Colombia ( /kəˈlʌmbiə/ kə-LUM-biə, or /kəˈlɒmbiə/ kə-LOM-biə), officially the Republic of Colombia (Spanish: República de Colombia [reˈpuβlika ðe koˈlombja]), is a unitary constitutional republic comprising thirty-two departments. The country is located in northwestern South America, bordered to the northwest by Panama; to the north by the Caribbean Sea; to the east by Venezuela and Brazil; to the south by Ecuador and Peru; and to the west by the Pacific Ocean. Colombia is the 26th largest country by area and the fourth largest in South America after Brazil, Argentina and Peru. With over 46 million people, Colombia is the 27th largest country in the world by population and has the second largest population of any Spanish-speaking country in the world, after Mexico. Colombia is a middle power, and is now the fourth largest economy in Latin America, and the third largest in South America. Colombia produces coffee, flowers, emeralds, coal, and oil. These products comprise the primary sector of the economy.
The territory of what is now Colombia was originally inhabited by indigenous peoples including the Muisca, Quimbaya, and Tairona. The Spanish arrived in 1499 and initiated a period of conquest and colonization ultimately creating the Viceroyalty of New Granada (comprising modern-day Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, north-western Brazil and Panama), with its capital at Bogotá. Independence from Spain was won in 1819, but by 1830 "Gran Colombia" had collapsed with the secession of Venezuela and Ecuador. What is now Colombia and Panama emerged as the Republic of New Granada. The new nation experimented with federalism as the Granadine Confederation (1858), and then the United States of Colombia (1863), before the Republic of Colombia was finally declared in 1886. Panama seceded in 1903. Colombia was the first constitutional government in South America, and an important promoter of the Pan American organizations, initially through the Congress of Panama and later as founder of the Organization of American States. The Liberal and Conservative parties, founded in 1848 and 1849, are two of the oldest surviving political parties in the Americas.
Colombia is ethnically diverse. The interaction between descendants of the original native inhabitants, Spanish colonists, Africans brought as slaves and twentieth-century immigrants from Europe and the Middle East has produced a varied cultural heritage. This has also been influenced by Colombia's varied geography. The majority of the urban centres are located in the highlands of the Andes mountains, but Colombian territory also encompasses Amazon rainforest, tropical grassland and both Caribbean and Pacific coastlines. Ecologically, Colombia is one of the world's 17 megadiverse countries, and is considered the most megadiverse per square kilometer.
Tensions between political parties have frequently erupted into violence, most notably in the Thousand Days War (1899–1902) and La Violencia, beginning in 1948. Since the 1960s, government forces, left-wing insurgents and right-wing paramilitaries have been engaged in the continent's longest-running armed conflict. Fueled by the cocaine trade, this escalated dramatically in the 1980s. Since 2010 the violence has decreased, with some paramilitary groups demobilising as part of a controversial peace process and the guerrillas losing control of much of the territory they once dominated. Meanwhile Colombia's homicide rate almost halved between 2002 and 2006. Due to eradication policies, as of June 2012, Colombia, for many years the world's largest producer of cocaine, is now widely considered to rank second or third, though some sources still consider it first. The United States of America are still the largest consumer of this drug, with a 150 to 160 tons per year.
The word "Colombia" comes from Christopher Columbus (Italian: Cristoforo Colombo; Spanish: Cristóbal Colón). It was conceived by the Venezuelan revolutionary Francisco de Miranda as a reference to all the New World, but especially to those under the Spanish and Portuguese rule. The name was later adopted by the Republic of Colombia of 1819, formed out of the territories of the old Viceroyalty of New Granada (modern-day Colombia, Panama, Venezuela and Ecuador).
In 1835, when Venezuela and Ecuador parted ways, the Cundinamarca region that remained became a new country – the Republic of New Granada. In 1858 The New Granada officially changed its name to the Granadine Confederation, then in 1863 the United States of Colombia, before finally adopting its present name – the Republic of Colombia – in 1886.
To refer to the country, the Colombian government uses the terms Colombia and República de Colombia.
Due to its geographical location, the present territory of Colombia was a corridor of populations between Mesoamerica, the Caribbean, the Andes and the Amazon. The oldest archaeological finds were found at sites of Monsú and Pubenza and dating from about 20,000 years BC. Other vestiges realize that there were also early occupation in regions like El Abra between Tocancipá, Zipaquirá and Tequendama in Cundinamarca. These sites correspond to the Paleoindian period. In Puerto Hormiga has been found traces of the archaic period, including the oldest pottery found in America, dating from about 3,000 BC.
Approximately 10,000 BC, the territory of what is now Colombia was originally inhabited by indigenous people including the Muisca, Quimbaya, and Tairona. Hunter-gatherer societies existed near present-day Bogotá (at "El Abra" and "Tequendama") which traded with one another and with cultures living in the Magdalena River Valley. Beginning in the first millennium BC, groups of Amerindians developed the political system of "cacicazgos" with a pyramidal structure of power headed by caciques. The Muiscas inhabited the area of what is now the Departments of Boyacá and Cundinamarca high plateau mainly (Altiplano Cundiboyacense). They farmed maize, potato, quinoa and cotton, and traded worked gold, emeralds, blankets, ceramic handicrafts, coca and salt with neighboring nations. The Taironas inhabited in northern Colombia in the Andes isolated mountain range of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.
The Spanish discovery (1499–1525)
Spanish explorers made the first exploration of the Caribbean littoral in 1500 led by Rodrigo de Bastidas. Christopher Columbus navigated near the Caribbean in 1502. In 1508, Vasco Núñez de Balboa started the conquest of the territory through the region of Urabá. In 1513, he was the first European to discover the Pacific Ocean, which he called Mar del Sur (or "Sea of the South") and which in fact would bring the Spaniards to Peru and Chile.
Alonso de Ojeda (who had sailed with Columbus) reached the Guajira Peninsula in 1500. Santa Marta was founded in 1525, and Cartagena in 1533. Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada led an expedition to the interior in 1535, and founded the "New City of Granada", the name soon changed to "Santa Fé." Two other notable journeys by Spaniards to the interior took place in the same period. Sebastian de Belalcazar, conqueror of Quito, traveled north and founded Cali in 1536 and Popayán in 1537; Nicolas Federman crossed the Llanos Orientales and went over the Eastern Cordillera.
The Caribbean people, indigenous to Colombia, experienced a reduction in population due to conquest by the Spanish as well as diseases such as smallpox, from which they had no immunity. In the 16th century, Europeans began to bring slaves from Africa.
Colonial times (1525–1808)
The Spanish settled along the north coast of today's Colombia as early as the 1500s, but their first permanent settlement, at Santa Marta, was not established until 1525. In 1549, the institution of the Audiencia in Santa Fe de Bogotá gave that city the status of capital of New Granada, which comprised in large part what is now territory of Colombia.
With the risk that the land was deserted, the Spanish Crown sold properties to the governors, conquerors and their descendants creating large farms and possession of mines. Slaves were introduced as labor. Also to protect the indigenous population decimated, and Indian reservations were created. The repopulation was achieved by allowing colonization by farmers and their families who came from Spain. With this began the colonial period. New Granada was ruled by the Royal Audience of Santa Fe de Bogota, but important decisions were taken to the colony from Spain by the Council of the Indies.
A royal decree of 1713 approved the legality of Palenque de San Basilio founded by runaway slaves from the fifteenth century, slaves had fled and sought refuge in the jungles of the Caribbean coast. The Spanish forces could not tolerate them and ended up submitting, thereby giving rise to the first free place in the Americas. Its main leader was Benkos Biohó, born in the region Bioho, Guinea Bissau, West Africa. Palenque de San Basilio was declared in 2005 as a "Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity" by UNESCO.
In 1717 the Viceroyalty of New Granada was originally created, and then it was temporarily removed, to finally be reestablished in 1739. The Viceroyalty had Santa Fé de Bogotá as its capital. This Viceroyalty included some other provinces of northwestern South America which had previously been under the jurisdiction of the Viceroyalties of New Spain or Peru and correspond mainly to today's Venezuela, Ecuador and Panama. So, Bogotá became one of the principal administrative centers of the Spanish possessions in the New World, along with Lima and Mexico City, though it remained somewhat backward compared to those two cities in several economic and logistical ways.
The eighteenth century noted the figure of the priest, botanist and mathematician José Celestino Mutis (1732–1808), delegated by the viceroy Antonio Caballero y Góngora to conduct an inventory of the nature of the New Granada. This became known as the Botanical Expedition which classified plants, wildlife and founded the first astronomical observatory in the city of Santa Fe de Bogotá. On 15 August 1801 the Prussian scientist Alexander von Humboldt reaches Fontibón where he joins Mutis in New Granada expedition to Quito.
Independence from Spain (1808–1824)
Francisco de Paula Santander, Simón Bolivar and other heroes of the Independence of Colombia in the Congress of Cúcuta.
Since the beginning of the periods of conquest and colonization, there were several rebel movements under Spanish rule, most of them were either crushed or remained too weak to change the overall situation. The last one which sought outright independence from Spain sprang up around 1810, following the independence of St. Domingue (present-day Haiti) in 1804, which provided a non-negligible degree of support to the eventual leaders of this rebellion: Simón Bolívar and Francisco de Paula Santander.
A movement initiated by Antonio Nariño, who opposed Spanish centralism and led the opposition against the viceroyalty, led to the independence of Cartagena in November 1811, and the formation of two independent governments which fought a civil war – a period known as La Patria Boba. The following year Nariño proclaimed the United Provinces of New Granada, headed by Camilo Torres Tenorio. Despite the successes of the rebellion, the emergence of two distinct ideological currents among the liberators (federalism and centralism) gave rise to an internal clash which contributed to the reconquest of territory by the Spanish. The viceroyalty was restored under the command of Juan de Samano, whose regime punished those who participated in the uprisings. The retribution stoked renewed rebellion, which, combined with a weakened Spain, made possible a successful rebellion led by the Venezuelan-born Simón Bolívar, who finally proclaimed independence in 1819. The pro-Spanish resistance was finally defeated in 1822 in the present territory of Colombia and in 1823 in Venezuela.
The territory of the Viceroyalty of New Granada became the Republic of Colombia organized as a union of Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela (Panama was then an integral part of Colombia). The Congress of Cucuta in 1821 adopted a constitution for the new Republic. Simón Bolívar became the first President of Colombia, and Francisco de Paula Santander was made Vice President. However, the new republic was very unstable and ended with the rupture of Venezuela in 1829, followed by Ecuador in 1830.
Post-independence and republicanism (1824–1930)
Colombia was the first constitutional government in South America, and the Liberal and Conservative parties, founded in 1848 and 1849 respectively, are two of the oldest surviving political parties in the Americas.
Internal political and territorial divisions led to the secession of Venezuela and Quito (today's Ecuador) in 1830. The so-called "Department of Cundinamarca" adopted the name "Nueva Granada", which it kept until 1856 when it became the "Confederación Granadina" (Granadine Confederation). After a two-year civil war in 1863, the "United States of Colombia" was created, lasting until 1886, when the country finally became known as the Republic of Colombia. Internal divisions remained between the bipartisan political forces, occasionally igniting very bloody civil wars, the most significant being the Thousand Days' War (1899–1902).
This, together with the United States of America's intentions to influence the area (especially the Panama Canal construction and control) led to the separation of the Department of Panama in 1903 and the establishment of it as a nation. The United States paid Colombia $25,000,000 in 1921, seven years after completion of the canal, for redress of President Roosevelt's role in the creation of Panama, and Colombia recognized Panama under the terms of the Thomson-Urrutia Treaty. Colombia was engulfed in the Year-Long War with Peru over a territorial dispute involving the Amazonas Department and its capital Leticia.
The Violence and the National Front (1930–1974)
Soon after, Colombia achieved a relative degree of political stability, which was interrupted by a bloody conflict that took place between the late 1940s and the early 1950s, a period known as La Violencia ("The Violence"). Its cause was mainly mounting tensions between the two leading political parties, which subsequently ignited after the assassination of the Liberal presidential candidate Jorge Eliécer Gaitán on 9 April 1948. The ensuing riots in Bogotá, known as El Bogotazo, spread throughout the country and claimed the lives of at least 180,000 Colombians.
From 1953 to 1964 the violence between the two political parties decreased first when Gustavo Rojas deposed the President of Colombia in a coup d'état and negotiated with the Guerrillas, and then under the military junta of General Gabriel París Gordillo.
After Rojas' deposition, the Colombian Conservative Party and Colombian Liberal Party agreed to create the "National Front", a coalition which would jointly govern the country. Under the deal, the presidency would alternate between conservatives and liberals every 4 years for 16 years; the two parties would have parity in all other elective offices. The National Front ended "La Violencia", and National Front administrations attempted to institute far-reaching social and economic reforms in cooperation with the Alliance for Progress. In the end, the contradictions between each successive Liberal and Conservative administration made the results decidedly mixed. Despite the progress in certain sectors, many social and political problems continued, and guerrilla groups were formally created such as the FARC, ELN and M-19 to fight the government and political apparatus.
The Medellín and Cali cartels
Emerging in the late 1970s, powerful and violent drug cartels further developed during the 1980s and 1990s. The Medellín Cartel under Pablo Escobar and the Cali Cartel, in particular, exerted political, economic and social influence in Colombia during this period. These cartels also financed and influenced different illegal armed groups throughout the political spectrum. Drug dealers and landlords will ally to fight the common enemy of the left guerrillas and created or influenced paramilitary groups.
Constitution of 1991
The new Colombian Constitution of 1991, ratified after being drafted by the Constituent Assembly of Colombia, included key provisions on political, ethnic, human and gender rights. The new constitution initially prohibited the extradition of Colombian nationals, causing accusations that drug cartels had successfully lobbied for the provision; extradition resumed in 1996 after the provision was repealed. The cartels had previously promoted a violent campaign against extradition, leading to many terrorist attacks and mafia-style executions. They also influenced the government and political structure of Colombia through corruption, to such label that by 1996 up to the third part of the senate were put by the mafia. These circumstances were extensively uncovered in the justice case called the "8000 case" 8000 Process which was the biggest political scandal of the 90s.
Since the promulgation of the Constitution of 1991 and the reforms made, the country has continued to be plagued by the effects of the drug trade, guerrilla insurgencies like FARC, and paramilitary groups such as the AUC, which along with other minor factions have engaged in a bloody internal armed conflict. President Andrés Pastrana and the FARC attempted to negotiate a solution to the conflict between 1999 and 2002. The government set up a "demilitarized" zone, but repeated tensions and crises led the Pastrana administration to conclude that the negotiations were ineffectual. Pastrana also began to implement the Plan Colombia initiative, with the dual goal of ending the armed conflict and promoting a strong anti-narcotic strategy.
Colombian armed conflict, 2002 – present
During the presidency of Álvaro Uribe, the government applied more military pressure on the FARC and other outlawed groups. After the offensive, supported by aid from the United States, many security indicators improved. However this improvement has been criticized questioned for the Colombian Army's continued violations of Humans Rights and also questionable statistics. Reported kidnappings showed a steep decrease (from 3,700 in 2000 to 172 in 2009 (Jan.-Oct.)) as did intentional homicides (from 28,837 in 2002 to 15,817 in 2009, according to police, while the health system reported a decline from 28,534 to 17,717 during the same period). The rate of reported abductions declined steadily for almost a decade until 2010, when 280 cases were reported between January and October, most concentrated in the Medellín area. While rural areas and jungles remained dangerous, the overall reduction of violence led to the growth of internal travel and tourism.
According to official statistics from the Colombian Army the FARC-EP had a total of 18,000 members as of December 2010, with 9,000 of them being regular guerrillas and the rest armed militia members operating in civilian clothing in cities and villages. Independent researchers speaking to Time Magazine claimed that the FARC-EP have 30,000 such militia members in 2011, indicating a shift in rebel strategy. The FARC's commander in chief Alfonso Cano was killed by security forces in November 2011. He was replaced by Timoleón Jiménez, who assumed the duty of first commander just days after Cano's death. Jiménez is thought to move in the mountain corridor covering the Cesar Department, Norte de Santander and the Bolívar Department. The smaller rebel group Ejército de Liberación Nacional is estimated to have between 2900 and 5000 members as of 2010. After the demobilization of the right-wing paramilitary group Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia the country has seen the rise of a number of neo-paramilitary groups such as Los Rastrojos and Los Urabeños, who have been accused of widespread murder, drug trafficking and Land grabbing.
Colombia shows modest progress in the struggle to defend human rights, as expressed by HRW. Between 2008 and 2011 a total of 175 worker's union members were murdered in Colombia, according to HRW. In terms of international relations, Colombia has moved from a period of tense animosity with Venezuela, towards a prosperous outlook to further enhance integration. Colombia has also won a seat on the Security Council of the UN.
The world's second biggest bank HSBC has created a perspective on the economic outlook in 2050 where Colombia is seen playing a decisive role in the global economy, especially in the Americas as the number 25 in the world economies measured by GDP. This group has been called CIVETS. Today Colombia is the fourth largest oil producer in South America and it is estimated that by 2012, Colombia will be producing a million barrels a day.
The geography of Colombia is characterized by its five main natural regions that present their own unique characteristics, from the Andes mountain range region shared with Ecuador and Venezuela; the Pacific coastal region shared with Panama and Ecuador; the Caribbean Sea coastal region shared with Venezuela and Panama; the Llanos (plains) shared with Venezuela; to the Amazon Rainforest region shared with Venezuela, Brazil, Peru and Ecuador. Colombia is the only South American country which borders both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
Colombia is bordered to the east by Venezuela and Brazil; to the south by Ecuador and Peru; to the north by Panama and the Caribbean Sea; and to the west by Ecuador and the Pacific Ocean. Including its Caribbean islands, it lies between latitudes 14°N and 5°S, and longitudes 66° and 82°W
Part of the Ring of Fire, a region of the world subject to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, Colombia is dominated by the Andes (which contain the majority of the country's urban centres). Beyond the Colombian Massif (in the south-western departments of Cauca and Nariño) these are divided into three branches known as cordilleras (mountain ranges): the Cordillera Occidental, running adjacent to the Pacific coast and including the city of Cali; the Cordillera Central, running between the Cauca and Magdalena river valleys (to the west and east respectively) and including the cities of Medellín, Manizales, Pereira and Armenia; and the Cordillera Oriental, extending north east to the Guajira Peninsula and including Bogotá, Bucaramanga and Cúcuta. Peaks in the Cordillera Occidental exceed 13,000 ft (3,962 m), and in the Cordillera Central and Cordillera Oriental they reach 18,000 ft (5,486 m). At 8,500 ft (2,591 m), Bogotá is the highest city of its size in the world.
East of the Andes lies the savanna of the Llanos, part of the Orinoco River basin, and, in the far south east, the jungle of the Amazon rainforest. Together these lowlands comprise over half Colombia's territory, but they contain less than 3% of the population. To the north the Caribbean coast, home to 20% of the population and the location of the major port cities of Barranquilla and Cartagena, generally consists of low-lying plains, but it also contains the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain range, which includes the country's tallest peaks (Pico Cristóbal Colón and Pico Simón Bolívar), and the Guajira Desert. By contrast the narrow and discontinuous Pacific coastal lowlands, backed by the Serranía de Baudó mountains, are sparsely populated and covered in dense vegetation. The principal Pacific port is Buenaventura.
Colombian territory also includes a number of Caribbean and Pacific islands. This is considered by some as a sixth region, comprising those areas outside continental Colombia, including the department of San Andrés y Providencia in the Caribbean Sea and the islands of Malpelo and Gorgona in the Pacific Ocean. However, cultural ties are with the respective coastlines. In this region Colombia has a lot of stable sand banks of considerable size, considered suitable for the development of artificial islands.
The striking variety in temperature and precipitation results principally from differences in elevation. Temperatures range from very hot at sea level to relatively cold at higher elevations but vary little with the season. Temperatures generally decrease about 3.5°F (2°C) for every 1,000-ft (300-m) increase in altitude above sea level, presenting perpetual snowy peaks to hot river valleys and basins. Rainfall is concentrated in two wet seasons (roughly corresponding to the spring and autumn of temperate latitudes) but varies considerably by location. Colombia's Pacific coast has one of the highest levels of rainfall in the world, with the south east often drenched by more than 200 in (500 cm) of rain per year. On the other hand rainfall in parts of the Guajira Peninsula seldom exceeds 30 in (75 cm) per year. Rainfall in the rest of the country runs between these two extremes.
A cumulonimbus cloud settles over Colombia in November 2010. Image taken from the International Space Station
Colombians customarily describe their country in terms of the climatic zones. Below 900 meters (2,953 ft) in elevation is the tierra caliente (hot land), where temperatures vary between 24 and 38 °C (75.2 and 100.4 °F). The most productive land and the majority of the population can be found in the tierra templada (temperate land, between 900 and 1,980 meters (2,953 and 6,496 ft)), which provide the best conditions for the country's coffee growers, and the tierra fría (cold land, 1,980 and 3,500 meters (6,496 and 11,483 ft)), where wheat and potatoes dominate. In the tierra fría mean temperatures range between 10 and 19 °C (50 and 66.2 °F). Beyond the tierra fría lie the alpine conditions of the zona forestada (forested zone) and then the treeless grasslands of the páramos. Above 4,500 meters (14,764 ft), where temperatures are below freezing, is the tierra helada, a zone of permanent snow and ice.
About 86% of the country's total area lies in the tierra caliente. Included in this, and interrupting the temperate area of the Andean highlands, are the long and narrow extension of the Magdalena Valley and a small extension in the Cauca Valley. The tierra fría constitutes just 6% of the total area, but supports about a quarter of the country's population.
The hydrography of Colombia is one of the richest in the world. Its main rivers are Magdalena, Cauca, Guaviare, and Caquetá. Colombia has four main drainage systems: the Pacific drain, the Caribbean drain, the Orinoco Basin and the Amazon Basin. The Orinoco and Amazon Rivers mark limits with Colombia to Venezuela and Peru respectively.
The environmental challenges faced by Colombians are caused by both natural and human factors. Many natural hazards result from the geological instability related to Colombia's position along the Pacific Ring of Fire. Colombia has 15 major volcanoes, the eruptions of which have on occasion resulted in substantial loss of life, such as at Armero in 1985. Geological faults that have caused numerous devastating earthquakes, such as the 1999 Armenia earthquake. Heavy floods both in mountainous areas and in low-lying watersheds and coastal regions regularly cause deaths and considerable damage to property during the rainy seasons. Rainfall intensities vary with the El Niño-Southern Oscillation which occurs in unpredictable cycles, at times causing especially severe flooding.
Human induced deforestation has started to creep into the rainforests of Amazonia and the Pacific coast and has substantially changed the Andean landscape. Deforestation is also linked to the conversion of lowland tropical forests to oil palm plantations. However, compared to neighbouring countries rates of deforestation in Colombia are still relatively low. In urban areas, contamination of the local environment has been caused by human produced waste, and the use of fossil fuels. Participants in the country's armed conflict have also contributed to the pollution of the environment. Illegal armed groups have deforested large areas of land to plant illegal crops, with an estimated 99,000 hectares used for the cultivation of coca in 2007, while in response the government has fumigated these crops using hazardous chemicals. Insurgents have also destroyed oil pipelines creating major ecological disasters. Demand from rapidly expanding cities has placed increasing stress on the water supply as watersheds are affected and ground water tables fall. Nonetheless, Colombia is the fourth country in the world by magnitude of total freshwater supply, and still has large reserves of freshwater.
Current President Juan Manuel Santos
The government of Colombia takes place within the framework of a presidential representative democratic republic as established in the Constitution of 1991. In accordance with the principle of separation of powers, government is divided into three branches: the executive branch, the legislative branch and the judicial branch.
As the head of the executive branch, the President of Colombia serves as both head of state and head of government, followed by the Vice President and the Council of Ministers. The president is elected by popular vote to serve four-year terms and is limited to a maximum of two such terms (increased from one in 2005). At the provincial level executive power is vested in department governors, municipal mayors and local administrators for smaller administrative subdivisions, such as corregidores or corregimientos.
The legislative branch of government is represented nationally by the Congress, a bicameral institution comprising a 166-seat Chamber of Representatives and a 102-seat Senate. The Senate is elected nationally and the Chamber of Representatives by every region and minority groups. Members of both houses are elected to serve four-year terms two months before the president, also by popular vote. At the provincial level the legislative branch is represented by department assemblies and municipal councils. All regional elections are held one year and five months after the presidential election.
The judicial branch is headed by the Supreme Court, consisting of 23 judges divided into three chambers (Penal, Civil and Agrarian, and Labour). The judicial branch also includes the Council of State, which has special responsibility for administrative law and also provides legal advice to the executive, the Constitutional Court, responsible for assuring the integrity of the Colombian constitution, and the Superior Council of Judicature, responsible for auditing the judicial branch. Colombia operates a system of civil law, which since 2005 has been applied through an adversarial system.
Click on a department on the map below to go to its article.
Colombia is divided into 32 departments and one capital district, which is treated as a department (Bogotá also serves as the capital of the department of Cundinamarca). Departments are subdivided into municipalities, each of which is assigned a municipal seat, and municipalities are in turn subdivided into corregimientos. Each department has a local government with a governor and assembly directly elected to four-year terms. Each municipality is headed by a mayor and council, and each corregimiento by an elected corregidor, or local leader.
In addition to the capital nine other cities have been designated districts (in effect special municipalities), on the basis of special distinguishing features. These are Barranquilla, Cartagena, Santa Marta, Cúcuta, Popayán, Bucaramanga, Tunja, Turbo, Buenaventura and Tumaco. Some departments have local administrative subdivisions, where towns have a large concentration of population and municipalities are near each other (for example in Antioquia and Cundinamarca). Where departments have a low population and there are security problems (for example Amazonas, Vaupés and Vichada), special administrative divisions are employed, such as "department corregimientos", which are a hybrid of a municipality and a corregimiento.
Colombian Embassy in Paris.
Former President of Colombia (2002–2010) Álvaro Uribe being presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Former President of the United States George W. Bush.
The foreign affairs of Colombia are headed by the President, as head of state, and managed by the Minister of Foreign Affairs. Colombia has diplomatic missions in all continents and is also represented in multilateral organizations at the following locations:
- Brussels (Mission to the European Union)
- Geneva (Permanent Missions to the United Nations and other international organizations)
- Montevideo (Permanent Missions to the Latin American Integration Association and Mercosur)
- Nairobi (Permanent Missions to the United Nations and other international organizations)
- New York (Permanent Mission to the United Nations)
- Paris (Permanent Mission to UNESCO)
- Rome (Permanent Mission to the Food and Agriculture Organization)
- Washington, D.C. (Permanent Mission to the Organization of American States)
Colombia’s foreign relations are mostly concentrated on combating the illegal drug trade and fighting terrorism, both which originate with the FARC. Colombia, with the help of the United States, have fought the FARC and pushed them into the Amazon jungle, significantly reducing the drug trade and kidnappings within Colombia. This co-operation from the United States is mainly through Plan Colombia. Another foreign relation policy concentrates around expanding their international market and managing their international issues with other countries. Colombia enjoys special financial preferences from the European Union in certain product categories.
Colombia was one of the 12 founding members of the UNASUR, which is supposedly modeled on the European Union having free trade agreements between the members, free movement of people, a common currency, and also a common passport. Colombia as well as all the other members of UNASUR have had some problems with the integration due to the 2008 Andean diplomatic crisis. Colombia is a member of the Andean Community of Nations and the Union of South American Nations.
Colombians need tourist visa for 180 countries and exempt from tourist visa requirements in 15 countries.
The executive branch of government is responsible for managing the defense of Colombia, with the President commander-in-chief of the armed forces. The Ministry of Defence exercises day-to-day control of the military and the Colombian National Police. According to UN Human Development Report criteria, Colombia has 209,000 military personnel, and in 2005 3.7% of the country's GDP went towards military expenditure, both figures placing it 21st in the world. Within Latin America, Colombia's armed forces are the third-largest, behind Brazil and Mexico, and it spends the second-highest proportion of GDP after Chile.
The Colombian military is divided into three branches: the National Army of Colombia; the Colombian Air Force; and the Colombian National Armada. The National Police functions as a gendarmerie, operating independently from the military as the law enforcement agency for the entire country. Each of these operates with their own intelligence apparatus separate from the national intelligence agency, the Administrative Department of Security.
The National Army is formed by divisions, regiments and special units; the National Armada by the Colombian Naval Infantry, the Naval Force of the Caribbean, the Naval Force of the Pacific, the Naval Force of the South, Colombia Coast Guards, Naval Aviation and the Specific Command of San Andres y Providencia; and the Air Force by 13 air units. The National Police has a presence in all municipalities.
For over a century Colombian politics were monopolized by the Liberal Party (founded in 1848 on an anti-clerical, broadly economically liberal and federalist platform), and the Conservative Party (founded in 1849 espousing Catholicism, protectionism, and centralism). This culminated in the formation of the National Front (1958–1974), which formalized arrangements for an alternation of power between the two parties and excluded non-establishment alternatives (thereby fueling the nascent armed conflict).
By the time of the dissolution of the National Front, traditional political alignments had begun to fragment. This process has continued since, and the consequences of this are exemplified by the results of the 2006 presidential election which was won with 62% of the vote by the incumbent, Álvaro Uribe. Uribe was from a Liberal background but he campaigned as part of the Colombia First movement with the support of the Conservative Party. In second place with 22% was Carlos Gaviria of the Alternative Democratic Pole, a newly formed social democratic alliance which includes elements of the former M-19 guerrilla movement. Horacio Serpa of the Liberal Party came third with 12%. Meanwhile in the congressional elections held earlier that year the two traditional parties secured only 93 out of 268 seats available.
Despite a number of controversies, most notably the ongoing parapolitics scandal, dramatic improvements in security and continued strong economic performance have ensured that former President Uribe remained popular among Colombian people, with his approval rating peaking at 85%, according to a poll in July 2008. However, having served two terms, he was constitutionally barred from seeking re-election in 2010. Numerous Colombian Congressmen, with the support of a so-called ONG attempted to hold a referendum allowing a vote that would overturn the 2-term limit for presidents, but it was ruled unconstitutional by the Colombian constitutional court on 27 February 2010. By then his popularity had fallen to 55%. Uribe has stated that he respects the decision as one that cannot be appealed. His popularity rose again to 85% with the rescue of the politician Ingrid Betancourt from a seven years kidnapping by the FARC. Due to various embezzlement scandals uncovered by his successor, Santos, Uribe's popularity decreased by August 2011 to 63% and he no longer leads the political party that brought him the presidency.
In presidential elections held on 30 May 2010 the former Minister of defense Juan Manuel Santos received 46% of the vote. A second round was required since no candidate received over the 50% winning threshold of votes. In the run-off elections on 20 June 2010 against the second most popular candidate, Antanas Mockus who had scored 21%, Santos was declared the winner. His term as Colombia's president runs for four years beginning 7 August 2010.
Santos began with a popularity of 73% but after one and half years it had decreased to 58%. The Colombian people have experienced a sensation of insecurity under Santos' rule, arguably due more to the new policy of his government of telling citizens the truth of the conflict than to a real escalation of the conflict itself. For the very first time in Colombian history a President accepted that there is an internal armed conflict in the country and proposed an economic reparation for the victims and restitution of their lands. Santos has promoted a Justice System Reform and some of his Ministers lead a discussion regarding Land Property Reform. In addition, President Santos opened a discussion about the convenience of the United States policy of a war against illegal drugs.
In spite of the difficulties presented by serious internal armed conflict, Colombia's market economy grew steadily in the latter part of the twentieth century, with gross domestic product (GDP) increasing at an average rate of over 4% per year between 1970 and 1998. The country suffered a recession in 1999 (the first full year of negative growth since the Great Depression), and the recovery from that recession was long and painful. However, in recent years growth has been impressive, reaching 8.2% in 2007, one of the highest rates of growth in Latin America. Meanwhile the Colombian stock exchange climbed from 1,000 points at its creation in July 2001 to over 7,300 points by November 2008.
According to International Monetary Fund estimates, in 2011 Colombia's GDP (PPP) was US$471.964 billion (28th in the world and third in South America). Adjusted for purchasing power parity, GDP per capita stands at $10,249, placing Colombia 81st in the world. However, in practice this is relatively unevenly distributed among the population, and, in common with much of Latin America, Colombia scores poorly according to the Gini coefficient, with UN figures placing it among the lowest ranking countries. According to the World Bank, in 2010 the richest 20% of the population had a 60.2% share of income/consumption and the poorest 20% just 3.0%, and 15.8% of Colombians lived on less than $2 a day.
Government spending represents 37.9% of GDP. Almost a quarter of this goes towards servicing the country's government debt, estimated at 52.8% of GDP in 2007. Other problems facing the economy include weak domestic and foreign demand, the funding of the country's pension system, and unemployment (10.8% in November 2008). Inflation has remained relatively low in recent years, standing at 5.5% in 2007.
Historically an agrarian economy, Colombia urbanised rapidly in the twentieth century, by the end of which just 22.7% of the workforce were employed in agriculture, generating just 11.5% of GDP. 18.7% of the workforce are employed in industry and 58.5% in services, responsible for 36% and 52.5% of GDP respectively. Colombia is rich in natural resources, and its main exports include petroleum, coal, coffee and other agricultural produce, and gold. Colombia is also known as the world's leading source of emeralds, while over 70% of cut flowers imported by the United States are Colombian. Principal trading partners are the United States (a controversial free trade agreement with the United States was approved on 11 October 2011 by the United States Congress and became effective from 15 May 2012), the European Union, Venezuela and China. All imports, exports, and the overall balance of trade are at record levels, and the inflow of export dollars has resulted in a substantial re-valuation of the Colombian peso.
Economic performance has been aided by liberal reforms introduced in the early 1990s and continued during the presidency of Álvaro Uribe, whose policies included measures designed to bring the public sector deficit below 2.5% of GDP. In 2008, The Heritage Foundation assessed the Colombian economy to be 61.9% free, an increase of 2.3% since 2007, placing it 67th in the world and 15th out of 29 countries within the region. It has Free trade Zone (FTZ), such as Zona Franca del Pacifico, located in the Valle del Cauca, one of the most striking areas for foreign investment.
Meanwhile the improvements in security resulting from President Uribe's controversial "democratic security" strategy have engendered an increased sense of confidence in the economy. On 28 May 2007 the American magazine BusinessWeek published an article naming Colombia "the most extreme emerging market on Earth". Colombia's economy has improved in recent years. Investment soared, from 15% of GDP in 2002 to 26% in 2008. private business has retooled. However, unemployment at 12% and the poverty rate at 46% in 2009 are above the regional average.
According to a recent World Bank report, doing business is easiest in Cali, Manizales, Ibagué and Pereira, and more difficult in Medellin and Cartagena. Reforms in custom administration have helped reduce the amount of time it takes to prepare documentation by over 60% for exports and 40% for imports compared to the previous report. Colombia has taken measures to address the backlog in civil municipal courts. The most important result was the dismissal of 12.2% of inactive claims in civil courts thanks to the application of Law 1194 of 2008 (Ley de Desistimiento Tácito).
The following are the most important Colombian companies:
- Ecopetrol: The fourth largest oil company in Latin America.
- Suramericana de Inversiones: The largest retirement plan management company in Latin America.
- Avianca: The third largest airline in Latin America.
- Coomeva: The third largest cooperative in Latin America.
- Grupo Aval: One of Colombia's largest holding company. It is owned by Luis Carlos Sarmiento Angulo.
For many years serious internal armed conflict deterred tourists from visiting Colombia, with official travel advisories warning against travel to the country. However, in recent years numbers have risen sharply, thanks to improvements in security resulting from President Álvaro Uribe's "democratic security" strategy, which has included significant increases in military strength and police presence throughout the country and pushed rebel groups further away from the major cities, highways and tourist sites likely to attract international visitors. Foreign tourist visits were predicted to have risen from 0.5 million in 2003 to 1.3 million in 2007, while Lonely Planet picked Colombia as one of their top ten world destinations for 2006.
In 2010, tourism in Colombia increased 11% according to UNWTO Tourism Highlights for that year.
In 2010 Colombia received 1.4 million foreign visitors, according to official statistics.
In November 2010 the U.S. State Department travel warning for the country stated that security conditions had improved significantly in recent years and kidnappings had been noticeably reduced from their previous peak, but cautioned travelers about continuing terrorist threats and the dangers of common crime, including hostage-taking. Rising murder rates in Medellín and Cartagena were also highlighted and U.S. citizens were urged to travel between cities by air instead of using ground transportation.
Popular tourist attractions include the historic Candelaria district of central Bogotá, the walled city and beaches of Cartagena, the colonial towns of Santa Fe de Antioquia, Popayán, Villa de Leyva and Santa Cruz de Mompox, and the Las Lajas Sanctuary and the Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá. Tourists are also drawn to Colombia's numerous festivals, including Feria de Cali (Carnaval of Cali), the Barranquilla Carnival, the Carnival of Blacks and Whites in Pasto, Flower Fair in Medellin and the Ibero-American Theater Festival in Bogotá. Meanwhile, because of the improved security, Caribbean cruise ships now stop at Cartagena and Santa Marta.
The great variety in geography, flora and fauna across Colombia has also resulted in the development of an ecotourist industry, concentrated in the country's national parks. Popular ecotourist destinations include: along the Caribbean coast, the Tayrona National Natural Park in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain range and Cabo de la Vela on the tip of the Guajira Peninsula; the Nevado del Ruiz volcano, the Cocora valley and the Tatacoa Desert in the central Andean region, the Farallones de Cali National Natural Park, in the departament of Valle del Cauca; Amacayacu National Park in the Amazon River basin; and the Pacific islands of Malpelo and Gorgona, there other unique landscapes like the river of the seven colors in Meta. Colombia is home to seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Colombia has a network of national highways maintained by the Instituto Nacional de Vías or INVIAS (National Institute of Roadways) government agency under the Ministry of Transport. The Pan-American Highway travels through Colombia, connecting the country with Venezuela to the east and Ecuador to the south.
Colombia's main airports are El Dorado International Airport in Bogotá, Jose Maria Cordova International Airport in Medellín, Alfonso Bonilla Aragon International Airport in Cali, Rafael Nuñez International Airport in Cartagena, Ernesto Cortissoz International Airport in Barranquilla, and Matecaña International Airport in Pereira. El Dorado International Airport is the busiest airport in Latin America based upon the number of flights and the weight of goods transported. Several national airlines (Avianca, AeroRepública, AIRES, SATENA and EasyFly, ), and international airlines (such as Iberia, American Airlines, Varig, Copa, Continental, Delta, Air Canada, Spirit, Lufthansa, Air France, Aerolíneas Argentinas, Aerogal, TAME, TACA, JetBlue Airways, LAN Airlines) operate from El Dorado. Because of its central location in Colombia and America, it is preferred by national land transportation providers, as well as national and international air transportation providers.
Urban transport systems are developed in Bogota and Medellin. Traffic congestion in Bogotá has greatly exacerbated by the lack of rail transport. However, this problem has been alleviated somewhat by the development of the TransMilenio bus rapid and restriction of vehicles through a ban on all day, the rotation of passenger cars based on the number of plates called Pico and plate. Bogotá system consists of bus and minibus services run by both private and public sector. Since 1995 Medellín had a street railway known as the 'Metro de Medellín', which connects to most of the area Medellin Metropolitan. A high cable car system, Metrocable, was added in 2004 to link some of the poorest neighborhoods of Medellin mountain with the Metro of Medellin. In late 2011 a system of articulated buses, called Metroplus began operating in Medellin as well. A system called bus rapid transit Transmetro, similar to the TransMilenio in Bogotá, Barranquilla began operating in late 2007. In other highly developed cities such as Cali constructed a system of articulated buses that changed the face of the city, in 2013 came into operation a system of high modern cable car.
Colombia dry canal
China and Colombia have discussed a Panama Canal rival, a 'Dry Canal' 220 km rail link between the Pacific and a new city near Cartagena. China is Colombia's second largest trade partner after the USA. Colombia is also the world's fifth-largest coal producer, but most is currently exported via Atlantic ports while demand is growing fastest across the Pacific. A dry canal could make Colombia a hub where imported Chinese goods would be assembled for re-export throughout the Americas and Latin American raw materials would begin the return journey to China.
Colombia has the third largest economy in Latin America, but income and wealth are unevenly distributed. According to a 2006 report by the National University of Colombia, only 13.8% of total income is allocated to the poorest half of the population, while the wealthiest 10% of the population benefit from 46.5%. The wide income gap between rich and poor compounds the country’s poverty issues. According to a 2011 United Nations report, Colombia was one of the seven most unequal countries in the world during 2010.
Inequity regarding land ownership has also been a long existing problem in Colombia, prompting the formation of left-wing guerrilla groups during the 1950s and 1960s. As counteraction, adversaries backed by powerful landowners established rightwing paramilitary organizations. Internal contention intensified by civil war in the 1980s, which was chiefly provoked by the cocaine trade. Although the state of conflict has calmed tremendously in recent years, over 3.2 million individuals have been internally displaced during the confrontation—a figure so high that it falls only second to that of Sudan.
Inadequacies in land allocation have failed to diminish in recent years, further contributing to Colombia’s health, income and societal inequity struggles. Inequitable land ownership is more problematic in rural areas of the country. Statistics indicate that 1.5% of landowners own 52% of rural territory. The lack of fair land availability prevents local farmers from cultivating usable terrain for agricultural purposes, hindering income distribution and further exacerbating the poverty gap. Poverty inflicts rural areas in greater magnitude than that of urban areas. While 39% of the urban population is considered poor and another 9% is considered extremely poor (under the level of misery), 62% of the rural population is considered poor with an additional 22% considered extremely poor. The National Administrative Department of Statistics (DANE), classifies poverty by those earning a monthly income of less than 281,384 Col pesos (143 USD) and extreme poverty those earning less than 120,588 Col Pesos (61 USD).
In 1990, the income ratio between the richest and poorest 10% was 40-to-one, climbing to 80-to-one in 2000. According to the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean and its Statistical Yearbook 2009, figures for 2005 indicated that Colombia had a national Gini coefficient of 0.584 and an urban Gini of 0.587, which were among the highest in Latin America. In 2009, the DANE reported that 45.5% of Colombians were living below the poverty line and 16.6% in "extreme poverty". The Colombian government has since claimed to establish a state-funded program aiming to bring at least one million families out from extreme poverty status.
With an estimated 46 million people in 2008, Colombia is the third-most populous country in Latin America, after Brazil and Mexico. It is also home to the third-largest number of Spanish speakers in the world after Mexico and Spain. It is slightly ahead of Argentina by almost 6 million people. At the outset of the 20th century, Colombia's population was approximately 4 million. The population increased at a rate of 1.9% between 1975 and 2005, predicted to drop to 1.2% over the next decade. Colombia is projected to have a population of 50.7 million by 2015. These trends are reflected in the country's age profile. In 2005 over 30% of the population was under 15 years old, compared to just 5.1% aged 65 and over.
The population is concentrated in the Andean highlands and along the Caribbean coast. The nine eastern lowland departments, comprising 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 square mile). Traditionally a rural society, movement to urban areas was very heavy in the mid-twentieth century, and Colombia is now one of the most urbanized countries in Latin America. The urban population increased from 31% of the total in 1938 to 60% in 1975, and by 2005 the figure stood at 72.7%. The population of Bogotá alone has increased from just over 300,000 in 1938 to approximately 8 million today. In total thirty cities now have populations of 100,000 or more. As of 2010 Colombia has the world's largest populations of internally displaced persons (IDPs), estimated up to 4.5 million people.
Colombia is ranked the third in the world in the Happy Planet Index.
Afro-Colombian Fruit vendor woman in Cartagena wearing the colors of the Colombian flag on her apron.
According to the The World Factbook, the majority of the population (58%) is Mestizo, or of mixed European and Amerindian ancestry. Approximately 20% of the population is of European ancestry (predominantly Spanish, partly Italian, Portuguese, and German). The CIA World Factbook also states that 14% of Colombia's total population is of mixed African and European ancestry, with 3% being of mixed African and Amerindian ancestry, and 4% having primarily African ancestry. Indigenous Amerindians comprise only 1% of the population. Other sources claim that up to 29% of Colombians (13 million people) have some African ancestry. The 2005 census reported that the "non-ethnic population", consisting of whites and mestizos (those of mixed white European and Amerindian ancestry, including almost all of the urban business and political elite), constituted 86% of the national population. The 86% figure is subdivided in to 49% mestizo and 37% white.
The overwhelming majority of Colombians speak Spanish (see also Colombian Spanish), but in total 101 languages are listed for Colombia in the Ethnologue database, of which 80 are spoken today. Most of these belong to the Chibchan, Arawak and Cariban language families. The Quechua language, spoken in the Andes region of the country, has also extended more northwards into Colombia, mainly in urban centers of major cities. There are currently about 500,000 speakers of indigenous languages.
Before the Spanish colonization of what is now Colombia, the territory was home to a significant number of indigenous peoples. Many of these were absorbed into the mestizo population, but the remainder currently represents over eighty-five distinct cultures. 567 reserves (resguardos) established for indigenous peoples occupy 365,004 square kilometres (over 30% of the country's total) and are inhabited by more than 800,000 people in over 67,000 families. The 1991 constitution established their native languages as official in their territories, and most of them have bilingual education (native and Spanish).
Some of the largest indigenous groups are the Wayuu, the Arhuacos, the Muisca, the Kuna, the Paez, the Tucano and the Guahibo. Cauca, La Guajira and Guainia have the largest indigenous populations.
The Organización Nacional Indígena de Colombia (ONIC), founded at the first National Indigenous Congress in 1982, is an organization representing the indigenous peoples of Colombia, who comprise some 800,000 people – roughly 2% of the population.
In 1991, Colombia signed and ratified the current international law concerning indigenous peoples, Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, 1989.
The first and most substantial wave of modern immigration to Colombia consisted of Spanish colonists, following the arrival of Europeans in 1499. However a low number of other Europeans and North Americans migrated to the country in the late 19th and early twentieth centuries, and, in smaller numbers, Poles, Lithuanians, English, Irish, and Croats during and after the Second World War. Today is a major migration trend of Venezuelans, due to the political and economic situation in Venezuela.
Many immigrant communities have settled on the Caribbean coast, in particular recent immigrants from the Middle East. Barranquilla (the largest city of the Colombian Caribbean) and other Caribbean cities have the largest populations of Lebanese and Arabs, Sephardi Jews, Roma. There are also important communities of Chinese and Japanese.
Black Africans were brought as slaves, mostly to the coastal lowlands, beginning early in the 16th century and continuing into the 19th century. Large Afro-Colombian communities are found today on the Caribbean and Pacific coasts. The population of the department of Chocó, running along the northern portion of Colombia's Pacific coast, is over 80% black.
Impact of armed conflict on civilians
Around one third of the people in Colombia have been affected in some way by the ongoing armed conflict. The FARC is the leading guerilla in Colombia. Those with direct personal experience make up 10% of the population and many others also report suffering a range of serious hardships. Overall, 31% have been affected on a personal level or as a result of the wider consequences of the conflict. During the 1990s, an estimated 35,000 people died as a result of the armed conflict. Trade unions in Colombia are included among the victimized groups with over 2,800 of their members being murdered between 1986 and 2010.
During the first six months of 2011 it is estimated that 98,000 people had to flee their homes due to the internal armed conflict. A total of 3.7 million people have been displaced due to violence between 2000 and 2011.
Día de las Velitas, (Little candles' day) one of the traditional holidays in Colombia. It is the Christmas opening day of the country
The National Administrative Department of Statistics (DANE) does not collect religious statistics, and accurate reports are difficult to obtain. However, based on various studies, more than 95% of the population adheres to Christianity, the vast majority of which (between 81% and 90%) are Roman Catholic. About 1% of Colombians adhere to indigenous religions and under 1% to Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism. However, around 60% of respondents to a poll by El Tiempo reported that they did not practice their Catholic faith actively.
Like the rest of Latin America, Colombia is seeing a continuous increase of Protestant adherents, most of them being converts from Catholicism to Protestantism. Now Protestants constitute between 10 to 13% of the Colombian population While Colombia remains a mostly Roman Catholic country by baptism numbers, the 1991 Colombian constitution guarantees freedom and equality of religion. Religious groups are readily able to obtain recognition as organized associations, although some smaller ones have faced difficulty in obtaining the additional recognition required to offer chaplaincy services in public facilities and to perform legally recognized marriages. Before the constitution guaranteed freedom of religion, Catholicism was the official states religion. After the 1991 constitution, there was a separation between the Catholic Church and the state, although the Catholic Church still holds a privilege position in Colombia.
Currently in Colombia there is some religious persecution against Evangelical Protestant leaders coming from Terrorist organizations, mostly FARC. They persecute Protestant leaders especially in rural areas for their biblical teaching that violence should not be acceptable.
Life expectancy at birth in 2005 was 72.3 years; 2.1% of the population would not reach the age of 5, and 9.2% would not reach the age of 40; the life expectancy increased to 74.79 years by 2012. Health standards in Colombia have improved greatly since the 1980s. A 1993 reform transformed the structure of public health-care funding by shifting the burden of subsidy from providers to users. As a result, employees have been obligated to pay into health plans to which employers also contribute. Although this new system has widened population coverage by the social and health security system from 21% (pre-1993) to 56% in 2004 and 66% in 2005, health disparities persist, with the poor continuing to suffer relatively high mortality rates. In 2002 Colombia had 58,761 physicians, 23,950 nurses, and 33,951 dentists; these numbers equated to 1.35 physicians, 0.55 nurses, and 0.78 dentists per 1,000 population, respectively. In 2005 Colombia was reported to have only 1.1 physicians per 1,000 population, as compared with a Latin American average of 1.5. The health sector reportedly is plagued by rampant corruption, including misallocation of funds and evasion of health-fund contributions.
The educational experience of many Colombian children begins with attendance at a preschool academy until age five (Educación preescolar). Basic education (Educación básica) is compulsory by law. It has two stages: Primary basic education (Educación básica primaria) which goes from first to fifth grade – children from six to ten years old, and Secondary basic education (Educación básica secundaria), which goes from sixth to ninth grade. Basic education is followed by Middle vocational education (Educación media vocacional) that comprises the tenth and eleventh grades. It may have different vocational training modalities or specialties (academic, technical, business, and so on.) according to the curriculum adopted by each school. However, in many rural areas, teachers are poorly qualified, and only the five years' of primary schooling are offered. The school year can extend from February to November or from August to June; in many public schools attendance is split into morning and afternoon sessions to accommodate the large numbers of children.
After the successful completion of all the basic and middle education years, a high-school diploma is awarded. The high-school graduate is known as a bachiller, because secondary basic school and middle education are traditionally considered together as a unit called bachillerato (sixth to eleventh grade). Students in their final year of middle education take the ICFES test (now renamed Saber 11) in order to gain access to higher education (Educación superior). This higher education includes undergraduate professional studies, technical, technological and intermediate professional education, and post-graduate studies.
Bachilleres (high-school graduates) may enter into a professional undergraduate career program offered by a university; these programs last up to five years (or less for technical, technological and intermediate professional education, and post-graduate studies), even as much to six to seven years for some careers, such as medicine. In Colombia, there is not an institution such as college; students go directly into a career program at a university or any other educational institution to obtain a professional, technical or technological title. Once graduated from the university, people are granted a (professional, technical or technological) diploma and licensed (if required) to practice the career they have chosen. For some professional career programs, students are required to take the Saber-Pro test, formerly known as ECAES, in their final year of undergraduate academic education.
Public spending on education as a proportion of gross domestic product in 2006 was 4.7% – one of the highest rates in Latin America – as compared with 2.4% in 1991. This represented 14.2% of total government expenditure. In 2006, the primary and secondary net enrollment rates stood at 88% and 65% respectively, slightly below the regional average. School-life expectancy was 12.4 years. A total of 92.3% of the population aged 15 and older were recorded as literate, including 97.9% of those aged 15–24, both figures slightly higher than the regional average. However, literacy levels are considerably lower in rural areas.
Colombia lies at the crossroads of Latin America and the broader American continent, and as such has been hit by a wide range of cultural influences. Native American, Spanish and other European, African, American, Caribbean, and Middle Eastern influences, as well as other Latin American cultural influences, are all present in Colombia's modern culture. Urban migration, industrialization, globalization, and other political, social and economic changes have also left an impression.
Historically, the country's imposing landscape left its various regions largely isolated from one another, resulting in the development of very strong regional identities, in many cases stronger than the national. Modern transport links and means of communication have mitigated this and done much to foster a sense of nationhood, but social and political instability, and in particular fear of armed groups and bandits on intercity highways, have contributed to the maintenance of very clear regional differences. Accent, dress, music, food, politics and general attitude vary greatly between the Bogotanos and other residents of the central highlands, the paisas of Antioquia and the coffee region, the costeños of the Caribbean coast, the llaneros of the eastern plains, and the inhabitants of the Pacific coast and the vast Amazon region to the south east.
An inheritance from the colonial era, Colombia remains a deeply Roman Catholic country and maintains a large base of Catholic traditions which provide a point of unity for its multicultural society. Colombia has many celebrations and festivals throughout the year, and the majority are rooted in these Catholic religious traditions. However, many are also infused with a diverse range of other influences. Prominent examples of Colombia's festivals include the Feria de Cali, Barranquilla Carnival, the Carnival of Blacks and Whites Pasto, Nariño, Medellín's Festival of the Flowers and Bogotá's Ibero-American Theater Festival
The mixing of various ethnic traditions is reflected in Colombia's music and dance. The most well-known Colombian genres are cumbia and vallenato, the latter now strongly influenced by global pop culture. A powerful and unifying cultural medium in Colombia is television. Notably, the telenovela Betty La Fea has gained international success through localized versions in the United States, Mexico, and elsewhere. Television has also played a role in the development of the local film industry.
The language spoken is as well a matter of pride, having as many accents as cultural regions. Results special the orthodoxy in the use of the Spanish language, since the times of the creation of the Academia de la Lengua, just second in terms of relevance to the Real Academia Española, in Europe.
Famous Colombians include:
- Nobel Prize winning author Gabriel García Márquez
- Writers Fernando Vallejo, Laura Restrepo and Álvaro Mutis
- Plastic artist Fernando Botero
- Musicians Shakira, Juanes, Carlos Vives, Joe Arroyo and Fanny Lu
- Actress Sofía Vergara, Catalina Sandino Moreno and actor John Leguizamo
- Olympic-winners Mariana Pajón, Maria Isabel Urrutia, Helmut Bellingrodt, Diego Fernando Salazar, Rigoberto Urán, Óscar Figueroa, Caterine Ibargüen, Clemente Rojas, Alfonso Pérez, Jorge Julio Rocha, Ximena Restrepo, Mabel Mosquera, María Luisa Calle, Jackeline Renteria, Yuri Alvear, Carlos Mario Oquendo
- Athletes Juan Pablo Montoya in NASCAR, Edgar Rentería and Orlando Cabrera in Major League Baseball, and Camilo Villegas in professional golf.
- Soccer players Falcao (Atlético Madrid) and Mario Yepes (AC MIlan), and retired players Carlos Valderrama, Iván Ramiro Córdoba, Faustino Asprilla and Freddy Rincón
As in many Latin American countries, Colombians have a passion for association football. The Colombian national football team is seen as a symbol of unity and national pride.
The Colombian cuisine developed mainly from the food traditions of European countries. Spanish, Italian and French culinary influences can all be seen in Colombian cooking. The cuisine of neighboring Latin American countries, Mexico, the United States and the Caribbean, as well as the cooking traditions of the country's indigenous inhabitants, have all influenced Colombian food. For example, cuy or macliona, which is an indigenous cuisine, is eaten in the Andes region of south-western Colombia.
Many national symbols, both objects and themes, have arisen from Colombia's diverse cultural traditions and aim to represent what Colombia, and the Colombian people, have in common. Cultural expressions in Colombia are promoted by the government through the Ministry of Culture. However, there has been little effort in trying to protect Colombia's culture and traditions, especially in the artistic area, which affects people who have studied anything related to arts in a social and economic impasse.
The depiction of Colombia in popular culture, especially the portrayal of Colombian people in film and fiction, has been asserted by Colombian organizations and government to be largely negative and has raised concerns that it reinforces, or even engenders, stereotypes, societal prejudice and discrimination due to association with poverty, narcotics trafficking, terrorism and other criminal elements. These stereotypes are considered unfair by many Colombians. The Colombian government funded the "Colombia es Pasión" advertisement campaign as an attempt to improve Colombia's image abroad, with mixed results.
Ajiaco soup is typically served with table cream, capers and avocado all mixed in just before eating.
Colombia's cuisine, influenced heavily by the Spanish and Indigenous populations, is not as widely known as other Latin American cuisines such as Peruvian or Brazilian, but to the adventurous traveler there are plenty of delectable dishes to try, not to mention fruits, rum, and especially Colombian coffee. The most popular dishes are: Ajiaco, Bandeja Paisa, and other. The Colombia's cuisine, has similarities to the Mexican cuisine. In different countries of North America, and Europe, Colombian immigrants have Colombian cuisine restaurant. Although not food, Colombian coffee is recognized as one of the best in the world, and sold in many parts of the world. It is usually taken at breakfast along with traditional Colombian food, arepa con quesito
Of all sports in Colombia, football (soccer) is the most popular. It is widely regarded as an important event in both national and international games. Oftentimes, football has been considered to be 'sacred' in Colombia due to its passionate fans who rival even those of nations like Brazil and Argentina. The sport has proved to be a stronghold in fighting the stereotypes of Colombia's drug cartels and violence. Despite winning very few international events, Colombia has produced outstanding players, thereby creating a positive reputation in the nation itself.
A golden era existed for the national team from the mid 1980s towards the late 1990s when it became one of the most powerful teams in football. The tragic death of Andrés Escobar for an own goal at the 1994 FIFA World Cup caused a severe scar in the nation's history of the sport and effectively ended the golden era as many of the star players quit due to his assassination. The most noticeable players of the national team at the time were Carlos Valderrama and René Higuita.
The Colombian national football team has not qualified for a FIFA World Cup since 1998 although current players such as Radamel Falcao García – who was the first-ever player to score more than 15 goals (17) in one season in the UEFA Cup-Europa League during the 2010/2011 season -, Fredy Guarín, Juan Cuadrado, Cristian Zapata, Abel Aguilar Luis Muriel Santiago Arias and James Rodriguez have restored hope in the Colombian national team. Colombia qualified for the World Cup in 1962, 1990, 1994, and 1998. Colombia are currently ranked 8th.
The Colombia National Team often found among the 10 best teams in the world in the FIFA World Rankings.
In club football, Atlético Nacional became the first Colombian club team to win the Copa Libertadores in 1989. Many of Colombia's star players of the golden era came from this team such as Andrés Escobar and Rene Higuita, among others. Once Caldas were the surprise winners of the 2004 Copa Libertadores and the second Colombian team to do so.
Baseball is popular in the Caribbean. Mainly in the cities, Cartagena, Barranquilla and Santa Marta. Of those cities have come good players like: Orlando Cabrera, Edgar Renteria who was champion of the World Series in 1997 and 2010, and others who have played in Major League Baseball. Overall for this area of the country, baseball is almost as popular as football (soccer).
Colombia has its own Colombian Professional Baseball League.
Main article National symbols of Colombia
Colombia's national symbols are representative elements within the country and outside the country. Both the flag, emblem and anthem are currently regulated by Law 12 of 1984 which dictates the general provisions of these symbols.
The Flag of Colombia, is described as a rectangle triband yellow, blue and red in 2:1:1 ratio, meaning three horizontal stripes, with yellow on top of it with half the width of the flag, blue in the middle occupying a quarter of the width and red below, occupying the last cuarto. Originated tricolor composition created in 1801 by General Francisco de Miranda, who described in his diary military use of primary colors as a flag to represent Latin American nations at that time were in the process of independence. It was definitively adopted on 26 November 1861. The meaning of the colors are: Yellow: represents all the gold found in the Colombian land. Blue: represents the seas on Colombia's shores. Red: represents the blood spilled on the battlegrounds by the heroes who gained Colombia's freedom.
The coat of arms of Colombia is considered the symbols of all symbols in Colombia. The coat of arms integrates the major symbols for which the Colombian identity prevails. It was updated by Protocol based in Decree 1967 of 1991 as stated in the Colombian Constitution of 1991. The coat of arms of Colombia is only used in the center of the flag of the President of Colombia, war flag of Colombia and official documents. It can also be used for educational or display purposes within the guidelines of respect for the symbol.
The National Anthem of Colombia is composed of a choir and eleven stanzas and was written by President Rafael Núñez, originally as an ode to celebrate the independence of Cartagena. The music was composed by Italian Oreste Sindici at the behest of actor José Domingo Torres, under President Rafael Núñez and presented to the public for the first time on 11 November 1887. the song became very popular and was quickly adopted, but spontaneously, as the national anthem of Colombia.
The national flower is the orchid Cattleya trianae.
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