventists, Jehovah's Witnesses, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints make up less than 1% of the population. Other religious faiths or movements include Judaism, Islam, animism, various syncretic beliefs, agnosticism, and atheism. A number of Afro-Colombians, particularly those residing in the department of Choco, practice a syncretic religion which combines elements of Catholicism with African animism. About 1.9% of the population claimed no religious beliefs.

According to a 1997 public law agreement, non-Catholic religious organizations must receive special permission from the state in order to provide chaplains to public institutions such as hospitals or prisons or to perform marriages recognized by the state. Total membership, social popularity, and the content of an organization's statutes and required behavioral norms are considered before permission is granted. As of 2004, only 13 non-Catholic churches had received the necessary status to perform legal marriages.

A 2004 report indicated that religious leaders and followers were regular targets of killings, kidnappings, and extortion by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN). However, many of the incidents in question seemed to be motivated primarily by political and economic issues.


Transportation lacks integration, owing to the mountainous terrain. For this reason, air transportation has become the most important means of travel for most passengers. Despite the development of roads and railways, river travel has remained the chief mode of transportation for cargo since the trip up the Magdalena River in 1536 by the Spanish conqueror Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada. Inland waterways navigable by riverboats totaled 9,187 km (5,742 mi) in 2004. The Magdalena, the fourth-largest river in South America, is navigable for 950 km (590 mi) and carries almost all of Colombia's river traffic.

The railroads, which were nationalized in 1954 and deregulated in 1989, had a combined 3,304 km (2,053 mi) of standard and narrow gauge track in 2004. Of that total, narrow gauge accounted for 3,154 km (1,962 mi).

Also in 2002 there were about 110,000 km (68,354 mi) of roads, of which only about 26,000 km (16,156 mi) were paved. Many roads are plagued by landslides and washouts. The 2,800-km (1,700-mi) Caribbean Trunk Highway, completed in 1974, links the Atlantic ports of Cartagena, Barranquilla, and Santa Marta with the Pan-American Highway (south of Panama) and the Venezuelan highway system. In 2003 there were 850,000 passenger cars and 534,500 commercial motor vehicles.

Owing to inadequate land transport, air service is essential and well developed. A flight from Bogotá to Medellín takes only half an hour, while a truck requires 24 hours over a winding mountain road. In 2004 there were an estimated 980 airports. As of 2005, only 100 had paved runways, and there were also 2 heliports. Colombia's airline, Avianca, is the second-oldest commercial airline in the world and one of the largest in Latin America. Avianca handles about two-thirds of the domestic and international movement of passengers. Most of the country's air transportation is handled by the six principal airports at Bogotá, Barranquilla (E. Cortissoz), Medellín, Cali, Cartagena (Rafael Núñez), and San Andreas. In 2003, these airports serviced about 9.143 million passengers.

Colombia's merchant marine is dominated by the Grand Colombian Merchant Fleet (Flota), a stock corporation owned by the Colombian Coffee Federation. In 2005, merchant marine companies had an aggregate of 15 vessels with 1,000 GRT or over, totaling 35,427 GRT. The nation's chief ports on the Caribbean are Barranquilla, Cartagena, and Santa Marta. Buenaventura is the only important Pacific port.


Archaeological studies indicate that Colombia was inhabited by various Amerindian groups as early as 11,000 bc. Prominent among the pre-Columbian cultures were the highland Chibchas, a sedentary agricultural people located in the eastern chain of the Andes.

The first Spanish settlement, Santa Marta on the Caribbean coast, dates from 1525. In 1536, Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada and a company of 900 men traveled up the Magdalena River in search of the legendary land of El Dorado. They entered the heart of Chibcha territory in 1538, conquered the inhabitants, and established Bogotá. As a colony, Colombia, then called New Granada, was ruled from Lima, Peru, until it was made a viceroyalty. The viceroyalty of New Granada, consolidated in 1740, incorporated modern Colombia, Panama, Venezuela, and Ecuador. The area became Spain's chief source of gold and was exploited for emeralds and tobacco.

In the late 1700s, a separatist movement developed, stemming from arbitrary taxation and the political and commercial restrictions placed on American-born colonists. Among the Bogotá revolutionaries was Antonio Nariño, who had been jailed for printing a translation of the French Assembly's Declaration of the Rights of Man. Independence, declared on 20 July 1810, was not assured until 7 August 1819, when the Battle of Boyacá was won by Simón Bolívar's troops. After this decisive victory, Bolívar was tumultuously acclaimed "Liberator" and given money and men to overthrow the viceroyalty completely.

After 1819, Bolívar's Republic of Gran Colombia included Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, and Panama. Venezuela and Ecuador seceded, but Panama remained part of Colombia. In 1831 the country became the State of New Granada. Political and financial order was attained under Francisco de Paula Santander, Bolívar's vice president, who took office in 1832. During Santander's four-year term and in the subsequent decade there was intense disagreement over the relative amount of power to be granted to the central and state governments and over the amount of power and freedom to be given to the Roman Catholic Church. Characterized by Bolívar as Colombia's "man of laws," Santander directed the course of the nation toward democracy and sound, orderly government.

By 1845, the supporters of strong central government had organized and become known as the Conservatives, while the federalists had assumed the Liberal label. The respective doctrines of the two parties throughout their history have differed on two basic points: the importance of the central governing body and the relationship that should exist between church and state. Conservatism has characteristically stood for highly centralized government and the perpetuation of traditional class and clerical privileges, and it long opposed the extension of voting rights. The Liberals have stressed states' rights, universal suffrage, and the complete separation of church and state. The periods during which the Liberals were in power (184957, 186180) were characterized by frequent insurrections and civil wars and by a policy of government decentralization and strong anticlericalism.

As effective ruler of the nation for nearly 15 years (188094), the Conservative Rafael Núñez, a poet and intellectual, restored centralized government and the power of the church. During his tenure as president, the republican constitution of 1886 was adopted, under which the State of New Granada formally became the Republic of Colombia. A civil war known as the War of a Thousand Days (18991902) resulted in more than 100,000 deaths, and the national feeling of demoralization and humiliation was intensified by the loss of Panama in 1903. After refusing to ratify without amendments a treaty leasing a zone across the Isthmus of Panama to the United States, Colombia lost the territory by virtue of a US-supported revolt that created the Republic of Panama. Colombia did not recognize Panama's independence until 1914, in exchange for rights in the Canal Zone and an indemnity from the United States.

Conservative presidents held power between 1909 and 1930, and Liberals from 1930 to 1942. During World War II, which Colombia entered on the side of the Allies, social and political divisions within the country intensified.

The postwar period was marked by growing social unrest in the capital and in the countryside. Politics became much more violent, especially after the assassination of Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, the leftist Liberal mayor of Bogotá. This sparked protests that developed into riots, the "Bogotazo," in Bogotá, the end of which only lead Liberals and Conservatives into sporadic guerrilla fighting. This extended and bloody period is commonly known as La Violencia, it claimed 150,000 to 200,000 lives. The political system in the 1950s had become irrelevant in the midst of the violence. Three years of Conservative government were followed by a populist military government under Gen. Gustavo Rojas Pinilla, who managed a slightly successful recovery of arms from guerrillas. Rojas ruled as an absolute dictator, but could not quell the violence still raging in the field. Overthrown largely by a coalition of Conservatives and Liberals who used newsprint as their weapon, Rojas gave up power in May 1957 to a military junta, which promised and provided free elections.

When the fall of Rojas was imminent, Liberal and Conservative leaders met to discuss Colombia's future. The period of La Violencia had convinced Colombia's elite that there was a need to bring the rivalry between Liberals and Conservatives under control. Determined to end the violence and initiate a democratic system, the parties entered into a pact establishing a coalition government between the two parties for 16 years. This arrangement, called the Sitges Agreement, created the National Front and was ratified by a plebiscite in December 1957. Under the terms of this agreement, a free election would be held in 1958. The parties would then alternate in power for four-year terms until 1974. Thus, Liberals and Conservatives would take turns in the presidency. Parties were also guaranteed equal numbers of posts in the cabinet and in the national and departmental legislatures.

In 1958, the first election under the National Front, was won by Liberal Alberto Lleras Camargo. As provided in the agreement, he was succeeded in 1962 by a Conservative, National Front candidate Guillermo León Valencia.

During this time another civil war period began. A group of leftist liberals who had established small independent agrarian republics during La Violencia and who were cut out of the power-sharing Sitges Agreement, were attacked by the government in 1964. Two years later the survivors formed the FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia) with the stated goal of overthrowing the government. A year earlier in 1965, another group with roots in La Violencia, the ELN (Ejercito de la Liberacion Nacional), formed the second major revolutionary group after receiving training in revolutionary war tactics in Cuba.

In May 1966, Colombia held another peaceful election, won by Carlos Lleras Restrepo, a Liberal economist. Although lacking the necessary two-thirds majority required under the Colombian constitution to pass legislation, Lleras came to power with the firm support of the press and other important public sectors. His regime occupied itself with increasing public revenues, improving public administration, securing external financial assistance to supplement domestic savings, and preparing new overall development plans. In April 1970, Conservative Party leader Misael Pastrana Borrero, a former cabinet minister, was elected president, narrowly defeating former President Rojas. The election results were disputed but later upheld. A third major revolutionary group, the urban guerrilla M-19 (Movimiento 19) formed a few years later, taking their name from the 19 April 1970 elections dispute.

In August 1974, with the inauguration of the Liberal Alfonso López Michelsen as president, Colombia returned to a two-party system for presidential and congressional elections. As provided by a constitutional amendment of 1968, President López shared cabinet posts and other positions with the Conservative Party. In 1978, another Liberal candidate, Julio César Turbay Ayala, won the presidency, but because his margin of victory was slim (49.5% against the Conservatives' 46.6%), he continued the tradition of giving a number of cabinet posts to the opposition. In June 1982, just before leaving office, Turbay lifted the state of siege that had been in force intermittently since 1948.

Because of a split in the Liberal Party, the Conservatives won the 1982 elections, and a former senator and ambassador to Spain, Belisario Betancur Cuartas, was sworn in as president in August. He continued the tradition of including opposition party members in his cabinet, however, Betancur's most immediate problem was political violence. Since the late 1970s kidnappings and political murders by both left- and right-wing organizations had become common. In 1983, it was estimated that some 6,000 leftist guerrillas were active in Colombia in at least four guerrilla groups. The Betancur government pursued a policy of negotiation with the guerrillas. He offered amnesty and political recognition in exchange for the cessation of activity and for joining in the electoral process. Betancur's last year in office was marred when M-19 seized the Palace of Justice. Troops stormed the building; it was completely destroyed by fire and over 90 people were killed.

The 1986 election went resoundingly to the Liberals under the longtime politician Virgilio Barco Vargas, who campaigned on a platform of extensive economic and social reform that focused on poverty and unemployment. Barco won with a significant majority and the Conservative Party broke from the tradition started by the National Front by refusing cabinet and other government posts to the Liberals. President Barco did not match the rhetoric of his campaign with policies of any substance, and the economy continued to stagnate. Barco made no progress with drug traffickers, who arranged for the murder of his attorney-general. However, he was able to initiate a plan aimed at bringing guerrilla groups into the political system.

Also, in the 1980s a new military force came into being in Colombia, the paramilitary organizations. These were started by narcotics traffickers, wealthy civilians, businesses, political parties, and the military. This myriad of founders hired their paramilitaries for an equally variable number of violent ends: to assassinate, terrorize, protect from kidnappers, cleanse the country of socially unwanted peoples (such as drug addicts, thieves, prostitutes, beggars, street children, and others), and to fight against the rebels (such as the FARC, the ELN, and the M-19). By 1989 all paramilitary organizations were outlawed, but continued to operate with impunity. The complicated balance of military power in Colombia was then exercised through the government, the rebels, the narcotics traffickers, and the paramilitary organizations. It was estimated that during the 1980s Colombian drug traffickers controlled 80% of the world's cocaine trade.

The election of 1990 brought another Liberal, César Gaviria Trujillo, to the presidency. In that election, three candidates were assassinated. Gaviria continued Barco's outreach to the various leftist guerrilla groups, and in 1991 the notorious M-19 group demobilized and became a political party. The other groups chose to remain active. Gaviria responded to their intransigence in November 1992 by announcing new counterinsurgency measures and a hard-line policy against both guerrillas and drug traffickers. A constitutional assembly was also held to create a new constitution, which was promulgated on 5 July 1991. It included a number of reforms aimed at increasing the democratization of Colombia's elite-controlled political system.

The powerful Medellín cartel stepped up its terrorist attacks, including car bombings and political assassinations, but the new constitution strengthened government control and the leaders of the cartel surrendered to the Gaviria government in 1991. However, head boss Pablo Escobar escaped from government custody the following year, and was eventually hunted down and killed in 1993. Most top leaders of the Cali cartel, which had taken over much of the Medellín market, were arrested in 1995 and subsequently imprisoned. Even with the arrests, Colombia's lucrative drug trade continued to flourish.

In the 1994 elections, Colombians continued their preference for Liberal candidates, with Ernesto Samper Pizano winning a runoff election against Conservative TV newscaster Andrés Pastrana. In the general election, only 18,499 votes separated the two candidates. The campaign was again marked by widespread political violence. Samper's government was weakened by charges that he and other senior government officials had accepted money from drug traffickers during the 1994 election campaign. (Congress formally exonerated the president of these charges in 1996.)

As of 1996, there was a guerrilla presence in over half the country's villages and towns, and it was estimated that about one million Colombians had fled their homes between 1987 and 1997 as a result of rural violence. With forces estimated at 10,000, there was no apparent prospect that guerrilla groups would succeed in taking over the country, but they continued to thrive, relying heavily on funds from the drug cartels following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

In 1998, the Conservative Party came back to power when Andrés Pastrana won the presidential election with 50.5% of the vote, defeating Liberal Horacio Serpa. Pastrana was committed to negotiations, but the absence of peace kept interrupting any progress. In November 1998, Pastrana ceded a large area in south-central Colombia to FARC's control as a goodwill gesture, but the rebels continued to mount attacks, until finally Pastrana ordered the military to attack rebel positions and reassert control over the rebel zone. The FARC felt betrayed and withdrew into the jungle. Similarly, Pastrana sought more collaboration from the United States to fight the war, but his efforts proved fruitless. What would have been an aid package turned into the adoption of Plan Colombia in 2000, a multibillion dollar initiative funded by the US government aimed at combating drug production. This generated criticism for its heavy focus on military action rather than economic incentives that could lead peasants to abandon coca leaf production.

In the 2002 presidential election, former Liberal Party leader turned independent Álvaro Uribe won with 53.1% of the vote. Campaigning on a tough platform against guerrilla leaders and drug traffickers, Uribe promised a relentless fight against organized crime if elected. In the first term Uribe's government increased the military and police presence throughout the country, increased social spending and health care, nationalized or reorganized many state-owned companies, and increased the number of indicted and extradited narcotics traffickers.

The two major developments in Uribe's first term were the demobilization of the paramilitary groups and the constitutional amendment to allow a president to run for a second term in office. The demobilization of the paramilitaries was controversial internationally because the leaders were penalized very lightly for their involvement in the drug trade, for the violent acts which they perpetrated, and because there appeared to be few guarantees that they would completely disarm or completely demobilize. Plan Colombia was pushed forward but the drug trade was not subdued. During his first term in office, Uribe enjoyed popular support and was able to build a coalition of Liberal and Conservative legislators to push through his tough plans against the guerrillas, as well as to amend the constitution to allow for a second term in office. As of December 2005, initial peace talks were ongoing with the ELN.


Colombia is a unitary republic, organized democratically under the constitution of August 1886, substantially amended in 1910, 1936, 1945, 1957, 1959, 1968, and 1979, and superseded by the constitution of 1991, which included provisions guaranteeing health care, social security, and human rights protection.

The Congress consists of a 161-member Chamber of Representatives and a 102-member Senate. Members of both houses are elected directly for four-year terms. Colombian congressional representation is determined by the size of the population. Some seats are reserved for blacks, Indians, and other minorities. The chief executive is granted the initiative in fiscal policies and the power to declare a state of emergency during times of economic and social stress. Under such a declaration, the president may rule by decree for a period of not longer than 90 days in any one year. There is universal suffrage for those 18 years of age and over.

Historically, Colombia had an officer called the designado (designate), elected by Congress every two years, who served as a sort of vice president and was responsible for exercising the executive function in the president's absence. The 1991 constitution introduced a formal vice presidency. The Constitution was amended in 2005 to increase the number of terms a president is allowed to serve, from one to two consecutive four-year terms.


For many years, the Colombian constitution allowed only two political parties, the Liberal and the Conservative, to participate in the national government. These two parties consistently dominated Colombian politics. Recent changes allow for more parties, and several have emerged, but the Conservative and Liberal parties control the majority of elected offices.

The Liberal Party (Partido LiberalPL) continues to support religious toleration and a positive response to the social and economic demands of the masses. The Liberals theoretically support separation of church and state, though in practice a strong church is accepted. Federalism, while important in theory, has been abandoned in practice by Liberal leaders. In general, Liberals have been more successful in elections since the end of the National Front than the Conservatives and have controlled the majority of seats in both houses.

The policy of the Conservative Party (Partido Conservador SocialPCS) has been characterized by close cooperation with the Roman Catholic Church, a lack of tolerance for nonRoman Catholic religious beliefs, maintenance of class privileges, and highly centralized government with local authority strictly subservient to national rule. Before universal suffrage, the Conservatives sought to allow only heads of families to vote. Under the leadership of Andrés Pastrana, the son of former Conservative president Misael Pastrana, the PCS regained the presidency in 1998.

Despite the spread of suffrage and the rise of industrialization and a middle class, both parties continue to be dominated by a wealthy oligarchy. Both are controlled at the national level by a convention and a directorate, and congressional discipline is strong. Since the National Front agreement of 1958, the two parties have become increasingly similar ideologically.

Congressional and presidential elections from 1958 through 1982 primarily constituted votes of confidence in the National Front. Perhaps as a means of protest, 60% of eligible voters abstained from the presidential election in 1978, and 80% of the electorate abstained from the municipal and local elections of March 1980. In 1982 and 1986, however, Colombian voters turned out in record numbers, with 55% of the electorate participating in the presidential ballot in 1982 and 57% in 1988.

The Colombian Communist Party (Partido Communista de ColombiaPCC), a traditional, Marxist-oriented party, combined with the nation's largest guerrilla group, the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de ColombiaFARC), to form the Patriotic Union (UP); the group has not become a major force in electoral politics.

There is considerable independent party activity in Colombia, and it has been increasing. Traditionally, the third force in Colombian politics was provided by former dictator Rojas Pinilla, whose National Popular Alliance (Alianza Nacional PopularANAPO), now defunct, was a strong party movement. The election dispute of 19 April 1970 gave rise to the extremist rebel group M-19, which stood for the April 19th Movement. After over two decades of military action against the government, M-19 demobilized in 1991. M-19 is part of a coalition of leftist parties and other dissident groups, called Democratic Alliance M-19, which no longer had a presence in Congress as of 2006. Several militant leftist groups remain outside the political system, including the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación NacionalELN) and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. Although officially a member of the Patriotic Union political party, the FARC also refuses to demobilize. The People's Liberation Army (EPL) began to demobilize in 1993, but a dissident faction refused orders to lay down arms, and returned to the field.

The traditional parties have lost so much power that President Uribe was elected as an independent. It was the first time since 1957 that the president was not elected under the Liberal or Conservative party tickets.


Colombia is divided into 32 departments (states) and the Bogotá federal district, and subdivided into 1,011 municipalities. Departments control their own finances, as well as administration, within the limits set by the constitution. Governors of departments, once appointed by the president, are now elected. Each departmental assembly meets yearly for a session of two months. Assembly members are elected by universal suffrage, one for each 40,000 inhabitants.

The departments have the power to establish municipal districts and to review the acts of the municipal governments to determine their constitutionality. Each municipality has a popularly elected municipal council. Another reform from the 1991 constitution is the direct election of mayors; previously mayors were chosen by the president and were directly under the control of their respective governors. Mayors are elected for a two-year term by direct vote.


The judicial system is comprised of a Constitutional Court, Supreme Court of Justice, Council of State, the Higher Judiciary Council, and superior and municipal courts. The Supreme Court in Bogotá is composed of 24 magistrates selected for lifetime terms by justices already in office. The Supreme Court reviews state and municipal laws, frames bills to be submitted to Congress, and proposes reforms. It acts as an advisory board to the government and can veto decrees. It has original jurisdiction in impeachment trials and constitutional interpretation and appellate jurisdiction in ordinary judicial matters. The court is divided into four chamberscivil cassation, criminal cassation, labor cassation, and constitutional procedure.

The 1991 constitution extensively revised the judicial system. It established an independent prosecution system and a national people's defender office to investigate human rights cases. Traditional courts on Indian reservations were validated. A Constitutional Court reviews the constitutionality of proposed legislation.

There is a superior court of three or more judges in each of the judicial districts and a number of municipal courts. A judge of minors in the capital of each department has jurisdiction throughout the department. There are also special labor courts. In criminal cases, the judge chooses a five-member jury; jury duty is obligatory. There is no capital punishment and the maximum penalty for crimes is 20 years in prison. Although the right of habeas corpus is guaranteed by the constitution, suspects in security cases have been detained incommunicado for 10 days or longer.

The judiciary is independent, both in theory and in practice, from the executive and legislative branches. In 1991, the government set up five regional jurisdictions to handle narcotics, terrorism, and police corruption cases in which anonymous judges and prosecutors handle the major trials of narcotics and terrorists. However a 1996 law dictated that the regional justice system would cease to exist by 30 June 1999.

The jurisdiction of the regional justice system included drugrelated crimes, crimes against the state and constitutional order, arms manufacturing and trafficking, terrorism, and membership in illegal armed groups, but in practice, a wide array of cases were processed by the regional justice system. The inadequate description of the crimes which fell within its competence and the imprecise jurisdiction of the regional justice system elongated processing and led to situations in which either influential individuals avoided this jurisdiction or less fortunate individuals were unable to do so, and often served the applicable sentence for the crime charged before the case even went to trial.


Colombia's armed forces in 2005 had 207,000 active personnel, with 60,700 reservists. The Amy had 178,000 active members. Equipment included 12 light tanks (all in storage) 135 reconnaissance vehicles, over 192 armored personnel carriers and 639 artillery pieces. The Air Force had 7,000 active personnel. Equipment included 22 combat capable aircraft under the service's Air Combat Command and another 30 under the Tactical Air Support Command. The Navy had 22,000 personnel, including 14,000 Marines and 100 naval aviation personnel. Major naval units included four tactical submarines, four corvettes and 179 patrol/coastal vessels. The naval air arm had seven transport and two utility fixed wing aircraft and one antisubmarine warfare and two utlity helicopters. The country's paramilitary forces consisted of an 8,000 member rural militia and a 121,000-member national police force.

Colombia's defense forces are frequently occupied in opposing rural violence, often stemming from militant guerrilla groups and drug lords' armies. Opposition forces include the Coordinadora Nacional Guerrillera Simón Bolívar (CNGSB) which is in collaboration with guerrilla groups numbering around 18,000. The rightwing paramilitary group Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC) has approximately 10,600 members. The defense budget in 2005 totaled us$3.5 billion.


Colombia is a charter member of the UN, having joined on 5 November 1945, and participates in ECLAC and many specialized agencies, such as FAO, ILO, IMF, IAEA, UNESCO, UNHCR, the World Bank, and WHO. Colombia became a member of the WTO on 30 April 1995. The nation is a member of the Andean Community of Nations and a nonregional member of the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (BCIE). It also participates in the Caribbean Development Bank, G-3, G-24, G-77, the Latin American Economic System (LAES), the Latin American Integration Association (LAIA), the Association of Caribbean States (ACS), OAS, and the Río Group. Colombia is an observer in CARICOM and an associate member of Mercosur.

The nation is part of the Nonaligned Movement, the Agency for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean (OPANAL), and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. It is a member of the Permanent Court of Arbitration. The country is a signatory of the 1947 Río Treaty, an inter-American security agreement. In environmental cooperation, Colombia is part of the Antarctic Treaty, the Basel Convention, the Convention on Biological Diversity, Ramsar, CITES, International Tropical Timber Agreements, the Kyoto Protocol, the Montréal Protocol, MARPOL, the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, and the UN Conventions on Climate Change and Desertification.


With the expansion of the manufacturing sector, Colombia has become more dependent upon industry (34.3% of GDP in 2005) than agriculture (12.5% of GDP). Historically, coffee was by far the most important crop: its share of total exports ranged from about 4065% of the annual total between 1964 and 1986, depending on crop yields and international commodity prices. In 1997, this share had dropped to only 21%, and by 2000, to 8%. A fall in coffee prices in 2001 reduced coffee's share further, to 6.2%. Nontraditional exports, however, increased 5% in 2001. Colombia's policy has been to reduce its dependence on coffee exports because of widely fluctuating world market conditions, and to encourage other agricultural exports, especially sugar, bananas, rice, potatoes, and cotton. The government has also attempted to attract investment in manufacturing and mining projects. Colombia became a net exporter of petroleum in 1986, and coal has become a major export as well. New oil output from the Cusiana field and other fields helped Colombia reach a record production level in 1999830,000 barrels per day. By 2002, production had been reduced to 591,250 barrels per day. The share of oil exports to total exports dropped from 34.8% in 2000 to 24.9% in 2001. There is concern that without substantial new crude oil discoveries, Colombia will revert to being a net importer of crude oil again within a few years. Exploration of vast areas of likely territory is inhibited by the occupation of about 40% of the country by groups (mainly the FARC and the ENL) that are not only trying to overthrow the government, but which have made the oil industry infrastructure the prime target of their guerrilla attacks. The Trade Development Bureau's PROEXPO Fund (since renamed the Foreign Trade Bank) was established in 1967 to increase the volume of nontraditional exports and to provide a flexible exchange rate and special tax incentives. Foreign direct investment (FDI), which reached a yearly rate of us$5.56 billion in 1997, fell to a little over us$2 billion a year in 2001 and 2002, as the guerrilla attacks continued unabated (an estimated 3,500 persons were killed in attacks in 2002, with another 2000 kidnapped), reaching into urban areas and targeting prominent politicians. In February 2002, the government broke off negotiations that had been going on for three years with no progress towards a resolution.

During the 1970s, Colombia's economy struggled with an inflationary spiral that rose from a rate of 15.4% in 1972 to 25% during the following decade. Inflation remained close to 20% annually through the 1980s and much of the 1990s. After 1983, however, the economy improved significantly, and growth rates rose above the world and hemispheric averagesan average of 4% between 1988 and 1998. In 1990, President Cesar Gaviria instituted an economic restructuring plan known as apertura (opening). The program emphasized trade expansion through tariff reduction, free trade agreements, and privatization of state-owned enterprises, including banks, power plants, airports, seaports, roads and telecommunications networks. After the initial burst, the pace of privatization was slowed.

In 1995, domestic political considerations constricted Colombia's economic liberalization. In 1996 and 1997 the administration of US president Bill Clinton decertified Colombia as a country fully cooperative with US narcotics policy. The move was taken in response to continued narco-guerrilla activity in the countryside and to allegations that President Samper had solicited and received campaign contributions from drug cartels. The decertification made it difficult for US companies to further invest in the country, and halted the growth of trade; though the United States remained the biggest foreign investor in the country. The decertification was lifted in 1998, but by then the economy was being impacted by intensified guerrilla activity, fiscal shortfalls, and external shocksthe Asian financial crisis in 1997, the Russian financial crisis in 1998, and the Brazilian financial crisis in 1999. In 1998, GDP growth fell to 0.6% and then in 1999, Colombia experienced its first contraction (-4.2%) since 1983. Growth returned in 2000, but only at the anemic level of 2.7%. Domestic instability and the external economic slowdown combined to reduce growth to 1.4% in 2001 and 1.6% in 2002. In December 1999, the government entered into a three-year arrangement with the IMF under its Extended Fund Facility (EFF), and there was a marked decline in the inflation rate across this period: inflation fell from 18.7% in 1998 to 5.7% in 2002. Unemployment in 2002 was estimated at 17.7%, with subemployment at 35%.

In 1999, due to economic instability in 1998, Colombia signed its first agreement with the IMF for a us$3 billion approved standby line of credit. The government also unveiled plans to renew the privatization many state-owned enterprises to revitalize the economy. Nevertheless, guerrilla warfare put off potential investors.

In late 2002, the government offered reform legislation in five areas: taxes, pensions, labor, public administration, and banking. In January 2003, the government entered into a us$2.5-billion standby arrangement with the IMF to support these reforms.

From 2000, the annual average GDP growth was 2.9%; in 2004, it was 4.1%, the highest level since 1995 (as reported by the Economist Intelligence Unit). Figures show that GDP growth continued at this pace in 2005, as well. This growth could be tied to the increases in private investment and household consumption during Alvaro Uribe's term, in which he sought to boost investor confidence ion the country. The increase in growth rates was also aided by good international economic conditions.

As of May 2004, Colombia had begun to negotiate a free-trade agreement with the United States (as did Peru and Ecuador). The talks were expected to culminate in a deal in 200607 that would increase liberalization by reducing tariffs and restrictions on trade and capital flows, and strengthening property rights protection (including intellectual property rights).


The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reports that in 2005 Colombia's gross domestic product (GDP) was estimated at us$303.1 billion. The CIA defines GDP as the value of all final goods and services produced within a nation in a given year and computed on the basis of purchasing power parity (PPP) rather than value as measured on the basis of the rate of exchange based on current dollars. The per capita GDP was estimated at us$7,100. The annual growth rate of GDP was estimated at 4.3%. The average inflation rate in 2005 was 5%. It was estimated that agriculture accounted for 12.5% of GDP, industry 34.3%, and services 53.3%.

According to the World Bank, in 2003 remittances from citizens working abroad totaled us$3.076 billion or about us$69 per capita and accounted for approximately 3.8% of GDP. Foreign aid receipts amounted to us$802 million or about us$18 per capita and accounted for approximately 1.1% of the gross national income (GNI).

The World Bank reports that in 2003 household consumption in Colombia totaled us$50.79 billion or about us$1,139 per capita based on a GDP of us$80.0 billion, measured in current dollars rather than PPP. Household consumption includes expenditures of individuals, households, and nongovernmental organizations on goods and services, excluding purchases of dwellings. It was estimated that for the period 1990 to 2003 household consumption grew at an average annual rate of 1.8%. It was estimated that in 2001 about 59% of the population had incomes below the poverty line.


In 2005, Colombia's labor force was estimated at 20.52 million. As of 2000, the service industry employed an estimated 58.5% of the workforce, with 22.7% in agriculture and 18.7% in industry. The unemployment rate in 2005 was estimated at 11.8%.

The right to organize unions is provided by the constitution, although violence and discrimination against union members are major obstacles to engaging in union activities. Less than 5% of the workforce was unionized in 2005, with the vast majority of these workers in the public sector. The right to strike is guaranteed by the constitution with the exception of essential workers, such as those in the armed forces or the police.

The basic source of Colombian labor legislation is the Substantive Labor Code. The standard workday is eight hours with a 48-hour workweek. A minimum eight-hour rest period is also required per week. The minimum wage is reviewed each January to set the standard for wage negotiations. As of 2005, the minimum wage was us$167 per month. This amount does not provide a decent standard of living for a family.

The law prohibits children under the age of 12 from working. Those in the age 12 to 13 category are severely limited as to the kind of work they can perform. Minors between the ages of 14 and 17 are limited in the number of occupations they can enter. In spite of these regulations, child labor remains a significant problem especially in the informal sector and in agriculture. Only 38% of children that worked also attended school.


Agriculture, despite an endemic problem of poor productivity, remains the most important segment of the Colombian economy. In 2005, agriculture accounted for 12.5% of the GDP.

Only about 3.7% of Colombia's land area is cultivated, most of it in elevated regions of the temperate zone. The small area of cultivation is due in part to the rugged Andean terrain and in part to lack of irrigation. In 200002, 21.5% of cropland was irrigated, up from 13.1% during 198991. The flat, fertile valleys are generally devoted to livestock, limiting cultivation to the slopes, an uneconomical practice that is gradually being changed. Hand cultivation, especially by machete and hoe, predominates, but mechanization is making headway on the larger farms. Fertilizer is expensive and not sufficiently used. The small size of farms is another constraint on agricultural growth: in the mid-1980s, farms of less than 20 hectares (50 acres) accounted for 80% of all agricultural land.

Coffee, by far the most important crop, is grown mainly on the Andean slopes at altitudes of 1,3001,800 m (4,2006,000 ft). Colombia, the world's second-largest coffee grower, contributes 1316% of the total world production each year. In 2004, coffee-growing farms, many under 6 hectares (15 acres), accounted for about 800,000 hectares (2 million acres), about 40% of the land under permanent crops. In 1992, despite a severe drought, the amount of coffee exported increased by over 30% as a result of a successful strategy for expanding the external markets. In 1993, coffee production increased to 1,080,000 tons, but dwindled to only 678,000 tons in 1994. Production in 2004 was 663,660 tons. In 2004, coffee accounted for 28% of agricultural exports.

Sugar, also important, is grown chiefly in the Cauca Valley, with its center at Cali. Many varieties of bananas are grown; bananas for export are produced in the Uraba and Santa Maria regions. Colombia is the world's third-largest banana exporter (after Ecuador and Costa Rica) and supplies about one-sixth of the world export market. Corn, yucca, plantains, and, in high altitudes, potatoes have been traditional food staples since before the Spanish conquest. Beans, rice, and wheat, introduced in the 19th century, are also important in the diet. Other export crops include freshcut flowers, cotton, and tobacco. Cocoa is produced in limited amounts for domestic consumption. Colombia produces much of its domestic food requirements, but it has to import wheat, barley, fats, oils, and cocoa.

Since 1940, the government has taken an increasing part in the control, organization, and encouragement of agriculture. Through the Colombian Institute of Agrarian Reform (Instituto Colombiano de la Reforma AgrariaINCORA), farmers are given financial support, technical aid, and social assistance for better housing, education, and health facilities. INCORA acquires land for equitable distribution to farmers and helps to develop potentially valuable but uncultivated land and to increase agricultural productivity. The production-oriented Rural Development Program, begun in 1976, gave technical assistance and credit to about 30,000 small landholders. Farmers have also benefited from the us$150-million rural electrification program, introduced in 1981, and from a program to extend irrigation and drainage systems, initiated in the early 1980s.

Agricultural production (in thousands of tons) for major crops in 2004 was: sugarcane, 37,100; plantains, 2,950; potatoes, 2,959; rice, 2,663; cassava, 2,218; bananas, 1,450; corn, 1,458; sorghum, 285; cotton, 52; palm kernels, 144; cocoa, 49; and dry beans, 135. Marijuana, coca leaf, and opium are also grown for the production of illicit drugs. In 2003, there were an estimated 144,000 hectares (356,000 acres) producing coca leaf, generating 680 tons of cocaine base, 80% of the world estimate.


Occupying about 42 million hectares (104 million acres) of pasture, livestock farming (especially cattle breeding) has long been an important Colombian industry. Of this total area, about 19 million hectares (46.9 million acres) are actually used for livestock production. The Ministry of Agriculture maintains experimental stations in Antioquia and Bolívar departments to improve breeds, but the quality of livestock is still low. Cattle are driven to market by truck. This practice often entails crossing high mountains, with much wastage; accordingly, there has been a movement to construct slaughterhouses and meat-packing plants near the ranges. Dairy farming, not important in the past, expanded in the 1970s, especially near the big cities. Colombian sheep produce about one-third of the wool used by the country's textile industry. The government maintains an experimental station for sheep in Cundinamarca and for goats in Norte de Santander. In 2004 there were 25 million cattle, 2.2 million sheep, and 2.3 million pigs. The production of beef and veal was 690,000 tons in 2004.


Colombia has an abundance of fish in its Caribbean and Pacific coastal waters and in its innumerable rivers. Lake Tota in Boyacá and Lake La Cocha in Nariño abound in trout, as do the artificial reservoirs of Neusa and Sisga in Cundinamarca. About half of the annual catch consists of freshwater fish. Tarpon are caught in the delta waters of the Magdalena, and sailfish, broadbills, and tuna in the Caribbean. The 2003 fish catch was 157,794 tons. The development of crustacean aquaculture has expanded since the mid-1980s, especially for Penaeid shrimps. Aquaculture production totaled 60,895 tons in 2003 and consisted primarily of tilapia and rainbow trout.


Colombia's forested area is some 50 million hectares (123.6 million acres), or nearly 50% of the total area. Although much timberland is inaccessible or of limited value, the nation is self-sufficient in lumber. Roundwood production was 9.9 million cu m (350 million cu ft) in 2003; exports of roundwood were valued at us$3 million that year. The soft tropical woods that predominate are also suitable for plywood production, for paper pulp, and for furniture manufacture; total export of forest products amounted to us$142.8 million in 2003.


Historically, Colombia has been the world's leading exporter of emeralds, although the fuel sector now dominates the country's mineral production. It also produced a significant amount of gold (ranking second in the region), was Latin America's only producer of platinum, ws the third-largest producer of cement, and was a leading producer of nickel. In terms of value, the main minerals produced in Colombia (after petroleum) were coal, emeralds, gold, and platinum, respectively, in 2003. Colombia also produced sizable amounts of common clay, kaolin, dolomite, gypsum, limestone, hydrated lime and quicklime, magnesite, nitrogen (content of ammonia), rock and marine salt, sand, gravel, marble, feldspar, phosphate rock, and sodium compounds (sodium carbonate), as well as small quantities of sulfur (native, from ore), asbestos, bauxite, bentonite, calcite, diatomite, fluorite, mercury, mica, talc, soapstone, prophyllite, dolomite, and zinc.

Production figures for principal nonfuel minerals in 2003 were: gold, 46,515 kg, up from 20,823 kg in 2002; emeralds, 8.963 million carats, up from 5.390 million carats in 2002; nickel, 70,844 metric tons, compared with 58,196 in 2002; iron ore and concentrate, 625,002 metric tons, down from 688,106 metric tons in 2002; silver, 9,511 kg, up from 6,986 kg in 2002; and feldspar, estimated at 55,000 tons. Production of nickel content of ferronickel increased to 47,868 metric tons in 2003, up from 43,987 metric tons in 2002.

According to estimates by the Colombian government, 90% of emerald production is destined for exports. Emerald deposits are located in the sedimentary basin of the Cordillera Oriental, in Boyacá in the Cinturón Esmeraldífero Oriental and Cinturón Esmeraldífero Occidental; more than 60 production licenses were active. Most gold production came from small- and medium-sized alluvial operations, which employed artisanal methods of extraction. All platinum was mined by small mining cooperatives or individual prospectors, at Río San Juan, Choco. Silver was produced in Segovia and Río Nechi, Antioquia.

The country's substantial copper, iron, nickel, and lead reserves were of major importance to the future development of the economy. The El Roble copper mine produced output for Japan. A copper deposit with reserves estimated at 625 million tons was discovered at Pantanos, Antioquia, in 1973. Cerro Matoso S.A., a subsidiary of BHP Billiton PLC, was the country's sole producer of nickel and ferronickel, near Monetlíbano, Córdoba. Reserves of the lateritic nickel mine were estimated to be 39.9 million tons with a nickel content of 2.3%. A second production plant, completed in 2001, ahead of schedule, doubled Cerro Matoso's ferronickel production capacity to 55,000 tons per year of nickel.

Under Article 332 of the 1990 constitution, the state retained the rights to all surface and subsurface nonrenewable and natural resources; the government granted concessions for exploration and production. In 1989, a new mining code sought to encourage mineral exploration and development by expediting the processing of claims, improving the security of mineral occupancy and tenure, and providing financial aid to small- and medium-scale miners. The mining code of 2001 sought to encourage exploration and production of mineral resources and limit the role of the government to one of a regulatory and administrative entity, with more production transferring to the private sector. The law also clarified the provisions for establishing mining contracts.


Colombia's mountainous terrain and network of rivers offer one of the highest potentials in the world for the generation of hydroelectric power. These resources remain largely undeveloped, despite intensive government efforts. In addition, the nation's energy sector, particularly oil, has had to deal with an ongoing civil war involving a pair of leftist insurgent groups: the Fuerzas Armadas Revolutionaries de Colombia (FARC) and the Ejercito de Liberacion National (ELN); and the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC), a right-wing paramilitary group. Further complicating the security situation has been the problem of narcotics trafficking.

Electric generating capacity was estimated for 2002 to stand at 13.1 GW, of which hydropower accounted for 63.3% and thermal 36.7%. The output of electricity has been estimated for 2002 at 44.9 billion kWh (77% hydroelectricity; 21% thermal), up from 2000, in which output stood at 42.9 billion kWh. Colombia's heavy reliance upon hydroelectric power makes to country vulnerable to drought, such what happened in 1992, when a severe drought led to power blackouts and rationing. Although the government has attempted to encourage the construction of natural gas and coal-fired plants to diversify the nation's electric power supply, since the early 1990s, hydropower has continued to increase its share as a source of power generation. Estimated consumption of electricity rose in 2002, from 2000, to 41.1 billion kWh. In the latter year, consumption of electricity totaled 40.3 billion kWh. Colombia in 2003 had an estimated 7.3 billion short tons in recoverable coal reserves. For the same year, coal production totaled 52.5 million short tons.

According to the Oil and Gas Journal, Colombia has estimated proven petroleum reserves of 1.54 billion barrels and an estimated oil refining capacity of 285,850 barrels per day, as of 1 January 2005. Production of oil rose rapidly from 7.4 million tons in 1982 to 30.1 million tons in 1995. In 1999 it hit an all-time high of 826,000 barrels per day, before declining to 616,000 barrels per day in 2001. In 2004, oil output was estimated at 530,000 barrels per day, of which crude oil accounted of 508,000 barrels per day. Domestic oil consumption was estimated for 2004 at 261,000 barrels per day. The Colombian government since 1999 implemented new measures to encourage increased exploration and production, and to attract foreign investment. While these moves have spurred an increase in the upstream sector, a major contributing factor in the revival of interest, has been an improvement in the nation's security situation. In 2004, the number of kidnappings fell by 60% and attacks against Colombia's oil infrastructure fell significantly in 2003. For example, attacks against the Cano-Limón oil pipeline dropped from 170 in 2001 to 34 in 2003.

The production and consumption of natural gas have grown since the mid-1970s. According to the Oil and Gas Journal, as of 1 January 2005 Colombia had estimated proven natural gas reserves of 4.0 trillion cu ft, down from 4.5 trillion cu ft in 2004. In 2003, production and consumption of natural gas were each estimated at 215 billion cu ft. As with the oil sector, the nation's gas sector has been targeted by saboteurs and guerrillas. However attacks against the natural gas infrastructure and the costs associated with lost production and repairs have been cut, due to increased security measures.


The National Association of Manufacturers (Asociación Nacional de IndustrialesANDI) represents firms engaged in some 40 different branches of manufacturing. ANDI was founded in 1944 to assist both large and small businesses. Since 1940, the Industrial Development Institute (Instituto de Fomento IndustrialIFI), a government-operated finance corporation, has been investing in enterprises that otherwise might not be undertaken because of high risk or lack of capital. It provides direct financing for construction, acquisition of essential machinery and equipment installation services, and working capital. Most of the industrial activity is concentrated in and around Bogotá, Medellín, Barranquilla, and Cali. Industries in Medellín produce textiles, clothing, chemicals, plastic, and printed materials.

Manufacturing accounted for 15% of GDP in 1950, 24% at its peak in 1977, and 14% in 1998. Colombia is almost self-sufficient in consumer products, which represent about half of total industrial production. The 1970s witnessed a shift in industrial development policies from import substitution to expansion of exports. While the pace of industrial growth declined slightly in the mid-1970s, it increased by 2.5% between 1977 and 1987. This growth continued into the early 1990s, but slowed by mid-decade. Industry declined by 2.3% in 1998. Manufacturing growth began to pick up after the 199799 recession, registering a 9.7% growth rate in 2000.

Export-oriented industries include coal and oil derivatives, chemicals, porcelain, and glass. In 1995, mining and hydrocarbons grew by 17%, the highest growth sector in the Colombian economy. That the rest of the industrial economy has been sluggish in recent years is due to a cluster of factors, including the lack of infrastructure, labor difficulties, and most significantly, the civil unrest in the countryside caused by bands of paramilitaries loyal to drug traffickers and political extremists. The decline in industry also reflects an ebb in the country's construction boom. The construction sector grew by nearly 10% a year through the early part of the 1990s, but fell to just 5.3% in 1995. Due to the effects of the recession, construction saw negative growth rates of 14.4% and 19.9% in 1998 and 1999, respectively. The construction sector began to stabilize in 2000, contracting by only 1.5%.

Colombia has five oil refineries. Hydrocarbon production decreased by 15.5% in 2000, but due to the rise in international oil prices, revenues were maintained. Though industrial growth was fairly widespread from 20002005, the construction industry appeared to have benefited the most.


The government of President Turbay Ayala (197882) emphasized research in farming in order to help raise agricultural production. The Academy of Exact, Physical, and Natural Sciences (founded in 1933) and the National Academy of Medicine (founded in 1890), are both located in Bogotá. As of 1996, there were 24 specialized agricultural, medical, scientific, and technical learned societies, and 13 scientific research institutes in Colombia, and the country had 43 universities offering degrees in basic and applied sciences. In 198797, science and engineering students accounted for 28% of college and university enrollments.

In 2002, Colombia had 81 researchers and 46 technicians per million people engaged in research and development (R&D). For 2001 (the latest year for which data is available), Colombia's R&D expenditures totaled us$450.758 million, accounting for 0.17% of GDP. Of that amount, business accounted for 46.9%, followed by higher education at 38.3%, the government at 13.2%, and nonprofit institutions at 1.7%. High technology exports in 2002 totaled us$319 million, or 7% of manufactured exports.


There are four primary marketing areas: the Caribbean coast region, the Antioquia region, the Cauca Valley region, and the Bogotá region. Firms desiring distribution of their products to all important national markets generally appoint agents in the leading city of each of the four regions (Barranquilla, Medellín, Cali, and Bogotá, respectively). Most small purchases are made for cash, but many stores offer installment credit facilities. A 16% value-added tax applies to most goods and services. As of 2002, there were about 80 franchise companies operating stores through the country. These are primarily foreign-based fast-food establishments.

Small, individually owned retail establishments predominate, although chain stores are increasing. Variety stores and department stores on the pattern of those in the United States are becoming popular, and food supermarkets are increasing in larger cities. Local farmers' markets, however, are still more generally patronized even in the cities, and in rural areas they are often the only trading centers. Direct marketing is gaining in popularity.

Business hours vary largely with climatic conditions; however, the usual workday is from 7:30 or 8 am to noon and from 1 to 4:30 or 5 pm. Most businesses close on Saturday afternoons, Sundays, and on state or religious holidays. Banking hours are generally from 9 am to 3:30 pm. Retail establishments are generally open from 9 am to 7 or 8 pm on weekdays and from 9 am to 9 pm on Saturdays. Restaurants and other food stores may be open on Sundays and some holidays. Major credit cards are now generally accepted in most cities and ATM machines are prevalent.

The principal advertising media are newspapers, magazines, radio, and television; in motion picture theaters, it is also customary to display advertisements on the screen between features. There are a number of advertising and public relations firms.


Beginning in 1990, Colombia opened up its economy to greater international trade and investment. The program of liberalization resulted in mass privatizations and lifting of restrictions on foreign investment; and substantially reduced import tariffs while eliminating most import licensing requirements. The government also signed the Andean Free Trade Agreement (ANCOM) with Venezuela, Peru, Ecuador, and Bolivia; the Latin American Integration Association (LAIA) with Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, Venezuela, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Honduras; a Bilateral Free Trade Agreement with Chile; and an agreement with Mexico and Venezuela called the Group of Three (G-3).

Colombia also has several free-trade zones, the largest of which is Barranquilla, on the Caribbean. Other free-trade zones providing benefits for importers and exporters, as well as for manufacturers located within the zone boundaries, are the Buenaventura Harbor, Cúcuta, Palmaseca (near Cali's international airport), and the Caribbean port of Santa Marta. The illicit trade in marijuana and cocaine, especially to the United States, is known to be substantial, but there are no reliable estimates of its volume or its value. The Colombian government estimated in 1999 that drug traffickers smuggled us$5 billion annually in contraband into the country.

Colombia exports 1020% of the world's coffee, which is the country's second-largest commodity export. Fuels contribute largely to the export market, including crude and refined petroleum; and coal, lignite, and peat. Agricultural exports like fruit, nuts, vegetables, sugar, and honey account for a smaller percentage of Colombia's exports.

Country Exports Imports Balance
World 13,092.2 13,880.6 -788.4
United States 6,160.2 4,112.7 2,047.5
Ecuador 779.0 409.7 369.3
Venezuela 694.3 727.4 -33.1
Peru 395.4 193.4 202.0
Mexico 358.2 744.4 -386.2
Dominican Republic 342.4 342.4
Netherlands 301.1 103.5 197.6
Italy-San Marino-Holy See 285.2 289.9 -4.7
Germany 264.4 611.7 -347.3
Belgium 227.8 86.7 141.1
() data not available or not significant.

In 2004, Colombia exported 42.1% of its products to the United States, 9.7% to Venezuela, and 6% to Ecuador, totalling over us$23 billion. On the other hand, 29.1% of its imports came from the United States, 6.5% from Venezuela, 6.4% from China, 6.2% from Mexico, and 5.8% from Brazil.


When President Carlos Lleras Restrepo took office in August 1966, the economy of Colombia was unstable; inflation was spiraling, and there was a lack of centralized economic planning. Lleras embarked on an austerity program that included trade and exchange controls, tight credit policies, tax reforms, a balanced budget, and the determination of priorities in the field of public investment. The cutback in imports had repercussions in the industrial sector, but controls were then loosened and business activity stepped up rapidly.

Colombia succeeded in building up a national account surplus during the 1970s, 1980s, and early 1990s. Emphasis on export expansion, import substitution, and continuation of foreign assistance led to further progress. The second half of the 1990s, though, brought a consistently negative balance of payments of about 5% of GDP. The Pastrana government implemented austerity measures through an IMF us$2.7-billion loan in the hopes of cutting the fiscal deficit to 3.6% by 2000 and 1.5% by 2003. In 2000, Colombia had a trade surplus of us$1.5 billion, in contrast with a us$3.8 billion deficit in 1988. Recent rises in exports have focused on nontraditional exports such as bananas, flowers, gold, emeralds, chemical products, machinery, textiles and apparel, and plastic products. In 2000, due to lower international commodity prices for coffee and coal, those exports decreased.

The CIA estimated that in 2005, the current account balance was in deficit at -us$917 million.

Current Account -1,456.0
   Balance on goods 326.0
     Imports -13,258.0
     Exports 13,584.0
   Balance on services -1,551.0
   Balance on income -3,447.0
   Current transfers 3,216.0
Capital Account
Financial Account 877.0
   Direct investment abroad -923.0
   Direct investment in Colombia 1,746.0
   Portfolio investment assets -1,741.0
   Portfolio investment liabilities 130.0
   Financial derivatives -45.0
   Other investment assets 1,651.0
   Other investment liabilities 59.0
Net Errors and Omissions 391.0
Reserves and Related Items 188.0
() data not available or not significant.


The Bank of Bogotá, founded in 1879, was the first Colombian credit establishment. The Bank of the Republic was established in 1923 as the semiofficial central bank. This bank is the sole note-issuing authority. The notes must be covered by a reserve in gold or foreign exchange of 25% of their value. The Bank of the Republic also operates the mint for the government. It rediscounts and makes loans to official and semiofficial institutions. In 1963, the Monetary Board was set up to assume from the bank the responsibility for setting required reserve rates for managing general monetary policy; this board, which formulates monetary, credit, and exchange policy, is thus the most influential financial agency in Colombia. The government supervises the banking system by means of a special governmental body, called the Superintendency of Banks.

In 2000, the Colombian financial system included 29 commercial banks (four of them state-owned), the Colombian Export Promotion Bank (BANCOLDEX), 107 foreign bank offices, six savings and loans corporations (CAVs), 10 development banks, 32 commercial finance companies, 37 trust companies, 33 insurance companies, and a state-owned mortgage bank. The Bank of the Republic and the commercial banks supply mainly short-term loans, and investment corporations make long-term loans.

In 1982, in the wake of a scandal that led to the liquidation of a commercial bank and a finance company, the government moved to reform the banking sector by placing limits on the equity any individual (or his family) could hold in a financial institution and on the credit any lending institution could extend to any individual or entity. Several more crises in the ensuing years shook public confidence in the financial system, but tight government control over the sector has brought it back to a state of partial recovery.

Beginning in 1989, the government began to privatize the banks. Several bank liquidations took place in 1999, including Pacifico, Andino, and Selfin. Two government owned banks merged (Estado and Uconal), while the largest government bank, Caja Agraria, was liquidated and replaced by the new Banco Agrario. The goal was to reduce the number of banking institutions to about 17. The Central Bank devalued the peso by 9% in 1998 and by 10% in 1999 in an effort to stimulate economic growth. The International Monetary Fund reports that in 2001, currency and demand depositsan aggregate commonly known as M1were equal to us$8.0 billion. In that same year, M2an aggregate equal to M1 plus savings deposits, small time deposits, and money market mutual fundswas us$22.6 billion. The money market rate, the rate at which financial institutions lend to one another in the short term, was 10.4%. The discount rate, the interest rate at which the central bank lends to financial institutions in the short term, was 16.4%.

The Bogotá Stock Exchange, organized in 1928, is the largest official stock exchange in the country. The Medellín Exchange was established in 1961, and the Occidente Stock Exchange in Cali was established in 1983 and began operations in 1993. The Bogotá exchange accounts for about 57%, the Medellín 28%, and the Cali exchange 15%. In 2004, a total of 114 companies were listed by the combined Bogotá, Medelin and Cali stock exchanges (Colombia Stock Exchange), which had a market capitalization of us$25.223 billion. The IGBC rose 86.2% from the previous year in 2004 to 4,345.8.


The government regulates the insurance industry through the Insurance Section of the Superintendency of Banks. A social insurance system, the Institute for Social Insurance (Instituto para Seguros Sociales-ISS) established by law in 1946, was organized by the Ministry of Labor to provide life and disability insurance, a pension plan, and a health program for employees in the modern private subsector. In 1999, there were 27 insurance companies in operation, two of which were governmental. In Colombia, third-party automobile liability, workers' compensation, personal accident, professional liability, earthquake, and aviation third-party insurance are compulsory.

During 1995, regulations were issued that require insurance companies to adjust investments to market or equity values and to account for such changes through the income statements. Prior to 1995, any such unrealized adjustments were adjusted directly to policy holders' surplus funds. A relatively modest number of insurers, a competitive environment, and a few dominant companies in terms of market share characterize the Colombian market. A number of foreign insurers operate in Colombia, but foreign insurance companies may not establish local branch offices in lieu of opening major offices. Foreign investment in domestic insurance companies is now up to 100%, although a few restrictions may apply. In 2003, direct premiums written totaled us$1.998 billion, with nonlife premiums accounting for us$1.449 billion. Colombia's top life insurer that year was Previsora, with us$144.5 million in gross nonlife premiums written. The country's top life insurer that same year was Suramericana, with us$224.7 million in gross life premiums written.


Much of Colombia's foreign debt has been accumulated by financing infrastructural rather than industrial projects, the latter being more common among Latin American nations during the 1970s and 1980s. Considerable sums were spent in the 1990s to stimulate the development of industry, and higher than normal military expenditures were necessitated by the continuing and disruptive guerrilla activity. The inflationary conditions that prevailed from 1961 into 2000 also stimulated government expenditures. For political reasons, the national government was unable to raise tax revenues sufficient to cover sharply expanding investment outlays. Loans from external financial agencies (including the IMF, IDB, and IBRD) were substantial, but insufficient to permit a buildup in the level of public investment operations. The recession of the early 1980s brought another round of deficits as spending increased far more rapidly than revenues. By the 1990s, reforms in the public sector had greatly improved the efficiency of public expenditures.

The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) estimated that in 2005 Colombia's central government took in revenues of approximately us$46.8 billion and had expenditures of us$48.7 billion. Revenues minus expenditures totaled approximately - us$1.9 billion. Public debt in 2005 amounted to 44.2% of GDP. Total external debt was us$37.06 billion.

Revenue and Grants 42,446 74.4%
   Tax revenue 31,472 74.1%
   Social contributions 124 0.3%
   Other revenue
   General public services
   Public order and safety
   Economic affairs
   Environmental protection
   Housing and community amenities
   Recreational, culture, and religion
   Social protection
() data not available or not significant.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) reported that in 2003, the most recent year for which it had data, budgetary central government revenues in pesos were c$42,446 billion. The value of revenues in US dollars was us$15 million, based on a principal exchange rate for 2003 of us$1 = c$2,877.65 as reported by the IMF.


In addition to income taxes, Colombia levies a value-added tax (VAT), as well as municipal and property taxes. Many stamp taxes are imposed on legal documents. Personal income tax rates are based on income and there is a flat tax on corporate income. Indirect taxes include a tax on exported goods and services, surcharges on imports, a gasoline tax, and local taxes on vehicles and property.

Colombia's corporate income tax, as of 2005, stood at 35%. However, a 10% surcharge also applies. Branches of foreign companies resident in Colombia are taxed at the same rate as domestic companies, but there is a remittance tax of 7% for foreign companies. A 0.3% tax is charged on debit transactions in the financial system. In 2002, a one-time 1.2% tax on companies and individuals with assets over c$170 million (about us$65,000) was assessed to fund increased military spending.

Individual income is taxed according to a progressive schedule with 35% as the highest marginal rate. The main indirect tax in Colombia is its value-added tax (VAT), with a standard rate of 16%. The VAT applies to most transactions, although items such as utilities, insurance, financial and property leasing, and healthcare are exempt. The VAT also varies, with higher rates of 2040% applied to certain items, such as vehicles, alcoholic beverages (including wine) and pleasure boats. The VAT for automobiles ranges from 22% for nonluxury vehicles and 40% for luxury automobiles. A lower VAT rate of 10% is applied to nuts and almonds, while games of chance (excluding lotteries) have a 5% VAT.


Colombian import tariffs have been significantly reduced and simplified. There are four tariff levels: 5% for raw materials, and intermediate and capital goods not produced in Colombia; 10% and 15% for goods in the first category but with domestic production in Colombia; 20% for finished consumer goods; and 35% and 40% for automobiles and some agricultural products. The average tariff lies between 11% and 13.5%. The four-tariff system also acts as the common external tariff for the Andean Community, which became effective for Colombia in 1995.

Nontariff barriers to trade include restrictions on poultry parts, powdered milk, wheat, and other agricultural products. Tariff rates for some of these selected basic commodities ranged up to 119% in 1999. Import and export licenses are required for most items.

Colombia maintains free trade agreements with Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Mexico. There are also international agreements for preferential duty rates with the Caribbean Common Market and the Central American Common Market, and Colombia has requested consideration for NAFTA accession and entry into the future Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). Several free trade zones are in operation.


After the serious crisis in Colombia's capital markets in the 1980s, the Gaviria administration implemented an aggressive economic liberalization program known as apertura, or opening, in the early 1990s, including increased promotion of foreign investment. Under Law 9 of 1991, together with administrative resolutions from the Council on Economic and Social Policy (CONPES) and Resolution 21 of the Board of Directors of the Central Bank, foreign companies were put on an equal legal footing with local ones and most sectors were opened to foreign investment, barring only investments touching on security and the disposal of hazardous wastes.

In order to continue boosting the economy, the government has negotiated free trade agreements with several countries. A free trade pact among Colombia, Venezuela, and Central America (except Costa Rica) came into operation on 1 July 1993. In addition, an agreement was signed between Colombia, Venezuela, and Mexico (G-3) on establishing a free trade zone in 1994. In 1993, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, and Bolivia achieved a customs union, with free trade between the four countries under the auspices of the Andean Pact. Effective 1 January 1994, pact members implemented a common external tariff (CET) based on a four-tier tariff range. In June 1999, the clause in the Colombian constitution permitting expropriation without indemnification was repealed opening the way for ratification by Colombia of bilateral investment agreements (BITS) with Peru, the United Kingdom, Spain, Cuba, and France. Colombia ended its monopoly over telecommunications in 1998, limiting foreign ownership to 70%. In 2003, the US Trade Representative (USTR) was raising objections that restrictions on foreign entry into Colombia's telecommunications sector violated its obligations under the World Trade Organization.

The petroleum industry is one industry that has enjoyed significant foreign investment; international investment grew from us$458 million in 1993 to us$890 million in 1997. In 1996, CONPES eliminated the requirement of government authorization for investment in public services, mining, and hydrocarbons. Despite this allowance, investment in the hydrocarbons sector requires an association contract with the state-owned oil company ECOPETROL. Due to the apertura program, the sectors that have seen the largest growth in international investment have been infrastructural. Investment in the utilities sector (electricity, gas, and water) leapt from us$145 million in 1996 to us$2.3 billion in 1998. The transportation and communications sectors, which have been mostly privatized in recent years, grew from us$5.7 million in 1993 to us$360 million in 1997. The increased foreign investment coincided with increased borrowing in foreign financial markets (enabled by the opening of the financial sector in 1991) and a large inflow of capital from increased petroleum exports. The excess liquidity led to a credit boom and a sharp increase in interest rates, which rose further as the Central Bank tried to support the peso's exchange rate. Aggravated by political uncertainty, the economy was in another financial crisis by 1998.

Annual direct foreign investment (DFI) inflow reached a peak of us$5.56 billion in 1997 and then fell to us$2.83 billion in 1998 and to us$1.47 billion in 1999. For 2000 to 2002, average annual FDI inflow was about us$2.2 billion. FDI inflow from the United States in 2002 was us$317 million.

Security concerns remained a major deterrent to foreign investment in 2003 as the government continued its 40-year fight against two major leftist guerrilla groups that had come to control about half of the country. In 2003, hostage taking and hostage execution involving increasingly prominent individuals and a bombing in a Bogotá nightclub indicated the penetration of guerrilla activity into major urban centers. In June 2003, as part of a us$98 million military aid package, the United States sent about 60 Special Forces members to train local soldiers to guard the Occidental Petroleum pipeline; the Cano Limón pipeline, which had been bombed 40 times in 2002 and 170 times in prior years.

In terms of portfolio investment, the total market valuation of companies listed on the Colombia Stock Exchange peaked in 1997 at us$19.5 billion (189 listed companies) and had fallen to us$9.56 billion in 2000 (126 listed companies). In 2001, total market valuation had risen to us$13.2 billion with 123 listed companies, but turnover was at a record low of 3.2%.


In 1974, President Alfonso López outlined to Congress a long-range development plan with a major objective of achieving maximum growth while raising the living standards of the poorer half of the population. Efforts were to be concentrated in four main areas: exports, agriculture, regional development, and industry. An economic program published in 1980 during the administration of President Julio César Turbay, listed investment in energy, economic decentralization, regional autonomy, improvements in communications and transportation, mining development, and social improvement as its principal aims. A national development plan for the years 198184 provided for acceleration of public works. In 1982, during the Belisario Betancur presidency, economic emergencies were declared so that decrees to revise banking and fiscal policies could be issued without the need of congressional approval. The Virgilio Barco administration formulated an economic program similar to that proposed in 1974 by López, whose objectives were to attack unemployment and poverty while encouraging growth.

In 1990, President Cesar Gaviria instituted a national system of economic liberalization known as apertura, or opening. The system called for greatly increased international investment, a lowering of trade barriers, and massive state sell-offs. These began in earnest in the early 1990s as the government sold off seaports, airports, power plants, telecommunications networks, bankseven roads. In addition to these measures, the government aggressively pursued the creation of regional trading blocs and became a major voice in support of a hemispheric free trade area. Colombia became a member of Latin American Integration Association (LAIA), a bilateral free-trade pact with Chile and the G-3.

Liberalizations secured Colombia as a reliable regional market. The country saw positive growth every year for over two decades and was one of the only Latin American countries not to default on its international loans during the 1980s. Impeding further development are domestic political scandals, poor infrastructure, and narco-terrorism. In 1998, growth slowed, and even turned negative in 1999.

A us$2.7 billion International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan in 1999 was needed in order to save the shrinking economy, which improved from the inflow and austerity measures during the next year. In 2000, the US government gave us$1.3 billion in aid to Colombia's government and army, chiefly to help the war against drugs, but guerrilla armies continued to operate in at least two-fifths of the country.

President Uribe, elected in 2002, pledged to restore order to the country and to increase security measures. He planned to raise defense spending from 3.5% of gross domestic product (GDP) to 5.8% by the end of his term in 2006, and the government in 2003 was training 10,000 new police and 16,000 part-time "peasant soldiers" to secure close to 200 towns previously lacking police. US troops were also enlisted to guard Colombia's main oil pipeline. Uribe employed crop-dusting aircraft supplied by the United States, which in 2002 resulted in a 30% fall in coca cultivation. The government in 2003 also pledged to raise social spending, and depended on lending from international bodies such as the Inter-American Development Bank, World Bank, and Andean Development Corporation to augment the lack of sufficient revenue. In exchange for the assistance, the government was planning to implement structural reforms, such as pension and labor reforms to cut costs, and other spending cuts to reduce the deficit. In January 2003, Colombia negotiated a two-year, us$2.1-billion Stand-By Arrangement with the IMF.

Though Colombia has been embroiled in armed conflict, the economy has managed to take a turn for the better, possibly due to export promotion and government budgets designed to decrease public debt. Business confidence in Colombia has increased due to Uribe's economic and democratic strengthening. Also, Colombian coffee has been earning greater market shares in developed countries, raising the price of the prized export. Furthermore, from 2002 to 2005, unemployment dropped slightlyfrom 15.7% in 2002 to 15.2% in July 2005, as reported by the Economist Intelligence Unit. The CIA had slightly more optimistic predictions for Colombia's 2005 unemployment, at 11.8%. However, unemployment, along with pension reform and the need to increase oil production, continued to be challenges to be faced by President Uribe. Yet, as of 2005, Uribe was praised by various international financial institutions for the benefits that had come of the administration's economic policies. In addition to unemployment, the inflation rate was also on the declinea rate that previously had persisted at a near 20% throughout the 1990s (with the exception of the recessionary years of 199899, when inflation was less than 10%). In 2002, inflation dropped further due to weak domestic demand. Throughout the increase in economic growth in 200305, inflation still remained consistently lownear 5%due to the strengthening currency.


Social security coverage extends to all employees with the exception of some agricultural workers. Coverage is voluntary for the self-employed. Both employers and employees contribute to the program, while the government guarantees a minimum pension. All private-sector employees are covered by unemployment, and there is voluntary coverage for public workers. A worker's compensation program is funded fully by employers and provides benefits in proportion to the degree of incapacity. Employers also fund the family allowance benefits available to low income families.

The law provides women with extensive civil rights and prohibits any form of discrimination against women. However, there is still discrimination against women, especially in rural areas. They earn less than men for doing similar work, and occupy few of the top positions in government. Sexual harassment is pervasive. Rape and other acts of violence against women are widespread, and traditionally the law has not provided strict penalties for offenders. Trafficking in women for sexual exploitation continues to be a major problem.

Urban Colombia, and especially Bogotá, has acquired a reputation for street crime: pickpockets and thieves are a common problem. Drug trafficking flourishes on a large scale, despite government efforts to suppress cocaine smuggling and to eradicate the coca and marijuana crops. Kidnapping, both for political reasons and for profit, is widespread.

Human rights excesses by security forces continue with reports of extrajudicial killings and disappearances. Human rights abuses are committed by many groups, including guerrillas, narcotics traffickers, paramilitary groups and the military. Prison conditions are harsh, but international monitoring of conditions is allowed by the government. The constitution provides for special rights and protection for Colombia's many indigenous minorities, but these are not always respected in practice.


Health standards have improved greatly since the 1950s, but malaria is still prevalent in areas up to 1,100 m (3,500 ft) in altitude. In the mid-1990s, malaria was at epidemic numbers with nearly 130,000 cases reported. Many Colombians suffered from intestinal parasites. Malnutrition, formerly a very serious problem, with nutritional goiter, anemia, scurvy, and pellagra frequent, had become less severe by the early 1980s, when the per capita calorie supply was estimated at 102% of requirements. As of 2000, an estimated 15% of children under five years old were considered to be malnourished. In 2000, 91% of the population had access to safe drinking water and 85% had adequate sanitation. In 1990, the government began an initiative to improve the national health system at every level. Health care provisions (doctors and beds) do not compare favorably with other countries of the region. As of 1999, total health care expenditure was estimated at 9.4% of GDP.

In 1993, Colombia departed from its older health care system to one of payment by capitation and structured competition among integrated health care service delivery systems; 5 million people in the poorest groups, previously excluded from the medical system, were given access to health services. Approximately 87% of the population had access to health care services. As of 2004, Colombia had an estimated 135 physicians, 237 nurses and 78 dentists per 100,000 people.

Average life expectancy in 2005 was 71.72 years. The infant mortality rate decreased from 99.8 per 1,000 live births in 1960 to 20.97 in 2005. As of 2002, there were an estimated 22 births per 1,000, with 77% of married women (ages 15 to 49) using contraception in 2000. In 1999, children up to one year of age were immunized against the following: diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus, 74%, and measles, 74%. Colombia's estimated death rate as of 2002 was 5.66 per 1,000 inhabitants. Between 1986 and 1992, there were approximately 22,000 civil war-related deaths.

The HIV/AIDS prevalence was 0.70 per 100 adults in 2003. As of 2004, there were approximately 190,000 people living with HIV/AIDS in the country. There were an estimated 3,600 deaths from AIDS in 2003.

The disease is mostly spread by sexual activity. The first case of perinatal transmission occurred in 1987 and there have been 195 cases reported since then.


Colombia's housing shortage is largely a result of the rapid growth of the urban population. With the annual urban population growth rate at over 5%, the housing deficit was estimated to be around 800,000 units in the early 1980s and is expanding annually. Total housing units numbered approximately seven million in the mid-1990s. About 6,923,945 units were privately owned. About 81% of privately owned units were detached homes; about 13% were apartments, and the remainder were mobile units, natural shelters, and nonresidential housing. Roughly 70% were owner-occupied, and 25% were rented. Three-fourths of all dwellings were made of bricks, adobe, mud or stone; nearly 15% had external walls of wattle or daub; 7% were wood; and 3% were mostly cane.

In 2005, Habitat for Humanity reported that about 11.5 million homes are still without basic necessities. About 40% of these homes are overcrowded and of inadequate structures. The housing deficit is at about 900,000 and growing. In rural areas, poverty-stricken residents often construct their own tin huts called cambuches. Rural housing problems in Colombia are dealt with primarily by the Credit Bank for Agriculture, Industry, and Mining, and by the Colombian Institute of Agrarian Reform.

Public resources are channeled into urban housing through the Central Mortgage Bank, whose mortgages, because of interest rates, down-payment requirements, and repayment terms, have usually been accessible only to upper-middle-income groups; and the savings and loan corporations, whose interest rates are pegged to inflation through daily monetary correction factors known as units of constant purchasing power value (UPACs). In addition, through AID, substantial private funds from US investors have been used for various housing programs.


The constitution provides that public education shall not conflict with the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church; courses in the Roman Catholic religion are compulsory, and the Church is in virtual control of the public schools. Private schools have freedom of instruction, and there are a number of Protestant schools, principally in Bogotá. The national government supports secondary as well as university education and maintains a number of primary schools throughout the country.

Education is free and compulsory for nine years, beginning with one year of preschool starting at age five or six. Primary school covers five years of study and is followed by four years of basic secondary school. For their remaining two years of secondary school, students may choose a general course of studies or a technical school program. The government has established two basic programs for improving secondary educationthe integration of practical training into high-school academic curricula and the training of agricultural experts at the secondary levelso that students who do not go on to college are prepared to receive further technical training or to earn a living. The National Apprenticeship Service offers technical and vocational training in fields that contribute to national development; the program is financed by compulsory contributions from private enterprises and employees.

In 2001, about 36% of children between the ages of three and five were enrolled in some type of preschool program. Primary school enrollment in 2003 was estimated at about 87% of age-eligible students. The same year, secondary school enrollment was about 55% of age-eligible students. Dropout rates are high at the primary level, particularly in rural areas, where the students frequently live at considerable distances from their schools. Almost all secondary schools are in the larger cities; thus, little educational opportunity is open to rural children, except those reached by educational radio and television broadcasting. The student-to-teacher ratio for primary school was at about 27:1 in 2003. The ratio for secondary school was about 21:1.

By law, Colombia must spend at least 10% of its annual budget on education. Financing and supervision of public education is the joint responsibility of the Ministry of Education, the departments, and the municipalities. Secondary and technical education and universities are administered by the Ministry of Education. The central government also pays teachers' salaries. As of 2003, public expenditure on education was estimated at 5.2% of GDP, or 15.6% of total government expenditures.

The National University in Bogotá, founded in 1572, is one of the oldest in the Western Hemisphere. Other important universities include the Universidad Javeriana (founded 1622), which is operated by the Jesuits; the Universidad de los Andes, a private institution based on a US model; and the Universidad Libre, a private university with active liberal leanings. In 1964, the Colombian Overseas Technical Specialization Institute (ICETEX) was formed to coordinate scholarship and fellowship funds for Colombians wishing to study abroad. Graduates of foreign schools who return to Colombia reimburse ICETEX from their subsequent earnings. In 2003, about 24% of the tertiary age population were enrolled in some type of higher education program. The adult literacy rate for 2004 was estimated at about 94.2%.


The National Library, founded in 1777 in Bogotá, has over 800,000 volumes. It also acts as a public library, maintaining a small circulating collection and a children's room, and serves as a depository library of the United Nations. The cities have municipal libraries and the towns have village libraries, which are under the control of the Colombian Institute of Culture. There are two valuable private libraries in Bogotá, established by Dr. Luis Agusto Cuervo and Dr. Antonio Gómez Restrepo, respectively; each contains about 50,000 volumes. The Bank of the Republic maintains the Luis Angel Arango Library, an important cultural center holding some 400,000 volumes. The library of the National University in Bogotá has approximately 230,000 volumes. The University of the Andes in Bogotá has 210,000 volumes. The Library of Congress holds 140,000 volumes. There are over 1,000 local branches of the public library.

The most notable of Bogotá's museums are the National Museum, which concentrates on history and art since the Spanish conquest, the founding of Bogotá, and the colonial period; the National Archaeological Museum, which exhibits indigenous ceramics, stone carvings, gold objects, and textiles; the Museum of Colonial Art, formerly part of the National University, which specializes in art of the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries; and the Gold Museum, located in the Bank of the Republic. There are more than 50 provincial museums, including many archeological and anthropological sites.


Telephone and telegraph networks link all provincial capitals and connect these centers with surrounding rural areas. Each local system is independent; most are municipally owned, but a few are in private hands. Long-distance service is provided by the national government and is based on an agreement among local and departmental systems. In the early 1980s, the National Telecommunications Enterprise (TELECOM) had one of the largest automatic telephone service networks in Latin America. Its high-capacity microwave system connected the 40 largest cities in the country. Colombia launched its own communications satellite in 1985. In 2003, there were an estimated 179 mainline telephones for every 1,000 people; nearly one million people were on a waiting list for telephone service installation. The same year, there were approximately 141 mobile phones in use for every 1,000 people.

Most of the nation's 498 (463 AM, 35 FM) radio stations are privately owned. In 1997 there were 60 television stations. Color television was introduced in 1979. Radiodifusora Nacional de Colombia is the government owned radio station. Intravision is a government-owned television station that operates two commercial and one educational station. Caracol is a prominent private commercial station for both television and radio. In 2003, there were an estimated 548 radios and 319 television sets for every 1,000 people. The same year, there were 49.3 personal computers for every 1,000 people and 53 of every 1,000 people had access to the Internet. There were 159 secure Internet servers in the country in 2004.

Almost every town publishes at least one daily newspaper. The press varies from the irregular, hand-printed newspapers of the small towns of the interior to such national dailies as El Tiempo, one of the most influential newspapers of the Spanish-speaking world. The leading newspapers in Bogotá, with their political orientation are El Tiempo, liberal; El Espacio, liberal; and El Nuevo Siglo, conservative. La Republica in Bogotá reported a 2004 circulation of 55,000. In Cali, the leading newspapers are El País, conservative, 60,000 circulation in 2004 and Occidente, conservative, 25,000. In Medellín, the conservative El Colombiano had a 2004 circulation of 90,000. The same year, the Barranquilla El Heraldo (liberal) had a circulation of 70,000. and the Bucaramanga El Vanguardia liberal had a circulation of 48,000.

In general, the authorities are said to respect free speech and free press; most media are able to resist pressure from the government concerning sensitive issues, though censorship has been exercised occasionally in times of national emergency, and journalists exercise some self-censorship.


The National Federation of Coffee Growers, organized in 1927, is a semiofficial organization partly supported by tax revenue. The organization carries great weight as the representative of Colombia's leading industry, and its influence is felt in many spheres. Other trade associations include the National Association of Manufacturers, the People's Association of Small Industrialists of Colombia, and chambers of commerce in the larger cities. The Bank Association is an association of both national and foreign banks in Colombia. The Colombian Livestock Association, the National Federation of Cotton Growers, and the National Association of Sugar Growers serve their respective industries. Most farmers belong to the Agricultural Society of Colombia.

Learned societies include the Academy of History, the Colombian Academy of Language, the Colombian Academy of Exact, Physical, and Natural Sciences, the Academy of Medicine, the Colombian Academy of Jurisprudence, the Colombian Geographical Society, the Colombian Institute of Anthropology, and a number of regional bodies. The National Association of Colombian Writers and Artists includes most of the country's writers, painters, sculptors, and composers. Journalists have national and local organizations.

There are a number of youth organizations, some of which are affiliated with political or religious groups. Scouting programs are active throughout the country as are organizations of the YMCA and YWCA. A wide variety of sports organizations are active in the country.

In 2004, there were over 60,000 human rights and civil society nongovernmental organizations in the country. The Center for Popular Research and Education, sponsored by the Jesuits, is a prominent human rights organization. Others include the Colombian Commission of Jurists and the Jose Alvear Restrepo Lawyers' Collective. There are national chapters of the Red Cross, UNICEF, and Habitat for Humanity.


Colombia has mountains, jungles, modern and colonial cities, and resorts on both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, all of which the Colombian Government Tourist Office (CORTURISMO) has aggressively promoted.

Football (soccer) is the most popular sport, followed by basketball, baseball, boxing, and cockfighting; there are also facilities for golf, tennis, and horseback riding, and bullrings in the major cities. Visas are not required, but all visitors need a valid passport and an onward/return ticket for entry.

The tourist industry in Colombia developed greatly in the late 1970s but declined in the 1980s. Spurred by the government's economic liberalization program, earnings from tourism rose from us$755 million in 1993 to us$955 million in 1997. In 2003, about 625,000 tourists arrived in the country and tourism receipts reached us$1.1 billion. There were 54,820 hotel rooms with 109,940 beds and an occupancy rate of 50%.

In 2005, the US Department of State estimated the cost of staying in Cartagena at us$234 per day; in Bogotá, us$184; in Cali, us$186; and in Medellín, us$160.


Outstanding political and military figures in Colombian history include Francisco de Paula Santander (17921840), who served as a general in the war of independence and was the first president of independent Colombia, and José María Córdoba (1800?1830), a brilliant young soldier of the war of independence, who was made a general at 22 by Simón Bolívar.

Colombia, famous for its literary figures, has produced three outstanding novelists widely read outside the country: Jorge Isaacs (183795), whose most famous work, María, is a novel in the Romantic tradition; José Eustacio Rivera (18801929), whose outstanding novel, La Vorágine (The Vortex), written after World War I, is a drama of social rebellion; and Gabriel García Márquez (b.1928), a Nobel Prize winner in 1982, who is best known for Cien años de soledad (One Hundred Years of Solitude ). Colombia has had a number of noteworthy poets. The 19th-century Romantic school included Julio Arboleda (181492), José Eusebio Caro (181753), Gregorio Guitiérrez Gonzales (182672), and Rafael Pombo (18341912). Caro, who was influenced by the English poets, is generally rated as the most important Colombian Romantic. José Asunción Silva (186596) is regarded as the father of Latin American symbolism; his Nocturnos are among the finest poems in the Spanish language. Guillermo Valencia (18731945), the author of Anarkos, was a polished poet of the classical school, and León de Greiff (18951976) was a well-known poet. Miguel Antonio Caro (18431909) and Rufino José Cuervo (18441911) were philologists and humanists of great erudition who influenced scholars and students in the 19th century. The Instituto Caro y Cuervo in Bogotá is devoted to the study and publication of their works. Well-known literary critics include Baldomero Sanín-Cano (18611957) and Antonio Gómez-Restrepo (18681951).

Colombia's most notable painter was Gregorio Vázquez Arce y Ceballos (16381711), whose drawing and coloring have been compared to the work of the Spanish painter Murillo. Fernando Botero (b.1932) is a contemporary painter and sculptor whose human and animal subjects are known for their corpulence and exaggerated proportions. Francisco José de Caldas (17701816) was a brilliant botanist who discovered a system for determining altitude by the variation in the boiling point of water and began the scientific literature of the country. Guillermo Uribe-Holguín (18801971) and José Rozo Contreras (18941976) are noted composers. The works of historian Germán Arciniegas (190099) are well known to the English-speaking world through translation.


The archipelago of San Andrés and Providencia, administered as an intendancy, is located 729 km (453 mi) from the Caribbean coast northwest of Cartagena and about 190 km (118 mi) off the Nicaraguan coast. Grouped roughly around the intersection of longitude 82° w and latitude 12° n, the archipelago consists of the islands of San Andrés and Providencia and 13 small keys. The population is mostly black. Both English and Spanish are spoken. The principal towns are San Andrés, San Luis, and Loma Alta on the island of San Andrés and Old Town on Providencia.


Alexander, Yonah (ed.). Combating Terrorism: Strategies of Ten Countries. Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan Press, 2002.

Bruhns, Karen Olsen. Archaeological Investigation in Central Colombia. Oxford: Tempus Reparatum, 1995.

Calvert, Peter. A Political and Economic Dictionary of Latin America. Philadelphia: Routledge/Taylor and Francis, 2004.

Davis, Robert H. Historical Dictionary of Colombia, 2nd ed. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1993.

Garretón, Manuel Antonio, and Edward Newman, (eds.). Democracy in Latin America: (Re)constructing Political Society. New York: United Nations University Press, 2001.

Giraldo, Javier. Colombia: The Genocidal Democracy. Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press, 1996.

Health in the Americas, 2002 edition. Washington, D.C.: Pan American Health Organization, Pan American Sanitary Bureau, Regional Office of the World Health Organization, 2002.

Molano, Alfredo. Loyal Soldiers in the Cocaine Kingdom: Tales of Drugs, Mules, and Gunmen. New York: Columbia University Press, 2004.

Moser, Caroline O. N. Encounters with Violence in Latin America: Urban Poor Perceptions from Colombia and Guatemala. New York: Routledge, 2004.

Simons, G. L. Colombia: A Brutal History. London, Eng.: Saqi, 2004.

Tertiary Education in Colombia: Paving the Way for Reform. Washington, D.C.: World Bank, 2003.

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Republic of Colombia

Major Cities:
Santafe de Bogota, Medellín, Cali, Barranquilla, Cartagena, Bucaramanga

Other Cities:
Armenia, Bello, Buenaventura, Cúcutu, Girardot, Itagüi, Leticia, Manizales, Montería, Neiva, Palmira, Pasto, Popayán, Santa Marta, Tuluá, Tumaco, Tunja, Valledupar, Villavicencio


This chapter was adapted from the Department of State Post Report dated January 1997. Supplemental material has been added to increase coverage of minor cities, facts have been updated, and some material has been condensed. Readers are encouraged to visit the Department of State's web site at for the most recent information available on travel to this country.


COLOMBIA , washed by the waters of both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, is a land of geographical diversity and broad historical interest. It is a bridge between two great civilizations that flourished before the discovery of the New Worldthe Aztec to the north and the Inca to the south. It is a nation of cosmopolitan Andean cities and booming coastal ports, and yet it spreads across thousands of square miles of mountains, plains, and rain forests. Also, it is the most Spanish of the South American countries, although it has been independent since 1819.

Colombia is steeped in history. During its colonial era, it was one of the principal administrative centers of the Spanish possessions in the New World. Its present capital, Bogotá, was the seat of the viceroyalty of New Granada, which included what are now Venezuela, Ecuador, and Panama. After Colombia attained independence, Panama remained part of the republic for 90 years. Simón Bolívar, the great South American patriot, was the country's first president.


Santafe de Bogota

Bogota is considered a high-threat area for both terrorism/insurgency and crime. Individuals must exercise caution and follow effective security measures to minimize risks and vulnerabilities while in country. Although the security situation is closely monitored, caution must be exercised at all times.

The city of Bogota is nearly 8,700 feet above sea level, on a plateau of the Eastern Cordillera (range) of the Andes and is surrounded by peaks rising to 10,500 feet. The climate is cool and there are only two seasons, wet and dry; however, it is frequently wet in the dry season, and there can be lengthy dry periods in the wet season. The weather resembles early fall or spring in the north-central U.S. average temperature is 55 degrees F. The San Andres Fault line also runs through Colombia, and there are occasional earthquakes. The most recent, on June 6, 1994, was centered about 250 miles from Bogota, measured 6.2, and caused hundreds of deaths and did extensive damage.

Besides being the capital and largest city (population 6,834,000), Santafe de Bogota is also the cultural and economic center of the country. While a modern metropolis in some respects, the city's infrastructure has failed to keep pace with its growth. Combined with occasional power outages, traffic jams are frequent and monumental.

Well-kept residential areas, schools, shopping malls, grocery stores, and many restaurants and movie theaters assist in adjusting to living in this city.

The city has a mixed look from old world Spanish architecture which dominates in the southern part of the city, to modern high-rise apartments which dominate the north. Scattered throughout all areas of the city, however, are structures in severe conditions of decay. The lower windows of old and modern structures are heavily barred for security.

Bogotanos are proud of their cultural achievements. The city supports museums, universities, art galleries and many bookstores.

The English-speaking community is bolstered by a significant number of British and Canadian citizens, and many other people of European origin who live in the city. While Bogota is not considered a tourist center, about 1,000 Americans, mostly business representatives, visit the city annually.


Bogota has an abundance of fresh foods and many varieties of fruits and vegetables; frozen seafood is carried by the better stores. Meat markets have large assortments of fresh meat. The quality is adequate, although meats are usually not aged and cuts often differ from those in the U.S.

Pasteurized milk is available in any supermarket and powdered milk is available, although expensive.

Local supermarkets are similar in style to those in the U.S. There is a variety of local and imported items, but fewer, smaller than in the U.S. There is usually a full stock of staple items. Some local supermarkets offer a variety of high-quality imported foods such as pate and smoked oysters, at very high prices.


Clothing needed in Bogota is similar to that worn on the East Coast in the late fall season. The weather can be crisp and temperatures chilly. All-weather coats and umbrellas are a good idea. Styles for both men and women are fashionable and similar to that worn in the U.S.

Men: Colombian men tend to dress conservatively. Suits are worn more than sport coat-and-slacks combinations. Colors are also conservative-greys, dark blues and black predominate. Lightweight wool suits are recommended.

A wide variety of ready-made 100% wool and fine blended fabric suits and sport coats are available locally, but prices can be high. You will experience difficulty in obtaining ready-made suits in long sizes larger than 42.

Men's shirts must be tailor-made for sleeve length greater than 34.

Several tailors do excellent work and hand-tailored suits or of either imported or locally made material. Repair services are also available and reasonable. Socks and underwear are available, but do not equal U.S. quality.

Shoes are manufactured in Colombia, although it can be difficult to find a proper fit and the variety of styles is limited. Shoes and boots can be made to measure at reasonable cost.

Women: Shorts are rarely worn in Bogota, but are useful for tennis and trips to the "hot country." Skirts and sweaters or blouses are popular for daytime wear, as are lightweight suits and skirt-blouse-blazer combinations.

Jackets, short coats, and full-length fall coats are useful. Bring rain gear, including raincoat and umbrella.

Some name-brand lingerie is sold, but at higher prices than in the U.S.; therefore, bring a good supply of preferred items. Although nylons are sold, sizes are not U.S. standard. There are tailors and dressmakers who do good to excellent work at reasonable rates Beautiful fabrics are available locally, but are expensive.

Locally made shoes are not made to American specs, and sizes vary. Narrow sizes and larger sizes are especially hard to find. Shoes can be made to order at prices similar to good quality, ready-made American shoes.

Children: Children wear the same type of clothing worn in early spring or late fall in the U.S. Heavy clothing is not necessary, but a supply of wool sweaters or jackets is recommended. Wool sweaters are available locally, as are good-quality blue jeans of local manufacture (prices are higher than in the U.S., and quality is poorer.) Children's tennis shoes compare with U.S. makes and sell for similar prices.

Bring raincoats, umbrellas, and boots. Bring baby supplies in your luggage.

Small girls wear jeans for play and cotton dresses with sweaters or skirts and sweaters for school. Older girls can use wool suits, skirts and sweaters. Lightweight coats and jackets are useful.

Warm clothing such as sweaters, long-sleeved T-shirts, corduroy creepers, etc., are desirable for babies.

Slim and husky sizes are hard to find and children with narrow feet cannot be fitted locally.

Supplies and Services

Many popular American brand-name cosmetics and toiletries are sold in Bogota at high prices. If you prefer special brands, bring a supply. Toothpastes and shaving cream are reasonably priced and many U.S. name brands can be found. It is best to bring a supply of family medical and cosmetic needs.

Bogota has several good dry-cleaning establishments. Since quality of work varies even in the best establishments, it is often necessary to re-press clothing which has been cleaned. Most laundry is done in the home by maids.

Bogota has many good beauty shops, and barbershops. Major hotels give inexpensive, quality haircuts.

General Electric, Philco, Westinghouse, Phillips and Whirlpool are represented locally, but appliance repairs are generally of fair quality.

Religious Activities

There are a large number of Catholic churches in the city, and services are frequent during the week. There is one Catholic school which offers an English-speaking Mass on Sundays at 10:15 am. Masses are conducted by a group of American priests from the Mission of the Sacred Heart, and an order of Franciscan nuns offers instruction to the children. The chapel, located at Gymnasio Moderno, is located on Calle 74 between Carreras 9 and 11.

English-language Protestant, non-sectarian services are held in the Union Church on Sundays at 11:00 am. They also offer Sunday morning adult Bible study, Sunday School for children and a nursery service. The Union Church is located at Carrera 3a No. 69-06.

Additionally, there are three Jewish Synagogues, as well as a Baptist Chapel, Christian Science Church, and a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.


Several English-language schools are available in Bogota. Parents are advised that all private schools in Colombia are Colombian-oriented and are administratively controlled by the Colombian Ministry of Education. Therefore, these schools are not, in the true sense, international in nature.

If you require special schooling for your child or desire some special type of education, curriculum, or extracurricular activities, contact either your agency or the school directly in Colombia for more information.

Colegio Nueva Granada is located at Carrera 2E No. 70-10. The mailing address is as follows:

Colegio Nueva Granada
Apartado Aereo 51339
Bogota, Colombia

Instruction is in English, but Spanish is a required course for all students. The school is divided into elementary (kindergarten-5); middle school (grades 6-8); and high school (grades 9-12). Each of the three sections has its own principal and counselor. The director of the school is a US citizen and U.S.-trained, as are most of the administrative staff.

Nearly all the staff are trained teachersabout 70% hired locally (both American and Colombian) and 30% brought from the U.S. The school is accredited with the Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools. The school year runs from late August to June.

A placement exam is required of all entering students before they are enrolled. It is given frequently during the summer months and at various times throughout the school year.

The school is coeducational with an enrollment of approximately 1,500 students. About 75% of the students are Colombian, 10% North American, and 10% dual citizenship (U.S./ Colombian) 5% represent some 25 other countries.

The uniform of Colegio Nueva Granada as of the 1996-7 school year is as follows:

  • White tennis shirts, plain while turtlenecks or mock turtlenecks, or white oxford shirts with the CNG monogram.
  • Navy blue V-neck sweaters with two white stripes on the right sleeve.
  • Navy blue gabardine trousers for boys and girls.
  • Navy blue gabardine culotte-skirts for girls (optional).
  • Navy blue CNG jacket-School tie for boys/girls on Fridays (middle and high school).
  • Navy blue blazer with school emblem for boys and girls in middle and high school (optional).
  • White, blue, or black tennis shoes or black, navy or brown leather shoes to be worn with white or blue socks
  • A navy blue sweatsuit with CNG emblem required for elementary school.

The school sells uniforms on campus; plan to spend about $200 per child. Jewelry and hair accessories are to be conservative and blue and white color and size for use with a school uniform. Only stud earrings for girls are allowed. No earrings will be permitted for boys, and length of hair must be appropriate for school. NOTE-"Appropriate" in Colombia means conservative.

Special Educational Opportunities

Locally, both the Universidad de los Andes and the Universidad Javeriana provide instruction in Spanish and other languages using the most modern teaching techniques.

Those interested in linguistics will find the Instituto Caro y Cuervo one of the best of its kind in the world.

Classes in painting, sculpture, and music can be arranged at the following institutions: Universidad de los Andes, Universidad Javeriana, Galeria de Arte Moderno, and Conservatorio de Música. Teachers of piano and guitar are available and fees are reasonable.

Bogota has several good universities in addition to Andes and Javeriana. Worthy of special mention are Colegio Mayor de Nuestra Señora del Rosario, Universidad Externado de Colombia, and Universidad de la Sabana. Special extension and night courses in many fields are offered at each. Instruction is in Spanish.

Recreation, Social Life, and Sports

Facilities for sports are limited and expensive. Although several country clubs have excellent golf and tennis courts, memberships are expensive.

Bogota has few public golf courses or public tennis courts. No swimming pools are open to the general public.

Arrangements can be made for horseback riding, and expert instruction is available at a reasonable cost. Many families make periodic weekend trips to the lower, hot country where swimming pools and tennis courts are available at the hotels and resorts. Spectator sports include soccer, boxing, wrestling, horseracing, and bullfighting. Plaza de Santa Maria, the bull rink in the center of the city, has fights on Saturdays and Sundays between December and February. Soccer is very popular and fans avidly follow various local teams.

Lake Tota, northeast of Bogota, is a favorite fishing spot for foreigners and Colombians alike. The lake is high in a mountain basin in the Department of Boyaca. The lake can also be reached by flying to Sogamoso and taking a taxi about 18 miles to the lake. Its crystal clear waters are stocked and offer good trout fishing. Outboard motorboats can be rented. Two rustic hotels, plus the Tisquesusa, the Rocas Linda, and the Pozo Azul, offer comfortable accommodations. A small outboard motorboat (5-15 hp) is useful for trolling.

Trout fishing also can be found in Lake Neusa. Neusa is approximately a 1-1/2 hour drive north of Bogota. The drive is easy, and the roads are generally in good condition. Winding through the mountains, the roads take you through Pine and Eucalyptus forests. The entire trip is a steady climb into the mountains, probably 100 feet or more above Bogota. In Neusa, you can take a boat tour, or rent your own by the hour.

Deep-sea fishing is possible off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, and the fishing enthusiasts will find trips to these areas rewarding. Fishing tackle is available in Bogota, but it is expensive.

Sailing is done on two of the man-made lakes near Bogota.

Scuba-diving and snorkeling can be done on the coast in Cartagena (l-hour flight from Bogota) or in the nearby island of San Andres or Santa Marta (both about a 2-hour flight from Bogota).

Hunting in Colombia requires a certain amount of planning and time. Dove hunting is popular, but the current security situation has resulted in the closing of many traditional hunting areas.

The hills surrounding Bogota offer ample opportunity for the mountaineer, and the snowpeaks of the Andes are a real challenge to the serious climber. The Laguna de Guatavita, origin of the legend of El Dorado, offers a delightful one-day adventure.

Additionally, there are a number of gyms and spas for weight-lifting and aerobics. Monthly or yearly membership fees are similar to those in the U.S. Many have saunas and/or steam rooms, and some offer massages, facials and other cosmetic features.

Touring and Outdoor Activities

By virtue of certain characteristics, such as dress, speech, mannerisms, cars and homes, Americans are susceptible to criminal attack. Consequently, common-sense security precautions should always be practiced when touring and sight-seeing in Bogota and elsewhere in Colombia. For example, women should not wear elaborate jewelry when visiting crowded shopping areas of the city. Carry as little money as possible and guard your wallet, purse, watch and valuables carefully.

Several museums display the historical, cultural and artistic heritage of the country. A fascinating collection, consisting of gold objects fashioned by the Indians who lived in Colombia before the arrival of the Conquistadores, is in the Museo de Oro at the Banco de la República.

On a mountaintop, 1,500 feet above the city, stands the Spanish-style church of Monserrate, considered the characteristic landmark of Bogota.

The original church, built in 1650, was destroyed by fire. About 25 years old, the present church commands a magnificent view of the city and surrounding plains. You can reach the church by the old, almost perpendicular "funicular" railway or the newer Swiss-built aerial cable car both of which take about three minutes.

A neighboring mountain peak, higher than Monserrate, is the site of the chapel of Guadalupe. This peak was the location of several earlier chapels dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe, patron saint of Latin America. The present chapel, with its huge dominating figure of the Virgin, is a 20th century work.

At the falls of Tequendama during the wet season, the Bogota River plunges 475 feet into a narrow gorge below. Only 15 miles southwest of Bogota, this waterfall can be reached by road.

Thirty miles north of Bogota by train or car lies the salt mine of Zipaquiraa solid mountain of rock salt. The mine has been worked since before the Spanish arrived, and while its tunnels penetrate deep into the mountain, the supply of salt has hardly been touched. On this site a massive Gothic-style cathedral has been carved out of the mountains. Illuminated by indirect lighting and severely simple in its decorations, the cathedral is impressive and unique. An interesting, colonial-style inn with a restaurant is on the grounds of the salt mine.

For a change of scenery and relief from the altitude and cool climate, the warm, tropical valleys that lead to the Magdalena River are ideal. Several resorts are within a few hours of Bogota. Girardotl/2 hour by plane, three hours by caris one of the most popular warm weather spots. Here, a large variety of tropical fruits and unusual pottery can be purchased in the town's center plaza.

Paipa, at about the same altitude as Bogota, can also be reached in about four hours by car. The Hotel Sochagota, in addition to its excellent conference facilities, is a popular first-class hotel fronting on a small lake. Activities center around the thermally-heated swimming pool but also include horseback riding, pool and billiards, and ping-pong. The hotel also has 12 detached cabañas, each with sleeping facilities for six, fireplace, efficiency-type kitchen, two bathrooms and private thermal bath facilities.

Barranquilla, with a population of over 1.2 million is the principal seaport on the mouth of the Magdalena River. One hour by jet from Bogota, the city is popular for its February carnival. Its famous Hotel del Prado is a large country club-like hotel with air-conditioned rooms, swimming pool, tennis courts and exercise facilities including a sauna. The hotel also maintains the Prado Mar Beach Club at Puerto Colombia for ocean bathing and fishing.

In March, Barranquilla is the site of the international tennis tournament called the "South American Wimbledon."

Cartagena, population 918,000, is about 70 miles southwest of Barranquilla on the Caribbean coast. The walled city dates back to the days of the Spanish Main. Its famous fortress of San Felipe de Barajas and ancient churches, including the Shrine of St. Peter Claver, make Cartagena one of the most interesting cities in Colombia. The city boasts a number of modern beach-front high-rise hotels as well as the older, colonial-style El Caribe Hotel. Most hotels have swimming pools; some have tennis courts. Nearby restaurants offer good seafood. In November, Cartagena commemorates its independence in a carnival atmosphere which includes the national beauty contest for the crown of "Miss Colombia."

Leticia is Colombia's principal town on the Amazon River, 670 miles southeast of Bogota. Accessible by air, Leticia provides tourists with such attractions as Amazon River excursions, visits to primitive Indian villages, and trips through dense rain forests. Leticia is located at the northern end of the Peru-Brazil border, and it is easy to cross over to one country for lunch and then to the other for dinner, and return to Leticia for the night.


The National Symphony has regularly scheduled concerts during most of the year, often with world-famous guest artists. Dance companies, chamber music groups, and concert artists perform seasonally. Theater is available from time to time, but its enjoyment is limited to those fluent in Spanish.

Movie theaters and video clubs are numerous; those in the downtown section and better residential areas are equal to theaters in the U.S. First-run American films are shown with Spanish subtitles, three-four months after their U.S. premiere. Movies at the best theaters cost about USD 8.00 per person. Bogota has few American-type nightclubs; however, several clubs have floor shows and dancing and offer a welcome change on a night out. Many restaurants serve continental and regional dishes.

The changing of the guard outside the Presidential Palace at 5:00 PM every afternoon is a colorful ceremony. Soldiers dress in 19th-century-style uniforms, including spiked helmets. Various festivals are held throughout the year in Colombia. Cartagena has a world-famous film festival, and annual fairs are held in Barranquilla.

Social Activities

Social life in Bogota depends greatly on your own initiative. Because of the large number of Americans and educated Colombians, it is possible to have a wide, varied circle of friends.

The American Women's Club admits all American women in Colombia and meets monthly. The American Society is open to all Americans living in Colombia. This club sponsors monthly social activities and a number of charitable programs.

Social contacts among Colombians who enjoy having foreign friends can be also be made through the Bi-National Center (BNC) and its various groups and activities and through a number of charitable, religious and social organizations.

Bogota has some resident business representatives from countries friendly to the US as well as about 40 other diplomatic missions. It is relatively easy to develop a circle of friends from among these groups.


Medellín, with an estimated population of 3.8 million, is Colombia's second largest city. It is the capital of the Department of Antioquia, one of the country's most progressive areas. Although it was settled earlier, it was not officially established or named until 1675.

Medellín is an important industrial, commercial, and banking center and is located in a valley three to seven miles wide and about 25 miles long in the Central Cordillera of the Andes, about 150 air miles northwest of Bogotá.

Medellín, at an altitude of 5,000 feet, has a mild climate year round. Annual mean temperature is 70°F, with a temperature spread of 27°F. There are two rainy (winter) and two dry (summer) seasons of varying length each year. Rainfall averages about 55 inches annually.

The metropolitan area includes the city of Medellín and adjoining municipalities in the same valley. Total population of the valley is estimated at slightly above two million. The center of the city contains many large, modern office and apartment buildings. Despite a significant boom in recent years, however, a number of small businesses are still housed in converted residences.

Typical residential architecture is the one-story modern house, with red tile roof. There are two pleasant suburbs, 10 to 15 minutes from the city center, where the bulk of the foreign population resides. Comfortable, modern apartments are also available in the city.

Medellín, the original industrial heart of Colombia, remains a major center of indigenous capital, and supplies wealth and talent to all parts of the country. It is a banking and insurance center and headquarters for ANDI, the Colombian equivalent of the National Association of Manufacturers. Medellín's industries include food processing, woodworking, automobiles, chemicals, and metallurgy. The principal industry is the integrated manufacture of textiles, cotton, cotton-synthetics and, to a lesser degree, wool. Other important products are steel and steel products, tobacco, plastics, leather, cement, glass, beer, ceramics, electrical appliances, soft drinks, and packaging materials. Medellín is also an important marketing center for coffee, bananas, cement, and cattle. The Federation of Coffee Growers, which exports Colombia's foremost dollar-earning product, has a regional office in the city.

Americans, British, and Germans, with lesser numbers of Italians and French, comprise the small foreign community. The American element, about 600 persons, is almost indistinguishable, as many are married to Colombians, or are the product of Colombian-American marriages. There is a large number of English-speaking people in Medellín. Many Colombian professionals are U.S.-college educated, and still others are acquainted with the language through travel and study.

Although the city dates from the middle of the 17th century, only slight traces remain of the colonial era. Many social customs still reflect the Spanish past, but these too are being rapidly modified.

Antioquenos, as the people of the department are called, consider themselves apart from other Colombians. The colony of Antioquia began with the immigration of a small number of Spanish Basques and Andalusians. The early settlers, noted for their large families, occupied themselves primarily with gold mining. As the population grew and the gold supply diminished, the people turned to the land and cleared the high, healthful regions for food crops, and the middle levels for coffee production. Usually, the land was opened by the man who tilled it, and the small landholder pattern persists to this day. Larger families also meant forced migration, and the Antioqueno was the principal colonizer of the Departments of Caldas and Valle. Antioquia's population continues to grow rapidly, especially in Medellín proper (now over 1.6 million), which has attracted people from the rural areas in search of greater opportunities.

Antioquia is mountainous and, except for some fertile valleys and a banana-producing area in its northwest corner, is not well suited for agriculture. Cattle production is of growing importance. The Department of Chocó, which represents the other extreme within the Medellín district, is jungle-like, sparsely populated, and very undeveloped economically. Antioquia is Colombia's conservative stronghold and the Antioquenos, nearly all Roman Catholic, are devout supporters of the Church. A fairly rigid class structure persists and a large percentage of the wealth remains concentrated in the hands of a few families. Nonetheless, the region has traditionally provided opportunities for economic mobility to the industrious (or the fortunate), and an important and growing middle class exists.

Air travel is the most practical means of transportation in and out of Medellín. The airport, which operates during daylight hours only, is 10 minutes by car from the city center. Because of frequent fog and the lack of navigational aids, the airport is often closed and flight delays are common.

Driving in Medellín has certain risks, although the traffic is somewhat tamer than in Bogotá. Drivers in general, and bus and truck drivers in particular, are aggressive and undisciplined, and pay little heed to traffic lights or other controls. The size of the vehicle usually determines who gains the right-of-way, and under no circumstances should pedestrians compete. Driving outside of the city calls for nerves of steel. The road network is limited, poorly maintained, and heavily used. Collisions are frequent and, although labor for bodywork is less expensive than in the U.S., import regulations result in much higher pricesand often delaysfor repair parts.


Two private schools in Medellín are considered adequate for the academic needs of American children. The Columbus School is a coeducational day school for kindergarten through grade 12. Founded in 1947 and sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, it is accredited in the U.S. by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

The school follows both American and Colombian curricula. Most instruction is in English. French and Spanish are also offered. Extracurricular activities include computers, chorus, gymnastics, drama, newspaper, yearbook, and several participant sports. With a student body of about 900 (90% are Colombian), Columbus School employs 80 full-time and four part-time teachers; 43 are American. The staff also includes a counselor.

The school year runs from mid-August to mid-June, with a one-month vacation from mid-December to mid-January.

Columbus School is located on a mountainside, three miles northwest of Medellín. Facilities include seven buildings, 48 classrooms, science labs, computer lab, cafeteria, gymnasium, playing fields, and a 15,000-volume library. The mailing address is Apartado Aéreo 5225, Medellín, Colombia.

The Montessori School in Medellín is relatively new and plans to extend its grade structure by adding one grade each year. Currently, classes from kindergarten through grade eight are taught. The Colombian and American curricula are followed, with emphasis on English. Enrollment is divided between Americans, Colombians, and several other nationalities. The school's directors are American. The mailing address is Apartado Aéreo 623, Medellín, Colombia.

Colegio Montelibano is a coeducational, day, company-sponsored school for pre-kindergarten through grade 12. It is located in the village of Montelibano, in the Córdoba Department, which is northwest of Medellín. Founded in 1980, the school is accredited by the Colombian Ministry of Education.

The school's curriculum is both U.S. and Colombian. Spanish is a required language; other courses offered include French, art, computer science, physical education, and vocational studies. Extracurricular activities are varied.

The school year, in English, runs from August to mid-June; in Spanish, the year runs from February to mid-December. Both calendars have a 10-day Easter vacation. The student body totals 387; enrollment capacity is 594. Of the 41 teachers, three are American.

Colegio Montelibano's facilities include science laboratories, an audiovisual room, and athletic fields. The school, on a 15-acre campus, is air-conditioned throughout. The mailing address is Apartado Aéreo 6823, Bogotá, Colombia.


Because of the condition and extent of the roads, touring is not a popular pastime in the Medellín district. Nonetheless, a few nearby areas within a two-hour drive offer a change of scenery, and one of the prime pleasures of Colombians and Americans alike is the enjoyment of the surrounding countryside. Many Colombians own country homes, and these become the center of family life during weekends and the long Christmas season. Although Americans usually have no such refuge, nearby mountain areas provide many lovely spots for picnics.

Santa Fe de Antioquia is the original capital of the Department of Antioquia. It has a population of about 18,000 and is a three-hour drive from Medellín. Situated on the bank of the Cauca River in what is locally termed the "hot country," the city contains many examples of Spanish colonial architecture.

Rionegro is about an hour's drive from Medellín. It is in an attractive valley at about 6,000 feet elevation. Rionegro was the site of the signing of the Constitution of 1863.

Quibdó, capital of the Department of Chocó, is on the banks of the Atrato River, which empties into the Caribbean Sea near the Colombian border with Panama. Chocó is sparsely populated by the descendants of escaped slaves who made their way to the hot, jungle-covered area bordering the Pacific coast of Colombia. The northern part of Chocóis said to have one of the most abundant rainfalls found anywhere in the world. Quibdó, with a population over 47,000, is about one hour by air, 15 hours by car.

La Pintada is a small town on the Cauca River two-and-a-half hours from Medellín and located in the "hot country." As another alternative for weekend outings, it offers an attractive landscape and a modest hotel with swimming pool. The model ranch of the Antioquian Cattle Fund is also located here.

Medellín's public athletic facilities are seldom used by Americans. There are private sports clubs, where membership is possible; Medellín also has two attractive private country clubs, each with a golf course, tennis courts, and swimming pool. Initial membership fees are expensive.

Spectator sports in Medellín consist chiefly of soccer matches, but baseball games are becoming popular among Colombians. Bullfights are held seasonally. Hunting and fishing are available, but facilities and accommodations within a reasonable distance from the city are almost completely lacking.

Horseback riding at country fincas (estates) is a popular pastime. Water-skiing and sailing are possible on a man-made lake about three hours from Medellín.


Among the many movie theaters in Medellín, 10 are considered first-class. Newly released American films with Spanish subtitles are shown.

Local civic organizations and private industries sponsor occasional concerts and musicals. Good amateur plays are presented several times during the year at the Pablo Tobon Theater. Several private clubs offer floor shows, and a few nightclubs are acceptable.

Medellín has active Rotary, Lions, and Kiwanis clubs, through which it is relatively easy to broaden one's contacts among other working professionals. Many women join the Pan-American Women's Association, a group composed mainly of members of the English-speaking colony, including Colombians. There are a number of opportunities in Medellín for international contacts.

Although Colombians are favorably disposed to the U.S., most Americans find that it requires a major effort to develop close personal relationships with them.

Special Note

In recent years, Medellín has been the center for a violent drug cartel. Because of this, the U.S. State Department advises against travel to this area. Visitors should check with the Embassy for further details.

As in many areas of the world, personal and physical security are increasing problems in Medellín. Nonviolent purse and jewelry snatchers abound on the streets, especially at night. Large amounts of money should not be carried, nor should jewelry be worn in public places.


Cali, Colombia's third largest city, rests in the southwest corner of the pear-shaped Cauca River valley, the principal center of cattle and sugar production. The city is also a manufacturing and distribution center between the Pacific coast port of Buenaventura and Bogotá. Cali is the capital of the Department of Valle del Cauca.

One of the oldest cities in the Americas, Cali was founded in 1536 by Sebastián de Belalcázar, who marched northward from Peru after aiding Francisco Pizarro in subjugating the Incas. Belalcázar's conquests afterwards were made a dependency of the Spanish viceroyalty of Lima. Parts of central Cali reflect the tastes of the colonial period, with palmed plazas lined by wood-roofed buildings. Charming bridges and walks along the river in the city's center date from the late 19th-century period. Newer sections of the city have incorporated varied contemporary influences.

Cali's elevation of 3,319 feet poses no physical challenge. Temperatures vary little throughout the year. Maximum daytime temperatures are in the low 80s; at night temperatures drop a little below 70°F, making it pleasantly cool in most residential sections of the city. Humidity remains at a comfortable low year round. Most of Cali's moderate rainfall occurs during the Northern Hemisphere's fall and spring months. Heaviest storms cause flooding in low sections of the city, but the rain usually comes in brief showers. Hurricanes, tornadoes, and cyclones are unknown. However, several minor earthquakes have struck the city in recent years.

Cali's metropolitan population is approximately 2.1 million, and its physical size is about that of Washington, DC. The city center is compressed into a small area. Growth of better suburbs has been along and into the foothills, while poorer sections have pushed out across the valley floor. The city's main activity, industry, is a product of favorable location and transportation. Moreover, more than half of Colombia's foreign trade passes through Cali en route to and from Buenaventura, on the Pacific coast. It is also headquarters for units of the departmental government, the Third Brigade of the National Army, and the Air Force Academy at Marco Fidel Suarez Base.

About 3,000 U.S. citizens reside in the district, more than two-thirds of whom live in Cali. Most are associated with some 100 partially-or wholly-owned U.S. firms doing business in the area. Some of the larger ones are Grace, International Paper, Goodyear, U.S. Rubber, Container Corporation, Corn Products, Home Products, Colgate-Palmolive, Gillette, Union Carbide, Squibb, and Quaker Oats. A substantial number of Americans are working with the Universidad del Valle at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT).

Cali is becoming increasingly a center for tourism. The Pan American Games of August 1971 helped to bring the city to international attention, and its new Hotel Intercontinental and Palmaseca Airport have served as attractions to visitors. The Feria de Cali, with its week of bull-fights, beauty contests, and parties, is perhaps the major social event in Colombia during the Christmas and New Year period.


Most American children in Cali attend Colegio Bolívar. It is a coeducational day school for pre-kindergarten through grade 12. The school was organized in 1948 through the efforts of the American business community, and receives help from the U.S. Government Inter-American Schools Service. It is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and the Colombian Ministry of Education.

The curriculum is U.S.-and Colombian-based. Classes are in English, with additional mandatory instruction in Spanish beginning in the third grade. Elective classes include art, vocal music, computer science, and physical education. Among the extracurricular activities are year-book, newspaper, literary magazine, field trips, scouting, and various sports. There is also a special program for children with learning disabilities.

The school year runs from the end of August to the middle of June, with vacations at Christmas and Easter. In 1991, the student body totaled 1,050; of the staff of 90 full-time and two part-time teachers, 45 were American. The staff also includes a counselor and a nurse.

Colegio Bolívar is located on 10 acres of land in a rural area about 10 miles from Cali. Facilities include 10 buildings, 42 classrooms, cafeteria, auditorium, an audiovisual room, science laboratories, computer lab, gymnasium, playing fields, swimming pool, and a 20,000-volume library. The mailing address is Apartado Aéreo 26300, Cali, Colombia.

Cali has three other English-language schools: Colegio Bennet, for kindergarten through grade 12; Jefferson School, offering courses through the 12th grade; and the British-American School, which accepts children from kindergarten through grade 12.

The Centro Colombo-Americano offers Spanish courses, and also maintains an English-language lending library. The city's main bookstore, Librería Nacional, has a limited selection of American paperbacks. Most principal American newspapers are available, as is Time magazine, but often these are a week old.

Recreation and Entertainment

The Cali area offers several points of interest for outings or weekend excursions. Twenty miles northeast of the city, near El Cerrito, is El Paraiso, a country house which was the scene of the 19th-century romantic novel, La María, written by Jorge Isaacs and describing life in his native valley. Operated by the Colombian Government, the house is preserved in minute detail complete with original furnishings, and is beautifully located at the foot of the Andes. A similar country house, Canasgordas, lies six miles south of Cali. It too was the setting for a novelEustaquio Palacios El Alferez Real. The house earlier served as the residence of Spanish colonial governors.

Within an hour's drive are various sugar refineries; Manuelita, in the city of Palmira, offers tours. Another site of interest is the Calima Dam and hydroelectric project, about a two-hour drive from Cali, in the western hills. En route to Calima lies the tranquil valley town of Buga, where lunch and an afternoon at Hotel Guadalajara's swimming pool provide a popular Sunday excursion. Buga's handsome 17th-century cathedral is being meticulously restored.

The nearest available beach with adequate hotel facilities is close to Tumaco (in Nariño Department), an hour away by plane. Hotel accommodations are adequate, but unpretentious. Other weekend trips can be made to the mountainous lake region near Pasto, where an attractive Swiss-run lodge is located, and to the interesting pre-Columbian archaeological site of San Agustín (in Huila).

Within certain limits, good recreational facilities are available in Cali year round. While no beaches are nearby and river swimming is discouraged, many Americans belong to one of several social clubs having excellent pools. Golf and tennis also are available.

Lake and ocean sport-fishing is possible within the district, but not near Cali. The Calima reservoir, one-and-a-half hours' drive from the city, is excellent for sailing, water-skiing, picnicking, or just for a change of scene. Dove hunting is available in the area, but big-game hunting requires a trans-Andean trip.

A number of good movie houses feature American films in English, with Spanish titles. Admission prices are low. Concerts and plays by local or visiting artists are given on occasion at the Teatro Municipal and at the conservatory. Visiting musical and dance troupes sometimes perform in Cali. Bullfights, featuring some of the world's best matadors, are given during the December feria week, and are also held at various times during the rest of the year. Boxing, baseball, soccer, and swimming meets are the available spectator sports.

Cali has many small nightclubs and discotheques, usually packed on Saturday nights. A handful of good restaurants in the city offer dinner at reasonable prices.

Cali has an American Women's Club and an American Men's Society.


Barranquilla, capital of the Department of Atlántico, is the largest and most important northern coast city in the country. It is called the "Gateway to Colombia."

Although founded in 1629, it lacks the colonial atmosphere of many South American cities because there was little development here prior to the 20th century. Barranquilla emerged as an important seaport and industrial city with the completion of the Bocas de Ceniza project, which created a deep-water river port at the mouth of the Magdalena River. This river serves as a major transportation link with the interior of the country.

Barranquilla spreads south from the river to a hilly area where most of the new housing and businesses are located. The city center and older suburbs show the effects of rapid growth and overcrowding found in most of the developing cities of the Third World. The population explosion (the estimated figure is over 1.2 million) has created a strain on city services, but new development programs are now underway, and municipal improvement has a high priority.

The biggest celebration in Barranquilla is Carnival, a four-day festival of parades, dancing, parties, and general festivities during which the city comes to almost a complete standstill. The popularity of Barranquilla for this mardi gras celebrationwhich in some cases rivals Rio in costumes and enthusiasmis shown by the throngs of celebrants converging on the city. Pre-Carnival and post-Carnival celebrations abound as well and the outgoing Barranquillero is at its best during this joyous occasion.

Barranquilla is hot and humid year round, with cooling breezes during the windy season of December through February. The rainy seasons, April through June and September through November, bring torrential downpours which inundate certain streets and turn them into raging rivers. In parts of the city, curbs are 3-4 feet high in an effort to channel the water into the Magdalena River and out to sea. Knowledgeable Barranquilleros avoid these streets at all costs at the first sight of rain, since people, cars, and buses are frequently washed away.

Barranquilla's varied industrial base consists of chemical manufacturing, cement, metal fabrication, food processing, automobile assembly, textiles, shoes, publishing, sugar, beer, glass, perfume, and clothing manufacturing. The city is the major air terminus for northern Colombia and is served by several international airlines. A darker side to the recent growth of Barranquilla has been the massive drug-smuggling trade. Both the U.S. and Colombian governments have active control programs, and the U.S. Consulate is a focal point of this activity.

The American community in Barranquilla is small, but should expand with the development of the El Cerrejón coal mining project. This project will exploit vast coal reserves in the César and Guajira Departments and involve the construction of two airports, a seaport facility, and a railroad to transport coal to the coast.

The consular district includes the Departments of Atlántico, Córdoba, Sucre, Norte de Santander, Cesar, Bolívar, Guajira, Magdalena, and the Intendencia of San Andrés y Providencia.


Barranquilla has three English-language schools. Colegio Karl C. Parrish is a coeducational institution for pre-kindergarten through grade 12. Accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and the Colombian Ministry of Education, the school was founded in 1938. The Parrish School and other private schools in the area offer excellent bilingual education at the primary and secondary levels, and graduates are accepted at major universities throughout the world.

Colegio Karl C. Parrish follows the American-Colombian curriculum, with the study of Spanish required of all students. French is also offered, as well as computer science and physical education. Extracurricular activities include computer, newspaper, yearbook, and varied sports.

The school year extends from mid-August to the beginning of June, with vacations at Christmas and Easter. The student body totaled 727 in 1991; there were 66 teachers, 13 of them American. The staff also includes a reading specialist and a counselor.

Colegio Karl C. Parrish is situated on 20 acres just outside the city. Facilities include eight buildings, 35 classrooms, an audiovisual room, science laboratories, computer lab, playing fields, tennis courts, and an 8,000-volume library. Some of the classrooms are air-conditioned. The mailing address is Apartado Aéreo 52962, Barranquilla, Colombia.

The Marymount School is a coeducational day school for pre-kindergarten through grade 12. Founded in 1953, it is accredited by the Colombian Ministry of Education, and is operated by the nuns of the Order of the Sacred Heart.

The school uses both U.S. and Colombian curricula. The study of Spanish is required of all students. French is also offered, along with other electives and several extracurricular activities.

The school year runs from the beginning of September to the middle of June, with a three-week vacation at Christmas and a one-week vacation at Easter. The student body in 1991 numbered 1,325, under the tutelage of 110 full-time and 20 part-time teachers, of whom 35 are American. The staff also includes a counselor.

Marymount is located in a residential section in the northern part of the city. Facilities include ten buildings, 80 classrooms, a gymnasium, two playing fields, two science labs, swimming pool, auditorium, and a 17,000-volume library. The library and a typing room are air-conditioned. The mailing address is Apartado Aéreo 51766, Barranquilla, Colombia.

Colegio Albania is a coeducational, company-sponsored school for children in kindergarten through grade eight. The school is sponsored by Morrison Knudsen International and accredited by the Colombian Ministry of Education.

The curriculum is U.S.-and Colombian-based, offering the study of Spanish as well as other electives, and a variety of extracurricular activities, including a Boy Scout troop, drama, dance, yearbook, newspaper, and field trips.

The school year follows the usual calendar here. In 1991, the school had 746 students. There were 85 full-time teachers, 25 of whom were Americans.

Colegio Albania is located one hour by air from Barranquilla in an isolated camp. Its facilities include science and computer laboratories, tennis courts, two swimming pools, three playing fields, and two libraries. The school is completely air-conditioned. The mailing address is Apartado Aéreo 52499, Barranquilla, Colombia.

Another school attended by Americans is Fundación Colegio Bilingue, located in Valledupar, about 150 miles east of Barranquilla. The school is a coeducational day school covering pre-kindergarten through grade 12. It was founded in 1979 and is accredited by the Colombian Ministry of Education. The curriculum here is both U.S. and Colombian. French is offered in the secondary grade levels; other elective classes are art and vocational studies. There is also a program for students with learning disabilities.

The school year at Colegio Bilingue runs from the end of August to the first week in June, with vacations at Christmas, Carnaval, Easter, and national holidays. The student body currently totals 380. There are 32 full-time and three part-time teachers, of whom 11 are American. The staff includes a counselor. Fundación Colegio Bilingue is located just outside the central business district. The mailing address is Apartado Aéreo 129, Valledupar, Colombia.

Several other private elementary and secondary schools in Barranquilla follow the Colombian system, and classes are conducted in Spanish. Also, universities here offer both graduate and undergraduate courses in a wide field of subjects, taught in Spanish. Anyone enrolling in these classes will need a working knowledge of that language.

Recreation and Entertainment

Several national parks located near Barranquilla have limited facilities, and their quality of maintenance is very low. They do, however, offer a chance to view local wildlife. No acceptable camping facilities are in the area, but interesting day trips can be made.

San Andrés Island, a one-hour flight from the city, offers excellent hotel accommodations, crystal clear waters abounding with fish and marine life, and white sand beaches. This island is also a free port, and its markets stock a wide variety of U.S. toiletries, appliances, clothing, and food.

In Barranquilla, tennis, golf, bowling, and water sports are available, but most facilities are in private clubs. The Barranquilla Country Club has swimming pools, tennis courts, and an 18-hole golf course. The Club Caujaral offers full recreational facilities. Guest membership cards can be obtained for temporary use of these clubs.

Each March, the city is the site of the international tennis tournament called the "South American Wimbledon."

Santa Marta, one-and-a-half hours by car from Barranquilla, has excellent beaches and good hotels. This Caribbean city is also noted for its Spanish architecture.

There are several beaches within a half hour of Barranquilla. Unfortunately, the sea here tends to be quite dirty because of silt from the Magdalena River, and swimming is not recommended. Many people spend the afternoon at local beaches sunbathing, people-watching, and eating fried fish and patacones (fried banana slices).

Barranquilla has several air-conditioned movie theaters showing recent releases of both U.S. and European films. These are reasonably priced and serve as a major form of entertainment. A film club shows revivals of classic films in one of the local theaters.

Another major form of entertainment here is the video cassette recorder. Rental centers with cassettes in English abound. Local television transmission is compatible with that in the U.S. and offers black-and-white and color programming in Spanish. Several current American series are dubbed in Spanish.

Radio programs range from cumbia (Colombian folk dance) to classical music. Stations broadcast in Spanish. A shortwave set is necessary for the reception of Voice of America (VOA), Radio Canada, and British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).

Barranquilla has a wide range of excellent restaurants. French, Italian, Chinese, Arabic, and other specialties are available, as are restaurants featuring steak and ribs. Restaurants serving typical Colombian food, such as seafood or chicken with coconut rice, are also very popular. Fast-food restaurants are opening.

English-language editions of Time and Newsweek, the Miami Herald and, occasionally, the New York Times, are available. A small, cooperative lending library has books in English, and the Centro Colombo-Americano Library may be used by expatriates. The Centro Colombo-Americano often hosts art exhibits. Barranquilla public libraries do not shelve English-language books.


Cartagena, whose walled city dates back to the days of the Spanish Main, lies about 70 miles south of Barranquilla on the Caribbean coast. It was founded in 1533, and during the 17th century was a center of such importance in the Western Hemisphere that it was second only to Mexico City. During Spanish times, Cartagena (full name, Cartagena de Indias) was a strongly fortified town on an island, but one of its two entrances to the bay was barricaded by the Spanish after a heavy attack by English forces, and the city is now permanently linked to the mainland. The greatest of the Latin American heroes, Simón Bolívar, made Cartagena his headquarters in the Magdalena campaign of 1811.

The famous fortress of San Felipe Borajas, towering over the approaches to the city, and the ancient churches, including the Shrine of St. Peter Clavar, make Cartagena one of the most interesting cities in Colombia. The old town is a maze of narrow streets, houses with tiled roofs and balconies, and small shopping stallsa contrast to the new, commercial city with its wide boulevards and the Plaza Bolívar, where a huge statue honors the memory of "The Liberator." Cartagena is a busy, modern city, handling the export of platinum, coffee, timber, and oil products. Cosmetics, textiles, sugar, tobacco products, leather goods, and fertilizer are produced here. Cartagena is one of Colombia's major ports. Aerovías Nacionales de Colombia (AVIANCA) flies in from New York and Miami, bringing businessmen to its industrial and commercial houses, and tourists to its fascinating historical sites and cosmopolitan attractions. The population of Cartagena was 918,000 in 2000.

Cartagena commemorates its independence each November in a carnival atmosphere, which includes the national beauty contest for the crown of "Miss Colombia." Candlemas Day, the religious feast of the Virgin de la Candelaria, is fervently observed every year on the second day of February at the monastery of La Popa, in the hills outside the city.

Cartagena is known throughout Colombia for its fine restaurants and its jazz and disco clubs. There are good hotels in the new city, attracting tourists throughout the year.


George Washington School is a coeducational, day, proprietary school for children in pre-kindergarten through grade 12. Founded in 1952 and sponsored by the Office of Overseas Schools and the U.S. Department of State, it is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and the Colombian Ministry of Education.

Both U.S. and Colombian curricula are used. Spanish is offered, along with art, computer science, and physical education. Extracurricular activities include drama, gymnastics/dance, literary and news publications, field trips, and varied sports.

The school year extends from mid-August to the beginning of June, with vacations at Christmas, Easter, and U.S. and Colombian holidays. In 1991, the enrollment at George Washington School was 483. Of 27 full-time and seven part-time teachers, eight were Americans.

George Washington School is located on beach front property in Cartagena. Facilities include 20 classrooms, science and computer laboratories, athletic fields, cafeteria, and a 11,000-volume library. The mailing address is Apartado Aéreo 2899, Cartagena, Colombia.


Bucaramanga, the capital of Santander Department, is in north central Colombia, about 200 miles northeast of Bogotá. It is situated in the Cordillera Oriental of the Andes Mountains at an altitude of 3,340 feet. The city was founded in 1622, and many of its colonial monuments and buildings are still in evidence. Today, with a population of 1.5 million, Bucaramanga is a leading commercial city in the center of the country's coffee and tobacco area. Cacao and cotton are also produced. Several manufacturing ventures in the city produce cigars, cigarettes, textiles, straw hats, and iron products.

Known for its beautiful parks, Bucaramanga is often called Colombia's "garden city." It is also noted for the modern Universidad Industrial de Santander, which opened here in 1947.

Many American children in the area attend the Pan-American School, a coeducational, day, proprietary institution. Implementing a U.S. and Colombian curriculum (French is a required language), the school year extends from February to December, with vacations at Christmas, Easter, and from mid-June to mid-July. In 1991, the school had 318 students. Nine of the school's 24 full-time teachers were American. The school has a cafeteria, science lab, computer lab, and playing field. The school is located on five acres of land just outside the city; the mailing address is Apartado Aéreo 522, Bucaramanga, Colombia.


ARMENIA , located in west-central Colombia, about 100 miles west of Bogotá, is a relatively new city. The city is situated in a rich agricultural region, best known for coffee and for the production of food and beverages. Other crops grown include corn, beans, silk, sugarcane, and plantains. Its population, counted with neighboring Calarcá, has already reached 306,000. As the capital of Quindío Department, it is the seat of a university, founded in 1962.

BELLO , at 4,905 feet above sea level, is located in northwestern Colombia. Situated on the Río Porce, in a fertile region, Bello was once a commercial center. Today, it is a part of the industrial complex of Medellín, located six miles south. The major industries are textile milling and brush manufacturing. Bello's estimated population is 370,000.

BUENAVENTURA is a Pacific port, about 50 miles west of Cali. Located on Cascajal Island in Buenaventura Bay, the city is the shipping point for the tobacco and sugar produced in the nearby Cauca Valley. Other items exported from here include coffee, hides, platinum, and gold. The city was founded in 1540, but was destroyed by Indian raids in the 16th century. Buenaventura's importance as a port increased with the building of the Panama Canal. It has steamer connections with Panama and is also the terminus of railroads in western Colombia. The current population is 271,400.

CÚCUTU (also known as San José de Cúcuta) is in northeast Colombia, 250 miles north of Bogotá. It is the capital of Norte de Santander Department, near the Venezuelan border on the Colombia-Venezuela highway. Cúcutu was founded in 1733 and captured from Spanish forces by Simón Bolívar in 1813. From here, Bolívar set out on his march to Caracas. Destroyed by an earthquake in 1875, Cúcutu was rebuilt, and today its population, including the environs, is 682,325. Cúcutu is an industrial city and the center of a rich coffee, oil, and mineral region. The city is linked by air, river, and railway connections with the cities of northeastern Colombia and Venezuela.

GIRARDOT is about 50 miles southeast of Bogotá, and one of the most popular warm-weather spots in the country. The city is noted for its numerous acacia trees. Also, large varieties of tropical fruits, as well as unusual pottery, can be purchased in the town's central plaza. Founded in 1853, Girardot is a commercial center whose principal products include coffee, livestock, and tobacco. The current population is close to 125,000.

Located in northern Colombia near the Río Porce, ITAGÜI was formerly a resort and local commercial center. Today, like other cities in the area, Itagüi is a part of the industrial complex of Medellín, located five miles northeast. The important industry in Itagüi is textile milling. Its population is close to 435,000 (2001).

LETICIA , capital of the Amazonas comisaria (lesser territory), is Colombia's principal town on the Amazon River, 670 miles southeast of Bogotá. Accessible by air, it provides tourists with such attractions as Amazon River excursions, visits to primitive Indian villages, and trips through dense rain forests. Leticia has practically no industry and relies on rubber gathering as a major economic activity. Leticia is located at the northern end of the Peru-Brazil border, and it is easy to make border crossings among the three countries in one day. The town, with a population of approximately 8,000, has been the site of several border disputes between Peru and Colombia. Peru ceded it by treaty in 1922, but seized it back 10 years later. The region was ultimately awarded to Colombia by the League of Nations in 1934.

MANIZALES , capital of Caldas Department, is 100 miles west of Bogotá and 125 miles north of Cali. Located at an altitude of 7,063 feet, it is a commercial and agricultural center in an area producing much of the country's coffee. The city was founded in 1847 by gold prospectors and there are gold and silver mines nearby. A cement plant is located in the city, as are factories producing agricultural machines, textiles, refrigerators, furniture, and leather goods. Manizales is the site of the University of Caldas. An earthquake destroyed Manizales in 1878, and it was leveled by fire in 1925. Situated in a higher and cooler setting than Cali, Manizales straddles a narrow ridge beneath snow-capped Mt. Ruiz, where adventurous souls have tried skiing on the 16,000-foot slope of year-round snow. The population today, including nearby Villamaria, is over 330,000.

MONTERÍA , with a population of over 230,000, is the capital of Córdoba Department. Situated in northwestern Colombia, it is an inland port on the Río Sinú. The city was originally a Zenúe Indian village used as a hunting postMontería means "hunting" in Spanish. Industries here include lumbering, stock raising, and tagua nut production. The University of Córdoba is located here.

NEIVA , the capital city of Huila Department, is located in south-central Colombia, over 100 miles south of the nation's capital. Capt. Diego de Ospina claimed Neiva for the Spanish crown in 1612, after several others had tried unsuccessfully to establish the settlement. The city is basically agricultural, producing corn, rice, cotton, and sesame. It manufactures cement and cotton goods and processes marble. Neiva has excellent water, land, and air routes. The city's population in 2001 was approximately 349,000.

PALMIRA , with a population of well over 150,000, is located on the Pan-American Highway about 50 miles east of Cali and 175 miles southwest of Bogotá. At an altitude of 3,000 feet, Palmira is situated in the Cauca River valley, and is known as the agricultural capital of Colombia. Major crops in the area include coffee, tobacco, rice, corn, and sugarcane. Tours of the sugar refineries in Palmira are open to the public.

The city of PASTO is located in southwestern Colombia, just over 100 miles north of Quito, Ecuador. It is the capital of Nariño Department and is situated on a high plateau at the foot of the Galeras volcano. Pasto has flour and textile mills, sugar refineries, distilleries, and tanneries. Its principal product is wooden bowls finished with locally produced varnish. Founded in 1539, the city served as royalist headquarters during the revolutionary wars. The University of Nariño is located here. Pasto's population is almost 405,000 (2001 est.).

POPAYÁN , 75 miles south of Cali, is situated at an altitude of 5,500 feet on a volcanic terrace above the Cauca River. The city was founded in 1536 by Sebastián de Benalcázar and was the most important settlement in southwest Colombia during the colonial and immediate post-independence periods. During colonial times, Popayán prospered as a religious, cultural, and aristocratic trade center. Following Colombia's independence, Popayán lost much of its commercial importance, but retained its cultural prominence. There has been a university here since 1827. With a population of 230,137 (2001 est.), it is the capital of the Department of Cauca. Coffee is the chief commercial activity; mining is also done in the surrounding region. The city has several small manufacturing enterprises. These industries process food and beverages and manufacture building materials and clothing. Popayán is the repository of many priceless examples of Spanish colonial art and architecture. Numerous buildings destroyed in a recent devastating earthquake are now being restored. A visit to the city during Holy Week to view the internationally famous religious processions is worthwhile.

SANTA MARTA is situated in northern Colombia on the Caribbean Sea, 50 miles east of Barranquilla. Founded in 1525 by Rodrigo de Bastidas, Santa Marta is the oldest city in Colombia. It became an important banana shipping center in the late 19th century; today, the city's banana industry is operated by the United Fruit Company and is one of the most important in South America. The Atlantic Railway, which climbs through the beautiful mountains to connect Santa Marta with the interior, was completed in 1961. The city is also accessible by highway and air. With a population over 235,000, Santa Marta has fine beaches and is a tourist resort. Santa Marta is the home of the Technological University of Magdalena. Simón Bolívar died on an estate near here in 1830.

TULUÁ is situated in western Colombia, over 100 miles from Bogotá. It was originally settled by the Putimáes Indians and called Villa de Jerez by the explorers. The Indians resisted the Spanish attempts at conquest and, in 1636, Tuluá was established as a large cattle ranch and Indian village. It was not until 1814 that the city won municipal status. Primarily an agricultural center, Tuluá produces yeast, beef, and milk. An annual fair is held to display prize cattle and industrial goods. It is located near the Puerto Berío-Popayán railroad and the Pan-American Highway. The population here is almost 185,000.

TUMACO is located in southwestern Colombia, 375 miles from Bogotá. Situated on a small island just off the coast, it is Colombia's southernmost Pacific port. A commercial center, with about 160,000 residents, the city is the center of lumbering activity including plywood and molding factories. Gold mines are in operation near Tumaco. Tumaco exports ivory, nuts, cacao, tobacco, vegetables, coffee, and other items produced in the country's interior.

TUNJA , 85 miles northeast of Bogotá, on the Pan-American Highway, is the capital of Boyacá Department. The city was founded in 1529 and became independent from Spain in 1811. Many of its early structures are still standing. Situated in the Cordillera Oriental of the Andes, Tunja is a commercial center and distribution point for coal, emeralds, mineral water, and agricultural products produced in the area. Tunja is the home of the Pedagogical and Technological University of Colombia. The city is linked by rail and highway to Bogotá. Tunja's population is about 123,000 (2001 est.).

VALLEDUPAR , the capital city of César Department, has a population of approximately 354,000 (2001 est.). It is situated in northern Colombia, just west of the Venezuelan border. Founded in 1550, the city was prosperous during the colonial period but experienced setbacks during the 19th-century civil wars. Today, as a commercial hub, Valledupar produces bricks and ice. A large sawmill is also located here.

VILLAVICENCIO lies on the Meta River, about 50 miles southeast of Bogotá. Its position in the eastern foothills of the Andes makes it the gateway to the eastern plains of Colombia and the primary urban center of the llanos and forest region in this area of the country. Villavicencio is the capital of Meta Department. The climate here is warm, and the town is a cattle center with a frontier atmosphere. Industries include a distillery, a brewery, soap factories, coffee-roasting plants, and saddleries. Other products are coffee, bananas, rubber, and rice. The current population is about 340,300.


Geography and Climate

The Republic of Colombia (about 440,000 square miles), roughly the size of Texas, Arkansas, and New Mexico combined, is in northwest South America. Its location on the Caribbean Sea and Pacific Ocean, proximity to the Panama Canal, and economic potential give it a position of international importance.

As well as its frontier with Panama on the northwest, Colombia shares borders with Ecuador and Peru on the south, with Brazil on the southeast, and with Venezuela on the northeast.

The Andes dominate the western two-fifths of Colombia, giving it a very different character from the remaining three-fifths in the east. The Amazon region of southeastern Colombia lies below the Equator.

Well over 90% of the population is concentrated in the mountainous west and along the Caribbean and Pacific coasts. The remainder live is the Eastern Llanos, a large plains area, constituting 54% of the nation's area.

Most live on plateaus and mountain slopes, where elevation reduces the heat of the equatorial climate and contributes to the health and vigor of the people. By concentrating people in isolated pockets at high elevations, the mountain ranges determine not only settlement patterns, but also lines of communication and travel, which parallel the ranges in a north-south direction. Movement from rural to urban areas has been heavy, and nearly three-quarters of the population is now urban.

Colombia's climate varies with its different altitudes. Its three climatic zones are called "hot country," "temperate country," and "cold country."


According to Colombian government statistics, the 2000 population was over 40 million. The population growth rate is 1,6%. Colombia is unique in Latin America in that 26 cities have populations over 100,000.

Due to recent improvements in health and sanitary conditions and a decrease in infant mortality, the population is relatively young: 31% are under 15 years of age, and only 5% are over 65.

In terms of total area, population density is a low 39 persons per square mile. This figure is misleading because the density per arable square mile is about 1,500 persons. Whether this ratio can be maintained or held down to a reasonable level through productive use of large jungle, forest, and plains areas is a major socioeconomic problem.

Settlement is divided into several broad regions. Each has been rather isolated by geologic obstacles to travel, so each has a high degree of economic independence of essential raw materials and fuel. Much of the prevalent regional sentiment can be traced to early settlement patterns.

When the Spanish Colonists entered what is now Colombia, they found a rather well-organized Indian population on the plateaus and high valleys of the Eastern Cordillera. A moderate climate, adequate natural resources, and Indian labor allowed the Cundinamarca-Boyaca area and parts of Tolima and Huila to develop into an economic entity which today has the heaviest concentration of people in the country. Here, Bogota became the economic, political, and cultural center of Colombia.

In the early 19th century, another population center developed along the northern end of the Eastern Cordillera when the export of cinchona bark became highly profitable. White settlers then appeared in significant numbers in what are now Santander and Norte de Santander.

A third population center developed in the area of the Departments of Antioquia and Caldas, usually called the Antioquia region. Other major population concentrations are in the Cauca River Valley (from Popayan to Cali and Cartagena), and the ocean ports: Buenaventura and the Pacific coast and the Cartagena-Barranquilla-Santa Marta region along the Atlantic shore.

Among the countries of Latin America, Colombia is commonly described as a mestizo nation, rather than a white or an Indian one, with a mixed and diverse society.

Colombians describe their society as tri-ethnic, due to mingling between Caucasians and peoples of African decent with the original Indians to form a new combination. This fusion has taken nearly four centuries and, consequently, most Colombians are of mixed origin. Ethnic boundaries have not been completely erased. Colombians still attach importance to ancestral characteristics, although these no longer demarcate distinct social groups.

Spanish is spoken throughout Colombia, except by small groups of Indians who still speak aboriginal languages; however, these groups are becoming increasingly bilingual. San Andres, a small island Department in the Caribbean, is another exception; San Andreans speak English as a first language. Colombians are proud of their Spanish and consider it, especially that spoken by the upper classes in Bogota and other large cities, as the purest form of that language in Latin America today.

Colombia is overwhelmingly a Catholic country (approximately 90%.) Although freedom of worship is guaranteed by the Constitution, the Catholic Church receives some funds from the government and exercises considerable, although diminishing, influence over education. The church is the major social force in Colombia.

Public Institutions

The Republic of Colombia was established in 1823. In the same year, the United States became one of the first countries to recognize the new Republic and establish a resident diplomatic mission.

Colombia, unlike many Latin American countries, established an early tradition of civilian governments and regular free elections. Despite this background, Colombia's history has been marred by periods of violent political conflict. The period known as "La Violencia" in the 1940s and 1950s claimed between 100,000 and 200,000 lives. More recently, drug and guerrilla-related violence have plagued Colombian society. Since the early 1980s, the Colombian government has engaged in intermittent peace talks with guerrilla groups. In 1990, the guerrilla group M-19 (Movement of April 19) delivered its weapons to the government and scored surprising electoral gains as a legal political party. However, the two political parties, the Liberal and Conservative, soon shadowed the M-19 emergent preponderance. Two older and larger guerrilla armies, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN), remain in armed conflict with the government.

A military coup in 1953 brought General Gustavo Rojas Pinilla to power. Initially, Rojas enjoyed wide popular support, partly for his success in reducing La Violencia. When he did not promptly restore democratic government, however, he was overthrown by the military with the backing of the two major political parties (the Liberals and the Conservatives), and a provisional government took office in 1957.

In July 1957, the last Conservative president, Laureano Gomez (1950-53), and the last Liberal president, Alberto Lleras Camargo (1945-46), proposed the formation of a "National Front," under which the Liberal and Conservative parties would govern jointly. Through regular elections, the presidency would alternate between the two parties every four years; the parties would also share all other elective and appointive offices.

The first three National Front Presidents brought an end to La Violencia and the blind partisanship which had afflicted both parties. They committed Colombia to the far-reaching social and economic reforms proposed in the Charter of the Alliance for Progress, and, with assistance from the United States and international lending agencies, achieved major economic development.

The 1886 Constitution was substantially amended in 1991 by a 74-member Constituent Assembly. On July 4, 1991 a new Colombian Constitution was enacted. The new Constitution, one of the largest in the world, expanded citizens' basic rights. Among others, the most relevant is the "tutela" (immediate court action at the request of a citizen if he/she feels his/her constitutional rights have been violated and no other legal recourse is available). However, keystones to the constitutional reform in 1991 were the need to reform Congress and to strengthen justice administration by introducing the accusatorial system. Other relevant amendments were the approval of freedom of religion (in the past, Colombia's official religion was the Roman Catholic), civil divorce for all marriages, the election of a Vice-President, the election of governors, and dual nationality.

Colombia remains a democratic republic under a presidential system with Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches of government. Elected for a 4 year term, the President is the chief of the Executive Branch. He may not be reelected. The Vice-President runs for election on the same ticket as the presidential candidate, and both should be members of the same political party. The Vice-President fulfills the duties of the President in case of the President's resignation, serious illness, or death. However, the Vice-President may be assigned other special responsibilities, hold public positions, and even fulfill special presidential functions at the President's request. During the President's temporary absences, such as international trips, the Minister of the Interior or another minister in order of precedence performs his duties.

Colombia's bicameral Congress consists of a 102 member Senate elected on the basis of a nationwide ballot, and a House of Representatives whose number, currently 165, is elected proportionally by adult residents (age 18 and over) of the Departments and the Capital District. Congressional elections are held every four years, on a different date from the Presidential election. If a member of Congress is absent temporarily or permanently, his seat is taken by an alternate elected at the same time as the member.

Congress meets in two sessions annually, from March to June and from July to December. The president may convene special sessions at other times.

The country is divided into 32 departments, 1,025 municipalitiesof which 30 cities have over 100,000 inhabitantsand the Capital District of Santa Fe de Bogota (herein referred to as Bogota). Governors and mayors are elected for a 3-year term.

Judicial power is exercised by subordinate courts and four high tribunals: The Constitutional Court (9 members elected by the Senate), the Supreme Court (20 members, highest criminal, civil and labor tribunal), the Council of State (26 members, highest tribunal for contentious administrative matters), and the Judiciary Superior Council (13 members, highest tribunal for justice administration and disciplinary issues of the judicial branch). The high court justices are elected for an 8-year term. Justices of the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court and the Council of State may not be reelected.

The Office of the Prosecutor General (Fiscalía General de la Nación) was created under the 1991 Constitution and serves as the driving force in Colombia's accusatorial model of criminal investigation. The Prosecutor General is elected by the Supreme Court for a 4-year term and may not be reelected.

The Office of the Attorney General or Public Ministry (Procuraduría General de la Nación) oversees the performance of public servants. The Attorney General is elected by the Senate for a 4-year-term oversees the performance of public servants. The Attorney General is elected by the Senate for a 4-year term.

The Office of the Public Defender (Defensoría del Pueblo), under the Attorney General, is elected by the House of Representatives for a 4-year term to protect and defend human rights.

Arts, Science, and Education

Bogota is a cultural center with thriving theaters, orchestras, opera, museums and art galleries. Other major cities in Colombia also support the arts. The Centro Colombo-Americano in Bogota and its counterpart Binational Centers around the country also provide venues for art presentations.

Visiting dancers, musicians and actors from all parts of the world perform in Bogota. Films from around the world are also screened in the many cinemas, including current U.S. movies in English with Spanish subtitles.

Bogota's bookstores, among the finest in Latin America, offer titles in English, French and German as well as Spanish. The American Library at the Centro Colombo-Americano has a solid and current collection of books and recent periodicals in English.

A small video library is also maintained there, and the annex where it is located offers service to visitors and students on weekend hours. Other libraries also hold small selections of English-language collections.

Colombia's literacy rate is over 91%. The basic structure of education in Colombia includes two years of pre-school, five years of primary school, and six years of secondary school. Curricula for public and private elementary and high schools are developed by the Ministry of Education.

Under the 1991 Constitution, education is compulsory up to age 15. Previously, only the first five years were mandatory. The student population, including 500,000 at the university level, is estimated more than 4.5 million. The more than 230 institutions of higher education in Colombia offer programs in a wide variety of disciplines and at different types of institutions which grant degrees at the technical and/or professional levels. The biggest public university is Universidad Nacional de Colombia, with the main campus in Bogota and others in Medellin, Manizales and Palmira. Some of the oldest and most reputed private universities are Universidad de Santo Tomas, founded in 1580; Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, founded in 1622; and Colegio Mayor de Nuestra Señora del Rosario, founded in 1653. Universidad de Los Andes in Bogota and Universidad del Valle in Cali are among the leading universities in the country and are known internationally for their academic excellence. Universidad Javeriana offers summer programs in Spanish language. Many Colombians do their graduate studies abroad.

Commerce and Industry

Colombia has a diversified economy which has enjoyed steady growth throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Contrary to popular opinion, cocaine trafficking does not play a major role in the overall Colombia economy nor does it provide significant foreign exchange earnings for the nation. Colombia is rich in natural resources and fertile agricultural land. It is the world's second largest producer and exporter of coffee. Other agricultural products include sugar, cotton, rice, bananas, corn, potatoes, yucca, cocoa, barley, flowers and sisal-like fiber ("fique"). Livestock also accounts for a large share of agricultural output, although in recent years the cattle industry has been in decline. Other products include petroleum, gold, platinum, silver, coal, iron, lead, limestone and salt. In addition, nickel exports are an important source of foreign exchange. Colombia's emeralds are world famous.

Coal and petroleum have become important exports in the last ten years. An affiliate of EXXON and the Colombian National Coal Company (Carbocol) together developed Colombia's giant north coast coal field. The project, named Cerrejon North, required an investment of US $3.2 billion and represents the largest U.S. investment in Colombia. Production began in 1985, and exports grew quickly to over US$600 million in 1990.

Occidental Petroleum Company and the Colombian national oil company Ecopetrol, jointly developed Caño-Limon, a major oil field in the Llanos near the Venezuelan border. Development includes facilities for extraction and transport, and storage and export facilities in Coveñas on Colombia's north coast. The field's proven reserves are over one billion barrels. Production from the field has helped make Colombia self-sufficient in crude oil and a significant Latin American oil exporter (approximately 250,000 BPD). Colombia must still import a large percentage of its gasoline, due to insufficient refining capacity within the country.

Drummond Ltd. recently began operations in La Loma coal deposit. This bituminous coal has similar characteristics to that mined at the Cerrejon deposit and La Loma's project infrastructure is capable of producing up to 10 million tons a year to be exported via a private port venture. The government can create incentives for foreign investors in mineral development projects under the Mining Code.

Colombia enacted its 1991 Constitution under the principles of sustainable development and the protection of the country's rich biodiversity. The creation of the Ministry of the Environment and the National Environmental System sets a new framework for the government to plan strategies for the development of an environmental conscience in the public and private sectors; to develop policies for the efficient use of natural resources; to enforce environmental regulations; to control industrial pollution sources; and, to improve the institutional and legal framework of the environmental entities within the system.

In 1990, Colombia greatly accelerated an ambitious program of economic opening, called apertura, which is designed to make Colombia globally competitive. The country's industrial base, while growing slowly, is undergoing changes as Colombia frees its trade regime to allow more imports to enter at lower tariff rates. Less efficient industries are facing foreign competition, forcing them to modernize, improving technology and efficiency.

As part of the apertura program, legislation was passed at the end of 1990 to liberalize and modernize the foreign investment, foreign exchange, labor, tax and foreign trade regimes. Changes include legalization of 100% ownership of financial institutions by foreign investors, a reduction in currency controls, increased profit remittance ceilings, and more flexible hiring and firing practices. Prior licenses for imports have been virtually eliminated. Tariffs, although still high for luxury goods, have been reduced substantially. These laws will improve the already close financial and commercial ties between Colombia, the U.S. and Europe.

Foreign investment is permitted in all sectors of the Colombian economy with the exception of public security (defense and police) and nuclear energy. The government is interested in privatizing or bringing private investment into previously restricted sectors such as telecommunications and public works. Long distance telephone services are scheduled to be provided by competing private companies starting in 1997. Private oil and mineral extraction projects must still be approved by the Ministry of Mines and Energy, and financial sector investments must have the prior approval of the Banking Superintendency.

Until recently, the Colombian government maintained a policy of gradual devaluation (crawling peg) of the peso against the dollar to keep Colombian products competitive in world markets. Colombia's principal exports are coffee, oil, coal, textiles, leather products, bananas, cut flowers, fruits and citrus, cotton, sugar, tobacco, cement, lumber, shrimp, rice, cowhides, and precious metals.

Approximately 80% of Colombia's population lives outside Bogota. Much of the country's economic activity is spread among several modern and urbanized industrial centers. The cities of Medellin, Cali, Barranquilla, Cartagena, Bucaramanga, Pereira, among others, play a significant role in the country's economy. The existence of four major ports and six international airports guarantees that goods may flow freely to and from Colombia without dependence upon Bogota.

The United States continues to be Colombia's largest trading partner, accounting for about 35% of its exports and 39% of its imports. The two nations formed the Joint Commission on Trade and Investment (TIC) in July 1990 to further economic ties and reduce barriers to trade between Colombia and the U.S. The TIC met most recently in May 1996.



Taxis are easily available and rates are reasonable. You may call via telephone, and one will be radio dispatched, or you can wave them down on the streets. As in most large cities, your wait may be long during rush hours and on rainy days. All taxis are metered and inexpensive by U.S. standards, except the green-and-white tourist taxis, which provide transportation to and from the first-class hotels.

Special arrangements can be made to hire taxis by the hour for local shopping trips, sight-seeing tours, etc. Bogota and most other cities in Colombia have bus service, but security and safety are poor.


Airline service within Colombia is good, ranging from Avianca's modern jet fleet to some "budget" airlines' DC-3s. Fares are expensive by U.S. standards for jet service. Connections between major cities are frequent and schedules are generally adhered to.

Bogota has a major international air terminal, with daily flights to the U.S., Europe, and other parts of Latin America. Barranquilla and other major cities also have adequate airport facilities with many international flights. Air fares for international routes are expensive; a round-trip excursion between Bogota and Miami between June through August and December through February, including taxes is approximately US$700. At other times, the fare is approximately US$500. Off-season special fares are currently offered twice annually. Both Continental and American Airlines service Colombia. The Colombian Government imposes a departure tax on international travelers of approximately US$23 which can be paid in local currency or U.S. dollars.

Colombian drivers are very aggressive and often do not obey local traffic regulations. Traffic is heavy, road conditions are often bad due to numerous potholes. Minor accidents are frequent. Maintenance and body work are normally good, but parts and labor are expensive.

Traffic moves on the right. All distances and speed limits are given in kilometers, and international symbols are used for stop signs, railway crossings, etc.


Telephone and Telegraph

Long distance telephone service is satisfactory. Calling the U.S. from Bogota is expensive, and you may wish to apply for a long-distance telephone credit card such as AT&T. A three minute call to Washington, D.C., costs about US$8.48 (plus US$1.49 per minute thereafter) during the week and US$4 (plus US$l per minute thereafter) on Sundays.

Colombia has complete domestic and international telegraph and FAX service.

Radio and TV

Colombia has many commercial radio stations and reception is good.

Programs are mostly Latin American music; however, some stations broadcast classical music and cultural programs and others give heavy play to American popular music, including rock and jazz. All broadcasts are in Spanish. English-language newscasts are heard on shortwave broadcasts by the VOA and American Forces Radio (AFRTS); reception is good. Numerous FM stereo stations operate in Bogota.

In 1992 the government began a program of restructuring Colombian television. Ownership has changed from completely government-controlled to shared public and private hands with the air-waves, transmission infrastructure and some of the production facilities owned by Inravision, the government's broadcasting regulatory authority. Sixty percent of airtime must be given to Colombian-produced programs. Foreign programs are shown to supplement local production.

Inravision operates three national channels. Programming includes local and world news, soap operas, sports, educational, entertainment and movies. There is also parabolica satellite antenna and Cable TV available for an additional fee, which offers several English-speaking movie channels as well as CNN and ESPN.

Newspapers, Magazines, and Technical Journals

All major cities have at least two daily newspapers; the two major dailies in Bogota, El Tiempo and El Espectador, are available in all cities and on the Internet. Most papers lack comprehensive coverage of international events, but El Tiempo and El Espectador offer adequate coverage. An English-language weekly newspaper is available. Internet access is relatively expensive.

A satellite edition of the Miami Herald is printed in Bogota on a same-day basis. The International Herald Tribune and the New York Times are sold in major tourist hotels one or two days after publication.

The Latin American editions of Time and Newsweek magazines are regularly available in all major cities Copies of most US magazines available locally are scarce and at least double Stateside prices.

Health and Medicine

Medical Facilities

Reputable and reliable doctors, dentists and optometrists practice in Colombia. Many have been trained in the U.S. and speak English.

The Santa Fe Clinic (Hospital) is generally recommended, although there are several other local facilities which offer good care. Equipment and technology at the Santa Fe Clinic are equal to those available in good hospitals in the U.S. Nursing care is acceptable and improving. Support services such as laboratories are also above average.

Barranquilla has a University Hospital and private facility, Clínica Bautista, where medical attention of good quality can also be obtained. Doctors and support services are also adequate.

Common medications are available in Colombia and cheaper than in the U.S. Bring any specific/prescription or other medicines (allergy, etc.) in airfreight or household effects, since many brand names are unavailable locally.

Community Health

The Colombian environment is generally healthy. Sanitation in Colombia varies, depending on the area, from adequate to lax. Diarrhea, amebiasis, infectious hepatitis and other diseases caused by contaminated food and water are more prevalent than in the U.S. Water is considered safe in some large cities, but not in villages or outside the cities. Pasteurized milk and milk products of high quality are available in the supermarkets in large cities, as is bottled water. As in the U.S., mumps, measles, chicken pox, and poliomyelitis as well as other viral infections are encountered here.

Rabies is prevalent is some areas of Colombia; however, at present, cases of rabies transmission to humans are very rare in the cities. Antirabies campaigns are nagging in Colombia.

Preventive Measures

Most foods can be freed of contamination by cooking or boiling, or, with fruits, by peeling. Lettuce and leafy vegetables are treated by washing well and rinsing. A soaking for 30 minutes in an iodine or chlorine solution provides added protection.

Recommended inoculations include typhoid, tetanus, polio, yellow fever, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis A. Have your shots checked before departing, and keep them current.

Bogota's high altitude causes short-term breathing difficulties, insomnia, and weight loss in some healthy individuals. Normally, these symptoms quickly subside.

Malaria suppressant pills (i.e., Aralen) are unnecessary in the major cities, but are suggested for individuals who plan to visit eastern Colombia, the Pacific Coast and the lower Magdalena River Valley.


Passage, Customs & Duties

Air travel to Colombia is recommended; all major cities have airports American Airlines and Continental are currently the only U.S. flag carriers.

A valid U.S. passport is required to enter and depart Colombia. Tourists must also provide evidence of return or onward travel. U.S. citizens do not need a visa for a tourist stay of 60 days or less. Stiff fines are imposed if passports are not stamped on arrival and if stays exceeding 60 days are not authorized by the Colombian Immigration Agency (Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad, Jefatura de Extranjeria, "DAS Extranjeria"). U.S. citizens whose passports are lost or stolen in Colombia must obtain a new passport and present it, together with a police report of the loss or theft, to the main immigration office in Bogota to obtain permission to depart. An exit tax must be paid at the airport when departing Colombia. For further information regarding entry and customs requirements, travelers should contact the Colombian Embassy at 2118 Leroy Place, N.W., Washington, DC 20008; telephone (202) 387-8338; Internet website-; or the Colombian consulate in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York, San Francisco or San Juan.

In an effort to prevent international child abduction, many governments, including Colombia's, have initiated procedures at entry/exit points. These often include requiring documentary evidence of relationship and permission for the child's travel from the parent(s) or legal guardian not present. Having such documentation on hand, even if not required, may facilitate entry/departure.

Colombia's specific procedures mandate that minors (under 18), regardless of nationality, who are traveling alone, with one parent or with a third party must present a copy of their birth certificate and written authorization from the absent parent(s) or legal guardian, specifically granting permission to travel alone, with one parent or with a third party. When a parent is deceased, a notarized copy of the death certificate is required in lieu of the written authorization. If documents are prepared in the United States, the authorization and the birth certificate must be translated into Spanish, notarized, and authenticated by the Colombian Embassy or a Colombian consulate within the United States. If documents are prepared in Colombia, only notarization by a Colombian notary is required. A permission letter prepared outside of Colombia is valid for 90 days. A permission letter prepared in Colombia is valid for 60 days.

U.S. citizens living in or visiting Colombia are encouraged to register and obtain updated information on travel and security in Colombia either at the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in Bogota or via the Embassy's website (see website address below). The Consular Section is open for citizens services, including registration, from 8:30 a.m. to 12:00 noon, Monday through Thursday, excluding U.S. and Colombian holidays. The U.S. Embassy is located at Avenida El Dorado and Carrera 50; telephone (011-57-1) 315-0811 during business hours (8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.), or 315-2109/2110 for emergencies during non-business hours; fax (011-57-1) 315-2196/2197; Internet website- The Consular Agency in Barranquilla, which provides some limited consular services, is located at Calle 77B, No. 57-141, Piso 5, Centro Empresarial Las Americas, Barranquilla, Atlantico, Colombia; telephone (011-57-5) 353-2001; fax (011-57-5) 353-5216; e-mail:[email protected].

Firearms & Ammunition

Colombian law prohibits tourists and business travelers from bringing firearms into Colombia. The penalty for illegal importation and/or possession of firearms is three to ten years in prison. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Colombia in Washington or one of Colombia's consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements.


Pets must be accompanied by vaccination and health certificates certified by a Colombian consul. It is recommended that pets NOT be shipped as unaccompanied baggage.

Pets arriving at the airport as unaccompanied baggage after 2:00 PM cannot be cleared for entry until the next business day; unfortunately, the customs warehouse has no facilities for their proper care.

Currency, Banking and Weights and Measures

The basic monetary unit in Colombia is the Colombian peso (COP), a decimal currency. In writing, the same sign is used for both the peso ($) and the U.S. dollar ($) so they are often written either Col$, COP or Ps. Both paper currency and metal coins are used; the most common bills are in denominations of 1,000, 2,000, 5,000, 10,000, and 20,000 pesos. Coins are minted in values of 50, 100, 500, and 1000 pesos. The exchange rate in June 2002 was roughly COP$2,331.72 pesos per US$1.

Among U.S. banks with partially owned subsidiaries in Colombia are the First National City Bank and Bank of America.

Colombia is officially metric, with all distances measured in kilometers, heights in meters and temperature in Celsius. Many bulk commodities, however, such as coal and wood, are sold in "cargas," which vary according to the material weighed. Generally, it is the amount which can be loaded on a horse or burro. Bulk foodstuffs, such as fruits, vegetables, etc., are sold by the pound rather than by the kilo, and gas is sold in liters.

Disaster Preparedness

Colombia is an earthquake-prone country. U.S. citizens in Colombia may refer to information on dealing with natural disasters on the U.S. Embassy's web site at General information about natural disaster preparedness is available via the Internet from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at


Jan.1 New Year's Day

Jan.6 Epiphany

Mar. St. Joseph's Day*

Mar/Apr. Holy Thursday*

Mar/Apr. Good Friday*

May 1Labor Day

May/JuneFeast of the* Sacred Heart

May/JuneAscension Day*

June Corpus Christi*

June Saints Peter & Paul*

July 20 Independence Day

Aug. Battle of Boyaca*

Aug. Assumption Day*

Oct. Columbus Day*

Nov.1 All Saints' Day

Nov. Independence of Cartagena*

Dec. 8 Immaculate Conception

Dec. 25 Christmas Day



These titles are provided as a general indication of the material published on this country. The Department of State does not endorse unofficial publications.

Bergquist, Charles, et al., eds. Violence in Colombia: The Contemporary Crisis in Historical Perspective. Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources, 1992.

Bogota: Cost of Living Survey. Rector, 1995.

Clancy, Tom. Clear & Present Danger. Putnam Publishing Group, 1989.

Colombia: A Country Study. USGPO, 1990, 4TH Ed. (Area handbook series)

Colombia: Financing Foreign Operations. Rector, 1995

Colombia in Focus: a Guide to the People, Politics & Culture. Monthly Review, 1996.

Colombia in Pictures. Minneapolis, MN: Lerner Publications, 1987.

Davis, Robert H., ed. Colombia. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-Clio, 1990.

Decker, David R. & Duran, Ignacio. The Political, Economic, & Labor Climate in Colombia. University of Pennsylvania the Wharton School, Center for Human Resources, 1982.

Dix, Robert H. The Politics of Colombia. Greenwood Publishing Group, Inc., 1986.

DuBois, Jill. Colombia. New York:Marshall Cavendish, 1991.

Dydynski, Krzysztof. Colombia: A Travel Survival Kit. Oakland, CA: Lonely Planet, 1988.

Garcia Marquez, Gabriel. One Hundred Years of Solitude. Harper & Row: New York, 1970.

Giraldo, Javier. Colombia the Genocidal Democracy. Common Courage, 1995.

Gudeman, Stephen & Gutierrez, Alberto R. Conversations in Colombia: The Domestic Economy in Life & Text. Cambridge University Press, l990.

Gugliotta, Guy & Leen, Jeff. Kings of Cocaine: An Astonishing True Story of Murder, Money, & Corruption. Harper Collins Publishers, Inc., l990.

Hartlyn, Jonathan. The Politics of Coalition Rule in Colombia. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988.

Haynes, Tricia. Let's Visit Colombia. Bridgeport, CT: Burke Publishing, 1988.

Henao J. History of Colombia. Gordon Press Publishers, 1976.

Henderson, James D. When Colombia Bled: a History of the Violence in Tolima. Univ. of Alabama, 1985.

Herman, Donald L., ed. Democracy in Latin America: Colombia and Venezuela. New York: Praeger, 1988.

Hutchinson, William R.; Poznanski, Cynthia A. & Todt-Stockman, Laura. Living in Colombia: A Guide for Foreigners. Intercultural Press, Inc., 1987.

Kline, Harvey F. Portrait of Unit & Diversity. Westview Press, 1983.

Lael, Richard L. Arrogant Diplomacy: US Policy Toward Colombia, 1903-22. Scholarly Resources, Inc., 1987.

Lang, James. Inside Development in Latin America: A Report from the Dominican Republic, Colombia & Brazil. University of North Carolina Press, 1988.

Morrison, Marion. Colombia. Chicago: Children's Press, 1990.

Oquist, Paul. Violence, Conflict, & Politics in Colombia. Academic Press, Inc., 1980.

Osterling, Jorge P. Democracy in Colombia: Clientelistic Politics & Guerrilla Warfare. Transaction Publishers, 1989.

Parks, Taylor E. Colombia & the United States. Gordon Press Publishers, 1976.

Pearce, Jenny. Colombia: Inside the Labyrinth. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1990.

. Colombia: The Drug War. New York: Watts, 1990.

Rosenberg, Tina. Children of Cain: Violence & the Violent in Latin America. New York: Morrow, 1991.

Stewart, Gail B. Colombia. New York: Macmillan Children's Book Group, 1991.

Washington Office on Latin America Staff. Colombia Besieged: Political Violence & State Responsibility. Washington Office on Latin America, 1989.

Wiarda, Howard J. The Democratic Revolution in Latin America: History, Politics & US Policy. Holmes & Meier, 1990.

Wickham-Crowley, Timothy P. Guerrillas and Revolution in Latin America. Princeton Univ. Pr., 1992.

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Basic Data
Official Country Name: Republic of Colombia
Region: South America
Population: 39,685,655
Language(s): Spanish
Literacy Rate: 91.3%
Number of Primary Schools: 47,663
Compulsory Schooling: 5 years
Public Expenditure on Education: 4.1%
Educational Enrollment: Primary: 4,692,614
  Secondary: 3,317,782
  Higher: 644,188
Educational Enrollment Rate: Primary: 113%
  Secondary: 61%
  Higher: 17%
Teachers: Primary: 189,123
  Secondary: 169,816
  Higher: 66,538
Student-Teacher Ratio: Primary: 25:1
  Secondary: 20:1
Female Enrollment Rate: Primary: 112%
  Secondary: 66%
  Higher: 18%

History & Background

Located in the northwestern part of South America, Columbia touches both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, bordering Ecuador and Peru on the south and Brazil and Venezuela on the east. In July 2000, the census reported the population to be 39,685,655, with the majority of people living in large cities in the center and the northern part of the country. The census reported that the population was divided into six ethnic groups: 58 percent mestizo or of Native American and Spanish ancestry; 20 percent white; 14 percent mulatto; 4 percent black; 3 percent were both black and Native American; and 1 percent Native American. Spanish is the official language, and over 90 percent of the people indicated that they were Catholic.

Since 1886, the official name of the country has been the República de Colombia. Administratively, the country is divided into 32 departments and one capital district. Geographically, three mountain ranges and two major rivers divide the country into four regions. Although the central executive branch dominates the government structure, Colombia has a long history of regionalism. The early constitutions reinforced the notion that Colombia was a loose federation of different regions, which allowed each region to develop its own government. While countries such as Mexico, Argentina, and Brazil built railways and systems of roads to unify their peoples, Colombia resisted such innovations. In 2000, although the country had a land mass of 1,038,700 square kilometers, there were only 3,380 kilometers of railways. There were a total 115,564 kilometers of roadways; however, only 13,864 kilometers of which were paved (Williams and Guerrieri; Central Intelligence Agency).

Columbia is a country of contrasts. There are large cities facing the common problems of industrialization such as air pollution from vehicle emissions. There are rural sections where underdevelopment is a problem. Only about 4 percent of the land is arable, and about 48 percent of it remains forests and woodlands. Despite these large natural areas in Colombia, deforestation and soil abuse persist as serious problems. The population suffers from extreme income inequality. In 1995, 10.0 percent of the population consumed 46.9 percent of the available income, while the lowest 10.0 percent of the population consumed only 1.0 percent. In 1999, this disparity of wealth and poverty was reflected in Colombia's per capita purchasing power of $6,200. An unemployment rate of 20 percent intensified the economic problems (Central Intelligence Agency).

Before the arrival of the Spanish, several Native American groups occupied the region. However, none of these people had developed the ability to write. Some groups, such as the Taironas constructed impressive roads, bridges, systems of platforms for large buildings, and mountainside terraces for agriculture. The Taironas also produced stone statuary, gold objects, and fine ceramics. The largest group was the Muisca, who lived in the intermountain basins of the Cordillera Oriental. Depending mostly on agriculture for survival, the Muisca made cotton textiles, worked gold, and made some stone sculptures. Although there is reason to believe the Muisca were unifying their society when the Spanish arrived, the group never demonstrated the engineering abilities of the Taironas. Within 100 years after the first Spanish settlement, nearly 95 percent of all Native Americans in Colombia had died. Many were killed during armed conflicts with European settlers, but the majority of deaths were caused by diseases such as smallpox and measles, which were imported by Spanish settlers (Bushnell).

The era of Spanish colonization began in 1510 with the founding of San Sebastian near Panama. In 1526, settlers founded Santa Marta, the oldest Spanish city still in existence in Colombia. For most of the colonial period, New Granada, which included the areas that became Columbia, Panama, Venezuela, and Ecuador, fell within the Viceroyalty of Peru as part of the Spanish empire. In 1739, New Granada retained independent status as a Viceroyalty separate from Peru. Administrative divisions such as these influenced the boundaries of the countries when they sought independence (Bushnell).

Although many Spaniards began their explorations searching for gold, other colonists took advantage of the sedentary lifestyle of Native American groups such as the Muisca. The Spanish established themselves as the leaders and ruled through the existing native social organizations. The Spanish crown outlawed this system of exploiting Native American labor, called encomienda. However, the practice did continue for some time because it served as a type of educational institution through which the European leaders were able to teach the Native Americans the Christian faith and the ways of civilization.

Most Spanish colonists avoided the tropical grasslands of the interior. Jesuit priests went into those regions and established missions that gathered together the communities of semi-settled Native American groups who lived there. Depending on Native American labor, these missionaries created cattle ranches and plantations that passed into the hands of other religious orders in 1767 when the Jesuits were expelled from the Spanish empire. Through these mission communities, Catholic priests served as mediators between the settled Native Americans and the Spanish state, and they provided education for the Native Americans that otherwise was unavailable. However, critics complain that the education Native Americans received in the missions actually was nothing more than an indoctrination into the Christian faith and instruction in Spanish. In spite of existing historical documents that show that the clergy was urged to teach the Native Americans, little education actually took place (Bushnell; Londoño).

The earliest missionary schools date to the mid-sixteenth century. In 1533, Fray Juan Luis de los Barrios founded a school, while Archbishop Luis de Zapata de Cárdenas established the Seminary San Luis. Although the seminary closed in 1586 due to student dissatisfaction, it later reopened. In 1580, the first university, Universidad de Estudios Generales, was opened in Bogotá by Orden de los Predicadores. This university later merged with the Santo Tomás School and taught religion under the new name Colegio-Universidad Santo Tomás. In 1622, the Jesuits opened Javeriana University, offering grammatical studies, and in 1635, Archbishop Fray Cristóóbal de Torres created the Colegio Mayor de Nuestra Señora del Rosario. All of these schools were in Bogotá, and each had a curriculum that was theoretical and focused on subjects such as law, logic, grammar, theology, and oratory (Londoño).

In 1783, José Celestino Mutis, Barón de Humbolt, and Francisco José de Caldas came to New Granada, the area now known as Colombia, to start the Expedición Botánica. Their goal was to record all of the botanical species found in South America. Although this task was too great for the expedition to fulfill, group members spread scientific thinking through the colony and Mutis won honorary membership in the Swedish Academy of Science (Londoño; Bushnell).

Nonetheless, the educational efforts in New Grenada were extensive. By the end of the colonial period in 1819, the number of Catholic clericswhose calling essentially required spiritual and educational endeavorsrose to nearly 1,850. With a population of 1.4 million during the early 1800s, the ratio of priests to citizens reached 750 to 1. This ration exceeds the ratio found in any Latin American country in the 1990s (Bushnell; Low-Maus).

In 1819, when the famous leader Simón Bolívar addressed the Congress of Angostura, he called for the establishment of universal popular education, claiming that the Catholic religious orders had not created anything that resembled a proper system. The clerics could not provide education for children from rural areas or from lower classes, despite the large number of priests in colonial New Grenada. To some extent, Bolívar's request went unheeded. The members of the congress had not come together to improve education. Having broken with Spain, they sought to define the country's political organization. Thus, they unified the regions of the former New Granada, Venezuela, and Ecuador into what they named Gran Colombia. The members of the congress appointed Bolívar president and Francisco de Paula Santander vice president.

In 1821, the Congress of Cúcuta devised a constitution for this new country. However, before the regular Congress of Gran Colombia could form, the Congress of Cúcuta abolished all monasteries with fewer than eight members, confiscated their assets, and placed the money in an endowment for the development of secondary schools. Although these actions were driven more by anticlerical feelings than by educational concerns, Santander did open several new secondary schools. Despite opposition from the Catholic Church, Santander urged that works by unorthodox authors, such as Jeremy Bentham, be included in the school's curriculums. In the meantime, Bolívar continued as the head of the Colombian armies that were battling Spain for control of the country (Low-Maus; Bushnell).

According to the congressional delegates in 1821, Spanish indifference had caused widespread illiteracy, a condition they pledged to correct. Thus, in the constitution of 1821, the delegates chose 1840 as the date by which all voters would have to pass a literacy test. Unfortunately, for the next 10 years, educational reform moved slowly. In 1832, delegates met in a national convention to draft a new constitution. However, acknowledging that literacy had not spread throughout the new republic, the delegates postponed the date for voter literacy tests until 1850 (Bushnell).

A civil war called the War of the Supremes (1839-42) interrupted educational reform. After the war, because of the tendency of local leaders to inflate their positions, Colombian president Pedro Alcántara Herrán and his secretary of the interior, Mariano Ospina Rodríguez, introduced new methods and pedagogical principles. For example, they removed the controversial authors from the secondary curriculum, reduced the extent of theoretical studies, and increased studies that had more practical applications, such as natural science. In addition, Herrán invited the Jesuits back to become teachers and to continue their work in frontier missions (Bushnell; Low-Maus).

In 1849, after a close and controversial election, José Hilario López, a Liberal Party candidate, became president. In 1850, fulfilling the Liberals' desire to reverse many of the Conservative policies, the Congress enacted various policies that were intended to increase the freedom of education. The Congress disbanded all universities, placing those programs of higher education into colegios (secondary schools), and ended all academic requirements for people to practice any profession, with the exception of pharmacy. The citizens had the freedom to decide what training they needed, or if they needed any education at all, before entering a profession. In the same year, López reversed Herrán's invitation to the Jesuits. He argued that the sanction of 1697, which originally expelled the Jesuits from the Spanish empire, was still valid in New Granada. According to the anticlerical views held by some of López's associates, the Jesuits had to be expelled because their schools converted citizens to conservative Catholicism (Bushnell).

To consolidate their victories, the liberals adopted a new constitution in 1853. They offered universal male suffrage, removed the electoral college system, and increased the number of officials who were elected rather than appointed. The provincial legislature of Vélez extended suffrage to women. In addition, the new constitution guaranteed freedom of worship for all citizens and introduced civil marriage and divorce. In 1863, the liberals framed another constitution that changed the name of the state to Estados Unidos de Colombia (United States of Colombia) and advanced the regionalism of the country. The new constitution gave extensive authority to the then nine states, allowing them to determine their own suffrage laws and maintain their own services, such as postal delivery. To further limit the authority of the federal government, the constitution of 1863 reduced the president's term to two years and prohibited anyone from serving consecutive terms (Bushnell).

By 1867 the liberal government had started to undo the educational reforms of 1850. It established the Universidad Nacional de Colombia in Bogatá. Emphasizing the traditional disciplines of law, medicine, and philosophy, the university offered technical studies to help Colombia enter the mechanical age. Three years later, the Congress made primary education in Colombia free and compulsory and established several teacher training institutionscalled normal schoolsto meet the sudden need for teachers. To assist in the process, German experts were brought in to serve as instructors at the normal schools. Fearing this represented the beginning of a godless education, church leaders called on parents to ignore the public schools. Some Catholics complained that the German educators imported to staff in the schools belonged to the Protestant faith. To alleviate the controversy, the government allowed church representatives to offer religious instruction in the public primary schools during specific hours to pupils whose parents requested it. Some states required religious teaching in the primary schools. These controversies continued to grow and became part of the civil war that erupted in 1876 (Bushnell; Londoño).

Constitutional & Legal Foundations

The Conservative Party ended the Liberal Party's domination of the federal government in 1882 with the election of Rafael Nuñez. After sitting out two years as required by the Constitution of 1863, Nuñez regained the presidency and called a convention to draft a new constitution. Adopted in 1886, this constitution, which remained in effect until 1991, offered free elementary education to any child who wanted it. However, the constitution reversed the 1870 law that made such elementary education compulsory. At the same time, the constitution declared Colombia a republic and recognized the Catholic Church as the national church. The following year, the government entered the Concordat of 1887, requiring that all public education be done in accordance with the Roman Catholic religion. As result, clergy could approve school texts, determine the curriculum, and appoint teachers (Bushnell, Hanson).

In 1903, the central government took responsibility for establishing a national system of education with the passage of the Organic Law of Public Education, which made education free but not compulsory. Together with its regulating decree of 1904, the Organic Law set up a system of national inspection, divided schools into elementary and secondary levels, and established professional, industrial, and artistic branches. Although the law of 1903 placed education under the control of the states, it gave the power to set policy for all public, private, state, and national schools to the Ministry of Education. Other levels of government took different responsibilities. For example, states had to pay teacher salaries while municipalities had to construct and furnish the schools. Unfortunately, the law perpetuated discrepancies between urban and rural education by ordering cities to provide six years of schooling and requiring rural areas to provide only three (Hanson).

In 1927, the Conservative government of Colombia made education compulsory, but did not provide funds to make this possible. Consequently, public education remained unavailable for most Colombians even though it was supposed to be free and compulsory. As a result, in 1930, most Colombians lacked basic literacy skills (Hanson; Bushnell).

With the Great Depression of the 1930s, the Conservative Party lost control of national politics. The Liberal candidate, Alfonso López Pumarejo, became president in 1934, and he increased spending on schools and rural roadways. To increase the status of teachers, López Pumarejo's Liberal government established registries, required high school teachers to have university degrees, and set up national salary scales for teachers. In 1936, the Liberal government adopted a law stating that neither race nor religion was an adequate reason to deny students admission to schools (Bushnell; Hanson).

In his most controversial act, López Pumarejo changed the constitution to remove the Catholic Church as the final authority on permissible practices in schools. Enacted in 1936, these amendments enabled the Colombian Ministry of Education to encourage coed education, even though Pope Pius XI urged Catholics to avoid this practice. At the same time, the Ministry of Education invited liberal humanist scholars from Europe to come to Colombia. In addition, while the Conservative government had mandated religious training in the public schools, the Liberal Party turned schools toward patriotic education. As a result, instructional materials and programs emphasized the patriotic duties of citizens, the accomplishments of traditional heroes, and the value of national goals instead of spiritual development. In reaction, Conservatives complained that the Liberal administration assaulted moral and religious values (Bushnell; Hanson).

The controversy over religion and education grew into the struggles known as the Violencia (The Violence). During the election of 1946, dissension split the Liberal Party. Marino Ospina Pérez, a Conservative Party member, won the presidential election. Two years later, a leader of the Liberal party was shot and killed. Liberals blamed Conservatives for the assassination and riots broke out. According to some estimates, the fighting claimed the lives of 300,000 people. Ironically, as the death rate rose, so did the economythe rate of industrial output increased 9 percent per year from 1945 to 1955 (Bushnell; Hanson).

In 1957, a military junta took control of the federal government. To bring peace, they adopted a set of mathematical guidelines to the Constitution that required the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party to share all elective and appointive offices. According to this agreement, the two parties alternated control of the presidency. Although criticized for being undemocratic, these rules created a coalition known as the National Front that ended the Violencia. Other violent outbreaks would occur in Colombia, such as the drug war of the 1980s, but the killings did not reach the levels of the 1940s and 1950s (Bushnell).

During the 1980s, the governor of each of the country's departments (equivalent to a U.S. state) served as the chief administrative officer of his or her department and controlled all the educational matters in that department. Each governor appointed a secretary of education, who directed the schools in his or her department and reported to the governor. In 1986, there were about 32,000 such schools in the different departments, which at the time numbered 22. On the national level, the president appointed a minister of education to oversee national schools, of which there were about 500, and private schools, of which there were about 8,000. At the same time, the president appointed the governors (Hanson).

In 1991, Colombia approved a new constitution. Although the constitution declared Colombia to be a unitary republic, it added that it was decentralized, with territorial entities remaining autonomous, democratic, participatory, and pluralist. In accord with the goal of making the country more open to popular participation in local affairs, the new constitution introduced the popular election of departmental governors. Under the previous constitution, the national president appointed the governors. The constitution of 1991 required proportional representation when electing members of upper house of the Congress. Among the other provisions, the constitution of 1991 made education compulsory for children between the ages of 5 and 15 years and recommended one year of pre-kindergarten training. It recommended other changes, such as bilingual education for communities where the population spoke an indigenous language, and it repeated the requirement that all teachers had to be professionally trained (Hanson; Bushnell).

Reinforcing the growing secular influences in Colombia, the new constitution eliminated any reference to Catholicism as the national religion. It specifically placed all religious denominations on equal legal footing, and it made divorce subject to civil law, thereby making civil divorce legal (Bushnell). Unfortunately, it is unclear what effect this change in religious policy will have on educational matters. For example, in 1936, the government amended the constitution by removing the authority of the Catholic Church in educational matters. However, as late as 1971, critics had complained that, although the Ministry of Education was most responsible for education in the country's departments, the ministry could not regulate such things as private school tuition because these schools were Catholic. In the church dioceses bishops ensured that the Catholic faith was taught in public schools and that lessons did not contradict the Church's magesterium. The bishops approved religion textbooks adopted by elementary and high schools, and the archbishop of Bogotá decided what religion texts the universities used. If a religion teacher ignored a bishop's requirements the bishop could remove the teacher from his or her position (Londoño).

The practice of religious control of the schools continues despite constitutional changes because the Catholic Church has more influence in Colombia than in any other country in the Western Hemisphere. In Colombia, clerics wield their power informally through interpersonal relations. Consequently, though the constitution of 1991 sought to establish distance between the government and the church, church officials continued to appear in public forums offering their blessings to official acts. Thus, while private schools may have had to adjust to government regulations and conform to courses of study prescribed by the Ministry of Education, Catholic bishops unofficially retained authority over such matters in the public school (Williams and Guerrieri).

Educational SystemOverview

As a result of increased school enrollment, nearly 92 percent of the adults in Colombia over age 15 had at least the basic ability to read and to write in the year 2000. The increases in education were significant. In 1935, enrollment at the elementary school level reached about 550,000, while in 1980, that number had risen to nearly 4,200,000. A dramatic increase took place at the secondary level as well, although it was not as far reaching as the elementary increase. In 1935, enrollment in high schools totaled 45,670 students; by 1980, the number had grown to 1,824,000 (Hanson).

In 1999, the preschool enrollment for private and public schools in urban and rural areas totaled 1,034,182 students. This included 522,209 boys and 511,973 girls. In elementary schools, total enrollment reached 5,162, 260 students, including 2,632,187 boys and 2,530,073 girls. The total high school enrollment reached 3,594,083 students, including 1,734,012 boys and 1,860,071 girls. These figures imply that females were somewhat more likely to attend high school than boys.

Academic Year: In general, the academic structure of the educational system in Colombia remains relatively constant. Preschool or kindergarten is usually in private hands. A child may enter at age four and continue through age six. Primary schooling in Columbia begins with five years of elementary education followed by four years of secondary education. After this basic cycle, students proceed to a second level of secondary education, lasting two years. Generally, these six years of secondary education appear together. Upon finishing that level, the students may pass on to some kind of technical training or commercial studies, or they can attend university and eventually pursue graduate studies (Low-Maus; Wellington).

The National Ministry of Education offers two options for the school calendar. One option begins in February, offers a four-week vacation in June and July, and finishes in November. The second option begins in September, offers a four-week vacation in December, and finishes in June. Both systems offer 198 days of school attendance (Wellington).

Language of Instruction: Some schools offer bilingual opportunities and employ languages like French, German, or English for instruction. However, these are expensive, private academies serving the students of prosperous families. In general, Spanish is used in most schools, especially those in those rural areas where Spanish is the dominant language. In areas of the country where an indigenous language dominates, the law requires that schools offer bilingual programs using the native languages (Parra).

Grading System: In most high schools, grades are awarded on a scale extending from 1 to 10. This system was adopted in 1973, replacing a system that used a scale of one to five. However, universities retained the shorter system. In university courses, students take final exams that count for twenty percent of the grade. These tests are two hours long and the students take one per day for five days (Wellington).

Religious Schools: The distribution of enrollment between public schools and private schools, most of which are Catholic, illustrates that, while private elementary schools have become more popular, public high schools have also increased in popularity. In 1935, about 93 percent of the elementary age students attended public schools. However, at the high school level, about 46 percent attended public schools. In 1980, the proportion of students attending public elementary schools dropped to 85 percent, while the proportion of high school students attending public schools increased to about 56 percent (Hanson).

In general, schools do not buy textbooks. Instead, the parents must purchase school supplies after schoolteachers or administrators indicate which books they should buy from local sources. These books may come from publishers in Colombia or from foreign firms. Usually, when a school adopts a textbook, it uses the book for three years. For many years, the Instituto Colombiano de Pedagogía (ICOLPE) of the Ministry of Education developed primers, called cartillas, and used five of the primers per subject to enhance elementary school teachers' pedagogical skills and to provide materials and suggestions to facilitate their daily work. Distributed without charge, the cartillas were well received. A less successful effort was the Ministry's attempt to develop and publish textbooks that followed appropriate educational objectives for each subject (Londoño).

CurriculumDevelopment: Colombia has long sought to turn the secondary curriculum toward practical or vocational education. After the civil war of 1839, President Pedro Alcántara Herrán, and his secretary of the interior, Mariano Ospina Rodríguez, introduced new methods of instruction and pedagogical principles into the secondary schools. For example, they removed the controversial authors from the secondary curriculum that Santander had introduced in the 1830s, reduced the extent of theoretical studies, and increased studies that had more practical applications, such as natural science (Bushnell; Low-Maus).

From 1948 to 1970, the Ministry tried to spread vocational, technical, and agricultural schools throughout the country. Despite these efforts, in 1977, more than 70 percent of the high school students enrolled in academic programs. Unfortunately, very few of these students went on to any higher education, often leaving school unprepared to earn a living (Hanson 1986). Efforts were made to increase vocational education, but most secondary school students enrolled in academic programs. When colleges and universities opened new programs to meet the growing number of academic students, the programs were often poor quality.

Preprimary & Primary Education

In Colombia, the available pre-kindergarten and kindergarten programs vary from day care programs that simply watch over the children to sophisticated programs employing specialized teachers and advanced technology. Almost 92 percent of the pre-kindergarten and kindergarten centers are Catholic, privately owned and operated, and are located in urban centers. In 1970, to increase educational opportunities, the Congress allowed universities to offer pre-kindergarten and kindergarten programs. Thus, public universities currently offer programs to train early childhood teachers. While most of these require four or five years of study, the Universidad Pedagógica de Bogotá offers a three-year early childhood teaching program. However, this did not increase the number of public kindergartens because the graduates of these training programs chose to work in private kindergarten centers that offered better salaries and more opportunities for teachers than did the public schools (Londoño).

According to 1999 statistics (from the National Admistrative Department of Statistics), about 56 percent of preschool students enroll in public institutions. Although the public preschools enjoy a higher percentage of the total preschool enrollment, there are fewer public preschools because, public preschool centers are usually larger than the private ones.

Unlike preschools, most primary schools are free public institutions operated by the department government with the assistance of the National Ministry of Education. Although children may enter these public primary schools at six years of age, most children enter at age seven. Usually, the classrooms are self-contained and the instructional day lasts for six hours, divided into two sessions. Each day contains three 45-minute class periods and a 45-minute break. Instruction includes the following subjects, in order of their importance: Spanish, arithmetic, social studies, aesthetic and manual training, natural science, physical education, and religious and moral training (Wellington).

Early efforts to establish primary education did not enjoy great success. In the 1830s, under the direction of President Francisco de Paula Santander, public primary school enrollment rose from 17,000 children to 20, 000. Combined with private school attendance, this still meant that less than 15 percent of the primary school population was attending school. In 1870, when the Congress made primary education in Colombia free and compulsory, the national government offered 4 percent of its budget (200,000 pesos) to education, with 20 percent of that sum going to universities. Nonetheless, primary schools spread. In 1870, 60,155 students were enrolled, and by 1874, the number had grown to more than 84,000 (Bushnell).

In 1957, in an effort to stabilize public schooling, the Congress sought to dedicate 10 percent of the national budget to education. However, those efforts were inadequate, as the system needed more extensive funding. In 1970, for example, about 70 percent of rural school age children did not attend school. Nearly 77 percent of the rural schools had one classroom, and 80 percent of the rural schools had one teacher. Few students attended school for very long. As a result, of the students enrolled, 55 percent attended the first grade. Facilities were poor21 percent of the students lacked desks. Of the rural teachers, 68 percent lacked normal school preparation, and 52 percent had not registered as teachers (Hanson).

In fairness, the problems of rural education were complex. In 1970, when the majority of rural children received less than three years of formal education, a teacher could expect to meet only about one-third of the students enrolled. However, this did not signify a lack of interest. In some cases, the school calendar conflicted with the labor needs of the family, which depended on agriculture to survive. In other cases, the lack of paved roads made travel to school difficult during periods of heavy rain (Havens and Flinn).

In rural areas, schools tended to stress practical subjects. In the 1970s, educators repeatedly said that the rural schools should teach students about the problems that existed in the country. Unfortunately, this meant that current technology was little-used in classrooms. Worse, the department secretaries expected teachers to present problems at the central office. Consequently, the teachers closed their classrooms and rode buses to the reach the city where the office was located. In 1977, to solve this problem, the secretaries tried to divide each state into planning, administrative, and instructional systems. Since most rural primary schools offered programs that were shorter than five years, the plan tried to include one five-year school in each district, which were about 10 kilometers in length. Secondary schools almost never appeared in rural areas (Hanson).

In the 1980s, Colombian educators introduced an innovation called the New School Movement that spread throughout Latin America. It was an effort to encourage self-instruction. Specially written guides took the place of textbooks. These guides covered such subjects as math, social science, and language. They offered detailed instructions allowing students to proceed on their own. In addition, the guides suggested activities and exercises the students could pursue in school or at home. Such flexible programming allowed students to leave school to help the family during harvest time, for example, and to resume studies at the same point when they returned to school.

Teachers asked parents and community members to form school councils, tend school gardens, and help teachers during lessons. Some critics complained that the New School Movement reduced teacher involvement, and other critics complained that many teachers misused the guides by making the students work through them as they marched through textbooks. Although the new schools emphasized self-instruction, they cost about 10 percent more than traditional ones. Nonetheless, about 12,500 new schools spread throughout Colombia, and, in 1989, the World Bank recommended that other developing nations adopt the New School Movement. As a result, Guatemala, Chile, Argentina, Nicaragua, and the Philippines adopted the movement (Lopez).

Unfortunately, elementary education remained in poor condition. In the 1991 four-year plan, the government acknowledged that studies on primary education revealed the quality was low, the rate of school failure was high, and the curriculum was of little relevance to students (Hanson).

Secondary Education

In Colombia, secondary education is concentrated in urban areas. As a result, a disproportionate number of high school students come from wealthy families. This bias toward the wealthy children remains true even though about 60 percent of the students enroll in public schools. (Hanratty and Meditz).

Secondary education grew rapidly in Colombia. In 1970, 20 percent of children in the appropriate age group enrolled in some form of secondary education. However, by 1980, this number had doubled to 40 percent (Psacharopoulos and Loxley). In 1990, secondary school enrollments reached 1,849,243, which was about 46 percent of the school-age population (Hanson 1995).

In Colombia, secondary education is divided into two parts, middle school training (educación media ), and secondary school training (educación secundaria. ) Both terms refer to level 6 through 11 and are often offered together. The sole requirement to enter a public secondary school is to satisfactorily complete a primary school course. Generally, private schools require the students to pass an entrance examination. As a result, public secondary schools tend to serve the lower income groups and offer more diversified educational programs leading to employment as well as higher education. Most private secondary schools offer a Bachillerato Académico o Clásico. However, since 1974, the secondary schools have had to offer at least one other curriculum besides those leading to an academic diploma (Wellington).

In 1974, the Ministry of Education mandated that the curriculums operate on two cycles. The Ciclo Básico (Basic Cycle) occupies the first four years of instruction and all students receive the same fundamental academic instruction. In addition, they spend five hours per week in what might be called vocational exploration. The advanced secondary cycle takes up two years. It may be called Ciclo Vocacional (vocational cycle) or the Ensen nza Media Diversificada (diversified courses). In these programs, students may complete programs leading to different degrees, such as Bachillerato Acádemico o Clásico, Bachillerato Pedagógico, or Bachillerato Agropecuario (Wellington).

In general, there are three types of secondary schools. The bulk of the institutions include public and private schools that prepare the students for university training and teach humanities and science courses. In 1981, the enrollment in these schools included about 72 percent of overall secondary enrollment. The second type of secondary school includes vocational or teacher training institutes. Although students in these schools take the basic academic subjects, the schools emphasize vocational subjects through all six years. In 1981, about 25 percent of the students were enrolled in this type of school. Finally, a small percentage of students enroll in Institutos Nacionales de Enseñanza Media Diversificada, or comprehensive high schools (Psacharopoulos and Loxley).

In 1969, the Ministry of Education began the Institutos Nacionales de Enseñanza Media Diversificada to encourage vocational education. Offering academic courses and various vocational programs, these schools operate on the same four-year Basic Cycle and two-year Vocational Cycle pattern found in other schools. However, instead of different schools offering different specialties, many options are grouped together in the same building. These schools spread rapidly, in part because international organizations such as the International Bank of Reconstruction and Development and the United States Agency for International Development contributed to their establishment and support (Wellington 1984).

Another highly regarded vocational program in Colombia operates from the Ministry of Labor. Called Servicio Nacional de Aprendizaje (SENA), this program provides on-the-job training to people who have completed a primary school education. It began in 1957 and is supported by a payroll tax. Shortly after the ministry introduced SENA programs, all the departments began offering them, enrolling more than 23,000 trainees annually. By 1987, more than 15 percent of the urban workforce had attended SENA training sessions (Renner; Hanratty and Meditz).

Higher Education

After completing secondary education, students wishing to attend a university must pass the official entrance examination, El Examen de Estado (The State Examination). For many years, students applying for higher education had to possess a Bachiller (secondary school) diploma and pass an exam. In 1980, the Ministry of National Education issued a decree that made this common practice a legal requirement. Although the state examination is administered through the Servicio Nacional de Pruebas, each institution weighs the results in accordance with its own academic requirements. Thus, universities and colleges determine what level of performance they can demand of students in order to fill their own enrollment quotas. Although admission is based on academic performance, the students in institutions of higher learning come disproportionately from high-income families (Wellington; Hanratty and Meditz).

In 1940, there were fewer than 3,000 students enrolled in universities studying to enter medicine, law, and engineering. The main objective of this system was to transmit information that students had to memorize. However, university programs changed as a result of the growth of national industries. Called "modernización " (moderization), these economic changes required more specialized technicians, workers, engineers, accountants, managers, and economists. Consequently, universities have diversified their programs and opened them to many social groups (Parra).

In 1980, the Ministry of National Education officially established four levels of higher education: intermediate professional studies, technological studies, university studies, and graduate studies. Within these categories, the number of institutions grew rapidly. In 1970, the Colombian Association of Universities recognized 25 public and private universities. However, the National University Fund identified 65 more institutions of higher learning. By the late 1980s, there were more than 235 institutions of higher learning, and in 1999, university enrollment exceeded 807,000 students. (Wellington).

The number of applications to public universities exceeded the schools' capacity to accept students. Facing such demand, public universities raised their admission requirements. One reason for the large number of applications was that tuition in a public university was based on the parents' declared income. This made education affordable. Furthermore, since 1950, completion of higher education has been the avenue for social mobility. To meet the increased demand for higher education, more private universities and technical institutes were opened (Parra).

In 1993, a study demonstrated the importance of finishing college in Colombia. After surveying 4,027 workers in Bogotá, the researchers found that students who dropped out of an institution of higher learning held jobs of lower status with less pay than students who successfully completed the programs. However, students who failed exams and had to repeat them, or who repeated some grades in any school, did not earn less or work at some lower level (Psacharopoulos and Velez).

When universities grew to meet the demand for higher education, the institutions could not find faculty to teach the classes. In 1970, for example, the University of Antioquia ranked as one of the best schools, with a well-planned new campus and above average financial support. Although it had eight basic departments, the staff in those departments was underqualified. In the department of mathematics, one professor had a master's degree. The other instructors included six civil engineers, one chemical engineer, an economist, eight teachers with bachelor's degrees in education, and two people without degrees in higher education (Waggoner).

At any rate, in the 1990s, higher education in Colombia expanded more than the other, lower levels of education. Private institutions grew faster than public ones. Unfortunately, most observers agreed that the institutions grew at the expense of quality. They offered courses in areas that did not meet the developmental needs of the country. Since the faculty members were often untrained, they did not engage in scientific or technical research (Hanratty and Meditz).

Administration, Finance, & Educational Research

Until 1989, the major administrative problem was providing continual improvement in the face of traditional regionalism and the lack of resources in Colombia. The Ministry of Education, representing the national government, exerted control over the governors and departmental secretaries of education through a corps of inspectors who accredited individual schools. One way this control took place was for students to send their diplomas to the central ministry upon graduation. The ministry checked each diploma against university records of the student's progress, validated the diploma, and entered it in a registry. Such a process protected against fraud and allowed graduates to prove they were qualified for further education or to practice an appropriate profession (Londoño).

In 1957, in an effort to bring continuity to the process of educational development, organizations such as the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organizations (UNESCO) persuaded the national government to add a planning office to the Ministry of Education. The planning office recommended, and the Congress adopted, the first five-year educational plan, which became a model for other Latin American countries. In the following years, the national government of Colombia adopted a series of four- and five-year educational plans. Frequently, the presidential platforms of the political parties included a four-year plan.

Although the Ministry of Education sought to offer nationwide planning to control the expansion that took place from 1945 to 1970, these plans were rarely implemented. Instead the educational system expanded rapidly, and local administrators hired people who belonged to the correct political party to become teachers, even though these new teachers lacked proper training. Administrators erected buildings that were not needed and spent money on schools that did not exist. Such abuses happened because the members of each community could obtain education for their children by pressuring local politicians. Unfortunately, the politicians could arrange the construction of a building, but they lacked the authority to find real teachers to staff the building. Worse, communities without political influence didn't get the buildings or even the teachers (Hanson).

Until 1968, the only way the Ministry of Education could influence department governors to conform to central policies was through the use of inspectors. To increase the authority of the central ministry, the national government adopted the Regional Funds Program (FER). This sent money from the national government to the departments to pay teacher salaries, providing the state education secretary followed established criteria, such as hiring qualified teachers, replacing unqualified teachers within two years, and allowing the ministry to supervise state budgetary expenditures.

The benefit of this model was that it allowed the national government to respect the division of authority among the regions while encouraging uniform national improvement. Delegates from the national Ministry of Education lived in the capital city of each department and devoted their attention to the schools in that area. This program increased the central government's control by making the Minister of Education responsible for paying teachers' salaries. Payments were made only if each department's Secretaries of Education met certain conditions, such as annually increasing state appropriations for education, hiring qualified teachers, and replacing unqualified teachers within two years. Although the program began with some difficulty, by 1975, bureaucracies developed within bureaucracies to try to ensure that the department secretaries followed the minister's expectations. In addition, governors were prohibited from hiring more teachers than the state budgets could pay (Hanson).

In 1975, the national government augmented the FER with a nationalization law. This law was intended to create a financial system that would standardize teachers' salaries and benefits, terminate the practice of hiring of teachers without authorization from the federal ministry, and eliminate the uncoordinated construction of school buildings. Unfortunately, education costs increased so rapidly that the central government could not maintain the system it sought to establish (Hanson).

Local officials resented the intrusion of delegates from the national ministry, and political leaders continued to appoint teachers whose only qualification was that they had been faithful campaign workers. Further, although the Regional Funds Program gave the ministry authority to direct changes in the departments, the ministry's recommendations sometimes contradicted local needs (Hanratty and Meditz).

In 1989, two years before the adoption of the new constitution, the Congress shifted school administration functions from the Ministry of Education and each department's secretaries of education to the 1,024 municipal mayors in Colombia. With this change in responsibilities, the Ministry of Education released more than 1,300 school inspectors. Officials in the different regional departments took over the responsibilities formerly handled by inspectors (Hanson).

This transition was uneven. In 1992, a report by the Ministry of Education noted that there was no way to coordinate the efforts of the central ministry members, department officials, and municipal mayors. In part, this happened because the average tenure of the ministers of education and of the department secretaries was often less than 18 months. No one could create the necessary bureaucratic structures because the leadership changed too rapidly (Hanson).

Worse, the decentralization reinforced unequal educational development. According to the policy, the mayor of a municipality oversaw the schools in his or her area. However, the mayor also had to supervise work in other areas of life, such as transportation, water, agriculture, and public health. The mayor and the city council members were elected officials who attained office because they won votesnot because they demonstrated the ability to manage daily affairs.

Colombia does not have a tradition of employing professional city managers. Most municipalities have their own secretary of education. Some cities employ nucleo directorsemployees who administer 8 to 20 schools that form a school district. Often, these secretaries and directors lack administrative training and leave their jobs quickly. While large cities have an advantage, the vast majority of municipalities have only a few thousand occupants. Further, a mayor can hold office for no more than three years, which means new people must be trained for these positions frequently (Hanson).

The rationale behind the decentralization was that it would force the citizens to learn how to participate in civic life intelligently. Political education might grow slowly, but it seemed the best way to encourage people to become involved in their own government. Such decentralization and increased citizen involvement offered a way to reduce the political violence that racked the country. Thus, in the early 1990s, Colombians chose to reverse the program of central planning and enforcement that the external agencies and the Ministry of Education had encouraged since the late 1960s. To stem a growing rate of assassinations and kidnappings, they chose to emphasize participatory democracy instead of efficiency in educational planning (Hanson).

Through the 1970s and 1980s, the total public expenditure for schools remained approximately 3 percent of the gross national product (GNP). Private expenditures for schools during the same period represented approximately 2 percent of the GNP. Thus, total education expenditures in Colombia through the 1970s and 1980s somewhat exceeded 5 percent. By comparison, other Latin American countries made an average public expenditure of 4.3 percent of their GNPs. On the other hand, Colombia's private expenditures for education exceeded those of other similar countries (Hanson).

Within the Ministry of Education, various agencies direct funds to education. For higher education, the Colombian Institute for the Development of Higher Education (Instituto Colombiano para el Fomento de la Educación Superior ) is responsible for the coordination and distribution of central government funds to public and private universities. The Colombian Institute for School Construction (Instituto Colombiano de Construcción Escolar ) is responsible for carrying out Ministry of Education plans for school construction and for providing school equipment and teaching materials to primary and secondary schools. Further, the departmentsthrough the secretaries of educationplay a key role in financing primary and secondary education. They are responsible for building and maintaining schools and paying teachers and departmental university faculties. The municipalities provide the land for school buildings and they maintain the school buildings. Throughout the 1960s, however, many small, poor municipalities could not meet their educational obligations. As a result, the three biggest municipalitiesBogotá, Medellín, and Caliconsumed about 70 percent of the total amount of expenditures (Jallade).

In the 1960s, the industrialized cities had a much wider tax base from which to support schools than did rural areas. Consequently, the Ministry of Education allocated more funds for public education in less advantaged areas such as Boyacá and Cauca than in wealthy areas such as Antioquia and Valle. In 1971, the Congress passed the Situado Fiscal (financial security legislation) to require that the ministry follow a formula in deciding how to allocate these funds. According to this statute, the ministry was to divide 30 percent of its funds equally among the departments. It would divide the remaining 70 percent according to the size of the population in each region. In considering population size, the ministry used 1963 census figures that were out of date. The resulting bias helped rural areas, however, because those regions had been losing population (Hanson).

In 1975, the Congress passed the nationalization law that stipulated the central government would assume financial responsibility for all educational expenditures. In doing this, the Ministry of Education would set expense limits for each department. The departments and the municipalities would pay for any expenses beyond those limits. Although department governors would appoint teachers, the ministry determined how many appointments the governor could make. In addition, the ministry had to approve any new school construction (Hanson).

According to the nationalization law, the central government would gradually assume these responsibilities. Thus, from 1970 to 1978, the central government increased its share of the total educational expenditures from 65.5 percent to 83.7 percent. Departments reduced their expenditures from 34.5 percent of the total to 16.3 percent. Unfortunately, in 1980, the ministry realized it would never be able to pay for all school expenses and required the departments to continue making contributions to education (Hanson).

In 1989, when the Congress required that municipalities control education rather than the Ministry of Education, it adopted a strategy to finance those schools. Before decentralization, the national government provided about 84 percent of the needed funds. Departments offered approximately 13 percent, and municipalities contributed 2 percent. The national government froze its level of contributions and required that any needed expansions would have to come from the other contributors (Hanson).

Many mayors feared they could not adequately finance or administer the schools in their municipalities. Even in wealthy cities, the schools were understaffed, the buildings were in disrepair, and many classrooms were overcrowded. Consequently, by 1992, only 70 percent of the municipalities had accepted responsibility for the local schools. Twenty percent of the schools passed into the control of the departments, and 10 percent remained with the Ministry of Education (Hanson).

In 1993, to increase public financial expenditures, all branches of the government dedicated a sum equal to about 5 percent of the gross internal product (Producto Interno Bruto-PIB ) to education (Trujillo). The 10-year plan of 1996 called on those same parts of government to raise contributions to match 8.5 percent of the PIB.

Nonformal Education

During the early twentieth century, small towns and cities had local newspapers that produced issues of less than 10 pages to a small circle of readers. Not until the 1930s did a major newspaper achieve national circulation. In 1929, Elías Pellet Buitrago made the first radio broadcast in Colombia. However, there were only about 250 receivers in the country. By 1935, radio's popularity grew. Although news programs of that time consisted of nothing more than commentators reading stories from journals, politicians recognized radio's potential as a campaign tool and sought to use it to mobilize crowds of voters. As a result, in 1941 there were 70 stations in Colombia, most of which played a various forms of music. Occasionally, literature and theater found their ways on to the airways. In the 1950s, transistor radios became popular and appeared everywhere (Williams and Guerrieri).

To some extent, radio offered a means to help rural education. In 1947, Father José Joaquin Solcedo initiated a church-sponsored program namedAcción Cultural Popular (ACPO), or Popular Culture Action. The idea was to use a radio relay system to transmit classes in reading and writing to all parts of the country. The classes concentrated on basic literacy but included such items as agricultural extension programs and sanitation suggestions. ACPO offered paperback texts at a nominal cost that the parish priest could distribute. Usually, an assistant helped the students follow the instructions. Financed entirely by the church, ACPO claimed to have 16,000 radio schools in the rural areas of Colombia in 1970. Despite these claims, some researchers found that many priests did not invest the necessary time in the program and that the broadcasts rarely reached the more remote areas of the country (Havens and Flinn).

In 1954, television came to Colombia, where it was initially controlled by the state bureau of information and news (Oficina de Información y Prensa del Estado). In 1955, the authority passed to the national office of television (Televisora Nacional). Not long after that, the state monopoly passed to the Instituto Nacional de Radion y Televisíon (National Institute of Radio and Television), also known as Inravisíon. As a result of such governmental control, politicians used the television to campaign, and they cancelled programs that were critical of their policies. Nonetheless, television spread rapidly, covering 80 percent of the territory by 1960 and reaching almost two million viewers. Although most of the programming consisted of soap operas and sporting events, in 1961, television channels began carrying educational programs for children and agricultural information for farmers in rural areas. By 1970, there were two national television channels dedicated to educational programming (Williams and Guerrieri).

In 1972, more than 12,000,000 radios were in use in Colombia. In the 1970s, the number of member radio stations held by the major networks increased. However, the three principal networksCARACOL, RCN, and TODELARestablished ties with television and print media. Similarly, newspapers consolidated. In the late 1970s, there were 42 papers in 16 Colombian cities. Each had circulations of approximately 200,000 readers. Finally, in 1985, the national television network, Inravisíon, broke into three branches, and channels appeared in the different regions of Colombia (Williams and Guerrieri).

Teaching Profession

In 1979, The Congress of Colombia passed the Teacher's Law (Estatuo Docente ), which specified the rights and benefits of teachers throughout the nation. This statute established a salary scale for teachers with 14 levels and benefits. At the same time, the teachers were expected to enter a registry. The lowest level at which a person could enter this registry required completion of a teacher training program offered at a high school. The highest level demanded a post-graduate degree in education, or a university degree in education and the publication of a work in the field. To draw teachers to rural areas, the statute offered incentives, such as rapid advancement. Despite the incentives, many teachers transferred to urban areas, which led to a surplus of qualified teachers in urban areas and a lack of adequate personnel in rural areas (Hanson).

In Colombia, teacher training takes place at two levels. Some secondary schools offer a teaching diploma (Bachillerato Pedagógico), or an identical program called normal school training (Formación Normalista). These programs offer a basic cycle of academic courses and a second cycle of specialization. After receiving their diplomas, students may teach in primary schools or apply for admission into an institution of higher learning. To qualify to teach at a secondary school, the candidates have to graduate from a postsecondary institution or a university school of education. Critics complain that the normal schools are inflexible and offer poor quality specialized training. In 1980, to address these criticisms, the national Ministry of Education adopted Decree 80, which promised to promote the scientific and pedagogical training of teachers in universities (Hanratty and Meditz; Wellington; Hanson).

Despite the criticisms, the level of teacher preparation rose significantly. In the 1960s, 11 percent of primary school teachers had only a primary school education or less. At the same time, only 2 percent of primary school teachers had any postsecondary training. In the 1980s, the percentage of primary school teachers with primary school training or less dropped to about 1 percent. However, only 13 percent of the primary school teachers had postsecondary training. Among secondary school teachers, the level of preparation is higher. During the 1980s, about 55 percent of secondary school teachers had completed university studies (Hanratty and Meditz).


Since the inception of Colombia, the government has formulated laws to improve schools. These have included such efforts as standardizing educational programs, raising teacher qualifications, and making buildings more sanitary. Unfortunately, for several reasons, the different governments that held power could not implement the measures they mandated. One important reason was that the tradition of regionalism impeded the development of national plans to improve education. A second reason is the historical lack of financial resources and the extreme inequality among the people, which made educational reform difficult.

Unfortunately, educational development in Colombia has not been consistently successful in overcoming political obstacles and finding resources to support reform. For example, during the 1960s and 1970s, the central government took steps to increase its authority. However, in the 1980s and 1990s, maintaining a desire for local control, Colombians adopted measures that prevented central authorities from garnering the control needed to enact widespread improvements.

At the same time, economic improvement was inconsistent. In the 1970s, industry surpassed agriculture as the major contributor to the nation's economy. Bogotá, Medellín, and Cali became the manufacturing centers. Although coffee remained Colombia's most important crop, in areas such as Medellín, cocaine and heroin contributed billions of dollars to an underground economy and stimulated such legal trades such as construction. Thus, although most Colombians had no connection to the drug trade, a large part of the relative economic health of Colombia during the 1980s came from that trade (Williams and Guerrieri).

Colombia enjoys many natural resources and agricultural advantages. Thus, some citizens have achieved worldwide fame, but many other citizens languish in poverty. During the 1990s, Colombia enjoyed the prestige associated with being the home of novelist and 1982 Nobel Prize winner, Gabriel García Márquez. In addition, Colombia supported such world-class painters as Alejandro Obregón, Fernando Botero, and Enrique Grau. Unfortunately, in rural areas especially, children faced inadequate educational opportunities, and a high percentage left school early (Williams and Guerrieri).

Fortunately, opportunities to increase the level of popular learning exist within the culture. In Colombian cities, urban design and architecture is varied and interesting. Distinct regional traditions that have been preserved nurture a rich and varied body of Colombian music. Such cultural resources may sustain dramatic increases in all levels of education that will overcome the political and economic problems afflicting the nation (Williams and Guerrieri).


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Joseph Watras and Isabel Cavour

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Republic of Colombia

República de Colombia



Shaped like an odd-looking pear with a thin top, Colombia is located in the northwestern corner of South America, alongside the Caribbean Sea between Panama and Venezuela, and bordering the Pacific Ocean between Panama and Ecuador. Colombia has an area of 1,138,903 square kilometers (439,733 square miles) and a total coastline of 3,207 kilometers (1,993 miles) distributed between the Caribbean Sea and North Pacific Ocean. It shares borders with Venezuela to the east, Brazil to the southeast, Peru and Ecuador to the south-southwest, and Panama to the northwest. With the fifth-largest area in Latin America in terms of size, Colombia is one-ninth the size of the United States, and is approximately the same size as the United Kingdom, France, and Germany combined. The capital city, Bogotá, is located in the center of the country in a mountainous setting.

Topographically, Colombia is divided into 4 regions: the central highlands, the Caribbean lowlands, the Pacific lowlands, and Eastern Colombia (east of the Andes mountains). In this diverse geography one important feature is the 3 chains of high mountains (cordilleras) that cut the country from south to northeast.


In Latin America, Colombia ranks fourth in overall population and tenth in population density. Its population was estimated at 39.68 million in July of 2000, up from 25.4 million in 1975. In 2000 the birth rate stood at 22.85 per 1,000 while the death rate was 5.73 per 1,000. With a projected annual growth rate of 1.6 percent between 2000 and 2015, the population is expected to reach 53.2 million by the year 2015.

At the end of World War II, Colombia's population growth accelerated dramatically, peaking at about 3.2 percent per year by the 1960s. In 1951 Colombia's population was 11.5 million, and by 1973 it had doubled to 22.9 million. Beginning in the late 1960s the annual population growth rate dropped dramatically, such that between 1973 and 1985 it stood at only 2 percent. This drop was partly the result of a control policy initiated during the Lleras Restrepo administration (1966-70). Colombia was one of the few Latin American countries to adopt family planning as an official policy and to integrate it into development plans.

Population distribution is highly uneven. Roughly 94.5 percent of the population is concentrated in 42 percent of the territory, mostly in the plateaus and basins scattered among the Andes cordilleras and the valleys of the Magdalena and Cauca rivers, which run south to north in the western half of the country. Some 58 percent of the territory, mostly the 9 eastern departments (administrative units, much like provinces), accounts for a scant 5.5 percent of the population. Three-fourths of the population live in the Central Highlands in the temperate and cool zones and the remainder in the Caribbean lowlands.

Visitors travelling to Colombia during the 1950s and 1960s were struck by the social and economic changes in the country. The population explosion was accompanied by significant migrations from the countryside to intermediate and big cities, which led to rapid urbanization. According to the 1938 census, 30.9 percent of the population lived in urban municipal towns. By 1951 this had increased to 38.7 percent and continued to increase sharply so that by 1985 it had reached 67.2 percent. By the mid-1980s urban growth had consolidated the change from a predominantly rural to an urban economy. According to the 1993 census, Bogotá, the capital city, had a population of 5,399,000. Other major cities are Medellín (2,556,000 people) in the western province of Antioquia; Cali (2,064,000), southwest of Bogotá; and Barranquilla (1,329,000), on the Caribbean.

Colombia is one of the most Spanish of all South American nations, although persons of pure Spanish descent constitute only 20 percent of the population. The mestizos (people who are a mixture of white and indigenous Amerindians) comprise 58 percent. The mulattos (a mixture of African and white ethnicities) make up 14 percent, and those of African descent are only 4 percent of the population. The zambos (those of mixed African and Amerindian origins) comprise 3 percent of Colombia's people.

Colombia is a country composed primarily of young people, with 63 percent aged between 15 and 64 years, 32 percent below the age of 14, and 5 percent of the population older than 65.

An important feature of the latter half of the twentieth century has been a strong tendency for Colombians to emigrate . The 2 main destinations of emigrants are the United States and Venezuela. Up until the end of the 1980s, most of the emigrants to the United States were professionals, which represented a considerable brain drain (when talented professionals leave their home country due to better pay and living conditions abroad). However, in the 1990s the composition of emigrants also included less qualified professionals. Emigration to Venezuela has also been a major demographic phenomenon. The number of Colombians living illegally in Venezuela has been variously estimated at between half and three-quarters of a million. If legal migrants are considered, there may be as many as a million Colombian migrants in that neighboring country. The illegal migration is virtually impossible to control because the border is long and open, and Colombians are indistinguishable from Venezuelans. During the 1990s the trend has diminished due to Venezuela's economic problems. Overall, Colombia's emigration problem has been the result of not only better economic opportunities elsewhere, but rampant insecurity in the country.


Colombia is a market economy with major commercial and investment links to the United States, and more recently to its neighbor countries in the Andean region. For close to a century the country was known as a "coffee economy." As the twentieth century came to close, Colombia remained a major coffee producer, though coffee was second to oil as a generator of foreign exchange earnings. By the end of the century, even chemicals had surpassed coffee in export earnings. In the last 25 years the country has also gained an unfortunate reputation as a haven for illegal drug cultivation and manufacture.

Colombia has attained greater diversification both in terms of production and exports, allowing the country to cushion the external shocks typically felt by less developed countries which are dependent on shifting world prices for their major exports. Apart from oil production, recent examples of success range from the export of fresh-cut flowers to the chemical industry, a leading exporter to other Latin American countries.

The net result has been an economy growing steadilythough moderatelyover the last 50 to 60 years, with an important positive impact upon the welfare of the population measured by almost any indicator. Life expectancy, nutrition, and access to health and education have all improved. Major services such as electricity, urban sewage, roads, and telecommunications have increased substantially. Furthermore, GDP per capita has risen, although it is still unevenly distributed.

To continue this process, Colombia has required many technology inputs, both in terms of equipment, chemical products, and raw materials for production, as well as consumer products to match the needs of a sophisticated urban society. Colombia's growth has been close to the average of developing countries, but this growth has not been steady. Annual GDP growth in the 45 years after World War II was about 4.8 percent, but it varied from a high of 6.08 percent between 1967 and 1972 to a more modest 2 percent between 1990 and 1997. In 1999 GDP diminished by about 5 percent, the only negative result in close to 70 years as investment activity and demand plummeted.

Topographical conditions have made internal communications very difficult, isolating most regions from one another. For close to a century such difficulties prevented the consolidation of an integrated national market. Today, modern transportation infrastructure is still lacking, both for the internal market and for exports.

Unlike most other Latin American countries, Colombia was never very cut off from the world in economic terms. During the second half of the twentieth century, the country managed a mixture of relatively open and moderate economic strategies combined with industrial and export promotion policies. One good example is currency management. Up to 1967 the currency had several values through multiple exchange rates . The government then chose to have one rate, with its value fluctuating over time using a crawling peg mechanism. In addition, several other mechanisms were designed to promote exports. Following such changes, exports expanded, bring in new sources of foreign exchange.

Such policiesunusual in the regionallowed Colombia to avoid the hardship of the 1980s, known throughout the area as the "lost decade." One major difference was the national debt . During the 1980s Colombia managed to avoid the "debt trap" with a debt of roughly 7 percent of GDP, although in the last 7 years it increased to 30 percent. The country's total external debt by 1998 was US$35 billion. So when the times were ripe for major changes, Colombia was able to launch economic reforms without the strains suffered by other countries. The first 5 years of liberalization in the late 1980s and early 1990s were characterized by higher economic growth than the previous decade (between 4 to 5 percent annually). Subsequently, the GDP growth rate fell to 0.6 percent in 1998, and close to-5.0 percent in 1999 during the recession which affected all of Latin America.

Despite its comparative advantages, Colombia has suffered from the introduction and expansion of a powerful illegal drug industry that today stands as a major threat to the consolidation of the country as a democratic society and operates as a major fuel to social and political violence. Originating in the early 1970s, the narcotics business managed to profit from weak social and legal controls, political corruption, and the collusion of some authorities. With their headquarters established in the regions of Antioquia and Cauca, the Medellín and Cali cartels set up a vast international network of coca, marijuana, and poppy cultivation, the manufacture of cocaine and heroine, distribution channels, and money laundering .


Colombia was one of the first South American nations to gain independence from Spain in 1824. A part of the Gran Colombia (comprising also Venezuela, Ecuador, and Panama) until 1830, from the 1840s the country started on its own route, oriented toward a mild form of economic and social liberalism. From those early years onwards the country has been characterized by 3 major political features: first, a dominance of 2 major parties, the Liberals and Conservatives. From around the mid-19th century, traditional political parties have dominated the political scene, adapting to major social, economic, and international conditions. Second, the pervasive presence of political violence. The greatest bloodshed came in the War of the Thousand Days (1899-1902) in which 100,000 people died, and the "Violencia" (1948-66) during which between 100,000 and 200,000 lost their lives. Currently Colombia is plagued by violence from several leftist guerrilla groups and high levels of violence involving both street criminals and drug lords.

Paradoxically, the third feature has been a relatively long stability of democratically elected governments from 1910 onwards, with the exception of the period from 1949 to 1958. Apart from that brief period, Colombia's military forces have been known for their support of civilian-elected governments. In response to the mid-twentieth-century violence, the 2 traditional parties formed the National Front coalition under which Liberals and Conservatives alternated the presidency and shared power in Congress and the government bureaucracy from 1958 to 1974.

The political regime is presidential, with presidents elected directly every 4 years with no opportunity for reelection. The current president is Andrés Pastrana, elected in 1998. Every now and then there have been pressures toward more provincial autonomy, but the regime remained quite centralized from the enactment of the 1886 Constitution until a new one was drafted and approved in 1991. Regarding the judiciary system, the top of its hierarchy is selected by Congress. There is a bicameral (2-chamber) Congress; governors, mayors, and local councilors are also elected every 4 years, though on different dates. Although political confrontation has been bitter and even violent occasionally, the 2 parties have shared power most of the time, either through implicit agreements or under constitutional provisions, such as those forming the National Front.

The National Front era contributed to diminishing differences over policy, especially in economic matters, and served as a positive factor for stability and growth. At the same time, however, it was a means to exclude other players in the legal arena, which created incentives for armed struggle. During the National Front period as well as other periods when compromise governments formedit was virtually impossible to create a political organization outside the Liberal or Conservative parties.

For more than half a century Colombia has suffered from the action of left-wing guerrillas. From the late 1940s, growing discontent over poverty and social inequities in rural areas led to the formation of guerilla groups, which evolved into 2 major organizations, the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC, communist oriented), and the Ejercito de Liberacion Nacional (ELN, which supported Cuban leader Fidel Castro). During the 1970s and 1980s, the guerrillas turned their attention to the cities, and several attempts toward peace ended in bloodshed. Today the 2 former guerrilla groups have turned to the narcotics business in their search for financial support. In their pursuit of total power, the guerrillas have failed to topple the government but have caused major disruptions. That is also the case of the growing power of the drug cartels and paramilitary groups.

In 1991 a new constitution was drafted by a Constituent Assembly and later approved by a majority of Colombians. It cleared the way for new entrants to the political scene, instituted direct elections of provincial governors and mayors, and strengthened the office of the Attorney General, Constitutional Council, and the Electoral Authority. Other constitutional provisions regarding the political system, such as banning re-election and a 4-year presidential period, were maintained.

The strategy of the Pastrana administration has been to reinitiate peace negotiations with the 2 major groups (FARC and ELN) while at the same time obtaining important financial support from the U.S. government. This programcalled Plan Colombiais designed to combat the illegal drug plantations, laboratories, and the commercial drug network, thus depriving the guerrillas of financial support.

The size and influence of government over the economy has been rather mild. According to the World Bank, the central government revenues in 1998 were only 12 percent of GDP. Though the level of state involvement increased from the 1940s to the 1970s, Colombia never concentrated major portions of wealth creation in the hands of the state. Coffee production, with its wide participation of private growers and commercial retail networks, has been an important factor both in terms of tax collection and the presence of private capital.

For many years financial policy was shared between the executive branch and congress, with participation of the private sector , but from the mid-1960s, most of the responsibility has rested with the former, with monetary policy in the hands of the Banco de la Republica (central bank). Traditionally, the government has regulated the prices of electricity, water, sewage, telephone services, public transportation, rents, education tuition, and pharmaceuticals. During the 1960s the government also established a set of public financing institutions and in the 1980s, amid a financial crisis, it nationalized a number of private banks.

In general terms, Liberals and Conservatives have agreed on major policy issues like monetary stability, the avoidance of high inflation , export promotion, and the cautious development of oil. During the 1980s and 1990s, most differences between the parties were over the pace of economic reforms. The Liberal party advocates milder and slower reforms while Conservatives tend to support more open market policies. In 1990, the administration of President Cesar Gaviria (1990-94) initiated economic liberalization, or apertura, and it has continued since then, though at a slower pace. It consists of tariff reductions, financial deregulation , privatization of state-owned enterprises, and the adoption of a more flexible foreign exchange system. After a period of lack of interest in liberalization during the Samper administration (1994-98), the Pastrana administration has regained the pace of economic reforms.

According to the World Development Indicators 1999 more than one-quarter of Colombia's current revenues come from indirect taxes , primarily from domestic taxes on goods and services, and another quarter from direct taxes on income, profit, and capital gains. An unfavorable aspect of the tax situation in Colombia has been a recurrent tendency of several administrations to pardon unpaid taxes accumulated by firms and individuals over the years.


For many decades Colombia suffered from a weak and even non-existent infrastructure that made national market integration difficult. The 3 mountain chains that cut through the most populated areas rendered road and railroad construction very costly. After the 1930s important programs of public investment in infrastructure began, and in recent decades the situation has somewhat improved, though infrastructure still does not meet general needs. Colombia has 115,543 kilometers (71,811 miles) of roads, of which only 13,866 kilometers (8,618 miles) are paved. The rail system is small and outdated, with only about 3,379 kilometers (2,100 miles) in the whole country.

Country Newspapers Radios TV Sets a Cable subscribers a Mobile Phones a Fax Machines a Personal Computers a Internet Hosts b Internet Users b
1996 1997 1998 1998 1998 1998 1998 1999 1999
Colombia 46 581 217 16.7 49 4.8 27.9 7.51 664
United States 215 2,146 847 244.3 256 78.4 458.6 1,508.77 74,100
Brazil 40 444 316 16.3 47 3.1 30.1 18.45 3,500
Ecuador 70 419 293 11.7 25 N/A 18.5 1.42 35
aData are from International Telecommunication Union, World Telecommunication Development Report 1999 and are per 1,000 people.
bData are from the Internet Software Consortium ( and are per 10,000 people.
SOURCE: World Bank. World Development Indicators 2000.

Colombia has a network of 1,101 airports, of which only 90 have paved runways. There are 10 international airports, with heavy traffic in Bogotá, Cali, Barranquilla, Medellín, and Cartagena. The most important airport is "El Dorado," located in the capital city. The difficulties in land communication and transport have made aviation profitable, so for many years Colombia was far ahead of its neighbors in this area. The airports are served by 9 large and medium airlines and also a group of small airlines. In addition, Colombia has 18,136 kilometers (11,272 miles) of waterways navigable by river boats and a number of important ports and harbors, mostly related to tourism.

Electrical power capacity in Colombia falls short of current and projected needs. Electricity production was 45.02 billion kilowatt hours (kWh) in 1998, with 69 percent of production coming from hydroelectric sources, 30.11 percent from fossil fuel, and the rest from other sources. According to World Bank sources, electricity use decreased from 904 kWh per capita in 1996 to 885 kWh per person in 1998. It is also very decentralized, with 37 companies providing power. Among these firms are Interconexion Electrica ISA, Generadora Union, Codensa, Transelca, Genercauca, Centrales Electricos del Norte de Santander, Electrocost, Electromag, Conelca, and EEPP.

Electricity became a lagging sector during the 1990s. Programmed cuts during the mid-1990s ran for several hours a day in the main cities for as long as 2 years. As a result, by 1999 imports of electricity jumped to 94 million kWh. These shortcomings, however, have not affected exploitation of new natural resources such as oil and coal, since investment in those areas usually involve their own infrastructure requirements, like pipelines, integrated camps, and airfields.

Colombia has a relatively modern telephone system represented by a nation-wide relay system, a domestic satellite system with 41 earth stations, and a fiber optic network linking 50 cities. The telecommunications business in Colombia is experiencing a major boom: there were 75 telephone lines per 1,000 people in 1990, doubling in 1998 to 173 lines per 1,000 persons. Cellular subscribers have also increased substantially. In 1990 cell phones were nonexistent, while in 1998 there were 49 subscribers per 1,000 people. Among the many telecommunications companies are Globalnet Telecom, Energia Integral Andina, Skytel, Intelsa, Americatel, Metrotel, Andicel, Cetell ISP, and Colomsat.

According to the CIA World Factbook 2000, Colombia had 5,433,565 telephones main lines in use by 1997 and 1,800,229 cellular telephones in 1998. By 1999 Colombia had 13 Internet service providers. Thus Colombia is moving towards greater connectivity, higher density in mass media, and dynamism in the telecommunications sector.


Colombia is the world's second-largest coffee grower and coffee exporter (after Brazil), accounting for 31.2 percent of the world's production. Coffee production and exports were a major engine of growth during most of the twentieth century. However, by the end of the century, the country had achieved greater diversification. By 1999, agriculture accounted for 19.7 percent of GDP, while manufacturing attained 18.9 percent, and the banking and insurance sector accounted for 15.8 percent. Of less significance were commerce, restaurants and similar activities with 8.8 percent, mining at 4.2 percent, government services with 8.9 percent, construction at 3.4 percent, and electricity, gas, and water with only 1.1 percent. An overview of the productive landscape shows agriculture diminishing over time, with a considerable increase in services, a mining sector (mostly oil and coal) growing in terms of output and exports though diminishing in terms of employment, and a stagnating manufacturing sector. Although these sweeping changes led to the diminishment of agriculture, some agricultural products have seen higher levels of revenue over the last forty years, either through modernization in the production of established crops (cotton, sugar cane, bananas, and cocoa) or through introduction of new ones, like cut flowers.

Changes in population growth have been accompanied by a major shift in the distribution of the economically active population. In 1960, 50.1 percent of the labor force was engaged in agriculture, 19.5 percent in industry, and 30.4 percent in services. By 1980 the figures were 34.3, 23.5, and 42.2 percent, respectively, and by 1999 they stood at 30 percent, 24 percent, and 46 percent, respectively. These shifts reflect a different composition of economic output and have altered many economic relations in the country.


For a long time agriculture was the main source of living for many Colombians. By the year 2000, however, it accounted for roughly 19 percent of GDP, though still employing 30 percent of the population and accounting for 17.4 percent of exports, with coffee the major export. Coffee employs one-fourth of the agricultural labor force, accounts for 20 percent of the cultivated area, and contributes nearly 9 percent to GDP. Production by 1998 was estimated by Colombia's Departamento Administrativo Nacional de Colombia (DANE) at 2,445,224 metric tons.

Colombia has a diversity of other agriculture products, including bananas for export (2,061,992 metric tons), rice (1,818,726 metric tons), potatoes (1,476,869 metric tons), sugarcane (1,061,272 metric tons), cassava (970,951 metric tons), oilseed (378,481 metric tons), and other products like cotton, cocoa beans, and tobacco. There are an estimated 167,000 cattle ranches in the country, of which 40 percent are in the departments of Atlantico, Bolivar, Cordoba, and Magdalena, and 15 percent in Boyaca, Meta, and Arauca.

Of the total land area of Colombia (113,891,400 hectares), an estimated 27 percent is agricultural land, most of it in elevated regions of the temperate zone. Mechanization trends have stagnated in the last twenty years. By 1980 the number of hectares of arable land per tractor was 183, and by 1997 the number rose only slightly to 211 hectares per tractor. Under the traditional system of slash-and-burn agriculture, fields are usually cleared at the beginning of the dry season and the brush from the cleared land is burned. This practice results in soil exhaustion and erosion. Yields are generally low and variable because of the inadequacy of flood control systems and irrigation. Although the country receives adequate rainfall, droughts are common. The U.S. government is working with the Pastrana administration to modernize the agricultural sector and provide incentives for farmers to switch from coca production to other crops.

Colombia ranks high in terms of land concentration and disparities in land ownership. Of the total farmland, 68 percent is owned by 4.3 percent of landowners, and half of Colombia's farms account for less than 2.3 percent of the farmland. Although 69 percent of the farms and 75 percent of the farmland are owned by individual farmers, 62 percent of these farms are too small to provide a living. The number of landless workers is estimated at 1 million, representing close to a third of the population engaged in agriculture. Traditional rural labor markets have virtually disappeared. Migration from traditional agricultural areas to the cities has contributed to more modern hiring and land tenancy systems.

The economic reforms of the 1990s ended most special protective measures for particular sectors, which led to a weakening in the production of some traditional crops like corn, cotton, and cassava. As a member of the Andean Community (formerly Andean Pact), a common trade agreement established during the 1960s and revamped in the 1990s, Colombia still enjoys special protection for many agricultural products. To do this, the "Andean price band system" is employed, which imposes tariffs on certain commodities that vary according to a pre-determined range. Fourteen basic agricultural commodities including wheat, sorghum, corn, rice, barley, milk, and chicken parts are subject to tariffs under the price-band system employed as part of this agreement.

Colombia is also an illicit producer of the drugs coca, opium poppies, and cannabis. According to recent information disclosed by Colombia's Ministry of Defense, the country is the world's leading coca cultivator (coca is used in the production of cocaine). The country was responsible for 67 percent of world supply by 2000, and total land area devoted to coca was approximately 122,500 hectares by the end of 1999, more than a 35 percent increase from 1997, with a refining potential of 710 tons of pure cocaine per year. Cultivation of opium in 1998 remained steady at 6,600 hectares a year.

As of 1999, most small farmers were involved in coca cultivation, largely because of the steady demand from markets in the United States and elsewhere. Coca is harvested from 3 to 6 times a year. Payment is in cash, and this helps farmers maintain a steady source of income. Nevertheless, the U.S. Department of State reports that small coca farmers "barely manage to survive, partially due to the 'protection' fees charged by the guerrilla and paramilitary forces." Small farm plots may account for roughly one-quarter to one-third of coca cultivation, or 30,000 to 40,000 hectares.



One significant part of the transformation of the Colombian economy from the 1970s has been the expansion of the mining sector, mostly comprised of oil production and coal, though it also includes gold and valuable gems such as emeralds. Oil production in Colombia has been declining as of late, with 700,600 barrels a day (bbl/d) in 2000, down 125,000 bbl/d from the previous year. The country's reserves are estimated at about 2.6 billion barrels, but the potential reserves are much higher. Colombia's main oil export market is the United States, with 332,000 bbl/d in 2000. Production is located mainly in the Cusiana and Cupiagua fields in the Andes foothills and in the Cano Limón field near the Venezuelan border. British Petroleum has major operations at Cusiana and Cupiagua, while the Cano Limón field is operated by U.S.-based Occidental.

All foreign investment in petroleum exploration and development in Colombia must be carried out under a profit-sharing association contract between the investor and the state petroleum company, Ecopetrol. In the face of U.S. oil companies' interest in increasing exploration and production if contract and tax requirements are smoothed, the Pastrana administration has responded by liberalizing contracting terms.

Colombia produces more than 90 percent of the world's emeralds; it is the second-largest South American producer of gold and the most important coal producer in Latin America. Coal reserves have been estimated between 12 billion and 60 billion tons, approximately 40 percent of all Latin American reserves. Important levels of production began in 1984, attaining 4,000 metric tons, which jumped to close to 13,000 metric tons by 1993 and 28,500 metric tons in 1997. Excluding oil production, there was a relative decline in mining from 1992 to 1996, accompanied by a decline in the number of persons employed to almost 20,000.


The economic landscape of Colombia has changed dramatically in the last 40 years, and one clear example is the changes in the manufacturing industry by the late twentieth century. Industrial manufacturing is quite varied. According to DANE, by the year 2000 the most important products included basic chemicals (5.3 billion pesos), beverages (3.5 billion pesos), milling and cereal processing (3 billion pesos), oil refining (2.9 billion pesos), and pulp, paper and derived products (2.1 billion pesos). Though an important proportion of production is for the domestic market, the relative level of sophistication in some of these products can be measured by the extent to which they are exported. In 2000 manufactured products accounted for nearly 40 percent of all exports, with chemicals and textiles ranking near the top.

Manufacturing is located mostly in the provinces of Antioquia, Cauca, in the capital district, and to a lesser extent in Barranquilla, on the Atlantic coast. The number of people employed by this sector is 588,681ap-proximately 20 percent of the economically active population.

The lowering of many trade barriers in the 1990s served to streamline Colombian industry, and most sectors have managed to remain competitive with other Latin American competitors, leading to an increase in exports to those countries.

The construction industry, one of the largest employment sectors in Colombia, has been very dynamic over the last 2 decades, totaling close to 7,000 companies. In the years from 1998 to 2001, however, it was hit hard by the recession and tight credit conditions.



Colombia has an extensive banking sector. According to DANE, it accounted in 1995 for close to 16 percent of GDP, clearly the most important service activity. It is headed by the Bank of the Republic, which functions as the central bank. There are approximately 1,700 companies devoted to financial services, of which 37 are established banks, 30 are investment companies, nearly 70 stock and bond brokers, and a small number of leasing and real estate leasing. There are 17 long-term and development financial institutions, including the government-owned Industrial Development Institute. The government has played an important role in the financial sector since the 1970s because of the unwillingness of banks to make long-term loan commitments to riskier projects such as coal development, and because of the necessity for periodic public intervention to stabilize financial markets.

The 6 largest of these corporations hold 86 percent of all assets in this sector. In the mid-1980s there was a crunch in the banking system that forced the government to nationalize a number of troubled domestic banks. It also created the Financial Institutions Guarantee Fund (Fondo de Garantias de Instituciones Financieras) as the authority to intervene or recapitalize those financial institutions in great need of support. By the end of the 1980s the government set out plans for privatization, the second phase of which took place by the end of the 1990s.


Tourism is a relatively minor activity in the country. In 1997 inbound tourists to Colombia numbered 1,193,000 people, contributing US$955 million in foreign exchange, representing 6 percent of exports. In 1980 the corresponding figures were US$357 million and 6.7 percent of exports, so in twenty years there was a slight decline in tourism's contribution to the economy. If hotels and travel agencies are included, the number of people involved in tourism by 1997 was only 23,700. Most tourist activities are concentrated in the Atlantic coast, in the cities of Cartagena, Santa Marta, and Barranquilla. Tourists are mainly attracted to a mixture of beaches and historic sites. As part of the viceroyalty of Nueva Granada during colonial times, the coastal cities retain a good part of this heritage. With Colombia suffering from violence for 2 decades and targeted as a high-risk country, it is quite understandable that there are not more tourists.


The commercial sector is very important in most urban areas, and it has modernized substantially over the years, though suffering from the recession from 1998 to 2000. According to the most recent DANE survey, by 1997 personnel employed in supermarkets, "hypermarkets," and malls was nearly 84,000, with sales of 2.87 billion pesos. These figures declined to 74,000 persons employed and 2.02 billion pesos worth of sales in 2000. Main lines of sales are food, clothing, and pharmaceuticals, though automobiles have increased their share over the last 5 years. Although most retail is regionally based, there are 3 main chain storesAlmacenes Exito, Vivero, and Carullawhich have remained strong despite the downturn of the economy by the end of the 1990s. Also important national and regional companiesincluding the 3 just mentionedhave forged alliances or have opened participation to foreign owners, mostly in the coastal area, while new foreign firms have established retail operations of their own.


Despite geographical and political difficulties, transportation has become over the years an activity of increasing importance, attaining 8.8 percent of GDP by 1997. According to the Asociación Nacional de Instituciones Financieras (ANIF), the transport of cargo and passengers by land represents 76 percent of revenues in the sector, while air transportation accounts for 10 percent, and maritime only 3.3 percent. Passenger transportation accounted for 75 percent of revenues, with the rest going to cargo. According to ANIF, rail transportation's importance diminished by 1997 to a third of the value in 1987.

Colombia's domestic air-transport market was deregulated in 1990, a move that led to domestic passenger traffic doubling to just over 6 million people by 1996. International traffic more than doubled to 1.7 million passengers by the same year. Colombia also concluded an agreement with Venezuela, which led to flights between Venezuela and Bogotá increasing dramatically.


One of the most striking aspects of Colombia's economic performance over the years has been the change in the export mix. Once predominantly a coffee economy, by the year 2000 coffee accounted for only 8.43 percent of foreign exchange earnings, while oil and related products jumped to 35.34 percent and manufacturing products accounted for 39.54 percent of exports. However, Colombia still exports oil and coffee to the developed world (the United States, Japan, Germany, and Belgium), while most of its exports to countries such as Venezuela, Mexico, and Ecuador are manufactured products.

At the same time, the relative importance of Colombia's partners has also changed. The United States remains the main trading partner, receiving 37.2 percent of Colombia's exports and providing 32 percent of Colombia's imports in 1998. However, the role of Venezuela as a trading partner has increased substantially. In 1996 the United States was the destination of US$5,991 million of exports, while Venezuela had climbed to US$1,178 million. Ecuador accounted for US$413 million, Germany US$353 million, Peru US$338 million, and Japan US$216 million. This trend diminished after 1997, mostly due to the recession on both sides of the Venezuela-Colombia border. The year 2000 has shown a relative recovery between both partners.

More than 70 percent of Colombian exports to the United States are primary products such as food (mainly coffee, bananas, cut flowers, tuna, shrimp, and sugar), and fuel (petroleum and coal). The United States also holds the largest share of foreign direct investment , with US$4.3 billion, or 28.1 percent of the estimated total direct foreign investment of US$15.4 billion.

Imports to Colombia also grew extensively during the 1990s, creating a trade deficit until 1998. Through

Trade (expressed in billions of US$): Colombia
Exports Imports
1975 1.465 1.495
1980 3.924 4.739
1985 3.552 4.141
1990 6.766 5.590
1995 10.126 13.853
1998 N/A N/A
SOURCE: International Monetary Fund. International Financial Statistics Yearbook 1999.

September 1999, Colombia's overall trade balance has swung from a US$2.7 billion deficit to a US$1.1 billion surplus, while the U.S.-Colombia trade balance swung from a US$292 million U.S. surplus to a US$1.8 billion deficit. The type of imports also show the overall changes in the Colombian economy. While during most of the twentieth century imports were mainly consumer goods , and later capital goods , the trend has changed. According to DANE, in the year 2000 21.9 percent of imports were capital goods, 51.99 percent were raw materials, 8.57 percent were transportation equipment, and 18.72 percent consisted of consumer goods.


The value of the Colombian peso per US$1 was 2,179.3 in December 2000. This reflects a loss of over half its value against the dollar since 1995, when it traded at 912.83 pesos to the dollar.

Colombia's monetary policies are formulated by the Junta Monetaria (Monetary Board), and banking operations are regulated and supervised by the Superintendencia Bancaria. The Central Bank conducts monetary policy based on behavior of the financial sector, and determines the amount of money in the system and makes other decisions in line with indicators such as inflation and growth of the economy at large.

The Colombian peso has floated freely against the dollar and other currencies since 25 September 1999, when the Central Bank abandoned the crawling band exchange regime, which acts like a crawling peg. Under that system, the Bank intervened in the market by buying or selling dollars to keep the dollar's price in pesos within the band. Soon after abolition of the bandby December 1999the peso had depreciated 20 percent from the beginning of the year, increasing the competitiveness of Colombian exports to the United States.

Inflation has always been moderate in Colombia, with peaks in the mid-twenty percent range. By the end of 1999 inflation was 9.2 percent, more than 5 percentage points below the previous year, mainly as a consequence of the recession. The figure for 2000 was 10 percent

Exchange rates: Colombia
Colombian pesos (Col$) per US$1
Jan 2001 2,241.43
2000 2,087.90
1999 1,756.23
1998 1,426.04
1997 1,140.96
1996 1,036.69
SOURCE: CIA World Factbook 2001 [ONLINE].

as consumption reversed the downward trend and the government restrained wage hikes. Despite economic recovery and a slight weakening of the peso, officials were not able to relax monetary policy later in year 2000. Average interest rates were 19.5 percent in 1999 and about 15.3 percent in 2000.

In August 1989 the government authorized plans to return to private ownership 65 percent of the assets of all financial institutions nationalized after the financial crisis of 1987.


Colombia is neither a poor nor a rich country. Income per person was by year 1999 roughly equal to the world average. According to the Andean Community, GDP per capita was US$1,487 in 1993, and rose to US$2,090 by 1995. The CIA's World Factbook estimates income per capita for 1999 at US$6,200. More interesting, however, are changes over time. By 1980 income per capita was about 108 percent higher than in 1950, with most of the growth having occurred between 1969-1979 when it increased by 50 percent. During the 1980s economic growth declined significantly, but income per capita managed a modest percent increase given a population growth slowdown.

Income distribution has also shown important changes during the last fifty years. Total income inequality peaked in the 1960s. Later on, when education levels improved drastically and the relative income of agricultural workers improved somewhat, inequalities in income levels became less extreme. Among the poorest workers, the picture is also positive. In Political Economy and Illegal Drugs in Colombia, Francisco Thoumi sums up the trends this way: "Based on a constant poverty line, the incidence of poverty has declined continuously during the fifty-year period. A head-count index shows that three-fourths of the population was poor in 1938, half in the mid-1960s, and one-fourth in the late 1980s. The poor declined from 70.5 percent of the country's population in 1973 to 45.6 percent in 1985, while the extreme poor declined from 44.9 to 22.8 percent." All the changes notwithstanding, according to the ANIF, Colombia's income

GDP per Capita (US$)
Country 1975 1980 1985 1990 1998
Colombia 1,612 1,868 1,875 2,119 2,392
United States 19,364 21,529 23,200 25,363 29,683
Brazil 3,464 4,253 4,039 4,078 4,509
Ecuador 1,301 1,547 1,504 1,475 1,562
SOURCE: United Nations. Human Development Report 2000; Trends in human development and per capita income.
Distribution of Income or Consumption by Percentage
Share: Colombia
Lowest 10% 1.1
Lowest 20% 3.0
Second 20% 6.6
Third 20% 11.1
Fourth 20% 18.4
Highest 20% 60.9
Highest 10% 46.1
Survey year: 1996
Note: This information refers to income shares by percentiles of the population and is ranked by per capita income.
SOURCE: 2000 World Development Indicators [CD-ROM].

inequality is still one of the highest in Latin America, and deteriorated greatly between 1997 and 2000, particularly in the urban areas. Rural GDP is only 50 percent of that of urban areas.

Education has also improved substantially in the last forty years. According to Thoumi, in 1951 "44 percent of the population was illiterate [and] in 1955 it was estimated that only 57 percent of 7 to 12-year-olds were enrolled in elementary schools. Under state control, elementary school enrollment reached nearly 100 percent by 1970. Increases in high school and college enrollments have also been substantial. In 1960 high school enrollment was only 11.9 percent, while college enrollment was only 1.8 percent. By 1980 these rates had increased to 44 and 10.6 percent respectively, the latter achieving 28 percent by 1997."

In health care, Colombia also shows continuous improvement. First of all, the control of tropical diseases like malaria in the countryside and improvement in sewage systems in the cities strongly contributed to a diminishing trend in infant mortality rates (from 123.3 for each 1,000 new births in the early 1950s to 48.6 by the end of the 1980s, and 23 by the year 2000). Life expectancy has risen in Colombia; by the end of the 1980s the figure stood at 68 years, and reached 70 years in 2000. This is a far cry from the early 1950s, when the average was barely 50 years. A contributing trend has been the construction of a health care network for the growing urban population. A pension system created in 1993 allows access to both public and privately-funded health care for all employees. This program has both taken the pressure off of the public health system and has supplemented it, leading to a net improvement in the quality of health facilities in the country.

The quality of housing has also improved. According to data quoted by Thoumi from the 1951 census, "52.7 percent of the housing units had earth floors and 90.3 percent had walls made of 'precarious' materials. By the 1985 census these percentages had dropped to 17.1 and 24.4 respectively. Similarly, in 1951 only 28.8 percent of the units had running water, 25.8 percent had electricity, and 32.4 percent had sewage or septic tanks. By 1985 these figures had increased to 69.7, 78.2, and 77 percent respectively. In urban areas these percentages were much higher: 89.8, 95, and 93.6 respectively."

While the physical standard of living has improved, the country has actually become less livable. Colombians today enjoy better housing, health services, and education; they own cars, telephones, and have greater access to information about their country and the world. They are more broadly traveled and they have more material goods than in the past. But many fundamental aspects of the quality of life, such as physical security and property protection, have deteriorated sharply due to the increase in political and criminal violence associated with both guerrilla terrorism and the narcotics war. According to ANIF, life expectancy among male Colombians dropped 3 to 4 years between 1994 and 1997 largely due to the rise in violence, both political and criminal.


The workers' movement emerged by the end of World War I. From that time, the labor movement was greatly influenced by episodes of violent confrontation. The most critical of these occurred during the first massive industrial action, aimed at the United Fruit Santa Marta complex in 1928 when railroad, banana, and field workers went on strike to force changes in wages, hours, and non-wage compensation. The human toll was 1,000 dead. The aftermath of this tragedy diminished the dominance of the Conservative Party and contributed to the Liberal Party winning the presidency. The incoming government had a more open and pragmatic stance toward labor activities and pressed for important labor reforms, which helped in union expansion nation-wide. During this period, there was a greater participation of labor in national politics, mainly through the Liberal Party. The Confederation of Colombian Workers (Confederacion de Trabajadores Colombianos, CTC) was created in 1935, and represented the first successful attempt at uniting smaller unions from various professions into a collective organization. Later, Cold War ideological confrontation led to fears by more conservative elements that the CTC was too left-wing; thus in 1946 the Catholic Church established the Union of Colombian Workers (Union de Trabajadores Colombianos, UTC), which gained important support from the more moderate unions.

A second labor confrontation occurred in 1947 during a strike by port workers on the Magdalena River, which also ended in the loss of lives. During the "Violencia" (1948-66), organized labor became increasingly demoralized and weakened. After 1960, however, 2 more labor federations emerged: the Trade Union Confederation of Colombian Workers (Confederacion Sindical de Trabajadores Colombianos, or CSTC) and the General Confederation of Workers (Confederacion General de Trabajadores, or CGT). The former was aligned with the communists and the latter with the tiny Social Christian party. However, although the percentage of workers enrolled in unions more than doubled from 1959 to 1965, union membership was still a very low 13.4 percent.

Later on, in September 1986, an important group of independent unions and those affiliated with the CSTC joined forces to create the United Workers Central Organization (Central Unitaria de Trabajadores, or CUT). The CUT represented 70 to 75 percent of the organized workforce, and emerged as a major voice against organized violence. This organization proved to be less timid in terms of industrial action, and by the late 1980s the labor movement appeared to play a greater role in representing workers' social and political rights. Working conditions and wages are governed by the Labor Code of 1950 and some additional laws. The work week is 48 hours, except in agriculture. Fringe benefits include annual vacations and sick benefits. Employees are eligible for a retirement pension after 20 years of service. Social security is compulsory with the employer paying half the cost and the employee and the government paying a quarter each.

The total workforce of Colombia reached 18 million by 1999, with a record 20 percent unemployment level due to the recession, which has affected living standards and poverty levels, especially in the countryside.


1821. Gaining independence from the Spanish empire, Colombia emerges from colonial rule as part of Gran Colombia, together with Venezuela, Ecuador, and Panama.

1859. Emergence of the Liberal Party. Tobacco accounts for 28 percent of exports while gold's share is down to 33 percent.

1860S-70s. Liberal constitution establishes liberal economic principles and quasi-federal autonomy to provinces. The 1870s marks efforts in railroad building. The Conservative Party is founded. By late 1870s coffee production, carried by rail and financed by banks, becomes even more important.

1886. A conservative constitution is promulgated, marking a major swing toward a more centralized state.

1898. Coffee reaches 50 percent of exports.

1899. Colombia's greatest civil war ruins the country. Coffee-producing areas are greatly affected, and chaos shakes the economy.

1903. Panama is separated as a consequence of the war, supported by U.S. intervention. After the war, Congress reforms monetary system, budget, customs, tariff legislation, and some protectionist policies .

1904-09. Rule of dictator Rafael Reyes. His conservative administration starts reconstruction under economic orthodoxy.

1910-30. Bipartisan consensus emerges with constitutional reform. Paper money is banned, and minority party representation established. Coffee production takes place on larger farms, and has a greater impact on the domestic economy.

1920s. A strong coffee export trend (11.3 percent of world production by 1930) allows for the tripling of public spending, mostly in infrastructure.

1930-46. Known as the Liberal Republic, this is a period of social reform, slower economic development, and growing tension between the parties. The collapse of coffee prices is partially compensated for by greater exports and the strengthening of domestic industry. Liberal dissident Jorge Eliecer Gaitan rises to prominence.

1946. Split in Liberal party ends the period of liberal rule. Gaitan dominates the Liberal party.

1948. Assassination of Gaitan leads to a virtual civil war known as "The Violence" (1948-66).

1950. Extreme Conservative Laureano Gomez comes to power, unleashing terror against liberal insurgencies in the countryside. Exports start a diminishing trend.

1953. A military coup supported by both traditional parties brings in General Rojas Pinilla. Political calm is affected by a downturn in coffee prices and a weak economic performance.

1958. Beginning of the National Front, under which Liberals and Conservatives alternate the presidency and share government posts at all levels.

1960s. After economic difficulties and currency instability, the largest post-war economic expansion period comes after 1964.

1969. Colombia joins the Andean Pact, a trading agreement among several South American countries.

1974-84. A period of economic instability and political stability. An increase in coffee prices reduces foreign exchange constraints, allowing an upward trend in income, lower unemployment, and an increase in international reserves. After 1980, a collapse in coffee prices produces slow growth, an industrial setback, rising unemployment, and an increase in deficits.

1987-89. Political violence starts again; prominent politicians are kidnapped or assassinated by drug dealers trying to overthrow the government.

1990-94. The Cesar Gaviria administration opens up the economy and leads the approval of a new constitution.

1994-98. The Ernesto Samper administration begins under accusations of campaign financing by drug dealers. The pace of economic reforms slow down, while the narcotics business and the guerrilla activities grow.

1998-2000. Peace negotiations with the guerrillas begin under President Andrés Pastrana. Plan Colombia against illicit drug production and trafficking is launched.


Most of Colombia's dilemmas at the beginning of the 21st century are political rather than economic. The confrontation between guerrilla groups allied to the narcotics industry has become highly delicate, and is likely to remain so throughout the rest of the Pastrana presidential period, which will end in 2002. This situation will also affect the modernization of the political system and any economic recovery. Despite a better structural situation than other countries in the region, the continuous violence not only stops major advances, due to the uneasiness of foreign investors, but also creates major incentives for the emigration of the elite and professional groups. Putting all his eggs in the basket of the peace process has led to frustration over the failure of Pastrana's efforts. The weak economic performance has additionally undermined the popularity of the president. His administration has enjoyed strong support from the U.S. government, which in 2000 agreed to an aid package of US$1.7 billion (Plan Colombia) to combat illegal drugs in the south, southeast, and northern areas.

According to most sources, peace talks with the guerrillas that started in 1999 continue against a background of violence. Although some progress has been made, the conflict has escalated and the guerrillas' commitment to ending the hostilities is questionable. Negotiations with the largest guerrilla group, the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), have followed a stop-and-go trend, stagnating for half a year and then resuming after continuous confrontations. So far the clashes have not ended. Pastrana and his successor are likely to come under increasing pressure to abandon talks and opt for a purely military solution if progress continues to prove elusive. Despite the eventual promise of military support from the United States, it is unlikely that such an option will be followed, mostly because of the risks involved in an open civil war against well-armed and widely dispersed guerrilla forces. Also, the peace talks still enjoy the support of important civil sectors, including the Church and non-government organizations (NGOs). While Bogotá continues to try to negotiate a settlement, neighboring countries worry about the violence spilling over their borders.

Colombia's leading exports, oil and coffee, face an uncertain future. New exploration is badly needed to offset a pending decline in oil production, and the coffee harvest has dropped because of aging plantations and natural disasters. The lack of public security is a key concern for investors, making progress in the government's peace negotiations with insurgent groups an important driver of economic recovery. Net foreign direct investment fell to about US$675 million in 1999 from US$2.5 billion in 1998, reflecting poor business confidence. The tide changed again in 2000, more than doubling the previous figure amid lower interest rates, greater oil investment, and privatization. Officials are also offering better contract terms to encourage greater foreign investment in the oil industry. In spite of pipeline bombings and kidnappings, current oil prices remain a powerful incentive for further oil investments, especially since Colombia's untapped oil reserves are estimated to be huge. According to the International Energy Agency, oil production is expected to top 1.2 million barrels a day within the next 5 years and show little decline through 2020.

Despite the end of the recession, investor sentiment and economic recovery will remain vulnerable to further troubles in the beleaguered financial sector and the delicate peace process.


Colombia has no territories or colonies.


Asociación Nacional de Instituciones Financieras. <>. Accessed February 2001.

Bergquist, Charles, Ricardo Peñaranda, and Gonzalo Sánchez, editors. Violence in Colombia: The Contemporary Crisis in Historical Perspective. Wilmington, Delaware: Scholarly Resources Books, 1992.

Bushnell, David. The Making of Modern Colombia. Berkeley:University of California Press, 1993.

"Colombia." Energy Information Administration. <>. Accessed August 2001.

DANE: Departamento Administrativo Nacional de Colombia. <>. Accessed February 2001.

Economist Intelligence Unit. Country Profile: Colombia. London: Economist Intelligence Unit, 2001.

Kurian, George Thomas, editor. Encyclopedia of the Third World. New York: Facts on File, 1987.

Ocampo, José Antonio, editor. Historia Económica de Colombia .Bogotá: Presidencia de la República, Imprenta nacional, 1997.

Thoumi, Francisco E. Political Economy and Illegal Drugs in Colombia. Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1995.

U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. World Factbook 2000. <>. Accessed August 2001.

Leonardo Vivas


Bogotá (Santa Fe de Bogotá).


Colombian peso. One peso equals 100 centavos. There are coins of 10, 20, and 50 centavos and 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, and 50 pesos, and notes of 100, 200, 500, 1,000, 2,000, 5,000, and 10,000 pesos.


Petroleum, coffee, coal, bananas, chemicals, gold, cut flowers.


Industrial equipment, transportation equipment, consumer goods, chemicals, paper products, fuels, electricity.


US$245.1 billion (purchasing power parity, 1999 est.).


Exports: US$11.5 billion (f.o.b., 1999 est.). Imports: US$10 billion (f.o.b., 1999 est.).

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Basic Data

Official Country Name: Republic of Colombia
Region (Map name): South America
Population: 40,349,388
Language(s): Spanish
Literacy rate: 91.3%
Area: 1,138,910 sq km
GDP: 81,283 (US$ millions)
Number of Daily Newspapers: 24
Total Circulation: 1,093,000
Circulation per 1,000: 41
Number of Nondaily Newspapers: 4
Total Circulation: 131,000
Circulation per 1,000: 5
Total Newspaper Ad Receipts: 307 (US$ millions)
As % of All Ad Expenditures: 11.30
Number of Television Stations: 60
Number of Television Sets: 4,590,000
Television Sets per 1,000: 113.8
Number of Cable Subscribers: 575,280
Cable Subscribers per 1,000: 13.6
Number of Satellite Subscribers: 79,000
Satellite Subscribers per 1,000: 2.0
Number of Radio Stations: 515
Number of Radio Receivers: 21,000,000
Radio Receivers per 1,000: 520.5
Number of Individuals with Computers: 1,500,000
Computers per 1,000: 37.2
Number of Individuals with Internet Access: 878,000
Internet Access per 1,000: 21.8

Background & General Characteristics

Colombia is one of the more complicated and interesting of the world's nations. Its history has a significant connection to its media and its press traditions. From its founding as a nation into the twenty-first century, it maintained a tradition of freedom of the press, and it attained an extensive and high quality press. However, violence threatens the country as a democratic entity as well as the health of its media.

Colombian History

The territory that came to be called Colombia was originally populated by Chibcha Indians, who were conquered by Spanish conquistadors (colonialists). The Spanish used the term, Indian, which derived from indigena (indigenous). Although the nation was named for Columbus, the explorer never actually set foot on the land. Spain colonized the territory in the 1600s after conquering the Chibchas.

Originally part of Gran Colombia, which included what are now Panama and Venezuela, Colombia developed a constitution and government in 1811. It began its efforts towards independence from Spain in 1812. When Gran Colombia was liberated at Boyoca in 1819, under the leadership of Bolivar, it became an independent nation. Ecuador joined Gran Colombia in 1822. Panama became part of Colombia in 1821, after gaining its independence from Spain.

The Gran Colombia constitution was a model of popular democratic government. It established a two house or bicameral Congress, guaranteed the inviolability of persons, homes, and correspondence, and also guaranteed freedom of the press. By 1828, however, Bolivar, had returned from liberating other South American nations and had become a dictator and a self-proclaimed president for life. The people of Gran Colombia organized a constitutional convention in 1830, at which time Bolivar resigned. In the process, Ecuador and Venezuela seceded from Gran Colombia, and Gran Colombia collapsed. That left Colombia and Panama as the remaining entities and they essentially became Colombia.

Ethnic Groups

As of 2002, about 58 percent of the people are mestizo (mixed Spanish and Chibcha Indian), and whites are 20 percent. The Spanish brought African slaves who were from the areas now called Angola, Nigeria, and Zaire. Mulattos (mixed black and white) are 14 percent; blacks, 4 percent; and mixed black-Amerindian 3 percent. In addition, Amerindian represent 1 percent of the population.

Population Density

The 2001 estimate of the Colombian population, 40,349,388, suggested a population density of 92 persons per square mile. About three-fourths of the population was classified as urban. One-third of the Colombia people are young. The age distribution was given as follows: younger than 14 represented 31.88 percent; between 15 and 64 represented 63.37 percent; those 65 years and older constituted 4.75 percent. The overall population growth rate was 1.64 percent. The birth rate was 22.41 births per 1,000 population and the death rate was 5.69 deaths per 1,000 people. The population was decreased slightly by a few more people leaving the country than moving to it.

Literacy and Education

The Encarta Encyclopedia estimated that 97 percent of all Colombians could read and write by 2001. In 1996 some 4.9 million pupils attended primary schools and 3.3 million secondary schools. Elementary education was free and compulsory for five years. Most schools were controlled by the Roman Catholic Church, but even governmentally-funded schools required Catholic religion educational content, an arrangement which reflects the close ties between the nation and the Church. There were some Protestant schools, primarily in Bogotá. The government paid for elementary education in communities that could not afford to do so; it also financed secondary and university-level schooling. Late 1990s data showed that 4.9 million pupils annually attended primary schools. Another 3.3 million attended secondary schools including vocational training and teacher training institutions. Of the 235 institutions of higher education some were public and others were affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church.

Religion & Language

In the early 2000s some 95 percent of the people were Roman Catholics. The Concordat between Colombia and the Roman Catholic Church gave that religion a special status in the nation. The rest of the population included some Protestant groups as well as a small Jewish population, many of whom were descendents of individuals who fled Nazi Germany.

Spanish is the dominant language in Colombia. But the 1991 Constitution recognized diverse ethnic groups and made some provision for bilingual education. Dialects characterize different regions of Colombia, and Colombians take special pride in their language and some believe Colombian Spanish to be most closely related to the mother tongue Spaniards brought to Latin America.

Colombian Newspapers

There are 37 Spanish language daily newspapers in Colombia, in addition to two English language dailies, The Colombia Times and The Bogotá Daily. According to 2001 International Year Book: The Encyclopedia of the Newspaper Industry four of the Spanish language papers had circulations of fewer than 10,000; eight had circulations between 10,000 and 25,000; eight others had circulations from 25,000 to 50,000; five had circulations from 50,000 to 100,000; and three had circulations from 100,000 to 500,000.

In Colombia, there were two daily (except for Sunday) newspapers, La Cronica and Diario del Quindio The capital city of Bogotá had several newspapers: Diario, El Espacio (The Space), and El Espectador (The Spectator), considered one of the most influential newspapers in Colombia and Latin America. In Barranquilla, an important port city, there were two newspapers (daily except for Sunday), El Heraldo (The Herald) and La Libertad (The Liberty).

Established in 1925, El Nuevo Siglo was a morning Bogotá paper which also has a Sunday edition and a circulation of 68,000. Begun 1988, La Prensa (The Press), a morning paper without a Sunday edition, had a circulation of 38,000. Started in 1953, La Republica (The Republic), a morning daily newspaper without a Sunday edition, had a circulation of 55,000. Operating since 1911, El Tiempo (The Time), the largest in Bogotá and the nation, had a daily circulation of 265,118 and its Sunday edition, which included supplements, had a circulation of 536,377. El Vespertino (The Evening) was also available afternoons in Bogotá.

In Bucaramanga, El Deber (The Duty) is a morning daily which does not publish on Sundays. El Frente (For-ward) is a morning daily without a Sunday edition, with a circulation of 10,000. Finally, Vanguardia Liberal (Liberal Vanguard) is a daily with a Sunday edition and a circulation of 48,000.

In the city of Cali, El Caleño is a tabloid paper in operation since 1977. Cali also had El Crisol, a morning daily without a Sunday edition, and Occidente, a morning newspaper without a Sunday edition. Cali's La Republica (The Republic) published both morning and Sunday editions and had a circulation of 20,000. El Pais (The Country) was as of 2002 Cali's largest circulation newspaper. It had both morning and Sunday editions and circulations of 60,000 on weekdays, 120,000 on Saturdays, and 108,304, for the Sunday edition with supplements.

The resort city of Cartagena had El Periodico de Cartagena (The Newspaper of Cartagena) and El Universal (The Universal) which published both daily and Sunday editions with supplements. In Cucuta, the newspapers included Diario la Frontera (Frontier Daily) and La Opinion (The Opinion). In Girardot, the newspaper was El Diario (The Daily). In Ibague there were two papers, El Cronista and El Nuevo Dia. The town of Manizales had La Patria (Homeland), a morning paper established in 1921.

The major city of Medellin, in Antioquia, had El Colombiano (The Colombian) which was established in 1912. This newspaper published morning and Sunday editions and had an extensive circulation of about 90,000. It was one of the three most influential in the nation, along with El Tiempo and El Espectador of Bogotá.

Many smaller towns had one or more papers. In Neiva there are two newspapers, Diario de Huila (Huila Daily) and La Nacion (The Nation). In Pasto, the two papers were El Derecho (The Right) a morning publication established in 1928, and El Radio (The Radio). In Pereira,El Diario (The Daily) provided a daily but no Sunday edition, and Diario del Otun (Otun Daily) put out an evening newspaper. La Tarde (The Afternoon) was an evening newspaper in Pereira. The morning paper without a Sunday edition, El Liberal (The Liberal), was established in 1938 in Popayan and had circulation of 6,500. The newspaper in Santa Marta was El Informador (The Informer). In Tunja, there were two newspapers, Diario de Boyaca (Boyaca Daily) and El Oriente, a daily. In addition to these general interest daily newspapers, there were many specialized newspapers in Colombia, some dealing with the economy and some with sports. There were also a large number of general interest and special interest magazines published in the country.

Colombian Newspapers: Characteristics and Orientations

Newspapers are an important part of Colombian life. According to the World Almanac and Book of Facts in the early 2000s there were 55 newspapers daily per thousand persons. However, historically there was little communication among the various distinct regions of Colombia. For example, the Department of Antioquia, with its capital of Medellin, was quite distinct geographically and culturally from the capital city of Bogotá and other major cities such as Cali. News and information tended to be local. Moreover, Colombian industry was divided by region. In some sense, each major part of the nation could be seen as a separate nation. These divisions were partly caused by geography. As of 2002, roads were difficult to travel, especially through the high Andean mountains. Air travel, though widely available, was expensive. Therefore, interaction among the regions was not common, and pervasive violence, kidnappings, and robberies discouraged people from going too far from their homes.

Generally, newspapers were of high qualitywell-written, well-edited, and generally independent. Colombians depended upon and tended to trust their newspapers, which were widely available and read even across regions. Many of the larger newspapers were readily available through the Internet.

It is possible to infer, from their names alone, the political persuasions of many dailies. Some had "liberal" in their titles, for example. Then, too, the government was an important factor in newspaper business because of its extensive advertising. However, Human Rights Watch and other sources reported that despite the intimidating violence and disorder in the nation, news media independence persisted and papers presented a wide range of political views.

In the early 2000s, Colombian newspapers were mostly owned by wealthy individuals. Human Rights Watch indicated that there was a high concentration of media ownership and, at the same time, fewer advertisers than there had been in the past. Since advertising funds are valued and government is one of the major advertisers, Human Rights Watch suspected that newspapers increasingly practiced self-censorship. Elizabeth Dirnbacher, a journalist in Colombia, called the nation the most dangerous in Latin America for her profession. She stated:

Colombia's leading television networks and newspapers are run by members of long-standing political and economic elites. The Santo Domingo group, Colombia's largest industrial conglomerate, owns the Caracol TV and radio networks as well as the El Espectador newspaper. The rival RCN TV and radio network is controlled by the Ardila Lulle beer empire. Other prime-time TV news shows and the weekly political magazine Semana are owned by family members of former presidents of the two traditional Conservative and Liberal parties that have held power for the last 150 years.

She also noted that the president elected in 1998, Andres Pastrana, was a former journalist from the Conservative Party.

Robert N. Pierce noted that there was a longstanding Colombian tradition of national leaders who mixed politics and the direction of newspapers. Two other presidents who were newspaper directors preceded Pastrana, Laureano Gómez of the no longer existing El Siglo and Eduardo Santos of El Tiempo. Clearly, newspapers though free are closely tied to the political system.

Economic Framework

Colombia's wealth comes from a number of sources. It has natural resources in petroleum, natural gas, coal, iron ore, nickel, gold, copper, emeralds, and hydropower. Agriculture is a major industry and the following statistics on its land and land use are significant in understanding its magnitude: arable land, 4 percent; permanent crops, 1 percent; permanent pastures, 39 percent; forests and woodland, 48 percent; and other, 8 percent. The nation's agricultural products include coffee, cut flowers, bananas, rice, tobacco, corn, sugarcane, cocoa beans, oil-seed, vegetables, and forest products. It exports petroleum, coffee, coal, clothing, bananas, and cut flowers. In all, it exports US$14.5 billion, half of which goes to the United States, 16 percent to the other Andean nations, 14 percent to Europe, and two percent to Japan. In addition, the country imports industrial equipment, equipment for transportation, chemicals, consumer goods, paper products, and electricity. Although it imports electricity, Colombia produced as of 2002 more than 75 percent of its electricity by hydropower, a renewable and relatively inexpensive source of energy.

The economy of the country has been shrinking. In 1998, Colombia had a gross domestic product of US$102.9 billion, but in 1999 a gross domestic product of only US$88.6 billion. Of course, this gross domestic product figure does not account for sales of illegal drugs, such as cocaine, which constitute a major agricultural crop and industry in the country. According to the Central Intelligence Agency, the cultivation and manufacture of coca, opium, cocaine, and heroin are growing industries in Colombia. The potential production of heroin in 1999 was eight metric tons. As of the early 2000s Colombia supplied 90 percent of the cocaine used in the United States and was a major supplier of the substance to other nations. It supplied large quantities of the heroin brought to the United States. Clearly, the illegal narcotics business contributed to the economy in ways that were contrary to the notions of healthy growth for the nation. These illegal activities were not taxed, a minor issue compared to the fact that much of the earnings from narcotics went into building the narcotics business and into supporting the anti-government forces who threaten to destabilize the nation. These anti-government forces were also responsible for kidnapping and murdering many journalists. So the narcotics trade, in several ways, countered the economic and social growth of Colombia as a nation.

Of course, the narcotics business contributed to the Colombian official economy. For example, individuals operating narcotics productions pay farmers for the produce. They pay employees who process coca and opium into cocaine and heroin and those who traffic in the substances. Those who are paid in turn put their money into the economy by paying for their food, transportation, and shelter. In these and other ways, illegal transactions affect the legal economy. One might also argue that the drug industry also brings U.S. funds into the country: it induces U.S. concern and encourages the United States to send Colombia large sums to use in counteracting the production and distribution of drugs.

In the early 2000s, of the total legal Colombian legal economy, US$61.5 billion of the gross domestic product was composed of services and US$24.4 billion was industry. The remaining US$14.1 billion came from rich Colombian agriculture. On the Caribbean coast, there are mangroves and coconut palms. The forest areas have a variety of trees, including mahogany, cedar, pine, and balsam. Other plants yield rubber, chicle, ginger, vanilla, and many other products. Of course, Colombia is known worldwide for its coffee. The country also produces textiles.

Socioeconomic Structure

In the early 2000s, the Central Intelligence Agency estimated that the lowest 10 percent of the Colombian population, by income, had about one percent of the household income and the top ten percent had about 44 percent of the income. The per capita annual income was about US$6,200 and the inflation rate was nine percent. According to the Encarta Encyclopedia, the upper socioeconomic class in Colombia was largely composed of white people who might trace their family histories to the Spanish colonial period. Their wealth largely came from owning land and other forms of property. Some of these individuals earned their wealth through commercial activities.

The nation had a growing middle class composed of educated, professional people who were successful in business and industry. Some middle class members were teachers, government employees, and professionals in law and medicine, for example.

The lower class lacks adequate housing, health care, and education. In the early 2000s, the Central Intelligence Agency estimated that 55 percent of the Colombian population was below the poverty level. Many lived in rural areas and were employed by wealthy landowners. Labor unions helped to improve the situation of some working poor. Some human services programs were incorporated into the structure of many businesses and industries. In some businesses, the social services programs equaled in value the workers' pay. These social services provided basic education, some counseling, and vacation resorts for workers and their families. Nonetheless, the predominance of low wage employment remained a factor in the growth of the illicit drug industry, which was itself the most important economic and social development in recent Colombian history. In the early 2000s, the total labor force, at all levels, was estimated to be about 18.3 millione. Forty-six percent of those were in service work, 30 percent in agriculture, and 24 percent in industry.


As of 2002, Colombia was divided into 32 departments and the one capital district, which was officially called Distrito Capital de Santa Fe de Bogotá. The nation operated under the 1991 constitution which defined three democratic governmental branches. Men and women age 18 or older were eligible to vote.

As of the early 2000s, Colombia was a republic dominated by an executive branch. The executive branch was headed by a president who was elected for a four-year term. The president governed with a cabinet, which was a coalition of representatives from the two major political parties. There was also a vice-president elected by popular vote. In the 1998 elections, runoffs were needed when no candidate initially received more than 50 percent of the vote. The president and vice-president who were elected in 1998 received just slightly more than 50 percent of the vote each in the runoff.

The Congreso, Colombia's bicameral legislature, consisted of the Senado (Senate) with 102 members elected for four year terms and the Camara de Representantes (House of Representatives) with 163 members also elected for four year terms. Of the two main political parties, the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party, the Liberal Party had a much larger proportion of the Congreso membership (about half) than the Conservative Party. Smaller parties were also usually represented. In 2002, the president was an independent.

Although the Colombian law is based on Spain's, the judiciary was organized similarly to the system maintained in the United States. The judicial system could, for example, exercise judicial review, not a common function of courts in the Spanish tradition.

In addition to the two traditional parties, there were the Patriotic Union (UP), a legal party formed by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the Colombian Communist Party (PCC), and the 19 of April Movement Party (M-19).

Besides political parties, the country contended with powerful insurgent groups that caused great difficulty for the government. The two largest were the National Liberation Army (ELN) and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The largest paramilitary group is United Self-Defense Groups of Colombia (AUC). As of 2002, both received part of their financing, perhaps much of it, from drug operations. They controlled lands that were used for the cultivation and manufacture of cocaine and heroin. The profits from those drugs amply financed the revolutionary groups. The government's troops constituted a third force of violence in the nation, although their task was to control or eliminate the revolutionaries.

Press Laws

Article 20 of the Colombian Constitution stipulated a series of guarantees regarding freedom of the press. It guaranteed freedom of expression as well as freedom for journalists to carry on their work. It also guaranteed the right of individuals to begin media companies and the right of journalists to keep their sources secret. The constitution promised to protect journalists. It set up a complicated body to monitor and defend press freedom with elected persons representing the media who must have experience in the media professions. The group had to be representative of the wide range of medianewspapers, radio and television, public, for profit and non-profit, regional, and national. Pierce wrote that Colombia had greater press freedom than any of its Latin neighbors. That tradition continued through decades of conflict that the nation faced and periods of insurrections which occurred toward the end of the twentieth century.

The World Bank reported that the nation's "Colombia Portal," a plan for increasing information available to the public and providing for ready access to information about the nation, made a strong commitment to open information on purchasing, budgets, and planning. Part of the commitment was the establishment of Web sites for the Colombian government and all its agencies, making them available through the Internet. All government regulations since 1900 were to be accessible on the government Web site.

Human Rights Watch generally agreed that the Colombian press was free. It stated that the media are generally free of legal restrictions by the government. It noted, however, that some laws under the penal code and anti-corruption laws prohibited the publication of some kinds of information connected to criminal investigations. Pervasive interior conflict made these laws necessary.

For a time, Colombia had government requirements for professional journalists. The Law of the Journalist required new entrants into journalism to have university degrees. Continuing journalists were "grandfathered" into the professon. However, those laws were abolished in 1998.


Even though as of 2002 no theoretical restrictions on press freedom or official censorship existed in Colombia, practical aspects media work led to the kinds of self-censorship that actually constituted restrictions. Dirnbacher reported that in the 1980s investigative reporting increased sharply. That was an understandable development in a nation torn by revolutionaries, guerillas, and government troops accused of human rights violations. But there was also a tendency toward other kinds of crimes in some segments of the society. She noted that El Espectador reported on secret financial deals involving Colombian banks. The banks withdrew their advertising from the newspaper, throwing it into financial crisis, she reported.

Attitudes Towards Foreign Media

In the early 2000s, illegal factions in Colombia were hostile to foreign media. However, official media outlets in the country associated heavily with international and regional organizations and sometimes provided leadership to them. For example, Colombia was a member of the InterAmerican Press Association. Moreover, U.S. media such as Time and Newsweek were popular in the nation, and many exchanges of all kinds took place between Colombia and the United States, the primary non-Latin American foreign nation with which it deals. Still, journalists were targets of hostile acts, including kidnapping and murder by rebel groups. Clearly, foreign and local journalists who become deeply involved in reporting on violent groups could be threatened by those groups.

Violence Against Journalists

In the early 2000s, the major news stories about Colombia dealt with its descent into chaos and violence. Connected to issues of press freedom, much of the violence was directed against journalists. As a result of a series of violence events, the president issued presidential decree 1592 which created in 2000 the Program for the Protection of Journalists.

According to Colombia Policy Briefs, 11 journalists were killed in the midst of Colombia's armed conflicts in 2000. A total of 169 had been killed since 1977, according to the Colombian Committee for the Protection of Journalists. At least 15 journalists were kidnapped, and 13 left the country after receiving threats. Six more were killed between January 1 and July 11, 2001. Kidnapping and abductions were a widespread problem, a common tactic used by the revolutionary and anti-government guerilla groups.

Dirnbacher wrote about the murder of several journalists. A reporter for El Espectador was killed in 1998. He had been investigating connections between bullfighting and organized crime. A political reporter and professor in Cali was shot as he left his university in 1998. He had helped the National Police establish a FM news radio station. In that same year, a teacher and journalist who was news director of Radio Sur, a subsidiary of the National Radio Chain, was shot. He had alleged there was corruption among members of former municipal administrations.

In 1999, a journalist and satirist who served as a go-between for families of kidnap victims who were taken by left-wing groups was shot on the way to his radio station. In that year, the FARC group kidnapped seven journalists because, FARC said, they had not reported the truth about guerillas and paramilitary groups committing atrocities against farmers. Also that year a bomb exploded near the offices of the El Tiempo in Bogotá. A FARC member said the bomb was set because of an article in that newspaper about FARC's attacks on the oil industry.

The editor-in-chief of El Tiempo, Francisco Santos, had to leave Colombia in 2000 because of death threats issued against him, probably by FARC, probably a result of his leadership of an anti-kidnapping organization. Santos had been held hostage with other journalists in 1990 by Pablo Escobar, as a protest against government threats to extradite drug traffickers to the United States for prosecution.

News Agencies

As of 2002 Colombia had several news agencies, notably the CNTV, the Comision Nacional de Television, and ERBOL. The Associated Press also was active in Colombia as were other private news services, such as UPI and Reuters. Cox News Service had a long presence in Colombian journalism and in reporting about Colombia. The government also provided a news service.

Broadcast Media

In addition to newspapers, Colombia has extensive radio and television coverage. According to the Central Intelligence Agency, as of 2002, there were 21 million radios in the nation (155 radio sets per thousand people, according to the World Almanac and Book of Facts ). There were also 454 AM radio stations and 34 FM stations. In addition, there were 27 short-wave stations and 60 television stations. World Almanac and Book of Facts reported that there were 188 television sets per thousand.

These media outlets were served by a variety of government and private organizations. The agency responsible for regulating AM, FM, and television frequencies and regulations is the Comision de Regulacion de Telecommunicaciones (CRT). Other government broadcasting agencies, according to TV Radio World, were Inravision and the Ministerio de Comunicaciones (Ministry of Communications). In addition, television was served by the nation's National Television Broadcasting, Regional Television Broadcasting, and Satellite/Cable Television Networks. There was also a government organization, the Instituto Nacional de Radio y Television de Colombia, that operated several radio and TV stations on behalf of the government.

There were a number of national radio networks, the best known of which was a conglomerate, Caracol (Snail.) It consisted of several networks including a sports operation, salsa and rock music networks, and other programming units.

The Radio Cadena Nacional (National Radio Chain, RCN), which called itself La Radio of Colombia, included a love music stereo network, a sports programming operation, a network that combined information and romantic music, another that was music and news-oriented, one that transmitted pop and rock music for young listeners, another that presented Colombian folk music, and the Rumba Digital Stereo network which focused on various dance music such as the salsa, cumbia, merengue, and elporro.

Generally, the broadcast media were covered by the same constitutional guarantees as the print media. However, the broadcast media could be taken over by government in emergency situations, a procedure that is similar to that followed for emergencies in the United States. The Colombian government may exercise the right to censor radio and television in times of emergency, especially those associated with violence.

Electronic News Media

The nation has a few Internet news providers that provide news only. However, many of the newspapers and some of the radio networks sponsor news sites that provide extensive coverage of news information from the Internet.

Education & TRAINING

As of 2002, Colombia had 20 institutions of higher education that offered study in periodismo (journalism). (A journalist is a periodista. ) "Social communication" programs offered much more than traditional journalism in their academic programs. They may teach advertising, public relations, media management, and electronic journalism as well as print.

Journalism education programs in Colombia were organized into the Association of Faculties of Social

Communication (what were usually called departments or schools in the United States are referred to as faculties in Colombia.) The Association, in turn, belongs to the Latin American Federation of Faculties of Social Communication.

In the early 2000s, the Colombian journalism faculties presented curricula spanning 10 semesters or five years of study. Content included theoretical and practical information that might be found in U.S. schools of journalism as well as other subject matter. The programs typically included field experiences, too.

There were associations of journalists in Colombia, in addition to those involved in journalism education. There was an effort in the 1970s to organize Colombian journalists in a labor union. However, Colombia did not have a member organization of the International Federation of Journalists, the international group that oversees and coordinates such efforts.


In the early 2000s Colombia was, in many ways, a nation of contrasts. That was especially true of its press and journalism. The press was essentially free from governmental interference and was also generally of high quality. That appeared to be true of both print and electronic media. It treated journalists as major figures and had presidents who came from the field of journalism. Its education of journalists was sophisticated and widespread.

However, Colombia was also a nation that was beset with internal conflicts. One of the results of those conflicts was the spread of the illegal drug trade, especially the production and distribution of cocaine. It was also a producer of heroin. Rebel groups were believed to finance themselves with proceeds from the production and distribution of drugs. The drug issue was further complicated by the economic deprivation experienced by many Colombians so many of whom lived in poverty. Growing the raw material for drugs and otherwise engaging in the drug trade was a route out of poverty for many economically disadvantaged Colombians.

The internal conflicts also involved journalists and press officials, some of whom were kidnapped or assassinated or who faced threats of such violence. Therefore, the press and journalism were difficult areas of employment in Colombia. Perhaps they were more dangerous in that nation than in any other.

Therefore, what may well be considered a high quality press industry was tempered by one of the world's most complex and unstable social environmentsin which inordinate numbers of public facilities and the nation's infrastructure were subject to constant threat. In addition, numbers of people, including journalists, were kidnapped, murdered, and displaced by the activities of rebel groups. The violence facing Colombia, although warring parties and the factors in the violence might characterize the end of the twentieth century, was a part of Colombian life for a half century.

It was inadvisable to generalize about this nation of contrasts. In many ways, it was an inviting environment for press work while in others it posed dangers to those who worked in the field.

Significant Dates

  • 1998: Andres Pastrana, former journalist and candidate of Conservative Party, is elected president of Colombia, begins negotiations with rebel groups to end violence, and establishes "control zones," where rebel groups are able to control territories they had conquered.
  • 1998-1999: More journalists and other media personnel kidnapped, forced into exile, or murdered, and media facilities are bombed.
  • 1998: Law of the Journalist terminated.
  • 2002: FARC again bombs, kidnaps, and murders Colombians. President Pastrana announces that peace with rebel groups will not be achieved during his presidency. Álvaro Uribe Ve'lez elected president as an independent.


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Leon Ginsberg

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Colombia (kəlŭm´bēə, Span. kōlōm´byä), officially Republic of Colombia, republic (2005 est. pop. 42,954,000), 439,735 sq mi (1,138,914 sq km), NW South America. Bogotá is the capital and largest city. The only South American country with both a Caribbean and a Pacific coastline, Colombia is bounded on the northwest by Panama, on the northeast by Venezuela, on the south by Ecuador and Peru, and on the southeast by Brazil.


Colombia has both torrid jungles and majestic, snowcapped mountains. By far the most prominent physical features are the three great Andean chains that fan north from Ecuador. The Andean interior is the heart of the country, where in pre-Columbian days the highly advanced Chibcha lived. It has the largest concentration of population and is the area of large-scale cultivation of coffee, Colombia's major crop.

Of the three principal Andean ranges, the Western Cordillera is of the least economic importance. One of Colombia's major cities, Cali, lies just east of the range, in the upper Cauca valley. The Central Cordillera has a towering chain of volcanoes (e.g., Tolima) and is the divide between the valleys of the Magdalena and the Cauca rivers. It was until the 19th cent. an undeveloped region, but with improved transportation, the introduction of coffee culture, and the exploitation of high-grade coal reserves, its cities of Medellín and Manizales have become the economic and industrial core of the republic. A third major city in the Central Cordillera is Armenia. The Eastern Cordillera is the longest chain. Its western slopes yield coffee, and in its intermontane basins grains and cattle are raised. The area is rich in iron, coal, and emeralds. Among the leading cities of the highland basins are Tunja, Bucaramanga, and Cúcuta, in addition to Bogotá. In the eastern foothills of the Andes some hundred miles east of the capital lies a vast supply of light crude oil. Discovered in 1992, the oil fields constitute the largest find in the Americas since Alaska's Prudhoe Bay field (1969) and have revitalized Colombia's petroleum industry.

To the east of the Andes lies more than half of Colombia's territory, a vast largely undeveloped lowland. The plains are crossed by navigable rivers, tributaries of the Orinoco and Amazon systems. The northern section consists of savannas (the llanos), which are devoted to a large extent to cattle and sheep grazing. Villavicencio, at the region's western end, is its major urban center. The dense jungles of the extreme southeast are of negligible economic importance. Leticia is the country's southernmost town, and its only port on the Amazon River. A fourth mountain chain, the Cordillera del Chocó, runs parallel to the Pacific N of Buenaventura. The range's slopes yield dyewoods and hardwoods, rubber, tagua nuts (vegetable ivory) and other forest products, and gold and platinum.

On the Pacific are the ports of Buenaventura and Tumaco, terminus of a pipeline from the oil-rich area of Putumayo across the mountains. Colombia's chief ocean ports, however, lie on the Caribbean coast to the north: Santa Marta, Cartagena, and Barranquilla. At Mamonal, adjacent to Cartagena, is the terminus of the pipeline from the Barrancabermeja oil fields. In the north, separating the La Guajira peninsula from the rest of the country, is the magnificent Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, which contains Colombia's highest peak, Pico Cristóbal (18,947 ft/5,775 m). The difficult terrain in Colombia limits the availability of road and rail transportation and makes air and water travel especially important.


About 60% of Colombia's population are mestizos, and some one fifth are of European descent. Indigenous peoples, who account for only about 1% of today's population, live on the edge of some of the major cities and in remote areas. About 15% of the people are of mixed African and European descent. The small (less than 5%) black population is concentrated along the coasts and in the Magdalena and Cauca valleys. Spanish is the official language. The population is overwhelmingly Roman Catholic. There are universities in all the major cities.


Agriculture has traditionally been the chief economic activity in Colombia. An extremely wide variety of crops is grown, depending on altitude, but coffee is by far the major crop and its price on the world market has affected Colombia's economic health. Among the commercial crops, coffee is grown between elevations of 3,000 and 6,000 ft (914 and 1,829 m); bananas, cotton, sugarcane, oil palm, and tobacco are grown at lower elevations. Between 6,000 and 10,000 ft (1,829 and 3,048 m) potatoes, beans, grains, flowers, and temperate-zone fruit and vegetables are grown.

Colombia is rich in minerals, including petroleum, natural gas, coal, iron ore, nickel, gold, copper, emeralds, and platinum. The saltworks at Zipaquirá, near Bogotá, are world famous. Hydroelectric potential was developed during the 1970s and 80s. The manufacturing sector of the economy has expanded greatly in recent decades, although it is heavily dependent on imported materials. Beverages and processed foods, textiles, clothing and footwear, and chemicals are the chief products. Tourism is also a sizable source of income.

Oil replaced coffee as the nation's leading legal export in 1991. Other important official exports include petroleum-related products, coal, nickel, emeralds, apparel, bananas, and cut flowers. Cocaine is the major illicit export, accounting for about 25% of foreign exchange earnings. Once most of the raw materials were grown in Peru and Bolivia, but cultivation has increased in Colombia as a result of those nations coca-eradication programs. The drug trade (Colombia also produces heroin and grows cannabis) has brought riches to some, but has seriously disrupted the fabric of Colombian society with its violence. Industrial and transportation equipment, consumer goods, chemicals, paper products, fuels, and electricity lead Colombia's imports. The United States and Venezuela are the chief trade partners.

During the early 1990s the economy was growing quickly in comparison with that of other Latin American countries, and inflation and unemployment were under control. However, government spending and foreign debt soared in the late 1990s, the country suffered its worst recession in a century, and labor unrest and internal problems related to the drug trade continued to threaten the country's economic stability. The economy improved somewhat in the early 2000s. Colombia is a member of the Andean Community, an economic organization of South American countries.


Colombia is governed under the constitution of 1991 as amended. The president, who is elected for a single four-year term (from 2004 to 2015 a second term was permitted). The legislature, subservient to the president, consists of a 102-seat Senate and a 166-seat House of Representatives. The members are popularly elected for four-year terms. Administratively, Colombia is divided into 32 departments and the capital district.


History to 1858

Prior to the Spanish conquest, Colombia was inhabited by Chibcha, sub-Andean, and Caribbean peoples, all of whom lived in organized, agriculturally based communities. After the Spanish conquest, which began in 1525, the area of present-day Colombia formed the nucleus of New Granada (for colonial history, see New Granada). The struggle for independence was, as in all Spanish-American possessions, precipitated by the Napoleonic invasion of Spain. The revolution was, however, foreshadowed by the rising of the comuneros.

Prominent among the first revolutionary leaders was Antonio Nariño, who took part in the uprising at Bogotá on July 20, 1810. The revolution was to last nine years before the victory of Simón Bolívar at Boyacá (1819) secured the independence of Greater Colombia (Span., Gran Colombia). The new state Bolívar created included what is now Venezuela, Panama, and (after 1822) Ecuador, as well as Colombia. Cúcuta was chosen as capital. While Bolívar, who had been named president, headed campaigns in Ecuador and Peru, the vice president, Francisco de Paula Santander, administered the new nation. Political factions soon crystallized. Santander advocated a union of federal sovereign states, while Bolívar championed a centralized republic.

Although Bolívar's authority prevailed by and large in the constitutional assembly (1828), Greater Colombia soon fell apart. In 1830, Venezuela and Ecuador became separate nations. The remaining territory emerged as the republic of New Granada. Through the 19th cent. and into the 20th cent. political unrest and civil strife reappeared constantly. Strong parties developed along conservative and liberal lines; the conservatives favored centralism and participation by the church in government and education, and the liberals supported federalism, anticlericalism, and some measure of social legislation and fiscal reforms. Civil war frequently erupted between the factions. During the 19th and early 20th cent. three statesmen stand out—Tomás Cipriano de Mosquera, Rafael Núñez, and Rafael Reyes. While Mosquera was president, a treaty was concluded (1846) granting the United States transit rights across the Isthmus of Panama.

The New Nation

A new constitution in 1858 created a confederation of nine states called Granadina. Three years later (1861) under Mosquera, the country's name was changed to the United States of New Granada and in 1863 to the United States of Colombia. The antifederalist revolution of 1885 led one year later, during the presidency of Núñez, to the formation of the republic of Colombia and enactment of a conservative constitution. In 1899, five years after Núñez's death, civil war of unprecedented violence broke out and raged for three years. As many as 100,000 people were killed before the Conservatives emerged victorious. Another humiliation occurred when, after the United States had acquired the right to complete the Panama Canal (although the agreement was later rejected by the Colombian congress), the republic of Panama declared and, aided by the United States, achieved its independence from Colombia (1903).

During the semidictatorial administration (1904–9) of Reyes, internal order was restored and the country's trade and productivity were vigorously expanded. Reyes, nevertheless, had to resign because of discontent over his handling of the Panama issue. Soon afterward Colombia recognized (1914) Panama's independence in exchange for rights in the Canal Zone and the payment of an indemnity from the United States.

For the next four decades political life remained fairly peaceful, although there was economic and social unrest in the 1920s and 1930s. Colombia settled (1917) its boundary disputes with Ecuador, and in 1934 a border clash with Peru over the town of Leticia was settled by the League of Nations in Colombia's favor. Under the leadership of the liberals Olaya Herrera (1930–34), Alfonso López (1934–38), and Eduardo Santos (1938–42), wide-ranging reforms were enacted. Colombia participated in World War II on the Allied side. During the war years, internal divisions worsened. The Liberals split and in the 1946 elections presented two candidates, enabling the Conservatives to win.

Mid-Century to the Present

In 1948, while an Inter-American Conference was being held in Bogotá, the leftist Liberal leader Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, under whom the party had reunited, was assassinated, precipitating violent riots and acts of vandalism. The death of Gaitán exacerbated the enmity between social groups and plunged the country into a decade of civil strife, martial law, and violent rule that cost hundreds of thousands of lives. Political violence turned into sheer criminality (la violencia), particularly in rural areas. An archconservative dictator, Laureano Gómez, took power in 1950, when the Liberals put forward no candidate. In 1953, Gómez was ousted by a coup led by Gustavo Rojas Pinilla, the head of the armed forces. Repressive measures continued, fiscal reforms failed, the country was plunged into debt, and Rojas Pinilla became implicated in scandalously corrupt schemes.

A military junta, backed by Liberals and Conservatives alike, ousted Rojas Pinilla in 1957. The following year Alberto Lleras Camargo became president, elected under the National Front coalition agreement. The National Front presidential candidate of 1970, Misael Pastrana Borrero, won very narrowly over Rojas Pinilla, who returned to politics as the champion of the underprivileged. Colombia's economy began to recover from the setbacks of the early 1970s as economic diversification and incentives to lure foreign capital into the country were initiated. However, a high inflation rate continued to impede economic growth. In 1974 the Liberal party candidate Alfonso López Michelsen won the first presidential election following the end of the National Front.

Throughout the 1970s and 80s, Colombia's illegal drug trade grew steadily, as the drug cartels amassed huge amounts of money, weapons, and influence. The 1970s also saw the growth of such leftist rebel groups as the May 19th Movement (M-19), the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), and the National Liberation Army (ELN). The violence continued, and many journalists and government officials were killed. The 1980s saw the rise of right-wing paramilitary groups, which were organized to oppose leftist rebels but also attacked on civilians. The guerrillas of the left and right both eventually became involved in the drug trade, which provided a ready source of funding.

In 1986, Virgilio Barco Vargas, of the Liberal party, was elected president; he was succeeded in 1990 by César Gaviria Trujillo, also a Liberal. In 1990 a Constitutional Assembly, which included members of the M-19 group, was elected to draft a new constitution; the document, which came into force on July 5, 1991, included protection for human rights and established citizens' rights to social security and health care. Liberal Ernesto Samper Pizano was elected president in 1994 and, though he appeared to make efforts to combat drug trafficking, he was accused of having accepted money from the Cali cocaine "cartel" for his election campaign. He was cleared of all charges (1996) by the Congress, but his administration was marked by charges of corruption and mismanagement.

The notorious Medellín drug cartel was broken in 1993, and the Cali cartel was later undermined by arrests of key leaders. Drug traffickers continued to have significant wealth and power, however, and FARC and the ELN remain actived, perpetuating a condition of instability. From the 1980s into the early 21st cent., some 3 million Colombians were displaced by political and drug-related violence. Conservative Andrés Pastrana Arango, a former mayor of Bogotá and son of Misael Pastrana, was elected president in 1998. He pledged to work with both leftist rebels and right-wing paramilitary leaders in an attempt to end more than 30 years of conflict in the country.

In Nov., 1998, Pastrana ceded an area the size of Switzerland in S central Colombia to FARC's control as a goodwill gesture, but the rebels negotiated with the government only fitfully, continued to mount attacks, expanded coca production, and essentially established a parallel government in the region under their control. The government's energies also were diverted by a severe recession in 1999 and a major earthquake that hit W Colombia early in 1999, leaving over a thousand people dead. Ongoing negotiations with the rebels in 2000 and 2001 were marred by rebel attacks and kidnappings and fighting between rebels and paramilitaries for control of coca-growing areas in Colombia. As a result, popular disenchantment with Pastrana increased, even as he moved forward with his "Plan Colombia," a $7 billion social aid and antidrug program that included $1.3 billion in largely military aid from the United States.

In Feb., 2002, after FARC hijacked a airplane and kidnapped Senator Ingrid Betancourt, a presidential candidate, Pastrana ordered the military to attack rebel positions and reassert control over the rebel zone. FARC withdrew into the jungle and began attacks against the power grid, telecommunications facilities, and other aspects of Colombia's infrastructure, in an attempt to disrupt the lives of the largely urban population while avoiding a direct conflict with the military. In May, a hard-line rightist candidate, Álvaro Uribe Vélez, who promised to crack down on the leftist rebels, won the presidential election. Uribe, a former governor and senator who ran as an independent, declared a limited state of emergency, broadening the government's police powers, as part of his campaign against the rebels.

By the end of 2003, the government's increased use of its forces had decreased violence somewhat, but the rebels remained strong, if withdrawn into the countryside. Also, the economy improved, cocaine production—a source of rebel income—was reduced with American help, and some paramilitary forces agreed to begin disarming. Despite his resulting popularity, however, in November Uribe lost a referendum that would have increased his control over the government's budget and made other structural governmental changes; the national debt had risen to 50% of the GDP. Negotiations with the paramilitary forces continued into 2004, by which time drug traffickers had become predominant among the paramilitary leaders. Safe zones were established for paramilitaries while negotiations were ongoing, and late in the the demobilization of some paramilitaries began.

The Dec., 2004, kidnapping by bounty hunters in Venezuela of a FARC leader, who was then turned over to Colombian authorities, led to a brief crisis in Colombia's relations with Venezuela in early 2005. Colombia first denied any involvement in the incident, claiming the rebel was captured in a Colombian border town, but subsequently admitted a bounty had been paid. The dispute between the two nations was settled by Feb., 2005, when the nations' presidents met in Caracas, Venezuela.

In June the congress passed legislation designed to facilitate the disarming of paramilitary groups by shielding them from extradition and minimizing the penalties they might faced. The law was criticized for not requiring a complete cease-fire or disarmament by participating groups and for not assuring that criminal activities such as drug-trafficking would end, and it indeed subsequently appeared that some former paramilitaries continued to operate as organized crime groups and corrupt government officials. However, by mid-2006 some 31,000 paramilitary fighters were reported to have demobilized, and in Aug., 2006, Uribe ordered the arrest of a number of senior paramilitary leaders who had refused to surrender as required.

Meanwhile, the situation with respect to the leftist rebels, who continued to mount successful, if more limited, attacks, remained largely unchanged. Uribe also secured changes to the constitution permitting the popular president to run for a second consecutive term. The government began a new round of talks with the ELN in Dec., 2005, but the FARC, who remained responsible for the most significant attacks, rejected any negotiations with Uribe's government. Parties aligned with President Uribe secured a majority of seats in both houses of the congress in the Mar., 2006, elections, and Uribe himself won reelection in May. Talks with the ELN continued through 2006, but did not produce substantive results.

A supreme court investigation exposed paramilitary links to members of Colombia's congress and other politicians, with widespread links revealed in N Colombia; several members of the congress were arrested in late 2006 and 2007. The foreign minister resigned because her brother, a senator, was one of those arrested in Feb., 2007. In Mar., 2007, a leaked CIA report linked the chief of the army to paramilitary death squads that had operated in 2002; the general denied the charge. Testimony from a former paramilitary warlord in May accused the current vice president and defense minister, former government officials, and military leaders of ties to and support for the paramilitaries, who were used to fight drug cartels and leftist rebels. In May, 12 generals were forced to resign after revelations of illegal wiretaps on political leaders and government officials. Revelations about government and military ties to the paramilitaries, the rebels, and the drug dealers continued during the summer; in July, several senators, including Uribe's cousin, became the subject of an investigation into paramilitary links. Additional revelations and charges concerning ties between the paramilitaries and government and military officials were made in 2008. In August, Venezuela's leftist president, Hugo Chávez, offered to act a mediator with the rebels. Although Chávez's efforts led to the release of some hostages in 2008, they also caused strained relations between the two nations in 2007.

In Mar., 2008, a Colombian raid on rebels encamped in Ecuador led to several days of tensions between Colombia and neighboring Ecuador and Venezuela, who mobilized forces to their borders. Colombia said computer files seized in the raid had evidence of ties between the rebels and its neighbors' governments. Colombia subsequently apologized for the raid, which the Organization of American states called a violation of Ecuadorian sovereignty and the OAS charter. Although tensions subsequently eased with Venezuela, relations with Ecuador, which had broken diplomatic relations with Colombia, remained strained; full diplomatic relations were restored only in Dec., 2010. In July, 2008, Colombian forces, posing as a humanitarian group and journalists, rescued a number of hostages from FARC control, include Senator Betancourt. Revelations in 2008 that Colombian soldiers were executing civilians to inflate rebel body counts, in part to advance the careers of officers, led to the dismissal of three generals and other senior officers and, in Nov., 2008, the resignation of the army commander.

Tensions again increased with Venezuela, Ecuador, and Bolivia beginning in mid-2009 over an agreement (signed Nov., 2009) between Colombia and the United States allowing U.S. forces to use additional Colombian bases to combat drug trafficking. Venezuela especially stridently objected, characterizing the agreement as a belligerent move by the United States and threatening to break relations with Colombia. (In Aug., 2010, Colombia's constitutional court nullified the base agreement because it had not been approved by Colombia's congress.) Colombia-Venezuela relations were also strained by border incidents and Colombian accusations of Venezuelan support for Colombian rebels, including charges that Venezuela had supplied the rebels with weapons (based on the capture from the rebels of weapons purchased by Venezuela from Sweden).

In Sept., 2009, the Colombian congress approved a referendum on allowing Uribe to seek a third term, but in Feb., 2010, the constitutional court ruled it unconstitutional before it was held. The March congressional elections resulted in a victory for Uribe's party and its allies. In June, after a runoff election, Juan Manuel Santos, Uribe's former defense minister, was elected president. Colombia's perennially cyclical relations with Venezuela soured again in July, 2010, after Colombia accused Venezuela of harboring Colombian rebels. Venezuela broke off diplomatic relations with Colombia, but they were restored the following month after Santos took office and subsequently improved significantly.

In 2011 and 2012 rebels released a number of hostages in what they called peace gestures, but the government said the moves were insufficient to justify opening direct peace talks. In Sept., 2012, however, the government and FARC announced that they would engage in peace talks; the agreement to negotiate did not establish a cease-fire or rebel safe haven. The subsequent talks progressed slowly, and the government continued its operations against FARC in the absence of a final agreement.

In late 2012 an International Court of Justice ruling that reduced Colombian territorial waters in the Caribbean in favor of Nicaragua (see San Andrés and Providencia) was denounced by Colombia, which then withdrew from treaty that established the court. In 2014 Colombia's constitutional court ruled that the ICJ decision could not be recognized by Colombia except by a treaty with Nicaragua. The Mar., 2014, legislative elections resulted in a victory for the governing coalition, but a new party led by former president Uribe and opposed to the negotations with FARC became the second largest party in the senate. In the subseqent president election, Santos faced strong opposition from Óscar Iván Zuluaga, who was supported by Uribe, but he won reelection after a runoff. Santos subsequently secured (2015) passage of an amendment to the constitution that prohibited presidential reelection.


See O. Fals-Borda, Subversion and Social Change in Colombia (rev. ed., tr. 1969); A. E. Havens and W. L. Flinn, Internal Colonialism and Structural Change in Colombia (1970); T. E. Weil et al., Area Handbook for Colombia (1970); J. M. Henao and G. Arruba, History of Colombia (tr. 2 vol., 1938; repr. 1976); J. B. Sokol et al., Colombia: Economic Development and Policy under Changing Conditions (1984); R. H. Dix, The Politics of Colombia (1986); J. Hartlyn, The Politics of Coalition Rule in Colombia (1988); B. Bagley et al., The State and Society in Colombia (1988).

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Official name : Republic of Colombia

Area: 1,138,910 square kilometers (439,736 square miles)

Highest point on mainland: Pico Cristóbal Colón (5,775 meters/18,947 feet)

Lowest point on land: Sea level

Hemispheres: Northern and Western

Time zone: 7 a.m. = noon GMT

Longest distances: 1,700 kilometers (1,056 miles) from north-northwest to south-southeast; 1,210 kilometers (752 miles) from north-northeast to south-southwest

Land boundaries: 6,004 kilometers (3,731 miles) total boundary length; Brazil, 1,643 kilometers (1,021 miles); Ecuador, 590 kilometers (367 miles); Panama, 225 kilometers (140 miles); Peru, 1,496 kilometers (930 miles); Venezuela, 2,050 kilometers (1,274 miles)

Coastline: Total: 3,208 kilometers (1,993 miles); Caribbean Sea, 1,760 kilometers (1,100 miles); North Pacific Ocean, 1,448 kilometers (905 miles)

Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers 12 nautical miles


Located in the northwest corner of the South American continent, Colombia is the only country in South America with both Atlantic (Caribbean) and Pacific Ocean coastlines. It is the fifth-largest in size of the Latin American countries. It shares borders with Panama, Venezuela, Brazil, Peru, and Ecuador. With an area of about 1,138,910 square kilometers (439,736 square miles), the country is slightly less than three times the size of Montana. Colombia is divided into thirty-two departments and one federal district.


Colombia has no outside dependencies or territories.


Temperatures throughout the country are dependent more on altitude than on a change in seasons. The hottest area, also known as tierra caliente, is a tropical zone that extends vertically from sea level to about 1,100 meters (3,500 feet). In this area, the temperature is usually between 24 and 27°C (75°F and 81°F), with a maximum near 38°C (100°F) and a minimum of 18°C (64°F). A temperate zone, or tierra templada, exists at elevations between 1,100 and 2,000 meters (3,500 and 6,500 feet), with an average temperature of 18°C (64°F). Rising to elevations between 2,000 and 3,000 meters (6,500 and 10,000 feet), one encounters the tierra fría, or cold country, which has yearly temperatures averaging 13°C (55°F). Above 3,000 meters (10,000 feet), one encounters more frigid temperatures, often between -17°C and 13°C (1°F and 55°F).

The seasons are determined by changes in rainfall. Areas in the north generally experience only one rainy season, lasting from May through October. Other areas of the country, particularly on the western coast and near the Andes, experience alternating three-month cycles of wet and dry seasons. Annual rainfall averages 107 centimeters (42 inches).


The country consists of four main geographic regions: the Central Highlands (including the three Andean ranges and the lowlands between them), the Atlantic Lowlands, the Pacific Lowlands and their coastal regions, and the Eastern Plain. Among the unusual animals that thrive in Colombia are the jaguar, puma, ocelot, peccary (a small hog-like animal), and armadillo. Native birds include the colorful red-billed emerald hummingbird, found along the coast and in the forested lower slopes of the mountains, and various species of eagle, hawk, falcon, vulture, and condor. Several species of poisonous snake inhabit the tropical forests, including the South American rattlesnake, the anaconda, and various coral snakes.

Colombia sits on the extreme edge of the South American Tectonic Plate. Just to the east is the Nazca Plate, and immediately to the north is the Caribbean Plate. Subduction (one plate pushing under another) at these plate boundaries has pushed up the rock, resulting in the mountains that exist on Colombia's coasts. This process also formed volcanoes, and many of them remain active. Folding and faulting of Earth's crust resulted in seismic fault lines between the mountain ranges, and the continued movement of the plates subjects Colombia to frequent earthquakes, some of which are very destructive.


Seacoast and Undersea Features

The Caribbean Sea, an arm of the Atlantic Ocean, lies northwest of Colombia. The waters along the Caribbean coast are attractive to snorkelers and scuba divers from around the world, since the water is clear and the coastal areas are lined with extensive coral reefs. Colombia has a southwestern coastline along the Pacific Ocean, which is separated from the Caribbean Sea by the Isthmus of Panama.

Rich marine life fills the Pacific Ocean waters along Colombia's western coast, influenced by the Humbolt Current. It is common to see dolphins here, and deep-sea fishing is a popular tourist activity. From July through September, humpback whales populate the waters during their mating season.

Sea Inlets and Straits

The Gulf of Morrosquillo is located on the Caribbean coast, south of Cartegena. Further south, the Gulf of Urabá cuts sharply into the mainland just before the Isthmus of Panama.

The Pacific coast is very irregular, featuring many alternating bays and capes. From north to south, the sea inlets are the Gulf of Cupica, the Gulf of Tibugá, and at the southernmost point, Tumaco Bay.

Islands and Archipelagos

Colombia possesses a few islands in the Caribbean Sea and some in the Pacific Ocean. The combined area of these islands does not exceed 65 square kilometers (25 square miles). Off Nicaragua, about 644 kilometers (400 miles) northwest of the Colombian coast, lies the San Andrés y Providencia Intendency, an archipelago of thirteen small cays grouped around the two larger islands of San Andrés and Providencia. Other islands in the same areathe ownership of which has been in disputeare the small islands, cays, or banks of Santa Catalina, Roncador, Quita Sueno, Serrana, and Serranilla. Off the coast south of Cartagena are several small islands, among them the islands of Rosario, San Bernardo, and Fuerte.

The island of Malpelo lies in the Pacific Ocean about 434 kilometers (270 miles) west of Buenaventura. Nearer the coast, a prison colony is located on Gorgona Island. Gorgonilla Cay is off its southern shore.

Coastal Features

The Atlantic Lowlands consist of all land in Colombia north of an imaginary line extending northeastward from the Gulf of Urabá to the Venezuelan frontier at the northern extremity of the Cordillera Oriental. The region corresponds generally to one that is often referred to as the Caribbean Lowland or Coastal Plain. This Atlantic Lowland region is roughly the shape of a triangle, the longest side of which is the coastline. Inland from the coastal cities are swamps, hidden streams, and shallow lakes that support banana and cotton plantations, countless small farms and, in higher places, cattle ranches. The northernmost extension of the Atlantic Coast is Point Gallinas.

The Pacific Lowlands are a thinly populated region of jungle and swamp with considerable but little-exploited potential wealth in minerals and other resources. Buenaventura, at about the midpoint of the 1,287-kilometer-long (800-mile-long) coast, is the only port of any size. On the east, the Pacific Lowlands are bounded by the Cordillera Occidental, from which run numerous streams. The peaks of the Cordillera Occidental provide a barrier to rainclouds; as a result, the rainfall along the coast is heavy. The rainforest that lines the coast is dense, with a rich diversity of plant, animal, and bird life. From north to south along the Pacific Coast are Point Marzo, Point Solano, and Cape Corrientes.


While Colombia has several lakes, none of them are very large and data concerning the area of each lake is scarce. Laguna de la Cocha, a volcanic lake located in the department of Nariño, and Lake Fúquene (with an area of 30 square kilometers/11 square miles), a shallow lake that lies in the Cordillera Oriental, are both being considered by the international organization RAMSAR as wetlands of international significance.

Lake Tota near Bogotá supports tourism with abundant resources for fishing and boating. The largest lake in the north is Laguna de la Plaza. It is located in the Sierra Nevada de Cocuy Mountain Range near the border with Venezuela and has a shore lined with rock formations. Another lake in the area is Laguna Grande de los Verdes. Lake Zapatosa is the largest of the many lakes of northern Colombia.


The Amazon River is the longest river in South America and the second-longest river in the world. The Amazon starts in Peru and touches the southernmost part of Colombia before coursing through Brazil to flow eastward to the Atlantic Ocean. The total length of the Amazon is about 6,570 kilometers (4,080 miles). It has a total of eighteen major tributaries, including ten that are larger than the Mississippi River. The river is also known as having the world's largest flow of water, with about eighty million gallons of water per second emptying into the Atlantic Ocean. The main Colombian rivers that serve as tributaries to the Amazon are the Vaupés, Apaporis, Caquetá, and the Putumayo.

The Magdalena River rises near a point some 177 kilometers (110 miles) north of Ecuador, where the Cordillera Oriental and the Cordillera Central diverge. It is fed by numerous mountain torrents originating high in the snowfields, where for millennia glaciers have planed the surface of folded and stratified rocks. The Magdalena is navigable from the Caribbean Sea as far as the town of Neiva, deep in the interior, but is interrupted at the midpoint of the country by rapids at the town of Honda.

Running parallel to the Magdalena and separated from it by the Cordillera Central, the Cauca River has headwaters not far from those of the Magdalena. The Cauca eventually joins the Magdalena in swamplands of the Atlantic (Caribbean) coastal region. Further west, the navigable Atrato River flows northward to the Gulf of Urabá.

There are no great rivers in western Colombia, as the mountains lie too close to the coastline. The longest rivers in this region are the San Juan and the Patia. East of the Andes, however, there are many large rivers, including several that are navigable. The Orinoco River flows north along part of the border with Venezuela. Many of Colombia's eastern rivers flow into it. The Guaviare River and two rivers to its north, the Arauca and the Meta, are the Orinoco's major Colombian tributaries. The Guaviare serves as a border for five political subdivisions, and it divides eastern Colombia into the Eastern Plains subregion in the north and the Amazonas subregion in the south.


In the plains region of the northeast, between the Meta River and the Cordillera Oriental, some of the terrain is dry. This region may resemble desert during periods of drought, but there is no true desert terrain in Colombia.


The Eastern Plains lie east of the Andes and are crisscrossed from east to west by many large rivers. The Spanish term for plains (llanos ) can be applied only to the open plains in the northern part where cattle are raised, particularly in piedmont areas near the Cordillera Oriental.

The narrow region along the Pacific coast, known as the Pacific Lowlands, is swampy, heavily forested, and sparsely populated. Along the Atlantic coast, the Atlantic Lowlands also consist largely of open, swampy land, but there are cattle ranches and plantations there, and settlements centered on the port cities.

The Cordillera Occidental is separated from the Cordillera Central by the deep rift of the Cauca River Valley. This tropical valley follows the course of the Cauca River for about 241 kilometers (150 miles) southward from a narrow gorge at about its midpoint near the town of Cartago. The cities of Cali and Palmira are situated on low terraces above the floodplain of the Cauca Valley. It is a fertile sugar agricultural zone that includes the best farmland in the country.


Beginning near the border with Ecuador, the Andes Mountains divide into three distinct cordilleras (mountain chains) that extend northward almost to the Caribbean Sea. The Cordillera Occidental in the west roughly follows the Pacific coast. Slightly inland, the Cordillera Central extends parallel to the Cordillera Occidental, while the Cordillera Oriental lies furthest east. Altitudes in these ranges reach almost 5,791 meters (19,000 feet) and the mountain peaks are permanently covered with snow. Below the summits, the elevated basins and plateaus of these ranges have a moderate climate that provides pleasant living conditions and enables farmers in many places to harvest twice a year.

The Cordillera Occidental range is the lowest and the least populated of the three and supports little economic activity. It is separated from the Cordillera Central by the deep rift of the Cauca River Valley. A pass about 1,524 meters (5,000 feet) above sea level provides the major city of Cali with an outlet to the Pacific Ocean. The relatively low elevation of the cordillera permits dense vegetation, which on the western slopes is truly tropical.

The Cordillera Central, also called the Cordillera del Quindío, is the loftiest of the mountain systems. Its crystalline peaks form a 805-kilometer-long (500-mile-long) towering wall dotted with snow-covered volcanoes, several of which reach elevations greater than 5,500 meters (18,000 feet). There are no plateaus in this range and no passes below 3,352 meters (11,000 feet). The highest peak, the Nevado del Huila, rises 5,750 meters (18,865 feet) above sea level. Toward its northern end, this cordillera separates into several branches that descend toward the Atlantic coast, including the San Jerónimo Mountains, the Ayapel Mountains, and the San Lucas Mountains.

The Cordillera Oriental is the longest of the three systems, extending more than 1,200 kilometers (745 miles). In the far north, where the Cordillera Oriental makes an abrupt turn to the northwest near the Venezuela border, lies the Sierra Nevada de Cocuy.

The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta is an isolated mountain system near the Caribbean coast in the northern, semiarid Guajira Peninsula. It is the tallest coastal mountain range in the world. The range includes many tall peaks, as well as some active volcanoes. Its slopes are generally too steep for cultivation. In the southern part of the peninsula, the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta rise to a height of 5,775 meters (18,947 feet) at Pico Cristóbal Colón, the highest peak in Colombia.


In the volcanic mountains of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, the town of Arboletes is especially known for its pungent mud volcanoes, which, instead of spewing molten rock, bubble and spatter a mixture of hot water and clay or mud from deep within Earth. One of its volcanoes has a large crater that is filled with a lake of mud. Locals and tourists alike enjoy swimming and soaking in the lake.

To the west of the Atrato River, along the Pacific Coast and the Panama border, rises the Serranía de Baudó, an isolated chain that occupies a large part of the coastal plain. Its highest elevation is less than 1,829 meters (6,000 feet).


There are no major caves or canyons in Colombia.


North of Bogotá, the densely populated plateaus of Chiquinquirá and Boyacá feature fertile fields, rich mines, and large industrial establishments. The average elevation in this area is about 2,438 meters (8,000 feet).


There are two major dams in Colombia, both of which are built on fairly small but fast-flowing rivers. The Guavio Dam, on the Guavio River near Bogotá, is the tenth-highest dam in the world at 243 meters (797 feet). This hydroelectric dam produces most of the electricity for the surrounding areas. The Urrá Multipurpose Dam Project is located on the Sinú River, which flows south of the town of Montería in northwest Colombia. Besides serving as a source of hydroelectric power, this dam is expected to regulate the annual downstream flooding.


Colombia has two archeological sites that are designated as World Heritage Sites by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization). Tierradentro is a complex of hypogea (underground chambers) located in the town of San Andrés de Pisimbalá in the southern Andes. The underground structures are ancient burial chambers that have been decorated with black and red geometric figures representing the decorations of homes from the time period in which they were created (between the sixth and tenth centuries). There are a number of large animal-like statues surrounding the chambers, which were most likely meant to serve as guards to the tombs.

San Agustin, located in the mountains and canyons just to the south of Tierradentro, is a similar site that also contains a number of burial mounds, tombs, small temples, and large monolithic animal sculptures. Researchers believe that this area was a ceremonial site where natives worshipped nature and death as symbols of continuity and evolution.



Dydynski, Krzysztof. Colombia: A Travel Survival Kit. Hawthorn, Australia: Lonely Planet Publications, 1995.

Lessard, Marc. Colombia. Montréal, Canada: Ulysse, 1999.

Morrison, Marion. Colombia. New York: Children's Press, 1999.

Pollard, Peter. Colombia Handbook. Lincolnwood, IL: Passport Books, 1998.

Williams, Raymond L., et al. Culture and Customs of Colombia. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1999.

Web Site

UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Colombia. (accessed June 13, 2003).

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LOCATION: Colombia

POPULATION: 36 million

LANGUAGE: Spanish (official); various Amerindian languages

RELIGION: Roman Catholicism; native Amerindian religions


Amerindian tribes, including the Páez, inhabited the area of modern-day Colombia before the Spanish arrived in the sixteenth century. By the late 1700s, the Amerindians grew tired of paying high taxes to the Spanish, and decided to fight for independence. On July 20, 1810, they successfully revolted against Spanish officials in the capital, Bogotá. This day is still commemorated as Independence Day.

However, the struggle for independence continued for nine more years. In 1819, Colombia, Venezuela, and Ecuador together became the Republic of Gran Colombia. Before long, though, each became an independent nation.

Colombia has had a democratically elected government since the 1950s. By the late 1990s, illegal activity in drug trafficking threatened the survival of democracy.


Colombia occupies the northwestern corner of South America. It has coastlines on both the Pacific Ocean on the west and the Caribbean Sea on the east. The mighty Andes Mountains divide into three long rangescalled cordilleras that run the length of the country. To the east, there are extensive plains. To the south, a thick jungle extends toward the Amazon River.

Colombia has a population of over 36 million people. The majority of its inhabitants are mestizo of mixed Amerindian and white heritage.


Spanish is the official language of Colombia. It is spoken with an accent that varies considerably according to region. In addition, various Amerindian groups speak their own languages.

People usually use both their father's and their mother's surnames, in that order. The strong influence of the Catholic Church has made names like María very popular, usually in combination with another name, such as María Cristina or María Teresa. Even men are often named María, in combination with masculine names, such as José María or Pedro María.


Amerindian, black African, and Spanish folk customs have combined to create a rich culture that expresses itself in festivals throughout the year. According to one legend, a mythical hero named Bochica introduced culture and civilization to the people living around Bogotá. He taught them how to build dwellings and introduced laws to govern daily life. Problems started when his wife, Chia the moon goddess, kept leading people astray, encouraging them to break the laws. The couple fought, and Chia used magic powers to make the rivers flood the home the people had built.

Bochica led the people who survived the floods to the top of a mountain. To make sure that Chia would not cause any more trouble, he sent her away to be exiled in the night sky forever.

Barranquilla and other coastal towns celebrate a yearly Carnival. Celebrants wear colorful costumes and masks, and play flutes and African drums.


Roman Catholicism is the religion of Colombia. Amerindians in remote areas practice beliefs that include forms of shamanism (belief in good and evil spirits).


Colombia celebrates Independence Day on July 20 and the discovery of America on October 12. The main Roman Catholic holidays are also observed. Easter (late March or early April) is marked by major religious events. One is the Holy Week procession in the town of Popayán. Statues of Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and saints are paraded by groups of cargueros (carriers) along the streets. Others walk alongside them carrying candles called alumbrantes.


All the main Catholic rituals that mark important phases in a person's life are observed by a majority of the population. Among these are baptism and first communion, as well as Catholic marriage and burial rites. Some practices have included a mixture of either Amerindian or black African customs.


Women usually greet each other with a kiss; men shake hands. Good friends shake hands and pat each other on the back several times as well.

It is considered essential to offer any visitor a small cup of black coffee called a tinto. This is the custom on both business and social occasions. Colombians consider it rude to launch directly into a discussion without first asking about the other person's welfare and that of his or her family.


Living conditions vary greatly according to social class. The wealthy suburbs have modern houses and apartment blocks. In poorer neighborhoods there are often large areas with poorly constructed or rundown shacks. These are called shantytowns.

In mountain villages some houses have adobe walls and thatched roofs. Others have plaster walls and tiled roofs. In hotter climates along the Pacific and Caribbean coasts, housing is built from local cane, reeds, and palm branches. In such areas it is not unusual for people to use hammocks rather than beds.


Colombians keep in touch with large extended families through weddings, baptisms, and other special occasions. Close ties with immediate and extended families are an important aspect of Colombian life, providing support in many aspects of life. The family network extends to second and third cousins. Godparents, or padrinos, may also play an important role, helping with tuition or assisting the family in other ways. Family members are also depended upon to provide jobs whenever possible.


Western-style clothing is worn throughout Colombia. However, it varies according to climate. In warm coastal areas, men wear cotton shirts with bright, colorful patterns. In the cooler climate of the Andes mountains, both men and women wear woolen ruanas (capes). Middle-and upper-class women wear stylish versions of the ruana. The most primitive ruanas are made from undyed wool in shades of brown. More stylish versions may be striped or plain, using a wide range of colors. Traditional peasant women in mountain areas wear large, fringed shawls called pañolones. The traditional women's folk costume, seen mostly at festivals, consists of a round-necked, lace-edged blouse and a wide, flowery skirt.


Colombia has a great variety of fruits and vegetables. Cocido, a traditional stew served in Bogotá, can include twenty different kinds of vegetables. Ajiaco, another local dish, includes a bright yellow potato (papa criolla), chicken, and corn, served with a slice of avocado and cream. A typical dessert is made with sweet, stewed figs called brevas. They are served with arequipe, milk cooked with sugar until it resembles toffee. On the coast a variety of fish are served fried or sometimes grilled, often with rice flavored with coconut milk.


Ajiaco Bogotano
(Potato and Chicken Soup)


  • 2 cups cooked chicken, cut into bite-size pieces
  • 8 cups (4 cans) chicken broth
  • 1 onion, cut in half
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon thyme
  • 2 pounds potatoes (Colombian cooks use several kinds of potatoes, including yellow potatoes), peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 2 cups frozen corn
  • 1 cup heavy cream, brought to room temperature
  • 1 avocado, cut into slices


  1. Put chicken broth, onion, bay leaf, cumin, and thyme into soup pot and bring to a boil.
  2. Lower heat and simmer about 20 minutes. Remove onion and bay leaf.
  3. Add potatoes. Simmer until potatoes are very soft (about 20 minutes).
  4. Add corn and cooked chicken and simmer about 5 minutes more.
  5. Pour about 1 Tablespoon of cream into each soup bowl and ladle the hot soup over it.
  6. Garnish with one slice of avocado and serve immediately.

Adapted from Karoff, Barbara, South American Cooking. Berkeley, Calif.: Aris Books, 1989.


Primary education is free in Colombia, but it is not compulsory. About 20 percent of children in cities and 40 percent in rural areas do not go to school.

College and university education has expanded since the 1960s. There are dozens of universities, and technical and commercial institutes. Technical training schools have helped Colombia improve the skills of factory workers.


Colombia has a rich musical heritage that blends Amerindian, African, and Spanish elements. In the Andes region, twelve-string guitars called tiples are often used to sing courtly and romantic songs called bambucos. On the coast, the style of music is the cumbia, played with flutes and drums.

Colombia's main cities, especially Bogotá, have symphony orchestras, theaters, art galleries, bookshops, and many movie theaters. Colombia's most famous novelist is Nobel Prize-winner Gabriel García Márquez (1928), author of One Hundred Years of Solitude.


Small commercial traders and shopkeepers form an important part of the economy. There is also a growing educated class that finds employment in trade, manufacturing, or finance. In addition, jobs are increasing in the fields of engineering, communications, and computers. In rural areas people usually work in the fields. In many parts of Colombia children must work to help the family make ends meet.


The most popular sport is soccer, but many other sports are played in Colombia. These include basketball, volleyball, golf, tennis, and swimming. In cattle-ranching areas there are rodeos. People in river or coastal areas enjoy boating and fishing. Cycling has developed as a competitive sport. A game called tejo, similar to horseshoe pitching, is played in the small towns in the mountainous Andes region. Players try to land a horseshoe over an upright stick fixed some distance away from the thrower.


Colombians participate enthusiastically in the many secular and religious fiestas (festivals) around the country. Many people enjoy festivals that revolve around beauty pageants. Some towns, such as Manizales and Bogotá, have bullfighting seasons that draw large crowds. Movie-going is also popular with Colombians.

Another favorite pastime is the paseo, or outing to the countryside by a group of friends or family members. Some town-dwellers own land or a small farm in the country, or have relatives they can visit in rural areas. Others simply choose a small town or village with beautiful scenery. They and their friends travel there by bus to relax, have a picnic, and spend the day.


Colombians are very fine craftspeople, known for beautiful woodwork, metalwork, and weaving.

The Quimbaya Indians of northwestern Colombia have been skilled gold-and silversmiths since the 1500s. Pottery has also been made in Colombia for centuries, both by the Amerindians and by mestizo (mixed Amerindian and white ancestry) craftspeople.

The tiple, or twelve-string guitar, is still produced by hand. On the coast, an African drum-making tradition was brought to Colombia through the slave trade and continues to this day. Craftspersons also make reed flutes and rattles.

A number of Amerindian tribes weave beautiful bags called mochilas that are hung loosely over the shoulder. Amerindian hammocks in various styles are also produced. In the tropical (hot-weather) zones of Colombia, people often hang hammocks on their front porches.


One of Colombia's most serious problems is the wide difference in the living standards of the rich and poor.

The activities of drug traffickers cause many problems. Drug lords resort to violence to settle scores with rivals and use bribes to obstruct the course of justice.

There are also ongoing conflicts between government army units and guerrilla armies. Both guerrilla armies and drug traffickers often resort to kidnapping in order to obtain ransom money. Sometimes they do it to threaten people they think are interfering with their activities. The resulting atmosphere of insecurity has led to the increased use of security guards. They guard individual citizens who feel threatened and are also used to protect private homes and public buildings.


DuBois, Jill. Colombia, Cultures of the World. New York: Marshall Cavendish, 1991.

Hanratty, Dennis M., and Sandra W. Meditz, eds. Colombia: A Country Study. Washington, D.C.: Federal Research Division, Library of Congress, 1990.

Karoff, Barbara. South American Cooking. Berkeley, Calif.: Aris Books, 1989.

Markham, Lois. Colombia: The Gateway to South America. New York: Benchmark Books, 1997.


Embassy of Colombia, Washington, D.C. [Online] Available, 1998.

Ruiz-Garcia, Pedro. The Latino Connection. [Online] Available, 1998.

World Travel Guide. Colombia. [Online] Available, 1998.

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The history of the Colombian Psychoanalytic Society and Institute has been influenced by the scientific cultural currents of the rest of the world, especially France, England, the United States, Argentina, and Chile.

Between 1922 and 1940, some physicians and other non-physicians traveled to Europe and around Latin America, getting direct contact with Freud or being psychoanalyzed. After the Second World War, three physicians arrived from France and Chile: Drs. José Francisco Socarras (1906-1995), Arturo Lizarazo (1915-1992), and (from Venezuela) Herman Quijada, born in 1915.

By that time eight more physicians had gone to Argentina to be trained in psychoanalysis, while others went to the United States and France. The three immigrants begun to conduct studies of Freud, Numberg, and Klein, beginning analytical supervisions that differed from personal analysis.

Between 1948 and 1950, a prestigious Argentine analyst, Dr. Arnaldo Rascovsky, visited Bogotá and edited the bylaws to be followed for the formation of a Study Group recognized by the IPA. On May 6, 1956, the Study Group was officially founded and was recognized by the IPA a year later, being sponsored by France and Chile.

In 1959, an Associate Member of the Argentine Psychoanalytic Association, Dr. Carlos Plata, arrived to Bogotá who elaborated the Group bylaws. In 1960, Angel and Betty Garma visited Colombia and held a series of seminars as well as individual and collective supervisions, and later in 1961 the Society was recognized by the IPA.

In 1962 a conflict arose between the two pioneers of psychoanalysis in Colombia, which appeared to be political-ideological and ended with the resignation of Arturo Lizarazo, but he left the Colombian Psychoanalytic Association to found his own Study Group, now recognized by by the IPA, which is led by M. Gonzalez, J.A. Marquez and R. De Zubiría. Also the "Sigmund Freud Psychoanalytic Group I.P.A." is led by G. Arcila and B. Alvarez.

In Colombia there are other psychoanalytic Groups in Cali, Medellin, and Bogotá, with some leaders (O. Espinosa, A. Villar) trained at the Colombian Psychoanalytic Society, but the groups are not recognized by the IPA.

Since 1976, the Review of the Colombian Psychoanalytic Society (Revista de la Sociedad Colombiana de Psicoanálisis ) has appeared, with 21 volumes, four numbers each year, and there is also a "Boletin" published monthly. As of 2002, the Society had four honorary members, 33 full members, 57 associate members. The Institute has 15 training analysts, 10 professors, 14 candidates; there have been 19 graduating classes from 1959-1996. The Institute requires eight semesters (four years training) with two hours daily and two individual supervisions weekly. Freud is the main author studied, but others are reviewed, especially from France, England, the United States, and Argentina, with a multi-theoretical frame of reference. There are members of the Society working in the cities of Cali and Buoaramanga.

Various members of the Colombian Psychoanalytic Society have participated in the COPAL, FEPAL, and IPA boards.

Several theoretical and technical contributions have been published, mainly in the Journal and in books. The practice has increased daily, and some analysts are professors at different universities. Psychoanalysis has been admitted at the National Academy of Medicine and is generally well accepted by Colombian society, as well as in scientific reviews and daily journals. Among other well-known contemporary analysts are G. Ballesteros, E. Gómez, E. Laverde, A. Sánchez, I. Villarreal, and L. Yamín.

GUillermo SÁnchez Medina


Brainsky, Simon. (1984). Manual de psicologia y psicopatologia dinámica fundamentos de psicoanálisis. Bogotá: Ed. Pluma.

Carvajal, Guillermo. (1993). Adolecer: La aventura de una metamorfosis. Una visión psicoanalitica de la adolescencia Bogotá: Printing Service Network.

González Velásquez, Mario. (1993). La cohesión del self. Bogotá: Ed. Guadalupe Ltda.

Plata Mújica, Carlos. (1989), Metapsicologia y Técnica Psicoanalitica. Bogotá: Ed. Tercer Mundo Editores.

Sánchez Medina, Guillermo. (1994). Técnica y clinica psicoanalitica. Bogotá: Ed. Centro Profesional Gráico Ltda.

. (1991). Psicoanálisis, ayer, hoy y mariana. Bogotá: Ed. Gaviota.

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1,138,910sq km (439,733sq mi)



capital (population):

Bogotá (6,668,500)


Multiparty republic

ethnic groups:

Mestizo 58%, White 20%, Mulatto 14%, Black 4%, mixed Black and Indian 3%, Native American 1%


Spanish (official)


Christianity (Roman Catholic 93%)


Peso = 100 centavos

Republic in nw South America. Colombia is the only South American country to have coastlines on both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. Cartagena is the main Caribbean port. Three ranges of the Andean Mountains dominate Colombia. On the edge of the w Cordillera lies the city of Cali. The Central Cordillera is a chain of volcanoes that divide the valleys of the rivers Magdalena and Cauca. It includes the city of Medellín. The e Cordillera contains the capital, Bogotá, at c.2800m (9200ft). East of the Andes lie plains drained by headwaters of the Amazon and Orinoco rivers.

Climate and Vegetation

Colombia's climate and vegetation vary greatly according to altitude. The Pacific lowlands have a tropical, rainy climate, but Bogotá has mild annual temperatures. The Caribbean lowlands and the Magdalena valley have dry seasons.

Vegetation varies from dense rainforest in the se to the tundra of the snow-capped Andean peaks. Coffee plantations line the w slopes of the e Cordillera. The ancient forests of the Caribbean lowlands have been largely cleared. Savanna (llanos) covers the ne plains.

History and Politics

The pre-Colombian Chibcha civilization lived undisturbed in the e cordillera for thousands of years. In 1525 the Spanish established the first European settlement at Santa Marta. By 1538 the conquistador Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada conquered the Chibcha and established the city of Bogotá. Colombia became part of the New Kingdom of Granada, whose territory also included Ecuador, Panama, and Venezuela.

In 1819 Simón Bolívar defeated the Spanish at Boyacá, and established Greater Colombia. Bolívar became president. In 1830, Ecuador and Venezuela gained independence. In 1885, the Republic of Colombia was formed. Differences between republican and federalist factions proved irreconcilable and the first civil war (1899–1902) killed nearly 100,000 people. In 1903, aided by the United States, Panama gained independence. The second civil war La Violencia (1949–57) was even more bloody.

In 1957 Liberal and Conservative parties formed a National Front Coalition, which held power until 1974. Throughout the 1970s, Colombia's illegal trade in cocaine grew steadily, creating wealthy drug barons. In the 1980s, armed cartels (such as the Cali) destabilized Colombia with frequent assassinations of political and media figures. A new constitution (1991) protected human rights. Social Conservative Party (PSC) leader Andrés Pastrana Arango won the 1998 presidential elections and, in an effort to end the 30-year guerrilla war, negotiated with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN). Pastrana granted FARC a safe haven in se Colombia. In 1999, the worst earthquake in Colombia's history killed more than 1000 people and left thousands homeless. In 2002 Pastrana declared war on FARC, sending the army into FARC's ‘safe haven’. Alvaro Uribe defeated Pastrana in 2002 presidential elections. Uribe declared a state of emergency following the killing of 20 people in a bomb attack on Bogotá on the day of his inauguration.


Colombia is a lower-middle income developing country (2000 GDP per capita, US$6200). It is the world's second-largest coffee producer. Other crops include bananas, cocoa, and maize. Colombia also exports coal, oil, emeralds, and gold. In 1997 a collapse in the world coffee and banana markets led to a budget deficit. In 1998 Colombia devalued the peso, triggering the longest strike (20 days) in Colombia's history.

Political map

Physical map


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Culture Name



Identification. Since declaring independence on 20 July 1810 and achieving it in 1819, Colombia has changed its name seven times. Regional cultural traditions are diverse, with a broad range of distinct groups that have unique customs, accents, social patterns, and cultural adaptations. These groups are classified into three cultures: those in the interior, the countryside, and the coastal regions. Only during elections, sporting events, and beauty pageants do the regional cultures unite for a common goal.

Location and Geography. Covering about 440,000 square miles (1.14 million square kilometers), Colombia has coast on the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Lowland coastal areas give way to rain forest, the Andes, and the Inland Ilanos (plains).

Colombia is connected to Central America by the Isthmus of Panama. It contains several small islands in the Atlantic, including San Andrea and Providencia, and in the Pacific, the Malpelo and Gorgona islands have been set aside as natural wildlife reserves. Colombia borders Ecuador and Peru to the south, Brazil and Venezuela to the east, and Panama to the northwest.

The Atlantic or Caribbean coastal lowlands receive less rainfall than the area along the Pacific. Many industries are located within this area, along with 20 percent of the population. The fertile land supports banana and sugarcane plantations along with cattle ranches. Lush rain forest and swamps characterize the Pacific lowlands. Because of the abundant rainfall and poor soil quality, few people inhabit this region.

The three Andean Cordilleras (mountain ranges) running the entire length of the country from the north to the south, occupy only 30 percent of the landmass. Most of the population lives in the inland Andean region, which begins along the Caribbean coast near Venezuela. Climatic effects are accentuated on the high elevations of these mountain ranges. The hot zone is marked by heavy annual rainfall along the Pacific coast. The temperate zone, in which 40 percent of the population lives, has moderate rainfall and moderate temperatures.

The treeless regions adjacent to the cold zone usually are referred to as paramos (high plains), above which begin the nevados (snowcapped peaks). The cold zone receives heavy rainfall during the wet seasons from April to June and September to December. The northern end of this range is characterized by volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. Despite the tectonic activity, almost 80 percent of the population lives in the Andeanregion.The highlands to the east of the Magdalena Valley include Cundinamarca, where Bogota, the capital, is located. Set in the central range to the west of the Magdalena are two of the most important cities: Medellín (the second largest city) and Manizales. Farther to the south in the Cauca Valley is Cali, the third largest city, which has some of the richest farmland. This area contains some of the richest mineral deposits in the world, including gold and emeralds. Coffee plantations are plentiful in the mild climate, which also supports banana, cassava, and coca.

To the east of the Andes is the broad expanse of the Ilanos, which contains more than 60 percent of the land area. The high plateau is striped with tributaries of the Amazon River and rain forest to the south. While few crops are grown in this hot, flat region, the grassland provides ample space to graze cattle.

Colombia has great biodiversity with 1,550 species of birds and over 13,000 species of plants.

Demography. With a population of 42.3 million (30 June 2000), Colombia is a nation of mixed race. It is estimated that about 75 percent of the population is of mixed heritage, with 55 percent of this group being mestizos, 16 percent mulattoes, and 4 percent zambos. The other 20 percent of the population is of European, African, or Indian ancestry.

Caucasians, mainly descendants of Spaniards, constitute about 20 percent of the population. Antioquia and the coffee region are considered "white" departments or states because of the reluctance of European settlers to mix with blacks or Indians. Black people represent about 4 percent of the total population and live primarily on the Caribbean coast, the historical center of the slave trade. The Indian population, which is estimated to have been between 1.5 and 2 million people in the pre-conquest period, numbers between 300,000 and 400,000. There are over fifty Indian groups, many of which live in relative isolation.

Linguistic Affiliation. The official language is Spanish, which was imposed during the colonial period. All Colombians speak it except some of the indigenous populations in the Amazonian basin. In major cities, English is used, particularly by the upper class, but it is not commonly understood or spoken. Outside urban areas, Spanish is virtually the only medium of communication. Colombia takes great care to preserve the linguistic "purity" of Castilian Spanish. The Colombian Academy of Language was founded in 1871 by a commission from the Spanish Royal Academy of Language; it was the first such body established in Latin America. Colombian Spanish is marked by the presence of numerous cultural expressions. In addition to Spanish, over 200 indigenous languages and dialects are spoken.

Symbolism. Patriotic symbols represent the war of independence and the founding fathers. Francisco Miranda, a Venezuelan, designed the national flag in 1806. Adapting the red and yellow of the Spanish flag, Miranda divided the two colors by a stripe of blue to symbolize the ocean separating the independent country from the motherland. The upper half of the flag is yellow, symbolizing the natural riches of the country, while the lower half is divided into two equal parts of blue and red, with the red symbolizing the blood shed in the war for independence. In 1834, the national shield, Arms of the Republic, was added to the flag to represent the defensive armament used in early battles. Another important national symbol is the condor, which signifies liberty and sovereignty.

History and Ethnic Relations

Emergence of the Nation. The discovery of the country's coastal lands in 1499, followed by Spanish occupation for the next 300 years, indicates the integral role Spain played in the region's cultural, religious, and political development. In the early part of the 1500s, Spain attempted to control the Caribbean and Pacific coastlines, establishing Santa Marta in 1525 and Cartagena de Indias in 1533. In that year, the conquest of the Incas in Peru gave the Spaniards strategic positions in the north and south for the subjugation and colonization of Colombia. By the middle of the sixteenth century, the Spaniards had established a major foothold in the Americas.

During this period, the Andes were occupied by a number of indigenous groups that ranged from stratified agricultural chiefdoms to tropical farm villages and nomadic hunter-gatherer groups. The social structures of these groups were destroyed during the conquest, as Indians were forced into slavery to exploit the natural riches of the country. As the number of casualties in the Indian population increased due to starvation and disease brought by the conquistadors and to the intense labor of slavery, Spain imported slaves from Africa for gold and silver mining on the Pacific coast. The tri-ethnic composition of the population during this period led to the ethnic terminology still used today. Spaniards were referred to as Peninsulars, while their South-American-born descendants were called criollos (Creoles). Miscegenation produced people of mixed race known to the Spaniards as the castas (castes). These were mestizos from the intermarriage of whites and natives, mulattoes from that of blacks and whites, and zambos from that of blacks and Indians.

Unfair practices and decrees by the Spaniards created a desire for independence. Most traumatic was the practice of encomiendas, an institutionalized system in which Indians were "entrusted" to the care of Spaniards called Encomienderos.These "caretakers" provided the Indians with religious instruction and a livelihood in exchange for their labor. In practice, this system amounted to enslavement.

In 1781, 20,000 Indians and mestizos attempted to march on the capital in what became known as the Comuneros revolt, but the revolt was crushed and its leaders were executed. There was little or no support from the Creole population, but some Creoles were appalled by the brutality of the Spaniards and began to spread the rebellious sentiment. The call for vengeance spread to other provinces, as government officials excluded Creoles from high governmental positions. After several minor uprisings, Colombia achieved independence after the decisive battle of Boyacá on 9 August 1819 under Simon Bolivar, a Creole who joined the patriotic movement in 1810.

National Identity. There is not a unique national culture separate from the cultural influence of colonial Spain. Instead of resisting Spanish cultural influences, most indigenous groups embraced them. Rather than having a common culture, Colombia is a country with many distinct regional cultures.

Ethnic Relations. Past relations with other regional cultures were based on the hierarchical society imposed by Spain, in which the upper echelon of "white" Spaniards enjoyed wealth, power, and prestige while blacks and Indians were at the bottom of the socioeconomic hierarchy. After independence, Creoles quickly replaced Spaniards in the upper echelons of the new society. Qualified mestizos and mulattoes also ascended to high positions, but their inclusion was based on their level of education, wealth, and "whiteness." Colombians continue to identify themselves according to their regional heritage, physical appearance, and socioeconomic status.

Urbanism,Architecture, and the Use of Space

The nation's architecture reflects seventeenth century Spanish colonial origins. Regional differences derive from those in Spain. Thus, hints of Moorish and Castilian architecture are evident in many cities. Many areas have had difficulty maintaining older structures, and the climate has destroyed many Baroque buildings. Some of the architectural gems are the many churches that dot the landscape. The detailed interiors of the country's churches are reflective of the Medieval and Renaissance churches in Spain. Newer buildings in larger cities utilize modern styles with adaptations of the Baroque style supplemented with wood and wrought-iron elements.

In the nineteenth century, a new form of architecture began to develop from the efforts of artisans who incorporated elements of Greek, Roman, and Renaissance art. This style, known as republicano, represented the independence of Colombian art. This movement incorporated cement and steel building materials. Many government buildings follow the republicano architectural style.

In the 1930s, Colombia began to embrace modern architecture. The new Liberal Party government tore down many older buildings to reject the conservative past. In their place, it constructed modern buildings with an international flavor.

Republicano homes are typically built on a single level with an A-frame roof. Houses in the more crowded cities often have two or more stories and reflect a European influence. Most people lived in single-family dwellings until the migration to urban centers in the late 1940s and early 1950s. The need for adequate housing persuaded the government to invest in high-density public housing projects during the early 1950s. In the poorer areas, large families live in small houses constructed from cinder blocks and covered with an adobe made of clay, cow manure, and hay.

Park space is limited to larger towns and cities that were founded by the Spanish. Parks have areas where social activity is encouraged; long benches are placed close together so that people can have space around them without restricting communication. Few formal parks exist outside the cities, although people congregate around churches or other local monuments.

Food and Economy

Food in Daily Life. Most middle-class families eat elaborate meals that reflect Spanish and indigenous traditions. A typical meal is identified by size rather than content, such as a light breakfast, a substantive midday lunch, and a lighter meal in the early evening. Dinner consists of fresh fruit, homemade soup, and a main dish with meat or fish accompanied by rice and/or potatoes. Lower-income people eat a more carbohydrate-rich diet. Meals usually end with a very sweet dessert, frequently made from panela, a type of brown sugar.

There are regional differences in foods. In the interior rural regions, a hearty breakfast consists of a strip of pork, rice and beans, sweet plantains, and a large steak with fried eggs. Dinner is similar, except for the eggs. In the coastal region, the emphasis is on seafood. In Cartagena, the typical lunch consists of rice with coconut, fried plantains, and shrimp. Colombians enjoy a variety of national and international cuisines.

Specialty dishes are eaten during holidays. A dish associated with the capital is ajiaco, a stew with three types of potato, chicken, and corn, that is served with capers, cream, and avocado. Another dish served during religious holidays is pasteles, while along the coast, people eat sancocho, a fish or chicken stew. Colombians consume large quantities of beer and coffee and relatively little milk or wine. Aguardiente combines local rum and a corn of sugar brandy.

Basic Economy. The economy is dependent on manufacturing and agricultural exports, but this domestic production relies on expensive imports such as tractors, power generators, and industrial machinery. Commercial agriculture stresses bananas, cut flowers, sugar, and coffee. In the world's second leading exporter of coffee, the economy is sensitive to fluctuations in the market price. Manufacturing exports include textiles, garments, chemicals, and metal products. Despite rich mineral deposits, Colombia derives less than 4 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) from mining.

Economic progress has resulted from the government's efforts to make the economy more specialized and productive by encouraging trade, deregulation, and financial investment. While the executive and legislative branches can intervene in economic matters, the hands-off policy of the government has resulted in a 3 percent annual growth of the economy since the ending of government subsidies.

Land Tenure and Property. Most of the productive agricultural land forests are privately owned. The structure of owner-operator relationships varies: coffee is grown on small plots by sharecroppers, whereas plantation agriculture and forestry involve multinational joint ownership using local labor. Land containing valuable minerals and hydrocarbons generally reverts to the government, which arranges contracts between domestic and foreign corporations. Public land includes 43 national parks. The government has designated special lands for the indigenous groups. Land distribution has been a difficult issue, and deforestation is being examined in the context of management practices and trade policies.

Commercial Activities. Fifty-one percent of the GDP comes from the commercial sector, which includes utilities, transportation, communications, wholesale commerce, real estate, retail banking, and stock exchanges. While these business sectors operate domestically, many have an international presence, including investment banking, insurance, commercial real estate, hotels, and advertising.

Major Industries. The primary industries are in the manufacturing sector, which employs over 35 percent of the workforce. The largest industries in this sector are textile, garment, furniture, and corrugated box manufacturing. Heavy industries also make a significant contribution to the GDP, including oil production, coal mining, chemical and resin-producing plants, and forestry. Although tourism is a major industry, the growth of this sector has been hindered by instability in the Andean and forested regions.

Trade. Exports include coffee, cut flowers, emeralds, and leather goodsmost of which go to the United States and Europe. Other significant exports are oil, coal, and bananas. A free-market economy has allowed the country to benefit from foreign trade and foreign investment. After the North American Free Trade Agreement, Colombia established a similar trade pact between itself and several Latin American nations. Colombia is seeking similar trade pacts with it neighbors to the north, including the United States.

Division of Labor. The labor force consists of manual and semi-skilled, highly skilled, managerial, and professional segments. In the agricultural and manufacturing sectors, manual or semi-skilled labor is physically demanding and wages are low. Workers who are classified as highly skilled include artisans and carpenters and supervisors in industrial plants and farms. Managers and professionals include highly educated individuals who occupy the top decision-making or policy-making roles in industries, universities, and the government.

Social Stratification

Classes and Castes. The massive urban migration that began in the 1950s saw a middle class emerge, resulting in a three-class system: upper, middle, and lower. The upper class, which includes 20 percent of the population, accounts for about 75 to 80 percent of the gross national product. This group tends to be made up of individuals of unmixed European ancestry. Within this class, there is an elite referred to as the "oligarchy" that enjoys wealth and financial security, political power, and education. This group may be considered a caste, since membership is largely due to birthright, not to individual ability. A wide gap separates the elite from the masses. Unlike the elite, this group has few opportunities for social mobility. Social inequality is evident in the lower class, whose members are often malnourished, poorly housed, disease-ridden, and illiterate.

White people continue to dominate the upper class, while mestizos and mulattoes constitute the middle and lower classes. Blacks and Indians make up a significant portion of the lower class. Historically, blacks felt socially superior to Indians despite the fact that Indians occupied an officially higher position in society.

Symbols of Social Stratification. White or light skin is associated with being Spanish. Today, people may not be aware of this association, but they still equate being white with being wealthy.

The style of clothing preferred by urban professionals and the middle and upper classes is similar to that in the United States. White, mestizo, and mulatto men and women prefer conservative dark suits. Individuals from rural areas often wear the same clothes in the fields and at home. Men usually wear loose-fitting pants, while women wear loose-fitting skirts. Cloaks are worn by both sexes in the cold, rural highlands.

All three classes in the interior, especially in Bogotá, speak a deliberate and grammatically correct Spanish, whereas coastal speech patterns have a rapid tempo. People from the interior are more proper and ceremonial in social interactions, while coastal inhabitants are usually more trusting and carefree.

Political Life

Government. The government has an executive branch led by an elected president, a bicameral (House of Representatives and Senate) legislative branch, and a judicial branch. The president is elected to a four-year term by popular vote and may not be reelected. The president runs for office with his vice president, and names the cabinet, which consists of ministers with administrative powers. The president's duties include enforcing laws, conducting foreign affairs, supervising public finances, maintaining public order, and serving as commander-in-chief of the armed forces.

In the Congress, senators are elected by national vote, while representatives are elected by the people in their districts. Members of both houses may be re-elected to an unlimited number of terms. Congress meets only twice a year but may be called for additional sessions by the president. The House of Representatives appoints an attorney general. The responsibilities of the Senate include approving military promotions, declaring war, permitting foreign troops to enter the national territory, litigating impeachment proceedings against the president, and electing supreme court justices.

Under the constitution of 1991, the Constitutional Court and Council of State were added to the Supreme Court, which is the court of final appeals for ordinary legal matters, annulments, and contractual disputes. It also tries public officials for misconduct in office. The Council of State hears cases involving administrative issues and proposes laws regarding administrative practices, while the Constitutional Court is charged with reviewing laws, treaties, and other public policies to ensure that they do not violate the constitution.

Leadership and Political Officials. One of the most important informal decision-making groups among the upper class is referred to as roscas, a term that symbolizes the interconnecting networks in the political system. These groups have a membership structure that parallels the society of colonial Spain. These informal groups are found in the political, social, economic, and financial sectors. Roscas have been successful in monitoring and controlling some social, political, and economic changes. At this level, most political decisions are made and many careers are determined. Roscas link influential individuals and institutions so that universities, banks, industries, and agricultural interests may be coordinated and controlled by a few people. Inclusion in these such groups is limited to members of the upper-middle and upper classes. Another informal custom is the palanca ("leverage"), in which an influential friend or relative tries to help an individual gain a position. Allegiance to political parties and family ties are the source of most palancas.

After independence, the founding fathers formed the Centralist and Federalist parties, which later became the Conservative and Liberal parties. The Liberal Party advocates the separation of church and state, free enterprise, free commerce, no taxes on exportation, no intervention in matters of state by foreign nations, a free press, political liberty, decentralization of government, universal suffrage, and equal justice for all. The Conservative Party defends moral values, supports good customs, maintains close ties between church and state, protects traditional values, maintains a central government and central bank, favors tariffs, maintains the status quo and federal support of education, and calls for equal justice for all.

Social Problems and Control. The modern National Police, a branch of the armed forces, was created in 1891 to enforce federal laws. With the escalation of violence during the 1980s, the size of the national force increased. However, the National Police lack a presence in many municipalities. In a country racked by violence, some judges wear masks to hide their faces in order to avoid reprisal. These "judges without faces" demonstrate the inability of the judicial system to protect its members and the general public.

Over 50 years ago, many politicians tried to reform a corrupt political system that acted in favor of the privileged few. However, after the assassination of Jorge Eliécer Gaitán in 1948, old-line politicians fell into disfavor. Elected to many political positions, including his appointment as mayor of Bogotá, Gaitán had captivated the country with his dynamic oratory and articulation of social problems. The elite feared that Gaitán's popularity would ensure his election to the presidency. Gaitán's death resulted in an escalation of violence, especially in the countryside. The period between 1946 and 1956 is known as La Violencia; over 350,000 people died in an armed uprising against social and political injustice. After Gaitán's assassination, the guerrilla movements began to organize into large centralized groups.

Today the two major guerilla organizations the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the Army of National Liberation (ELN)have attempted to disrupt the government and the national economy to bring about reform and social justice. They have generally targeted government buildings, military positions, and police stations, but also have attacked energy distribution and communication networks, and engaged in extortion, kidnapping, and assassination.

Drug trafficking is a major economic and social problem that has enriched the drug cartels and financed the guerrillas. To counter the effects of the drug trade, informal social control systems have risen to combat crime, including paramilitary organizations. Many people take the law upon themselves, and many crimes are committed in the context of personal or group retaliation.

Military Activity. Numbering 150,000, the military is divided into an army, a navy, and an air force. Mandated with protecting the country's borders and territorial waters, the military has been involved in internal conflicts such as fighting against guerrillas.

Social Welfare and Change Programs

The social security system developed in 1843 applied only to military personnel. Other social security programs have been slow to develop. While many programs available to the average laborer are relatively new, they provide health, pension, social security, and death benefits. Individual benefits in the public sector exceed those in the private sector. The social welfare system has been expensive and inequitably applied, with only 16 percent of the population currently covered by social insurance. The poorest segment of the population is not covered by any program. These groups rely on nongovernmental organizations to supplement the limited support provided by the government.

Nongovernmental Organizations and Other Associations

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have been involved in agricultural, educational, and health programs. With the backing of the government and community leaders, organizations such as the Magdalena Medio Project have influenced public affairs. Among the priorities of NGOs are land reform projects to redistribute farmland in favor of family farming and the poor, human capital development in education to give communities control over local education, and public sector efficiency. Groups such as the Pasto Education Project and the Rural Education Project have advocated better-equipped public schools and teacher training.

In 1982, with help from the World Bank, the Women's World Bank was established to provide very small, low-interest loans to women micro-entrepreneurs in rural and remote regions. The Carvajal Foundation paved the way for other institutions promoting micro-enterprise, such as the Women's World Bank and the Solidarios Financial Cooperative. Other NGOs focus on diverse aspects of the nation's economy, education, and people. The Colombian Indigenist Institute, is an advocate for many native groups. The first national labor organization, the Confederation of Colombian Workers (CTC), promotes labor reform. Having lost much of its influence, the CTC was supplanted by the Union of Colombian Workers backed by the Catholic Church and then by the Unified Central of Workers.

Gender Roles and Statuses

The Relative Status of Women and Men. Gender roles have changed with the migration from rural to urban areas, but family and household organization is still marked by sexual segregation and a difference between male and female goals and aspirations. As a result of colonial influence, Colombian society adopted a culture in which men occupy a dominant role within the household as breadwinner and disciplinarian and assume responsibility for maintaining family pride and position within the community. The role of machismo is an important characteristic of public life. Machismo is not synonymous with strict male dominanceit applies to the public personification of the male family head. Machismo requires separate male and female roles in economic life and consumption, the reliance of women on men, and distinct sets of life goals for men and women. With more women holding higher-paying jobs and occupying prominent positions in society, the role of machismo is now less dominant in urban centers but is still evident in rural regions.

Machismo defines a woman's role as a mother in addition to her conjugal role. The traditional male-female relationship assumes that the woman puts her husband's wishes before her own. She is responsible for the care of the children and household, but the husband makes decisions about the household's basic necessities.

While male familial roles are relatively consistent across economic groups, female roles vary as a result of the modern economy. In upper class and some middle class families, women avoid working outside the home in order to preserve family status, honor, and virtue. Women from lower class and lower-middle class families often hold jobs outside the home or work in the fields to contribute to the family's subsistence, giving them a greater degree of equality. Many couples farm fields owned through the wife's family, and in this case it is difficult for a husband living with his wife's family to exercise control over the wife.

Women have assumed visible and important roles in society. Upper class and middle class women dedicate themselves not only to the family but also to social issues and the church. Women from these groups hold a number of prominent public positions and are considered among the most politically active in Latin America.

Marriage, Family, and Kinship

Marriage. Arranged marriages are no longer common, especially among the upper-middle and upper classes, but the members of these groups are encouraged to marry within their own class. While men and women can date whomever they wish, they must be accompanied by a chaperone. Before marrying, couples usually court for at least a year.

Members of the lower and middle classes strive to marry someone outside of their class; mestizos, mulattoes, and blacks prefer to marry into white families. However, when intermarriage takes place, it is generally white males who marry Indians or blacks.

Most people, especially in urban centers, are married in the Catholic Church. Upper class people use this religious rite to create powerful family unions. Church weddings are expensive and allow families to demonstrate their financial and social status. Because of the expense, members of the lower middle class may opt for a civil marriage. Others choose a consensual marriage. Divorce for civil marriages was not permitted until 1970.

Domestic Unit. The nuclear family consisting of a father, a mother, and their children is the basic household unit. Upper class families usually have many children. The father is the head of the household, while the mother is responsible for child rearing, homemaking, and the basic education of the children. Lower class and some middle class wives work in the city or next to kin in the fields.

Inheritance. Parents bequeath property to their children in equal shares. In rural families, sons and daughters may inherit property with the condition that they will continue to work the land. In urban centers, parents may leave a family business to their children to share and run.

Kin Groups. Large upper class families have an extended kin group in which the oldest member receives the most wealth and prestige. Family and kin group members interact regularly and generally live close to each other in urban areas or on the same land or estate in rural locations. Family members participate in social activities to expand the family's wealth. In times of severe financial difficulties, families lacking a socioeconomic network, may be displaced into a lower class.


Infant Care. Mothers from the upper class prefer to give birth in clinical settings, while those in the lower class usually have babies at home, sometimes with the help of a midwife. Upper class families use cribs and playpens. The sleeping quarters of the child are usually separate from those of the parents. In poorer families, a child usually sleeps in the same bed as the mother or next to the mother on the floor.

Parents encourage a child to behave properly. From birth to adolescence, parents nurture children very carefully, inculcating moral values and raising them to respect themselves and their elders. Children are taught right from wrong, encouraged to be obedient, and informed about the need for higher education. Obedience to adults, conformity to social expectations, and religious devotion are important qualities in a "good" child.

The only ceremonial initiations rural and urban children receive are the religious rites of the Catholic Church. Within the first year, a baby is baptized. Families often use the rite of baptism to achieve upward social mobility. Choosing distinguished godparents brings prestige to the parents and offers the child social and economic networks.

At age four or five, children enroll in elementary school where they learn to read, write, and do simple math as well as study geography and history. Completion of secondary school leads to a diploma that qualifies a student for college.

Higher Education. The Catholic Church established the first universities before 1700; the first public universities were founded much later. Today there are over 40 universities. National universities receive funding from the government, which in the 1958 constitution was mandated to spend at least 10 percent of the national budget on education.

Higher education is considered necessary to achieve professional goals and to contribute to the progress and prosperity of the country. However, the university system reinforces social stratification. Higher education is coveted by all, but only the middle and upper classes can afford to attend a university.


Social interaction in the upper class is generally formal and respectful. The members of lower socioeconomic groups from the interior pride themselves on their good manners. Unlike their coastal counterparts, lower class individuals in the interior express mutual respect for each other and their elders; women are treated respectfully and given special attention.

Personal space is highly regarded, so conversations take place at arm's length. The violation of this space even in crowded stores and museums is considered disrespectful and hostile. Exceptions occur in crowded bus stations and on buses. Formal greetings among strangers are mandated, whereas salutations among acquaintances are informal.


Religious Beliefs. Ninety-five percent of the people consider themselves members of the Roman Catholic Church and attach great importance to Catholic sacraments. More than 85 percent of Catholics in urban parishes attend mass regularly.

People in rural areas are said to be more devout than those in the cities, but their Catholicism is different from that of the urban upper and middle classes. In the countryside, Catholic practices and beliefs have been combined with indigenous, African, and sixteenth-century Spanish customs. People pray to a patron saint, who is considered to be more accessible than God. Rural villages have a patron saint who is honored each year with a fiesta. Traces of rural folk religion also are found in urban lower class communities, particularly those with many rural migrants.

Although the 1991 constitution established religious freedom and does not mention the Church by name, the Catholic Church continues to have significant influence. A Protestant movement has attracted more than 260,000 people. Protestants are a minority on the mainland but a majority on San Andres and Providencia islands. There are also small contingents of Muslims and Jews.

The Spanish began a process of conversion among the Indians in the sixteenth century, and the institutionalization of the Catholic Church was a high priority for the colonial government. That church destroyed most of the indigenous rituals and religious customs. The Inquisition had the authority to summon and interrogate, often using torture, any subject accused of heresy and had the power to confiscate the property of convicted persons.

Religious Practitioners. Local priests are often the primary authority figures in small communities. Most priests and bishops were born in the country. Like most elites, priests have gravitated toward urban areas, leaving a void of religious leadership in some areas. Colombia supports more than 30 monasteries and 80 convents.

Rituals and Holy Places. Priests in churches perform most Catholic sacraments. The rite of baptism is the sacramental entry into Christian life, and communion is a memorial of Christ's death and resurrection.

Death and the Afterlife. Christian dogma holds that the spirit lives on after the body has died. A divine judgment of the person's life determines the well-being of the spirit after death. An elaborate ceremony involving the preparation of the deceased for burial by relatives is accompanied by prayer and followed by a period of mourning.

Medicine and Health Care

Health care has improved dramatically over the last 30 years, but this has occurred mostly in upper class and middle class urban areas. The urban poor and people in remote regions have limited access to food, housing, and medical treatment. There has been a reduction in the infant mortality rate and an increase in life expectancy over the last decade.

In rural areas, women must contend with cultural and legal restrictions on health care. Twenty percent to thirty percent of maternal deaths in those areas are due to induced abortions, which usually are performed outside of medical facilities.

Sangre muertes "blood deaths," are violent criminal attacks and murders related to activity by drug cartels that primarily affect men under age forty-five. The increase in guerilla activities also has resulted in many deaths, especially in remote areas.

Malaria affects approximately 15 percent of the population, although the prevalence of AIDS is low. The health care system has taken an aggressive role in controlling the spread of AIDS by giving patients free access to therapy. Colombians have been exposed to a number of endemic tropical diseases, including dengue and yellow fever, and a variety of tropical parasitic infections.

Traditional remedies are commonly used, particularly in rural and remote areas. Many forms of traditional medicine rely on indigenous plants. Traditional healers called Taitas from the yagé culture have tried to maintain their indigenous medical practices. In recognition of the importance of the plants used in traditional medicine, those healers have attempted to preserve the forest in the Amazonian region.

Secular Celebrations

Numerous national holidays celebrate the country and its culture, and many religious holidays are celebrated as national holidays. Important church holidays include the Epiphany (6 January); Holy Week, which includes Easter (March or April); All Saints Day (1 November); the Immaculate Conception (8 December); and Christmas (25 December). Colombia also celebrates the feast days of various saints on both a national and a local level.

Feminine beauty is considered very important, and the country celebrates it each November with the crowning of Miss Colombia. Apart from soccer, the Reinado de Belleza is the most popular sports event.

Other important national holidays are Independence Day (20 July), which celebrates the declaration of independence in 1810, and 7 August, which commemorates the Battle of Bocayá, where Bolívar defeated the Spanish. Other holidays center on regional and local cultures, such as the Carnaval of Barranquilla, the Cartagena International Caribbean Music Festival, the Medellín flower fair, and the Festival of the Devil in Rio Sucio.

The Arts and Humanities

Support for the Arts. Art is considered one of the defining features of Colombian culture. The arts are supported through private individuals and foundations such as the Telefonica Foundation, the Chamber of Commerce of Medellín, the Tobacco Company of Colombia, Federation of Coffee Producers, and the Bank of the Republic of Colombia, which supports the world renowned Museum of Gold. The government, through the Ministries of the Interior and Education, also provides substantial support for numerous museums, theaters, and libraries throughout the country. Among the government supported institutes are the National Museum of Colombia, and the Colombian Institute of Culture, both of which support artists while striving to preserve Colombia's rich history. In addition to these traditional institutes, local governments and private transportation companies support local artists by hiring them to colorfully decorate city and town buses.

Literature. Colombia did not begin to develop a literary tradition until the arrival of the Spanish, and its literature still shows a strong European influence. After independence, writers began to develop their own styles, and wrote about national themes instead of European ones. Early writers such as Jorge Isaacs and José Eustacio Rivera addressed the values of rural peasants and their struggle for existence. These and other stories about the regional populations influenced the development of distinct regional literary styles. One of the writers whose style grew out of the artistic influences of the Caribbean coast is Gabriel García Márquez, winner of the Nobel Prize in 1982. As a member of JoséFélix Fuenmayor's Group of Barranquilla, García Márquez became known for his juxtaposition of myths, dreams, and reality ("magic realism"). García Márquez and other writers are influencing a group of writers who embrace modern and post-modern themes.

Graphic Arts. Over 2,000 years ago, native peoples in the Andes produced intricate artwork. After colonization, native artistic influences were abandoned in favor of European styles. However, Colombia is attempting to carve a niche in the international art world with the production of works by painters such as Fernando Botero and Alejandro Obregón and the sculptor Edgar Negret.

One of the leaders of national art was Pedro Nel Gómez, whose murals featured social criticism. Other artists followed the nationalistic and indigenous themes of the movement, although their technique was more traditional. Colombia takes pride in its artists, many of whom still use nationalistic and indigenous themes while incorporating international elements.

Performance Arts. The diversity of Colombia's music is intimately linked to its many distinct regional differences. Vallenato, a type of Colombian music and dance, originated on the Atlantic coast and is enjoyed throughout the country. Currulao, a type of music from the Pacific coast, uses the sea, rain, and rivers as its central themes and employs mostly ordinary wooden instruments. In the interior of the country, the two traditional types of music played throughout the Andean region are the Bambuco and the Guabina. Both types of music have considerable mestizo influence, often using as their undercurrents themes that emphasize the earth, mountains, and lakes. Joropo is considered to be "fierce" or Plains' music because it is played in the Llanos Orientales, or Eastern Plains, and reflects the cattle ranch workers' arduous way of life. Cumbia music and dance are considered Colombian national treasures whose rhythmic cadence and melodies echo the mulatto and indigenous flavor; it has become the flagship of Colombia's musical genres. Special mention should be paid to the "musical city" of Ibagué, which has contributed to the enrichment and dissemination of Colombian music.

The State of the Physical and Social Sciences

The country has produced important work in biology, medicine, geology, mathematics, physics, genetics, psychology, and anthropology. As the home of several pre-Colombian archaeological sites, Colombia has become the source of much of what is known about Latin America before European settlement.

Colombia also has been at the forefront of studies of volcanology and seismology. Medical research in the country is considered among the best in Latin America. Individuals who have made important contributions to the field include José Ignacio Barraquer, Rodolfo R. Llinás, and Manuel Patarroyo. Research in the physical and social sciences is funded largely by the government, although numerous private organizations also provide assistance.


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PÁEZ 183

The people of Colombia are called Colombians. About 50 percent of the population is mestizo (mixed white and Amerindian or native people). An estimated 25 percent of are white, 20 percent are mulatto (mixed black and white) or zambo (mixed black and Amerindian), 4 percent are black, and 1.5 percent are pure Amerindian (native people). Among the Amerindians in Colombia are the Páez, profiled in this chapter after the article on the Columbians.

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SeeLatin America

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ColombiaGambia, ZambiaArabia, labia, SwabiaLibya, Namibia, tibia •euphorbia •agoraphobia, claustrophobia, homophobia, hydrophobia, phobia, technophobia, xenophobia, Zenobia •Nubia • rootbeer • cumbia •Colombia, Columbia •exurbia, Serbia, suburbia •Wiltshire • Flintshire •gaillardia, Nadia, tachycardia •steadier • compendia •Acadia, Arcadia, nadir, stadia •reindeer •acedia, encyclopedia, media, multimedia •Lydia, Numidia •India • belvedere • Claudia •Cambodia, odea, plasmodia, podia, roe-deer •Mafia, raffia, tafia •Philadelphia • hemisphere •planisphere • Montgolfier • Sofia •ecosphere • biosphere • atmosphere •thermosphere • ionosphere •stratosphere • headgear • switchgear •logia • nemesia • menhir

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COLOMBIA , South American republic; population 43,800,000 (2003); Jewish population estimated at approximately 3,400.


Jewish settlement in the country dates back to the arrival of the *Crypto-Jews during the Colonial Period. The first to reach the area came with the Spanish conquerors during the 16th century. From the beginning of the 17th century, in the wake of the establishment of the Inquisition in Cartagena, the dangers increased for those who practiced Judaism in secret. The Inquisition authorities also specialized in persecuting Jews captured in their ships off Spanish-held coasts, mainly in the Caribbean Sea. Merchandise was confiscated, and if the captives were *New Christians reconverted to Judaism, they were tried, and in many cases executed. It is said, however, that a secret synagogue functioned in Cartagena at the beginning of the 17th century in the house of Blas de Paz Pinto.

The church was traditionally very powerful in Colombia, even after the country achieved independence, and its status was one of the main issues of political struggle. Until 1853 Roman Catholicism was the only religion permitted. Between 1861 and 1886 the influence of the liberals brought about freedom of religion and the restriction of the church's power, but from then until 1936 Roman Catholicism was the national religion protected by the state. The constitution of 1886, reformed in 1936 and 1945, guarantees freedom of religion as long as its practice is "not contrary to Christian morals or to the laws."

It was only at the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century, however, that the first Jews openly began to settle in Colombia. (See the map "Jews in Colombia.") They came from the Antilles islands of Jamaica and Curaçao and by the middle of the century had settled in Barranquilla, Santa Marta, Ríohacha, and Cartagena, as well as in other port cities. In 1844 a cemetery was established in Santa Maria. In 1853 the Jews of Barranquilla were granted a plot of ground by the government to be set aside as a cemetery; in 1874 the Jews, together with the Protestants and the Catholics, set up a new communal cemetery divided into sections. On March 6, 1874, the Caribbean Jews in Barranquilla organized themselves as the "Colombian Jewish Community." Barranquilla developed into the main Colombian port, and the important Jewish houses of the Senior, Solas, Alvarez Correa, Rorg Mendes, Cortizos, and Curiel families were founded. The originator of transport on the Magdalena River, the main artery between Bogotá and the

sea, was David Lopez Penha. The major banks were managed by Moises de Sola, and the "Company of Water Resources" was headed by Augustin Senior, in whose home the Jewish prayer services were conducted. In 1919 Colombian air transport was established by Ernesto Cortissoz.

Smaller Jewish communities existed on the Caribbean coast, Riohacha and Santa Marta. Among their members were the generals Efrain and Abraham Juliao.

In the cultural field, in the 19th century the Barranquilla Jew Abraham Zacarias Lopez Penha became one of the main Colombian poets. Raised in the valley of the Cauca was one of the most famous Latin American writers, Jorge Ricardo Isaacs (1837–1895), author of the classic novel Maria, who was of Jewish origin, stemming from a family that came from Jamaica. The descendants of those settlers from the Caribbean have almost completely assimilated into the local population.

The contemporary Jewish community was established at the beginning of the 20th century. Sephardi Jews from Greece and Turkey and Jews from Syria came during the post-World War i period and constituted the first group of practicing Jews in the country. They engaged in commerce in manufactured articles and founded two silk factories in Barranquilla. At about the same time, Jewish immigrants began to arrive from Eastern Europe, mainly from Poland, as well as from Palestine. At first they engaged in peddling and then gradually entered manufacturing and business, considering Colombia only a temporary haven. The rise of Nazism in Germany changed the transient character of the community and also brought the last major wave of Jewish immigrants, who came from Germany and Central Europe. Of the 3,595 Jews who arrived between 1933 and 1942, 2,347 were German. According to official population statistics, in 1935 there were 2,045 Jews in Colombia. Of those, 1,100 were in Bogotá, 400 in Cali, 150 in Medellín and Barranquilla, and the rest in other places. (See the map "Jews in Colombia.") Two years later the number was estimated at over 3,000, and by 1943 the Jewish population reached 6,625. In 1934 active anti-immigration propaganda was instigated by the Chambers of Commerce. The press voiced its unanimous opposition to aliens, and in October 1938 the government passed new laws directed especially against Jews. In 1939 immigration ceased completely, and between 1945 and 1950 only 350 Jews entered the country.

Most of the immigrants entered the fields of minor industry and crafts and have played an important role in the economic and industrial development of the country. Attempts at agricultural settlement failed for the most part; of the 200 settlers in 1938 and 1939, only 46 were left by the end of 1942. The chief causes for this failure were the difficult and unknown climatic and agricultural conditions and especially the low standard of living of the farmers in Colombia. On the other hand, Jews played a prominent role in business.

Contemporary Period

Until World War ii Colombian Jewry was rather loosely organized. The responsibility for this lay to a great extent with the authorities, who in 1940 still refused to approve the establishment of a central organization of the Jews of Bogotá and Cali, claiming that such a body would prevent the community's assimilation. The Holocaust, however, spurred communal organization, and today the Jewish community is united under the umbrella organization Confederación de Asociaciones Judías de Colombia, which is based in Bogotá. The Jewish community of Bogotá (946 Jewish families in 2005) includes three main groups: the Ashkenazim, the Sephardim, and the Germans. Each has its own communal institutions: the Centro Israelita de Bogotá (founded 1928), the Comunidad Hebrea Sefaradí (reorganized 1943), and the Asociación Israelita Montefiore. In addition, other cultural and Zionist organizations such as *B'nai B'rith, *wizo, *General Zionists and *Maccabi serve the community. The Colombo Hebrew School in Bogotá educated about 280 students from kindergarten through high school, and religious life centers around the four synagogues in the city: two Ashkenazi, one Sephardi, and one German.

The Jewish communities in the other principal cities were also well organized. A total of 344 Jewish families lived in Cali in 2005. All the organizations within the city, as well as those in the small towns in the region, have united to form the Unión Federal Hebrea, which offers religious and social services. The community has two synagogues, one Ashkenazi and one Sephardi, and a school, the Colegio Jorge Isaacs, with 120 students (2005). It also sponsors a summer camp for children, the only one of its kind in the country. In Barranquilla, which is the third largest Jewish community in the country, 203 Jewish families were counted in 2005, of whom approximately half were East Europeans, one-third Sephardim, and the rest Germans. Economically, the Jews are in a favorable position, but they are not involved in general public life. Their organizations include the Club Unión, a social organization which encompassed the community as a whole; religious institutions maintained individually by each sector; general organizations such as B'nai B'rith, etc.; and an umbrella organization that includes all the organizations. The day school has a student enrollment of 300; the number of mixed marriages is small.

The cultural life of the Jewish community in Colombia is not exceptionally active. A good part of the social life centers on institutions of entertainment and leisure. At the same time, great affinity was evinced for the Zionist Movement, whose Colombia branch was founded in 1927, and for the State of Israel. Between 1962 and 1964, 146 Colombian Jews migrated to Israel, and there were 62 youths from Colombia among the volunteers who went to Israel after the *Six-Day War (1967). Jewish participation in political life in Colombia is minimal. There are no Jewish members of parliament or Jewish statesmen. The relations between the Jews and the Roman Catholic Church are cordial and were strengthened during Pope Paul vi's visit to the country in 1969, when a delegation of leaders of the Jewish community was received by him. Throughout the years, a variety of Jewish publications have appeared in the country. By 1970 only two remained, both in Bogotá: Menora, established in 1950, had a Zionist-Revisionist orientation, stressed political problems, and presented community news; Ideal, Zionist and nonpartisan, published cultural and general news, both local and international.

Colombia did not vote for the partition of Palestine in 1947, nor did it recognize the State of Israel immediately upon its establishment. Later, however, it maintained an embassy in Jerusalem and Israel has established an embassy in Bogotá. Cordial relations exist between the two countries. A large number of Colombians participated in technical courses offered in Israel and even established an organization called Shalom.

The very unstable security situation initiated a wave of Jewish emigration from Colombia. The number of Colombian Jews in Israel has reached almost 2,000, with others settling in the United States and Spain or in other Latin American countries. In Bogotá Jewish activity has dwindled and the Jewish day school has fewer and fewer Jewish children. The number of members in the Jewish communities in Cali, Medellín, and Barranquilla are in steady decline.


C.S. Rosenthal, in: jsos, 18 (1956), 262–74; Jewish Central Information Office, Amsterdam, Position of Jews in Columbia (1937); J. Beller, Jews in Latin America (1969), 58–67; J. Shatzky, Yidishe Yishuvim in Latayn Amerike (1959), 195–205; A. Monk and J. Isaacson (eds.), Comunidades Judéas de Latinoamérica (1968), 57–63; Asociación Filantrópica Israelita, Buenos Aires, Zehn Jahre Aufbauarbeit in Suedamerika (Ger. and Sp. 1943), 250–75. add. bibliography: I. Croitoru Rotbaum, De Sefarad al Neosefardismo (1967); D.M. Bermudez and J. Watnik Baron, Nuestra Gentes (1994); D. Mesa Bernal, "Los Judios en la epoca colonial," in: Boletin de Historia y Antiguedades, 73 (1986): 381–99; A. Beker (ed.), Ha-Kehillot ha-Yehudiyyot ba-Olam (1997); M. Arbell, The Jewish Nation of the Caribbean (2002).

[Moshe Nes El /

Mordechai Arbell (2nd ed.)]

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Compiled from the September 2007 Background Note and supplemented with additional information from the State Department and the editors of this volume. See the introduction to this set for explanatory notes.

Official Name:

Republic of Colombia



Area: 1.14 million sq. km. (440,000 sq. mi.); about three times the size of Montana; fourth-largest country in South America.

Cities: Capital—Bogota (pop. 2005 projected: 7.1 million). Other major cities include Medellin, Cali, Barran-quilla and Cartagena.

Terrain: Flat coastal areas, with extensive coastlines on the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea, three rugged parallel mountain chains, central highlands and flat eastern grasslands.

Climate: Tropical on coast and eastern plains, cooler in highlands.


Nationality: Noun and adjective—Colombian(s).

Population: (July 2007) 44.38 million.

Annual population growth: 1.4%.

Religions: Roman Catholic 90%.

Languages: Spanish.

Education: Years compulsory—9. Attendance—80% of children enter school. Only 5 years of primary school are offered in many rural areas. Literacy—93% in urban areas, 67% in rural areas.

Health: Infant mortality rate—25/ 1,000. Life expectancy—total population 72.27 yrs., men 68.44 yrs., women 76.24 yrs.

Ethnic groups: Mestizo (58%), white (20%), Afro-Colombian (18%) mixed black-Amerindian (3%) and Amerindian (1%).


Type: Republic.

Independence: July 20, 1810.

Constitution: July 1991.

Government branches: Executive—President (chief of state and head of government). egislative—Bicameral Congress.Judicial—Supreme Court, Constitutional Court, Council of State, Superior Judicial Council.

Political subdivisions: 32 departments; Bogota, capital district.

Political parties: Conservative Party of Colombia, Liberal, National Unity, Radical Change, Alternative Democratic Pole, and numerous small political movements.

Suffrage: Universal, age 18 and over.


GDP: (2006) $125 billion; base year 1994: $105.9 billion.

Annual growth rate: (2006) 6.8%.

Per capita GDP: (2006) $2,976.

Government expenditures: (2006) 22.2% of GDP.

Natural resources: Coal, petroleum, natural gas, iron ore, nickel, gold, silver, copper, platinum, emeralds.

Manufacturing: (14.4% of GDP) Types—textiles and garments, chemicals, metal products, cement, cardboard containers, plastic resins and manufactures, beverages, wood products, pharmaceuticals, machinery, electrical equipment.

Agriculture: (13.1% of GDP) Products—coffee, bananas, cut flowers, cotton, sugarcane, livestock, rice, corn, tobacco, potatoes, soybeans, sorghum. Cultivated land—8.2% of total area.

Other sectors: (by percentage of GDP) Government, personal and other services—18.6%; financial services—17.1%; commerce—11.2%; transportation and communications services—7.9%; construction and public works—5.4; mining and quarrying—4.5%; electricity, gas, and water—2.9%.

Trade: Exports (2006)—$24.3 billion: petroleum, coal, coffee, flowers, textiles and garments, ferronickel, bananas, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, gold, sugar, cardboard containers, printed material, cement, plastic resins and manufactures, emeralds. Major markets—U.S., Venezuela, Germany, Netherlands, Japan. Imports (2006)—$24.5 billion: machinery/equipment, grains, chemicals, transportation equipment, mineral products, consumer products, metals/metal products, plastic/rubber, paper products, aircraft, oil and

gas industry equipment, supplies. Major suppliers—U.S., Germany, Japan, Panama, Venezuela.


Colombia is the third-most populous country in Latin America, after Brazil and Mexico. Thirty cities have a population of 100,000 or more. The nine eastern lowlands departments, constituting about 54% of Colombia's area, have less than 3% of the population and a density of less than one person per square kilometer (two persons per sq. mi.). Ethnic diversity in Colombia is a result of the intermingling of indigenous peoples, Europeans and Africans. Today, only about 1% of the people can be identified as fully indigenous on the basis of language and customs.


During the pre-Columbian period, the area now known as Colombia was inhabited by indigenous societies situated at different stages of socio-economic development, ranging from hunters and nomadic farmers to the highly structured Chibchas, who are considered to be one of the most developed indigenous groups in South America.

Santa Marta was the first permanent Spanish settlement founded in 1525. Santa Fe de Bogota was founded in 1538 and, in 1717, became the capital of the Viceroyalty of New Granada, which included what are now Venezuela, Ecuador, and Panama. Bogota was one of three principal administrative centers of the Spanish possessions in the New World.

On July 20, 1810, the citizens of Bogota created the first representative council to defy Spanish authority. Full independence was proclaimed in 1813, and in 1819 the Republic of Greater Colombia was formed to include all the territory of the former Viceroyalty (Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador and Panama). Simon Bolivar was elected its first president with Francisco de Paula Santander as vice president. Conflicts between followers of Bolivar and Santander led to the formation of two political parties that have since dominated Colombian politics. Bolivar's supporters, who later formed the nucleus of the Conservative Party, sought strong centralized government, alliance with the Roman Catholic Church and a limited franchise. Santander's followers, forerunners of the Liberals, wanted a decentralized government, state control over education and other civil matters, and a broader suffrage.

Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, each party held the presidency for roughly equal periods of time. Colombia maintained a tradition of civilian government and regular, free, elections. Notwithstanding the country's commitment to democratic institutions, Colombia's history also has been characterized by wide-spread, violent conflict. Two civil wars resulted from bitter rivalry between the Conservative and Liberal parties: The War of a Thousand Days (1899-1903) claimed an estimated 100,000 lives and La Violencia (the Violence) (1946-1957) claimed about 300,000 lives.

La Violencia (The Violence) and the National Front

The assassination of Liberal leader Jorge Eliecer Gaitan in 1948 sparked the bloody conflict known as La Violencia. Conservative Party leader Laureano Gomez came to power in 1950, but was ousted by a military coup led by General Gustavo Rojas Pinilla in 1953. When Rojas failed to restore democratic rule and became implicated in corrupt schemes, he was overthrown by the military with the support of the Liberal and Conservative Parties.

In July 1957, an alliance between former Conservative President Lau-reano Gomez (1950-53) and former Liberal President Alberto Lleras Camargo (1945-46) led to the creation of the National Front. It established a power-sharing agreement between the two parties and brought an end to “La Violencia.” The presidency would be determined by regular elections every 4 years and the two parties would have parity in all other elective and appointive offices. This system was phased out by 1978.

Post-National Front Years

During the post-National Front years, the Colombian Government made efforts to negotiate a peace with the persistent guerrilla organizations that flourished in Colombia's remote and undeveloped rural areas. In 1984, President Belisario Betancur, a Conservative, negotiated a cease-fire with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the Democratic Alliance/M-19 (M-19) that included the release of many imprisoned guerrillas. The National Liberation Army (ELN) rejected the government's cease fire proposal at that time. The M-19 pulled out of the cease-fire when it resumed fighting in 1985. The army suppressed an M-19 attack on the Palace of Justice in Bogota in November 1985, during which 115 people were killed, including 11 Supreme Court justices. The government and the M-19 renewed their truce in March 1989, which led to a peace agreement and the M-19 reintegration into society and political life. The M-19 was one of the parties that participated in the process to enact a new constitution (see below), which took effect in 1991. The FARC ended the truce in 1990 after some 2,000-3,000 of its members who had demobilized had been murdered.

A new constitution in 1991 brought about major reforms to Colombia's political institutions. While the new constitution preserved a presidential, three-branch system of government, it created new institutions such as the Inspector General, a Human Rights Ombudsman, a Constitutional Court and a Superior Judicial Council. The new constitution also reestablished the position of Vice President. Other significant constitutional reforms provide for civil divorce, dual nationality and the establishment of a legal mechanism (“tutela”) that allows individuals to appeal government decisions affecting their constitutional rights. The constitution also authorized the introduction of an accusatory system of criminal justice that is gradually being instituted throughout the country, replacing the previous written inquisitorial system. A constitutional amendment approved in 2005 allows the president to hold office for two consecutive 4-year terms.

Colombian governments have had to contend with the combined terrorist activities of left-wing guerrillas, the rise of paramilitary self-defense forces in the 1990s and the drug cartels. Narco-terrorists assassinated three presidential candidates during the election campaign of 1990. After Colombian security forces killed Medellin cartel leader Pablo Escobar in December 1993, indiscriminate acts of violence associated with his organization abated as the “cartels” were broken into multiple and smaller trafficking organizations that competed against each other in the drug trade. Guerrillas and paramilitary groups also entered into drug trafficking as a way to finance their military operations.

Pastrana Administration

The administration of Andres Pastrana (1998-2002), a Conservative, faced increased countrywide attacks by the FARC and ELN, widespread drug production and the expansion of paramilitary groups. The Pastrana administration unveiled its “Plan Colombia” in 1999 as a strategy to deal with these longstanding problems, and sought support from the international community. Plan Colombia is a comprehensive program to combat narco-terrorism; spur economic recovery; strengthen democratic institutions and respect for human rights; and provide humanitarian assistance to internally displaced persons.

In November 1998, Pastrana ceded a sparsely populated area the size of Switzerland in south-central Colombia to the FARC's control to serve as a neutral zone where peace negotiations could take place. The FARC negotiated with the government only fitfully while continuing to mount attacks and expand coca production, seriously undermining the government's efforts to reach an agreement. Negotiations with the rebels in 2000 and 2001 were marred by rebel attacks, kidnappings and fighting between rebels and paramilitaries for control of coca-growing areas in Colombia. In February 2002, after the FARC hijacked a commercial aircraft and kidnapped a senator, Pastrana ordered the military to attack rebel positions and reassert control over the neutral zone. FARC withdrew into the jungle and increased attacks against Colombia's infrastructure, while avoiding large-scale direct conflicts with the military.

Uribe Administration

Alvaro Uribe, an independent, was elected president in May 2002 on a platform to restore security to the country. Among his promises was to continue to pursue the broad goals of Plan Colombia within the framework of a long-term security strategy. In the fall of 2002, Uribe released a national security strategy that employed political, economic and military means to weaken all illegal narco-terrorist groups. The Uribe government offered to negotiate a peace agreement with these groups with the condition that they agree to a unilateral cease fire and to end drug trafficking and kidnapping.

In December 2003, the Colombian Self-Defense Forces (AUC) paramilitary group entered into a peace agreement with the government that has led to the collective demobilization of over 31,000 AUC members. In addition, over 10,000 members of the AUC and other illegal armed groups have individually surrendered their arms. In July 2005, President Uribe signed the Justice and Peace Law, which provides reduced punishments for the demobilized if they renounce violence and return illegal assets, which are to provide reparations to victims.

The ELN and the government began a round of talks with the Colombian Government mediated by the Mexican Government in mid-2004. The ELN withdrew from the talks after the Mexican Government voted to condemn Cuba's human rights record at the United Nations in April 2005. In December 2005, the ELN began a new round of talks with the Colombian Government in Cuba that led to two more meetings, the latest one being held in July 2007. The dialogue is expected to continue.

As a result of the government's military and police operations, the strength of the FARC has been reduced in major areas. Since 2000, the FARC has not carried out large scale multi-front attacks, although it has mounted some operations that indicate it has not yet been broken. The FARC has rejected several government proposals aimed at bringing about an exchange of some 45 hostages. Three American citizens, who were working on counternarcotics programs, were captured by the FARC in February 2003. Their safe return is a priority goal of the United States and Colombia.

Colombia maintains an excellent extradition relationship with the United States. The Uribe administration has extradited more than 500 fugitives to the United States. Among those extradited in 2005 were Cali Cartel leaders Gilberto Rodriguez Orejuela and his brother Miguel, and FARC leaders Juvenal Ovidio Palmera Pineda (aka “Simon Trinidad”) and Omaira Rojas Cabrera (aka “Sonia”).

In 2004, the Uribe government established, for the first time in recent Colombian history, a government presence in all of the country's 1,099 municipalities (county seats). Attacks conducted by illegally armed groups against rural towns decreased by 91% from 2002 to 2005. Between 2002 and 2006, Colombia saw a decrease in homicides by 37%, kidnappings by 78%, terrorist attacks by 63%, and attacks on the country's infrastructure by 60%.

Although much attention has been focused on the security aspects of Colombia's situation, the Uribe government also is making significant efforts on issues such as expanding international trade, supporting alternate means of development, and reforming Colombia's judicial system.

President Uribe was reelected with 62% of the vote in May 2006. In congressional elections in March 2006, the three leading pro-Uribe parties (National Unity, Conservative Party, and Radical Change) won clear majorities in both houses of Congress. In late 2006, the Supreme Court began investigations and ordered the arrest of some members of Congress for actions on behalf of paramilitary groups. In January 2007, Colombian leaders presented a new strategy to consolidate and build on progress under Plan Colombia, called the “Strategy to Strengthen Democracy and Social Development.” The new strategy continues successful Plan Colombia programs while increasing state presence by improving access to social services, and supporting economic development through sustainable growth and trade.

Principal Government Officials

Last Updated: 2/1/2008

Pres.: Alvaro URIBE Velez

Vice Pres.: Francisco SANTOS Calderon

Min. of Agriculture & Rural Development: Andres Felipe ARIAS Leiva

Min. of Commerce, Industry, & Tourism: Luis Guillermo PLATA

Min. of Communication: Maria del Rosario GUERRA de La Espriella

Min. of Culture: Paula MORENO Zapata

Min. of Defense: Juan Manuel SANTOS Calderon

Min. of Education: Cecilia Maria VELEZ White

Min. of Energy & Mines: Hernan MARTINEZ Torres

Min. of Environment, Housing, & Territorial Development: Juan LOZANO

Min. of Finance & Public Credit: Oscar Ivan ZULUAGA Escobar

Min. of Foreign Relations: Fernando ARAUJO Perdomo

Min. of Interior & Justice: Carlos HOLGUIN Sardi

Min. of Social Protection: Diego PALACIO Betancourt

Min. of Transportation: Andres Uriel GALLEGO Henao

Dir., National Planning: Carolina RENTERIA

Prosecutor Gen.: Mario German IGUARAN Arana

Pres., Bank of the Republic: Jose Dario URIBE Escobar

Ambassador to the US: Carolina BARCO Isakson

Permanent Representative to the UN, New York: Claudia BLUM

Colombia maintains an embassy in the United States at 2118 Leroy Place NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202-387-8338). Consulates are located in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, San Francisco, San Juan and Washington DC.


Colombia's Ministry of Defense is charged with the country's internal and external defense and security, and exercises jurisdiction over an army, navy—including marines and coast guard—air force, and national police under the leadership of a civilian Minister of Defense. Real spending on defense has increased every year since 2000, but especially so under President Uribe. Colombian spending on defense grew over 30% after inflation from 2001 to 2005, from $2.6 billion to more than 3.9 billion. Projected defense spending for 2006 was $4.48 billion. The security forces number about 350,000 uniformed personnel: 190,000 military and 160,000 police. President Uribe instituted a wealth tax in 2002, which raised over $800 million, with 70% used to increase 2002-2003 defense spending. A similar tax to be imposed from 2007-2011 is expected to raise up to $3.6 billion.

Many Colombian military personnel receive training in the United States or from U.S. instructors in Colombia. The United States provides equipment to the Colombian military and police through the military assistance program, foreign military sales and the international narcotics control program.

Narcotics and Terrorism

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration estimates that more than 80% of the worldwide powdered cocaine supply and as much as 90% of the powdered cocaine smuggled into the United States is produced in Colombia.

The Colombian Government is committed to the eradication of all illicit crops, interdiction of illegal drug shipments and financial controls to prevent money laundering. Between 2004 and 2006, Colombian security forces interdicted 562 metric tons of cocaine, coca base, and heroin. Coca cultivation decreased by 15% from 2001 to 2005, while opium poppy cultivation decreased by 68% from 2001 to 2004.

Terrorist groups in Colombia are actively engaged in narcotics production and trafficking. The FARC is believed responsible for more than half of the cocaine entering the United States.


Colombia is a free market economy with major commercial and investment ties to the United States. Transition from a highly regulated economy has been underway for more than 15 years. In 1990, the administration of President Cesar Gaviria (1990-94) initiated economic liberalization or “apertura,” with tariff reductions, financial deregulation, privatization of state-owned enterprises and adoption of a more liberal foreign exchange rate. These policies eased import restrictions and opened most sectors to foreign investment, although agricultural products remained protected.

Unlike many of its neighboring countries, Colombia has not suffered any dramatic economic collapses. The Uribe administration seeks to maintain prudent fiscal policies and has pursued tough economic reforms including tax, pension and budget reforms. A U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) study shows that Colombian tax rates (both personal and corporate) are among the highest in Latin America. The unemployment rate in December 2006 was 11.4%, down from 15.1% in December 2002.

The sustained growth of the Colombian economy can be attributed to an increase in domestic security, the policies of keeping inflation low and maintaining a stable currency (the Colombian peso), petroleum price increases and an increase in exports to neighboring countries and the United States as a result of trade liberalization. The Andean Trade Preference and Drug Eradication Act (ATPDEA), which has been extended through February 2008, also plays a pivotal role in Colombia's economic growth. Signing a free trade agreement in November 2006 portends further opportunity for growth once it is approved by the legislatures of both countries and implemented.

Industry and Agriculture

The most industrially diverse member of the five-nation Andean Community, Colombia has four major industrial centers—Bogota, Medellin, Cali and Barranquilla—each located in a distinct geographical region. Colombia's industries include textiles and clothing, leather products, processed foods and beverages, paper and paper products, chemicals and petrochemicals, cement, construction, iron and steel products and metalworking.

Colombia's diverse climate and topography permit the cultivation of a wide variety of crops. In addition, all regions yield forest products, ranging from tropical hardwoods in the lowlands, to pine and eucalyptus in the colder areas. Cacao, sugarcane, coconuts, bananas, plantains, rice, cotton, tobacco, cassava and most of the nation's beef cattle are produced in the hot regions from sea level to 1,000 meters elevation.

The temperate regions—between 1,000 and 2,000 meters—are better suited for coffee, flowers, corn and other vegetables, pears, pineapples, and tomatoes. The cooler elevations— between 2,000 and 3,000 meters—produce wheat, barley, potatoes, cold-climate vegetables, flowers, dairy cattle and poultry.


In 2006, Colombia was the United States’ fifth-largest export market in the Western Hemisphere behind Canada, Mexico, Brazil, and Venezuela and the largest agricultural export market in the hemisphere after the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) countries. U.S. exports to Colombia in 2006 were $6.9 billion, up 13.2% from the previous year. U.S. imports from Colombia were $9.6 billion, up 4%. Colombia's major exports are petroleum, coffee, coal, nickel, and nontraditional exports (e.g., cut flowers, gold, bananas, semiprecious stones, sugar, and tropical fruits). The United States is Colombia's largest trading partner, representing about 40% of Colombia's exports and 26.6% of its imports.

Colombia has improved protection of intellectual property rights through the adoption of three Andean Pact decisions in 1993 and 1994 as well as an internal decree on data protection. The United States remains concerned over deficiencies in licensing and copyright protection.

Mining and Energy

Colombia has considerable mineral and energy resources, especially coal and natural gas reserves. New security measures and increased drilling activity have slowed the drop in petroleum production, allowing Colombia to continue to export through 2010 or 2011, given current production estimates. In 2006, gas reserves totaled 7,349 billion cubic feet. Gas production totaled 680 million cubic feet per day. The country's current refining capacity is 299,200 barrels per day.

Mining and energy related investments have grown because of higher oil prices, increased demand and improved output. Colombia has significantly liberalized its petroleum sector, leading to an increase in exploration and production contracts from both large and small hydrocarbon industries.

Colombia is presently the 16th-greatest coal producing country, accounting for about 1% of the world's total annual coal production, and the largest producer in Latin America (65.8 million tons in 2006). Colombia has proven recoverable coal reserves of about 7.4 billion short tons, the majority of which are located in the north of the country. Ferronickel production decreased from 116 million pounds in 2005 to 112.7 million pounds in 2006. Colombia historically has been the world's leading producer of emeralds, although production has fallen in recent years. Emerald production fell from 116.3 million carats in 2005 to 112.7 million carats in 2006. Colombia is also a significant producer of gold, silver, and platinum.

Foreign Investment

The United States is the largest source of new foreign direct investment (FDI) in Colombia, particularly in the areas of coal and petroleum. In 2006, new FDI totaled $6.3 billion, an increase of 294% from 2002. The bulk of the new investment is in the manufacturing, mining, and petroleum sectors. The only activities closed to foreign direct investment are defense and national security, and disposal of hazardous wastes. Capital controls have been implemented to reduce currency speculation and to keep foreign investment in-country for at least a year. In order to encourage investment in Colombia, Congress approved a law in 2005 to protect FDI.


In 1969, Colombia, along with Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador and Peru, formed what is now the Andean Community. (Venezuela joined in 1973 and announced its departure in 2005; Chile left in 1976 and returned in 2006.) In the 1980s, Colombia broadened its bilateral and multilateral relations, joining the Contadora Group, the Group of Eight (now the Rio Group) and the Non-Aligned Movement, which it chaired from 1994 until September 1998. In addition, it has signed free trade agreements with Chile, Mexico and Venezuela. The U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement was signed by President Bush in November 2006, and is awaiting congressional approval as of September 2007.

Colombia has traditionally played an active role in the United Nations and the Organization of American States and in their subsidiary agencies. Former President Gaviria became Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS) in September 1994 and was re-elected in 1999. Colombia has participated in all five Summits of the Americas, most recently in November 2005, and followed up on initiatives developed at the first two summits by hosting two post-summit, ministerial-level meetings on trade and science and technology. In March 2006, Bogota hosted the Sixth Regular Session of the Inter-American Committee against Terrorism.


In 1822, the United States became one of the first countries to recognize the new republic and to establish a resident diplomatic mission. Today, about 25,000 U.S. citizens are registered with the U.S. Embassy as living in Colombia, most of them dual nationals.

Currently, there are about 250 American businesses conducting operations in Colombia. In 1995-96, the United States and Colombia signed important agreements on environmental protection and civil aviation. The two countries have signed agreements on asset sharing and chemical control. In 1997, the United States and Colombia signed an important maritime ship-boarding agreement to allow for search of suspected drug-running vessels.

During the Pastrana administration, relations with the United States improved significantly. The United States responded to the Colombian Government's request for international support for Plan Colombia by providing substantial assistance designed to increase Colombia's counter-narcotics capabilities and support human rights, humanitarian assistance, alternative development and economic and judicial reforms.

The U.S. has continued close cooperation with Colombia under the Uribe administration. Recognizing that terrorism and the illicit narcotics trade in Colombia are inextricably linked, the U.S. Congress granted new expanded statutory authorities in 2002 making U.S. assistance to Colombia more flexible in order to better support President Uribe's unified campaign against narcotics and terrorism.

The results thus far have been impressive, but much remains to be done. U.S. policy toward Colombia supports the Colombian Government's efforts to strengthen its democratic institutions, promote respect for human rights and the rule of law, intensify counter-narcotics efforts, foster socioeconomic development, address immediate humanitarian needs, and end the threats to democracy posed by narcotics trafficking and terrorism. Promoting security, stability, and prosperity in Colombia will continue as long-term American interests in the region.

Principal U.S. Embassy Officials

Last Updated: 2/19/2008

BOGOTA (E) Cra. 45 No. 22D-45, APO/FPO APO AA 34038, (571) 315-0811, Fax (571) 315-2197, INMAR-SAT Tel 683131545/46, Workweek: 0800-1700, Website:

AMB OMS:Suzanne Lemandri
DHS/ICE:Juan Dania
ECO:Lawrence Gumbiner
FCS:Margaret Hanson-Muse
FM:William Knight
HRO:Stephanie Brown
MGT:Greg Stanford
OMS:Jackie Valenzuela
AMB:William Brownfield
CG:William Martin
CON:Eric Cohan
DCM:Brian A. Nichols
PAO:Mark Wentworth
GSO:Lee Hess
RSO:Micheal Poehlitz
AGR:Todd Drennan
AID:Liliana Ayalde
APHIS:Darya Chehrezad
ATF:Orlando Blanco
CLO:Lauretta Sorianello And Carmelita Allcott
DAO:Col. Mark Wilkins
DEA:Jay Bergman
FMO:Francisco Lloret
ICASS:Chair Lizette Yrizarry
IMO:Doyle Lee
IPO:Shannon Lankford
IRS:Olga Acevedo
ISO:William Velazquez
LEGATT:Joseph Jeziorski
MLO:Col. Kevin Saderup
NAS:Perry Holloway
POL:John Creamer

Other Contact Information

U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20520 Main Switchboard: 202-647-4000

U.S. Department of Commerce, Trade Information Center, International Trade Administration
1401 Constitution Avenue
Washington, DC 20230
(tel: 800-USA-TRADE, I

Colombian-American Chamber
of Commerce

Calle 98, @2264, Oficina 1209
Apartado Aereo 8008
Bogota, Colombia
(tel: (571) 621-5042/7925/6838,
fax: (571) 612-6838,
Chapters in Cali, Cartagena,


Consular Information Sheet

June 21, 2007

Country Description: Colombia, the second most populous country in South America, is a medium-income nation with a diverse economy. Its geography is also diverse, ranging from tropical coastal areas and rain-forests to rugged mountainous terrain. Tourist facilities in Colombia vary in quality and safety, according to price and location. Security is a significant concern for travelers.

Entry Requirements: All U.S. citizens who are not also Colombian citizens must present a valid U.S. passport to enter and depart Colombia, and to return to the United States. Dual U.S-Colombian citizens must present a Colombian passport to enter and exit Colombia, and must have a U.S. passport to return to the United States. Be aware that any person born in Colombia may be considered a Colombian citizen, even if never documented as such. If you are an American citizen who was born in Colombia or who otherwise has Colombian citizenship, you will need both a Colombian passport and a U.S. passport for your trip.

U.S. passports issued in Colombia generally take at least eight days for processing and in some cases considerably longer. To avoid delays in your return to the United States, it is recommended that you obtain your U.S. passport before departing the United States. Instructions for obtaining a passport in the United States can be found at

U.S. citizens do not need a Colombian visa for a tourist stay of 60 days or less. Tourists entering Colombia may be asked for evidence of return or onward travel, usually in the form of a round-trip ticket. Americans traveling overland must enter Colombia at an official border crossing. Travelers arriving by bus should ensure, prior to boarding, that their bus will cross the border at an official entry point. Entering Colombia at unauthorized crossings may result in fines or incarceration.

The length of stay granted to travelers will be determined by the Colombian immigration officer at the point of entry and will be stamped in your passport. Extensions may be requested by visiting an office of the Colombian immigration authority, known as DAS (Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad) Extranjeria, after arrival in Colombia. Fines are levied if a traveler remains in Colombia longer than authorized. Any foreigner who possesses a Colombian visa with more than three months’ validity must register the visa at an office of DAS Extranjeria within 15 days of arrival in Colombia, or face fines. There is no arrival tax collected upon entry into Colombia, but travelers leaving by plane must pay an exit tax of approximately $56 at the airport. Some airlines include a portion of this tax in the cost of your airline ticket; check with your airline to find out how much of the tax you will have to pay at the airport.

U.S. citizens whose U.S. passports are lost or stolen in Colombia must obtain a new U.S. passport before departing. They must then present the passport, along with a police report describing the loss or theft, to an office of DAS Extranjeria. Information about obtaining a replacement U.S. passport in Colombia is available on the U.S. Embassy's website at Contact information for DAS Extranjeria is available in Spanish at The Embassy in Bogotá or the U.S. Consular Agency in Barranquilla can provide you with additional guidance when you apply for your replacement passport.

For further information regarding entry and customs requirements, travelers should contact the Colombian Embassy at 2118 Leroy Place, N.W., Washington, DC 20008; telephone (202) 387-8338; Internet website; or a Colombian consulate. Consulates are located in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York, San Francisco and San Juan.

Additional Requirements for Minors: In an effort to prevent international child abduction, Colombia has implemented additional exit procedures for Colombian or dualnational children under 18 who are departing the country without both parents or a legal guardian. Upon exiting the country, the person traveling with the child (or the child him/ herself) must present a copy of the child's birth certificate, along with written authorization from the absent parent(s) or legal guardian. The authorization must explicitly grant permission for the child to travel alone, with one parent, or with a third party. When a parent is deceased, a notarized copy of a death certificate is required in lieu of written authorization. When one parent has sole custody of the child, that parent may present a custody decree instead of the other parent's written authorization. If the decree was issued by a Colombian court, it must grant the custodial parent a form of custody known as patria potestad.

If the documents to be presented were prepared in the United States, they must first be translated into Spanish and then authenticated by a Colombian consul at a Colombian consulate. Then, upon arrival in Colombia, the documents must be presented to the Ministry of External Affairs for certification of the consul's signature. Alternatively, the documents can be notarized by a notary public in the United States and then authenticated by requesting an apostille from the competent authority in the state where the documents were prepared.

If documents are prepared in Colombia, only notarization by a Colombian notary is required. For documents prepared in countries other than the United States or Colombia, please inquire with the Colombian embassy serving that country.

In cases where the absent parent refuses or is otherwise unable to provide consent, the other parent can request assistance from the Colombian child protection agency, Instituto Colombiano de Bienestar Familiar (ICBF). In appropriate cases, ICBF will investigate and may issue a document that will allow the child to travel without both parents’ consent.

Safety and Security: Travel to Colombia can expose visitors to considerable risk. The Secretary of State has designated three Colombian groups—the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the National Liberation Army (ELN), and the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC)—as Foreign Terrorist Organizations. These groups have carried out bombings and other attacks in and around major urban areas, including against civilian targets. Terrorist groups have also targeted critical infrastructure (e.g., water, oil, gas, and electricity), police and military facilities, public recreational areas, foreign-owned factories, and modes of transportation.

During the past four years, kidnapping and other violent crimes have decreased markedly in most urban areas, including Bogotá, Medellin, Barranquilla, and Cartagena. The level of violence in Cali, Buenaventura, and the surrounding areas remains high, largely as a result of the illicit drug trade. Colombia continues to have a high rate of kidnapping for ransom. The FARC continues to hold hostage three U.S. government contractors—all U.S. citizens—who were captured in February 2003 when their small plane went down in a remote area of Colombia.

Kidnap or murder victims in Colombia have included journalists, missionaries, scientists, human rights workers and businesspeople, as well as tourists and even small children. No one can be considered immune. Although the U.S. government places the highest priority on the safe recovery of American hostages, and the Colombian government has had some success with hostage-recovery teams, rescue capabilities are limited. Colombian law requires that private individuals coordinate efforts to free kidnap victims with the Colombian Office of Anti-Kidnapping (Ministerio de Defensa/Programa Para la Defensa de la Libertad Personal).

Official and personal travel by U.S. Embassy employees outside of most urban areas is subject to strict limitations and reviewed case by case. U.S. Embassy employees are allowed to travel by air, but inter-and intra-city bus transportation is off-limits to them.

The U.S. Embassy must approve in advance the official travel to Colombia of all U.S. government personnel. Such travel is approved only for essential business. Personal travel by U.S. military personnel to Colombia requires advance approval by the U.S. Embassy. Military personnel requesting permission for personal travel should contact the office of the Embassy's Defense Attaché through the Embassy switchboard at 011-57-1-315-0811. Non-military employees of the U.S. Government do not need Embassy approval for private travel.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department's Internet web site, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, including the Worldwide Caution Travel Alert Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada, or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444.

Crime: Armed robbery and other violent crimes are common in major Colombian cities. Several recent robberies of American citizens have occurred after using automatic teller machines (ATMs) on the street. In some cases, robbers have used motorcycles to approach their victims and later flee the scene. American citizens are urged to use ATMs only during daylight hours and only inside shopping malls or other protected locations. Driving to and from the location—rather than walking—provides added protection. When using an ATM, you should be on the lookout for anyone who may be watching or following you. Generally speaking, if you are the victim of a robbery and not in fear of losing your life or of serious bodily harm, you should not resist. Robbery victims have sometimes been shot and killed while resisting.

Robbery of people hailing taxis on the street is a particularly serious problem in Bogotá. Typically, the driver—who is one of the conspirators—will pick up the passenger, and then stop to pick up two or more armed cohorts, who enter the cab, overpower the passenger, and take his/her belongings. If the passenger has an ATM card, the perpetrators will often force the passenger to withdraw money from various ATM locations. Such ordeals can last for hours.

In almost every case of taxi-related crime, the victims have been riding alone and have hailed their taxis off the street. Rather than hailing a taxi, you should take advantage of the telephone dispatch service most taxi companies offer. Many hotels, restaurants, and stores will call a taxi for you, and the taxis usually arrive within minutes. When a taxi is dispatched by telephone, the dispatcher creates a record of the call and the responding taxi. Additionally, the passenger receives a code from the dispatcher, which helps ensure that the correct taxi has arrived.

The Embassy continues to receive reports of criminals using disabling drugs to temporarily incapacitate tourists and others. At bars, restaurants, and other public areas, perpetrators may offer tainted drinks, cigarettes, or gum. Typically, victims become disoriented or unconscious, and are thus vulnerable to robbery, sexual assault, and other crimes. Avoid leaving food or drinks unattended at a bar or restaurant, and be suspicious if a stranger offers you something to eat or drink.

U.S. citizens in Bogotá routinely fall victim to a scam in which purported undercover police officers approach them on the street and request to examine their money or jewelry. The “officers,” who are in fact criminals, then flee with the person's belongings. Legitimate Colombian police officers do not ask to examine money or jewelry. American citizens should be aware of the danger of traveling on inter-city and rural roads in Colombia, including on buses, due to the risk of kidnapping and other activity by criminal gangs. Buses within cities also present a risk of robbery and other crime. U.S. Government employees in Colombia are prohibited from taking buses anywhere in the country. They are also forbidden from driving outside most urban areas, and they cannot drive on roads outside of urban areas at night.

Information for Victims of Crime: The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance. The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.

Medical Facilities and Health Information: Medical care is adequate in major cities but varies greatly in quality elsewhere. Many private health care providers in Colombia require that patients pay for care at the time of treatment, even in an emergency. Some providers in major cities may accept credit cards. Uninsured travelers with limited resources may be relegated to seeking treatment in hospitals that are far below U.S. standards of care.

The Embassy occasionally receives reports of U.S. citizens who have died or suffered serious complications while undergoing liposuction and other cosmetic surgery. Before undergoing such a procedure in Colombia, the Department of State recommends that you consult with your physician in the United States, research the credentials of the provider in Colombia, and carefully consider your ability to access emergency medical facilities if complications arise. It is important to be aware of whether your medical insurance provides coverage in Colombia, and if so, whether coverage includes expenses that may result from any complications from elective procedures.

Travelers to the capital city of Bogotá may need time to adjust to the altitude of 8,600 feet, which can affect blood pressure, digestion and energy level, and cause headaches, sleeplessness, dehydration, and other discomfort. Travelers with circulatory or respiratory problems should consult a physician before traveling to Bogotá or other high-altitude locations.

Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC's internet site at For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization's (WHO) website at Further health information for travelers is available at

Medical Insurance: The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.

Traffic Safety and Road Conditions: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Colombia is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Traffic laws in Colombia, including speed limits, are sporadically obeyed and rarely enforced; creating dangerous conditions for drivers and pedestrians in major cities. Under Colombian law, seat belts are mandatory for front-passengers in a private vehicle. Car seats are not mandatory for children, but a child under ten is not permitted to ride in a front seat. It is against the law to talk on a cellular phone while driving in Colombia, and violators may be fined. While driving outside of major cities, it is mandatory to drive with your lights on. If an accident occurs, the involved parties must remain at the scene and not move their vehicles at all until the authorities arrive; this rule is strictly enforced, and moving a vehicle or leaving the scene of an accident may constitute an admission of guilt under Colombian law.

Although road security has improved in some areas, including in and around Bogotá, the Embassy strongly recommends against most road travel outside of major urban areas, whether by bus or car. The Government of Colombia has instituted extra security to promote road travel during holidays, but outside of these periods, the possible presence of guerrilla and paramilitary groups and common criminals in rural areas makes travel on these roads dangerous. In regions where the government has not established full authority, guerrilla groups have been known to set up roadblocks to rob or kidnap travelers. Government or guerrilla control in a given area is subject to change, sometimes quickly and without notice. Travel between major cities should be done by airplane. For additional information about road travel in Colombia, see the U.S. Embassy home page atá.

Aviation Safety Oversight: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Colombia's Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Colombia's air carrier operations. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA's website at

Customs Regulations: Colombian law prohibits tourists and business travelers from bringing firearms into Colombia. Illegal importation or possession of firearms may result in incarceration. In many countries around the world, counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available; buying or selling such products is illegal in Colombia, and bringing them back to the United States may result in forfeitures and fines.

Colombian law also forbids the export of pre-Columbian objects and other artifacts protected by cultural patrimony statutes. Under a recent agreement between the United States and Colombia, U.S. customs officials are obligated to seize pre-Columbian objects and certain colonial religious artwork when they are brought into the United States.

Travelers departing Colombia must declare to Colombian officials if they are carrying cash or other financial instruments worth 10,000 U.S. dollars or more. You should also contact the Embassy of Colombia in Washington or one of Colombia's consulates in the United States for detailed customs guidance from the Colombian government.

Criminal Penalties: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Colombian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. If you are arrested, consular officers cannot request your release.

Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Colombia are severe, and convicted offenders can expect heavy fines and long jail sentences in harsh conditions, with significant expense and great hardship themselves and their families. Colombian police make many arrests for drug trafficking at airports and elsewhere, and have sophisticated means for detecting illegal drugs. There are more than 35 American citizens incarcerated in Colombia for attempting to smuggle drugs out of the country. Some of them ingested capsules containing drugs and were captured after being subjected to x-ray exams.

The hardships resulting from imprisonment do not end even after release from prison: Colombian law requires that serious offenders serve a lengthy period of parole, during which the offender cannot leave the country, is given no housing, and may lack permission to work. As a result, family members must often support the offender, sometimes for more than a year, until the parole period expires.

Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime prosecutable in the United States.

State of Emergency: On occasion, the Colombian government has declared a state of emergency in portions of the country. During such times, American citizens may find their movements or civil liberties restricted due to curfews, registration requirements, or other security-related measures. American citizens are advised to stay alert to any announcements declaring emergency status.

Disaster Preparedness: Colombia is an earthquake-prone country. Flooding and mudslides also sometimes occur in parts of the country. U.S. citizens in Colombia can find information on coping with natural disasters on the U.S. Embassy's web site at General information about natural disaster preparedness is available via the Internet from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at

Children's Issues: For information on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction, see the Office of Children's Issues website at

Registration and Embassy Locations: Americans living or traveling in Colombia are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy in Bogotá through the State Department's travel registration website. Registrants can also sign up to receive emailed updates on travel and security within Colombia. Americans without Internet access may register directly with the U.S. Embassy in Bogotá or the U.S. Consular Agency in Barranquilla. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy to contact them in case of a family emergency or other problem.

The Embassy's American Citizens Services office is open for routine services, including registration and application for passports, from 8:30 a.m. to 12:00 noon Monday through Thursday, excluding U.S. and Colombian holidays. The U.S. Embassy is located at Avenida El Dorado and Carrera 50; telephone (011-57-1) 315-0811 during business hours (8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.), or 315-2109/2110 for emergencies during non-business hours; fax (011-57-1) 315-2196/2197; Internet website

The U.S. Consular Agency in Barranquilla, which accepts passport applications and performs notarial services, is located at Calle 77B, No. 57-141, Piso 5, Centro Empresarial Las Americas, Barranquilla, Atlantico, Colombia; telephone (011-57-5) 353-2001; fax (011-57-5) 353-5216; e-mail: [email protected]

International Adoption

February 2006

The information in this section has been edited from a report of the State Department Bureau of Consular Affairs, Office of Overseas Citizens Services. For more information, please read the International Adoption section of this book and review current reports online at

Disclaimer: The information in this flyer relating to the legal requirements of specific foreign countries is based on public sources and current understanding. Questions involving foreign and U.S. immigration laws and legal interpretation should be addressed respectively to qualified foreign or U.S. legal counsel.

Please Note: Colombian law does not allow for private adoptions. Children may be adopted only through the Colombian Family Welfare Institute (ICBF) and approved adoption agencies. This means that both the U.S. agency that is contracted by the prospective adoptive parents and the Colombian agency facilitating the Colombian part of the process must be approved by the Colombian government.

Every adopted child must have a final adoption decree in order to leave Colombia. Colombian law also requires that both adopting parents be physically present when the adoption is presented to a “family judge.” No exceptions are made to this requirement, and the process takes two to four weeks, sometimes more. After both prospective adoptive parents have appeared before the court, one of them may return to the United States, but the other parent must remain in Colombia until the adoption/immigrant visa process is completed.

Patterns of Immigration: Please review current reports online at

Adoption Authority: The government office responsible for adoptions in Colombia is the Colombian Family Welfare Institute (ICBF).

Grupo Nacional de Adopciones
Avenida 68 # 64-01
Bogotá, Colombia
Telephone: 011-57-1-437 7630
Ext. 3158—3157
Internet: (Spanish) (English version)

Eligibility Requirements for Adoptive Parents: Colombian law allows for adoptions by a married man and woman and common law spouses of more than three years. Single men and women are eligible to adopt children over the age of seven years only and on a case-by-case basis. In practice, newborns are assigned to younger couples, and older children are assigned to older couples. Both parents are required to be 25 years of age and capable physically, emotionally to adopt. The economic requirement can be met by only one of the parents. Both parents are required to appear before the judge in Colombia. Only one parent is required to appear before a consular officer.

Time Frame: It is hard to predict how long an adopting family should expect for the adoption to be completed. There are many factors that determine how long the adoption and visa process takes, including how long it takes to have paperwork approved in the United States and in Colombia. In addition, factors including the desired sex and age of a child play a role, as well as the age of the prospective parents. Couples receiving visas for their newly adopted children typically report that the entire process took from 18 to 30 months.

Adoption Agencies: The Colombian Family Welfare Institute (ICBF) licenses the following adoption agencies to process international adoptions. Please review current reports online at for a list of agencies.

Adoption Attorneys: Please contact ICBF and licensed adoption agencies for their list of recommended attorneys who work with intercountry adoptions. Prospective adoptive parents are advised to fully research any adoption agency or facilitator they plan to use for adoption services and ensure that it is an agency accredited by Bienestar Familiar (ICBF). Prospective adoptive parents are advised to fully research any adoption agency or facilitator they plan to use for adoption services.

Adoption Fees: It is difficult to predict how much the entire adoption process will cost as each case has unique circumstances. Parents receiving visas for their adopted children have reported spending between $12,000 and $20,000 from start to finish.

Adoption Procedures: Once an adoptive couple has decided that Colombia is the country from which they wish to adopt, they must first contact the ICBF or an accredited adoption agency in Colombia (listed above) in order to obtain a list of adoption agencies in the United States, nearest to the couple's place of residence, that are accredited by the Colombian Government. One of these adoption agencies in the United States will perform the home study and will assist prospective parents in preparing the Form I-600A (Application for Advance Processing of Orphan Petition), if not completed previously, and its supporting documents for approval by the Department of Homeland Security's U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) division.

Once the I-600A has been approved by DHS, parents must compile the list of documents, below, for submission to the ICBF. Once the ICBF approves the package of documents, it will be in a position to inform prospective adoptive parents (through their agencies) about the availability of children in need of a family placement and the amount of time it is likely to take to complete the adoption. This timeline will depend on several factors, including the parent's age, the desired sex of the child, age of the desired child, and how many children are available at the time. ICBF will inform the parents (again, through the agencies) once a child has officially been assigned to them. Medical, social, psychological, and nutritional assessments are provided to the parents, as well as photographs of the child. Prospective parents are then given two months to make a decision as to whether to adopt that particular child.

After the parents are informed that they have been assigned a child, they then travel to Colombia to begin the legal process with Colombian authorities. The ICBF or the Colombian adoption agency will assist the family with obtaining the documents needed to complete the Colombian legal procedures, including (but not limited to) the adoption decree, a new Colombian birth certificate, and a new Colombian passport. The passport fee is 67,000 pesos (approx. US $30). All other fees vary.

Once all the Colombian legal proceedings are complete, the family is ready to visit the U.S. Embassy to apply for the immigrant visa used to travel to the United States.

Letter Required by Colombian Judges: In order for the U.S. Embassy to issue the letter required by the Colombian family judges that commits the U.S. Embassy to issuing an immigrant visa under the condition that all adoption and U.S. immigration requirements are met, the Embassy needs to have received an Application for Advance Processing of Orphan Petition (Form I-600A) approved by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS). The adopting parents file this petition in the United States at the USCIS service center responsible for the district in which they reside.

Documents Required: The following is a list of documents that U.S. prospective adoptive parents are required to submit to the ICBF while the parents are still in the U.S. and before they travel to Colombia to adopt a child:

  1. Application Form for adoption can be provided by the ICBF or found on the ICBF Website:
  2. Birth certificates of adoptive parents.
  3. Marriage certificate or proof of common law relationship of adoptive parents.
  4. Medical examinations by Board-certified physicians clearly stating that prospective adoptive parents are mentally and physically capable of caring for a child (or children)
  5. National law enforcement clearance issued by a competent police authority. For U.S. citizens, this consists of a set of fingerprints, and their results, issued by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). These cards may be requested from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The FBI may take as long as two to three months to return the completed results.
  6. Birth certificates of any children previously adopted by adoptive parents.
  7. Certificate of financial ability; employment letters explaining time of service and monthly salary received in US dollars.
  8. If self-employed, a certified document regarding the parent's financial resources or last income tax return with supporting documents is required.
  9. Social and psychological study of the adopting family that establishes physical, mental, moral and social capacity. The home study required by USCIS can fulfill both the U.S. and the Colombian requirements.
  10. If there were previous marriages or partners of adopting parents, proof of divorce and reasons for such dissolutions should be presented.
  11. Notarized statement clarifying any changes in name or indicating, “also known as.” Generally, Colombian women do not change their names to that of their husbands. As a result, Colombian courts are accustomed to birth certificates, marriage certificates, and passports with no variation in name.

Embassy and Consulates in the United States:
Colombian Embassy
2118 Leroy Place NW
Washington, DC 20008
Telephone: (202) 387-5858,
(202) 332-7476

Consulate in Atlanta
5901 C Peachtree Dunwoody Road
Suite 375
Atlanta, GA 30328
Phone: 770-668-0451/0512/0552
EXT: 21-22-23-24
Fax: 770-668-0763

Consulate in Boston
535 Boylston Street
11th Floor
Boston, MA 02116
Phone: 617-536-6222
Fax: 617-536-9372

Consulate in Chicago
500 North Michigan Avenue
Suite 2040
Chicago, IL 60611
Phone: 312-923-1196 or
Fax: 312-923-1197

Consulate in Houston
5851 San Felipe, Suite 300
Houston, TX 77057
Phone: 713-527-8919 or
Fax: 713-529-3395

Consulate in Los Angeles
8383 Wilshire Blvd.
Suite 420
Beverly Hills, CA 90211
Phone: 323-653-9863 or
Fax: 323-653-2964

Consulate in Miami
280 Aragon Ave.
Coral Gables, FL 33134
Phone: 305-448-5558; 305-441-1235;
or 305-448-4179
Fax: 305-441-9537

Consulate in New York
10 East 46th Street
New York City, NY 10017
Phone: 212-949-9898 or
Fax: 212-972-1725

Consulate in San Francisco
595 Market Street
Suite 2130
San Francisco, CA 94105
Phone: 415-495-7195/96
Fax: 415-777-3731

Consulate in San Juan
Edificio Mercantil
P1 814
Avenida Ponce de Leon
Hato Rey, PR 00918
Phone: 787-754-6899 or 787-754-6885
Fax: 787-754-1675

Consulate in Washington DC
1101 17th Street NW
Suite 1007 Washington, DC 20036
Phone: 202-332-7476
Fax: 202-332-7180

U.S. Immigration Requirements: Prospective adopting parents are strongly encouraged to consult USCIS publication M-249, The Immigration of Adopted and Prospective Adoptive Children, as well as the Department of State publication, International Adoptions. Please see the International Adoption section of this book for more details and review current reports online at

U.S. Embassy: The United States Embassy is located at Calle 22 D Bis # 47-51, Bogotá, Colombia.

Additional Information: Specific questions about adoption in Colombia may be addressed to the U.S. Embassy in Colombia. General questions regarding international adoption may be addressed to the Office of Children's Issues, U.S. Department of State, CA/OCS/CI, SA-29, 4th Floor, 2201 C Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20520-4818, toll-free Tel: 1-888-407-4747.

International Parental Child Abduction

February 2008

The information in this section has been edited from a report of the State Department Bureau of Consular Affairs, Office of Overseas Citizens Services. For more information, please read the International Parental Child Abduction section of this book and review current reports online at

Disclaimer: The information below relating to the legal requirements of Colombia is provided for general information only. Questions involving interpretation of specific foreign laws should be addressed to foreign legal counsel.

General Information: Colombia is in the process of transforming its criminal justice system into an accusatorial one, with oral trials, in a way that resembles the U.S. justice system. For non-criminal matters, however, including divorce and custody cases, Colombia remains a civil law country.

Judicial proceedings in a civil law country generally differ from those in the United States, a common law country, in several significant ways. For example, juries are not used. Legal cases are heard and decided by a judge or panel of judges. Evidence can be presented and arguments can be made in oral hearings, but such hearings tend to play a secondary role, supplementing extensive written submissions to the judge. The judge normally can play a more active role in proceedings than is common in U.S. courts. A judge in a civil law country is free to seek evidence independently of what either side presents.

In Colombia, family court judges handle divorce and custody cases. In cases involving the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, recent legislation by the Colombian Congress has placed jurisdiction with family courts as well. In more remote areas of the country where there are no family courts, Hague cases are to be heard by civil court circuit judges. While Colombian courts can recognize or enforce U.S. custody orders, they generally refuse to do so. In a Colombian court, Colombian law takes precedence over U.S. law. A Colombian court order granting custody to one parent will prevail over an order issued by a U.S. court.

Custody and Rights of Visitation: In Colombia, married parents share equal rights of custody to their minor children. Under Colombian law, if a father acknowledges on a child's birth certificate that he is the father, then he shares equal custody rights with the mother, even if the child was born out of wedlock. A father who has acknowledged paternity may seek assistance from administrative or judicial authorities for a remedy if the mother interferes with his rights to custody or visitation. Custody cases are first assigned to family protection officers within the Colombian Institute of Family Welfare and then custody and/or visitation are determined before a family court judge. Family courts have heavy caseloads and cases involving a U.S. parent disputing custody with a Colombian parent take a long time to resolve. The U.S. Embassy in Bogota notes that Colombian courts favor parents of Colombian nationality and that it is very rare for a court in Colombia to grant custody to a parent residing in the U.S. when there is a parent residing in Colombia.

Criminal Aspects: The crime of international parental abduction is covered in the Colombian Penal Code as simple kidnapping, with circumstances that can increase or reduce the punishment. Colombia does not consider international parental kidnapping as an extraditable offense.

Colombian Citizenship: The Colombian Constitution provides that a child born abroad to a Colombian mother or father acquires Colombian citizenship once the birth is registered in a consular office or the child later becomes domiciled in Colombia. If a child is born in Colombia, he/she will obtain Colombian citizenship automatically as long as one parent is a Colombian national or one of the child's parents has legal resident status in Colombia.

Colombian Passports: In contrast to U.S. requirements, a Colombian passport for a minor child can be obtained with only one parent's consent. However, Colombian authorities have rules that restrict the departure of Colombian children from the country when they are not in the company of both parents.

Preventing Issuance of a Colombian Passport: If a parent wishes to prevent the issuance of a passport to their minor child, he or she must submit a request to the Ministerio de la Proteccion Social, Instituto Colombiano de Bienstar Familiar (ICBF). If ICBF concurs with the parent's request, it will notify the Colombian passport office to place a hold on issuance of a passport to the minor child. The Colombian passport agency will then notify Colombian Embassies and Consulates of the hold. Parents may only submit a request through ICBF, not through a Colombian Embassy or Consulate. Further information can be found at

The Hague Convention: The United States is a party to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. The Hague Convention is an international treaty. Its purpose is to discourage international parental abduction and to ensure that children who are abducted or wrongfully retained are returned to their country of habitual residence. The Hague Convention does not govern who should get custody of a child, but only the jurisdiction where custody should be adjudicated.

The Hague Convention took effect between the United States and Colombia on June 1, 1996. Therefore, Hague Convention provisions for return apply only to children abducted or retained after that date. Parents and legal guardians of children taken to Colombia prior to June 1, 1996 may still submit applications for access to the child under the Hague Convention. All countries party to the Hague Convention have a Central Authority that is responsible for processing Hague applications.

The Colombian Central Authority performs an administrative role in processing Hague applications. The Central Authority is the Instituto Colombiano de Bienstar Familiar (ICBF), which is located within the Ministry of Social Protection. The address is Sede Nacional Avenida 68 No 64-01, PBX 4377630, Bogota, DC, Colombia. The international telephone number is 011-57-1-437-7630. The Central Authority's email address is [email protected]

More Information: The State Department has general information about hiring a foreign attorney, service of process, and enforcement of child support and the international enforcement of judgments, which supplement the country-specific information provided in this flyer. When situations in a country are sufficiently serious, the State Department issues Travel Alerts or Travel Warnings that may recommend U.S. citizens defer travel to that country. These documents are available on the Internet at: or by the toll-free number, 1-888-407-4747, between 8:00 a.m.—8:00 p.m. eastern time, Monday thru Friday (except U.S. holidays). Callers who are unable to use the toll-free numbers, such as those calling from overseas, may obtain information and assistance during these hours by calling 1-317-472-2328.

Travel Warning

June 4, 2007

This Travel Warning updates ongoing security concerns in Colombia and reminds American citizens of those concerns. This supersedes the Travel Warning issued January 18, 2006.

The Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the dangers of travel to Colombia. Violence by narcoterrorist groups and other criminals continues to affect all parts of the country, urban and rural.

Violence has continued to decrease markedly in most urban areas, including Bogotá, Medellin, Barran-quilla, and Cartagena. The level of violence in Cali, Buenaventura, and the surrounding areas remains high, largely as a result of the illicit drug trade. Many rural areas of Colombia remain extremely dangerous due to the presence of narcoterrorists and Colombian government operations against them.

Terrorist groups such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN), and other criminal organizations, continue to kidnap civilians for ransom or as political bargaining chips. No one can be considered immune from kidnapping on the basis of occupation, nationality, or other factors. The FARC have held three American official contractors hostage since February 2003. Although the U.S. government places the highest priority on the safe recovery of kidnapped Americans, it is U.S. policy not to make concessions to or strike deals with kidnappers. Consequently, the U.S. government's ability to assist kidnapping victims is limited.

U.S. government officials and their families in Colombia are permitted to travel to major cities in the country, but only by air. They are not allowed to use inter-or intra-city bus transportation. They also are not permitted to travel by road outside of urban areas at night. All Americans in Colombia are urged to follow these precautions.

As the Department develops information on potential security threats to U.S. citizens overseas, it shares credible threats through its Consular Information Program documents, available on the Internet at U.S. citizens should consult warden messages for Colombia at, as well as the Department of State's Country Specific Information for Colombia and Worldwide Caution Travel Alert at U.S. travelers can also get up-to-date information on security conditions by calling 1-888-407-4747 in the U.S. or Canada or on a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444.

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Compiled from the February 2006 Background Note and supplemented with additional information from the State Department and the editors of this volume. See the introduction to this set for explanatory notes.

Official Name:
Republic of Colombia




1.14 million sq. km. (440,000 sq. mi.); about three times the size of Montana; fourth-largest country in South America.


Capital—Bogotá (pop. 2005 projected: 7.1million). Other major cities include Medellín, Cali, Barranquilla, and Cartagena.


Flat coastal areas, with extensive coastlines on the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea, three rugged parallel mountain chains, central highlands, and flat eastern grasslands.


Tropical on coast and eastern plains, cooler in highlands.



Noun and adjective—Colombian(s).

Population (2005 projected):

46 million

Annual population growth:



Roman Catholic 90%.




Years compulsory—9. Attendance—80% of children enter school. Only 5 years of primary school are offered in many rural areas. Literacy—93% in urban areas, 67% in rural areas.


Infant mortality rate—25/1,000. Life expectancy (2000-05 period) men 69 yrs., women 75 yrs.

Ethnic groups:

Mestizo (58%), white (20%), mulatto (14%), black (4%), mixed black-Amerindian (3%), and Amerindian (1%)





July 20, 1810.


July 1991.


Executive—President (chief of state and head of government). Legislative—Bicameral Congress. Judicial—Supreme Court, Constitutional Court, Council of State, Superior Judicial Council.

Administrative divisions:

32 departments; Bogotá, capital district.

Major political parties:

Conservative Party of Colombia, Liberal Party, and numerous small political movements (most of them allied with one or the other major party).


Universal, age 18 and over.


GDP (2005 projected):

$118.1 billion; base year 1994: $104.6 billion.

Annual growth rate (2005 est.):


Per capita GDP (2003):


Government Expenditures (2005):

38.5% of GDP.

Natural resources:

Coal, petroleum, natural gas, iron ore, nickel, gold, silver, copper, platinum, emeralds.

Manufacturing (14.2 of GDP):

Types—textiles and garments, chemicals, metal products, cement, cardboard containers, plastic resins and manufactures, beverages, wood products, pharmaceuticals, machinery, electrical equipment.

Agriculture (13.5% of GDP):

Products—coffee, bananas, cut flowers, cotton, sugarcane, livestock, rice, corn, tobacco, potatoes, soybeans, sorghum. Cultivated land: 8.2% of total area.

Other sectors (by percentage of GDP):

Financial services—17.2%; commerce—11.4%; transportation and communications services—8.2%; mining and quarrying—4.8%; construction and public works—5.3%; government, personal and other services—19.5%; electricity, gas, and water—3%


Exports (2005)—$18.8 billion: petroleum, coal, coffee, flowers, textiles and garments, ferronickel, bananas, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, gold, sugar, cardboard containers, printed material, cement, plastic resins and manufactures, emeralds. Major markets—U.S., Venezuela, Germany, Netherlands, Japan,. Imports (2005)—$18.6 billion: machinery/equipment, grains, chemicals, transportation equipment, mineral products, consumer products, metals/metal products, plastic/rubber, paper products, aircraft, oil and gas industry equipment, and supplies. Major suppliers—U.S., Germany, Japan, Panama, Venezuela.


Colombia is the third-most populous country in Latin America, after Brazil and Mexico. Thirty cities have a population of 100,000 or more. The nine eastern lowlands departments, constituting about 54% of Colombia's area, have less than 3% of the population and a density of less than one person per square kilometer (two persons per sq. mi.). Ethnic diversity in Colombia is a result of the intermingling of indigenous peoples, Europeans, and Africans. Today, only about 1% of the people can be identified as fully indigenous on the basis of language and customs.


During the pre-Columbian period, the area now known as Colombia was inhabited by indigenous societies situated at different stages of socio-economic development, ranging from hunters and nomadic farmers to the highly structured Chibchas, who are considered to be one of the most developed indigenous groups in South America.

The first permanent settlement in Colombia was at Santa Marta, founded by the Spanish in 1525. Santa Fe de Bogotá was founded in 1538 and, in 1717, became the capital of the Viceroyalty of New Granada, which included what are now Venezuela, Ecuador, and Panama. Bogotá was one of three principal administrative centers of the Spanish possessions in the New World.

On July 20, 1810, the citizens of Bogotá created the first representative council to defy Spanish authority. Full independence was proclaimed in 1813, and in 1819 the Republic of Greater Colombia was formed. The new republic included all the territory of the former Viceroyalty (Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador and Panama). Simon Bolívar was elected its first president with Francisco de Paula Santander as vice president. Conflicts between the followers of Bolívar and Santander led to the formation of two political parties that have since dominated Colombian politics. Bolivar's supporters, who later formed the nucleus of the Conservative Party, sought strong centralized government, alliance with the Roman Catholic Church, and a limited franchise. Santander's followers, forerunners of the Liberals, wanted a decentralized government, state rather than church control over education and other civil matters, and a broadened suffrage.

Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, each party held the presidency for roughly equal periods of time. Colombia maintained a tradition of civilian government and regular, free, elections. Notwithstanding the country's commitment to democratic institutions, Colombia's history also has been characterized by widespread, violent conflict. Two civil wars resulted from bitter rivalry between the Conservative and Liberal parties: The War of a Thousand Days (1899-1903) claimed an estimated 100,000 lives and La Violencia (the Violence) (1946-1957) claimed about 300,000 lives.

La Violencia (The Violence) and The National Front

The assassination of Liberal leader, Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, in 1948 sparked the bloody conflict known as La Violencia. Conservative Party leader Laureano Gómez came to power in 1950, but was ousted by a military coup led by General Gustavo Rojas Pinilla in 1953. When Rojas failed to restore democratic rule and became implicated in corrupt schemes, he was overthrown by the military with the support of the Liberal and Conservative Parties. It was out of this alliance between the two parties that the National Front emerged, which ended "La Violencia."

In July 1957, former Conservative President Laureano Gómez (1950-53) and former Liberal President Alberto Lleras Camargo (1945-46) reached an agreement that led to the creation of the National Front, under which their parties would govern jointly. The presidency would be determined by regular elections every 4 years and the two parties would have parity in all other elective and appointive offices. This system was phased out by 1978.

Post-National Front Years

During the post-National Front years, the Colombian Government made efforts to negotiate a peace with the persistent guerrilla organizations that flourished in Colombia's remote and undeveloped remote rural areas. In 1984, President Belisario Betancur, a Conservative, negotiated a cease-fire with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the Democratic Alliance/M-19 (M-19) that included the release of many imprisoned guerrillas. The National Liberation Army (ELN) rejected the government's cease fire proposal at that time. The M-19 pulled out of the cease-fire when it resumed fighting in 1985. The army suppressed an M-19 attack on the Palace of Justice in Bogotá in November 1985, during which 115 people were killed, including 11 Supreme Court justices. The government and the M-19 renewed their truce in March 1989, which led to a peace agreement and the M-19's reintegration into society and political life. The M-19 was one of the parties that participated in the process to enact a new constitution (see below), which took effect in 1991. The peace process with the FARC did not enjoy similar success; the FARC ended the truce in 1990 after some 2,000-3,000 of its members who had demobilized had been murdered.

The enactment of a new Constitution in 1991 brought about major reforms to Colombia's political institutions.

While the new Constitution preserved a presidential, three-branch system of government, it created new institutions such as the Inspector General, a Human Rights Ombudsman, a Constitutional Court, and a Superior Judicial Council. The new Constitution also reestablished the position of Vice President. Other significant constitutional reforms provide for civil divorce, dual nationality, and the establishment of a legal mechanism ("tutela") that allows individuals to appeal government decisions affecting their constitutional rights. The Constitution also authorized the introduction of an accusatory system of criminal justice that is gradually being instituted throughout the country, replacing the previous written inquisitorial system. A Constitutional amendment approved in October 2005 allows the president to hold office for two consecutive 4-year terms.

Colombian governments have had to contend with the combined terrorist activities of left-wing guerrillas, the rise of paramilitary self-defense forces in the 1990s, and the drug cartels. Narco-terrorists assassinated three presidential candidates during the election campaign of 1990. After Colombian security forces killed Medellín cartel leader Pablo Escobar in December 1993, indiscriminate acts of violence associated with his organization abated as the "cartels" were broken into multiple, smaller and often-competing trafficking organizations. Guerrillas and paramilitary groups also entered into drug trafficking as a way to finance their military operations.

Pastrana Administration

The administration of Andrés Pastrana (1998-2002), a Conservative, faced increased countrywide attacks by the FARC, the ELN, widespread drug production, and the expansion of paramilitary groups. The Pastrana administration unveiled its "Plan Colombia" in 1999 as a strategy to deal with these longstanding problems, and sought support from the international community. Plan Colombia is a comprehensive program to combat narco-terrorism; spur economic recovery; strengthen democratic institutions and respect for human rights; and provide humanitarian assistance to internally displaced persons.

In November 1998, Pastrana ceded a sparsely populated area the size of Switzerland in south-central Colombia to the FARC's control to serve as a neutral zone where peace negotiations could take place. The FARC negotiated with the government only fitfully while continuing to mount attacks and expand coca production, seriously undermining the government's efforts to reach an agreement. Negotiations with the rebels in 2000 and 2001 were marred by rebel attacks, kidnappings, and fighting between rebels and paramilitaries for control of coca-growing areas in Colombia. In February 2002, after the FARC hijacked a commercial aircraft and kidnapped a senator, Pastrana ordered the military to attack rebel positions and reassert control over the neutral zone. FARC withdrew into the jungle and increased attacks against Colombia's infrastructure, while avoiding large-scale direct conflicts with the military.

Uribe Administration

Alvaro Uribe, an independent, was elected president in May 2002 on a platform to restore security to the country. Among his promises was to continue to pursue the broad goals of Plan Colombia within the framework of a long-term security strategy. In the fall of 2002, Uribe released a national security strategy that employed political, economic and military means to weaken all illegal narco-terrorist groups. The Uribe government offered to negotiate a peace agreement with these groups with the condition that they agree to a unilateral cease fire and to end drug trafficking and kidnapping.

In December 2003, the Colombian Self-Defense Forces (AUC) paramilitary group entered into a peace agreement with the government that, as of February 2006, has led to the bloc by bloc demobilization of over 20,000 AUC members. In addition, over 8,000 members of the AUC and other illegal armed groups have individually decided to surrender their arms. In July 2005, President Uribe signed the Justice and Peace Law, which established a legal framework for these demobilizations. Under this law, participants have to renounce violence and return illegal assets in exchange for reduced punishments; the assets are to be used to provide reparations to victims.

The ELN and the government began a round of talks with the Colombian Government mediated by the Mexican Government in mid-2004. The ELN withdrew from the talks after the Mexican Government voted to condemn Cuba's human rights record at the United Nations in April 2005. In December 2005, the ELN began a new round of talks with the Colombian Government in Cuba, which resulted in an agreement to meet again in early 2006.

As a result of the government's military and police operations, the strength of the FARC has been reduced in major areas, drastically in some areas. Since 2000, the FARC has not carried out large scale multi-front attacks, although it has more recently mounted some operations that indicate it has not yet been broken.

The FARC has rejected several government proposals aimed at bringing about an exchange of some 63 hostages being held for political reasons. Three American citizens, who were working on counternarcotics programs, were captured by the FARC in February 2003. Their safe return is a priority goal of the United States and Colombia.

Colombia maintains an excellent extradition relationship with the United States. The Uribe administration has extradited more than 300 fugitives to the United States. Among those extradited in 2005 were Cali Cartel leaders Gilberto Rodríguez Orejuela and his brother Miguel and FARC leaders Juvenal Ovidio Palmera Pineda (aka "Simón Trinidad") and Omaira Rojas Cabrera (aka "Sonia").

Nearing the end of his four-year term, President Uribe enjoys record high popularity ratings. For the first time in recent Colombian history, there is a government presence in all of the country's 1,098 municipalities (county seats). Attacks conducted by illegally armed groups against rural towns decreased by 91% from 2002 to 2005. Between 2002 and 2004, Colombia saw a decrease in homicides by 31%, massacres by 65%, kidnappings by 52%, and acts of terrorism by 55.9%. Aerial spraying of coca crops and cocaine and heroin interdictions are setting records.

Although much attention has been focused on the security and military aspects of Colombia's situation, the Uribe government also is spending significant efforts on issues such as expanding international trade, supporting alternate means of development, and reforming Colombia's judicial system. Congressional elections will take place in March 2006. President Uribe is seeking reelection in May 2006, with a second round (if needed) in June 2006.

Principal Government Officials

Last Updated: 12/5/2005

President: Alvaro URIBE Velez
Vice President: Francisco SANTOS Calderon
Min. of Agriculture & Rural Development: Andres Felipe ARIAS Leiva
Min. of Commerce, Industry, & Tourism: Jorge Humberto BOTERO
Min. of Communication: Martha PINTO de De Hart
Min. of Culture: Maria ARAUJO
Min. of Energy & Mines: Luis Ernesto MEJIA
Min. of Environment, Housing, & Territorial Development: Sandra SUAREZ Perez
Min. of Finance & Public Credit: Alberto CARRASQUILLA Barrera
Min. of Foreign Relations: Carolina BARCO
Min. of Interior & Justice: Sabas PRETELT de la Vega
Min. of National Defense: Camilo OSPINA Bernal
Min. of National Education: Cecilia Maria VELEZ White
Min. of Social Protection: Diego PALACIO Betancourt
Min. of Transportation: Andres Uriel GALLEGO Henao
Dir., National Planning: Santiago MONTENEGRO
Pres., Bank of the Republic: Jose Dario URIBE Escobar
Prosecutor General: Mario German IGUARAN Arana
Ambassador to the US: Andres PASTRANA Arango
Permanent Representative to the UN, New York: Maria Angela HOLGUIN Cuellar

Colombia maintains an embassy in the United States at 2118 Leroy Place NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202-387-8338). Consulates are located in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, San Francisco, San Juan, and Washington.


Colombia's Ministry of Defense, charged with the country's internal and external defense and security, exercises jurisdiction over an army, navy—including marines and coast guard—air force, and national police under the leadership of a civilian Minister of Defense. Real spending on defense has increased every year since 2000, but especially so under President Uribe. Colombian spending on defense grew over 30% after inflation, from $2.6 billion in 2001 to more than 3.9 billion in 2005. Projected defense spending for 200