Colombia is a republic in South America that covers the northwest corner of the continent. The country has coastlines both to the Caribbean in the north and the Pacific in the west, and borders Panama in the west, Venezuela in the east, Brazil in the southeast, Peru in the south and Ecuador in the southwest. Colombia belongs to the archipelago of San Andrés y Providencia in the Caribbean off the eastern coast of Nicaragua. The capital is Bogotá.
Colombia is dominated by the Andes which form a highland in the west. The lowland in the east, which belongs partly to the Orinoco plain (L lanos Orientales) and partly to the Amazon rainforest (Selva), occupies 60 per cent of the land area.
Colombia’s history goes far back in time before the country was colonized by Spain in the 16th century, under the name Nueva Granada. The country gained the status of viceroy in the Spanish Empire in 1718 and declared an independent republic in 1819. Throughout its republican history, Colombia has experienced regional power struggles and violent conflicts. In spite of this, the formal democratic board has passed, with some exceptions.
The prolonged internal conflict and a challenging security situation have affected the economic activity in large parts of the country. After 50 years of war, the Communist FARC guerrilla and the Colombian government signed a peace treaty in 2016.
Colombia is a member of the UN and the UN’s special organizations, including the World Bank and the World Trade Organization (WTO). The country is also a member of the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Pacific Alliance, which was created in 2012.
The country has been named after Christofer Columbus. The area was called Nueva Granada (New Granada) during the Spanish colonial period, and after the liberation in 1819 Gran Colombia (‘Greater Colombia’). Colombia itself got its present name first in 1863.
Geography and environment
Colombia is dominated by the Andes which form a highland in the west. The lowlands in the east belong partly to the plain of Orinoco (L lanos) and partly to the Amazon forest (Selvas). The lowland occupies 60 percent of the country’s area, but is very sparsely populated. The western highlands consist of four distinct mountain ranges (cordilleras), running from southwest to northeast, almost parallel to each other. At the far west is the Cordillera del Chocó (Serranía del Baudó), which geologically belongs to Central America. The altitude of most places is less than 1000 meters above sea level, but the mountains are heavily ravaged and deep cut.
The Andes itself consists of three main chains: Cordillera Occidental, ‘the western cordillera’, Cordillera Central, ‘the central cordillera’ and Cordillera Oriental, ‘the eastern cordillera’. The area is exposed to volcanic activity and earthquakes. An earthquake measuring 6.0 on Richter’s scale hit western Colombia in 1999, killing 1,000 people.
Volcano Nevado del Ruiz, photographed from the International Space Station (ISS) in 2010. On November 13, 1985, the volcano erupted, causing more than 20,000 people to die.
Cordillera Central is the highest and has several peaks over 5000 meters above sea level, including Nevado del Huila (5750 meters above sea level), Nevado del Ruiz (5321 meters above sea level), and Nevado del Tolima (5280 meters above sea level).
The Cordillera Oriental forms the watershed between Río Magdalena and its river valley (300-500 meters above sea level) in the west and the Amazon in the east. This eastern chain is lower than the central chain, but wider as it dissolves in a plethora of branches that surround valleys and high plains. Most famous is Bogotás highland, which lies around 2600 meters above sea level.
To the west of the Guajira Peninsula in the north, the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta forms an isolated mountain massif, with Pico Cristóbal Colón (5775 meters above sea level), the highest mountain in the country.
The Magdalena River is Colombia’s longest (1560 kilometers), and the most important navigable waterway. Cauca is the most important tributary of the Magdalena.
Due to its geography and location close to the equator, Colombia has large variations in climate, temperature and ecosystems. There are dry and humid forest areas and the Amazon rainforest, as well as mangroves, high plains and beaches. There is great biological diversity: as many as ten percent of the world’s known species are found in the country’s territory. There are 58 protected natural areas in Colombia, covering eleven percent of the country’s area.
People and society
Colombia has a population of almost 50 million inhabitants. The population can generally be defined as mastis, that is, they have mixed ethnic origin between the original indigenous population and the Spaniards and the African population that came during the colonial period. According to the census in 2005, there were 10.5 percent of the population identified themselves as Afro-Colombians (negro, mulato, afrocolombiano, afrodescendiente), while 3.5 percent identified themselves as indigenous ( Indigena). There are around 400 indigenous tribes in Colombia, about 25 percent of whom live in protected areas, resguardos. The largest single group is the Wayuu people in the north, which in 1997 consisted of around 144,000 people.
The Plaza de Bolivar is located in the old town of Bogotá and is surrounded by the Bogotá Cathedral (on the left in the picture), the Palace of Justice and the Congress
Most of Colombia’s population lives in the mountainous western part of the country, where the population density in some provinces is 100–200 inhabitants per square kilometer. Especially the middle part of the Caucadale, between Medellín and Cali, is densely populated. The eastern part of the country, which comprises 60 percent of the area, has only about four percent of the population. Large areas are in the immediate public.
After World War II, there has been a significant move from the countryside to the cities, which has grown very rapidly. Armed conflicts, violence and insecurity, as well as drug activity, have led to people moving from the most unsafe areas. An estimated six million people have been displaced from their homes because of war actions, and Colombia has long been the country with the most internally displaced people in the world. In 2015, 76 percent of Colombia’s population lived in cities and towns. The largest cities are the capital Bogotá, Medellín, Cali, and Barranquilla.
In 2015, 27.8 per cent of the population lived below the national poverty line.
The biggest religion is Christianity. Around 92 percent belong to the Catholic Church. There are smaller groups of Protestants, Anglicans, Jews and followers of Bahá’í.
The official language of Colombia is Spanish. A large number of indigenous languages and dialects are spoken by larger or smaller groups. These include arawak, aymara, chibcha, karib, quechua, tupi-guaraní and yurumangui.
State and politics
After the Constitution of 1991, Colombia is a unified state and a democratic republic. The executive power is added to the president, who is elected in the general election for a term of four years. The president can be re-elected once. Legislative power has been added to Congress, which consists of a Senate with 108 members and a House of Representatives with a total of 172 members. Both chambers are elected in direct elections for periods of four years. The Senate consists of 100 representatives elected at the national level, two seats for indigenous people, five seats for the new FARC party and since 2018; one seat for the presidential candidate from the party that lost the presidential election. The Chamber of Representatives consists of at least two representatives from each of the country’s ministries and metropolitan area, two seats reserved for the country’s African Americans, one seat for Indigenous people, one seat for Colombians abroad, five seats for the new FARC party and one seat for the Vice Presidential candidate from the party who lost. election.
Since the end of the 19th century, the country’s politics have been characterized by the tension between the liberals and the conservatives, a tension that has partly assumed a violent character and led to authoritarian civilian rule. From 1964, leftist guerrilla groups have also contributed to destabilizing the state and to making violence an essential element of the political struggle. Paramilitary groups arose in parallel with the guerrilla groups. The paramilitaries were private security forces for large landowners, but also challenged the political regime through the use of violence and extensive human rights violations. Paramilitary groups organized under AUCalso exerted great influence on political life both regionally and locally. Shortly after the demobilization of the AUC in 2005-2006, direct connections between former paramilitary leaders and congressmen were revealed. A total of 42 congressmen were convicted of illegal relations with paramilitary groups.
Other groups have also had great power in the country: The Colombian military exercises considerable power and can intervene directly and indirectly in politics. The cocaine cartels that emerged in the 1980s and 1990s represented major challenges for the state regime. Drug crime has taken new forms later, but it still poses a significant security threat to the country. Indigenous groups have extended rights, but not of a territorial nature, after the Constitution of 1991.
Juan Manuel Santos was President of Colombia from 2010 to 2018. In 2016, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work to end Colombia’s protracted civil war.
Administratively, Colombia is divided into 32 departments, as well as a district around the capital. The ministries are led by elected governors and assemblies. After the 1991 Constitution, more authority was delegated to the regional and local levels.
The Supreme Court consists of three courts; one for civil cases, one for criminal cases and one for labor lawsuits. The judges of the Supreme Court are appointed for eight years after the nomination of a higher justice council.
To ensure compliance with the constitution of the country, a constitutional or constitutional court has also been established. Colombia’s Constitutional Court was formed in 1992 and consists of nine judges elected by the Senate for eight years. Since its formation, the Court has reviewed many important matters of the country’s politics and made statements. The Court enjoys a high reputation among the Colombian people. Several court decisions have provided guidance not only to the country’s government, but also internationally, especially regarding social and economic rights. The Court has also played an important role in the peace process with the FARC, in the form of legal clarifications.
Colombia’s history dates back to the time before the Spanish colonization of America in the 16th century. The areas of present-day Colombia were inhabited by indigenous people, probably between three and four million inhabitants. Many were hunters and nomads, but upon the arrival of the Spaniards, the numerous chibcha people of Cordillera Oriental had a well-organized agricultural community. The Chibcha people had a developed market economy where gold and other metals were common means of payment.
The prospects for gold and the legend of El Dorado made the area appealing to the Spaniards, arriving on the Caribbean coast in 1499. The port city of Santa Marta was founded in 1525 and became the first permanent Spanish settlement in South America. The Spaniards’ brutal conquest of the interior quickly led to a sharp reduction in the indigenous population. Santa Fé de Bogotá (now Bogotá) was founded in 1538 in the same place as the chibcha people had their most important urban community. Santa Fé became the capital of Nueva Granada, which included the present Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador and Panama. In 1718, Nueva Granada gained the status of viceroy.
As in the rest of South America, the Napoleonic wars in Europe had a great influence on the independence movement, and Nueva Granada was declared independent and renamed Gran Colombia in 1819. Simón Bolívar’s dream of a united South America exploded when today’s Venezuela and Ecuador became detached Gran Colombia in 1829-1830. Colombia was given its present name only in 1863. As in other Latin American republics, the power elite consisted of the conservative and liberal parties, each with great regional influence. Colombia’s history in the 19th century was therefore marked by violent conflicts between conservatives and liberals who took alternating power in the country during alternating periods.
Trade unions and leftist parties emerged in Colombia in the first half of the 20th century. In 1948, the leader of the Liberal Party, Jorge Eliécer Gaitán (1903–1948), was assassinated, and the popular uprising that followed (” El Bogotazo “) began the ” La Violencia “, an unexplained civil war between the Conservatives and the Liberals. The conflict ended in 1953 when the military seized power for the first and only time in Colombia’s history. In 1956, the Conservatives and Liberals entered into an agreement to switch state power between every four years for 16 years. This political coalition, known as the “National Front”, excluded other political parties and lasted from 1958 to 1974.
The apparent political stability achieved by the National Front covered great unrest in the countryside and other political actors. During the same period, the first guerrillas and paramilitary groups in Colombia were formed. 1964, the year the FARC EP was formed, is considered the start of the Colombian civil war. From the late 1970s, illegal activities such as drug production and smuggling became increasingly important in Colombian politics and the economy. Cocaine cartel in Medellin declared “total war” against the government in 1989 and three candidates were assassinated in the presidential election campaign in 1990. The civilian population was between the death squads, paramilitary groups and guerrillas, which spread fear in the countryside.
Several attempts were made to negotiate with the guerrillas in the 1990s, a time also marked by economic liberalization and a new constitution. The dramatic consequences of the internal conflict with paramilitary, guerrilla and government forces became increasingly prevalent, with increasing violence and massive internal displacement from the countryside. In 2005 demobilization of the paramilitaries under President Álvaro Uribe was initiated, with transitional justice as the legal framework. Victims ‘rights were put on the agenda and followed up by President Juan Manuel Santos in 2012 when the “Victims’ Law” was passed. In the same year, peace negotiations between the government and the FARC started, and after four years of negotiations organized by Norway and Cuba, a peace agreement was signed in 2016. The FARC has since demobilized and become a political party with ten representatives in Congress, but major challenges remain with the implementation of the peace agreement. The peace process has suffered a number of setbacks, including through the election of Iván Duque Márquez, who is critical of the agreement, as new president in 2018.
Economy and business
In 2017, Colombia’s gross national income (GNI) was $ 306 billion, about the same value as in Malaysia and slightly higher than Ireland. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita in the same year was $ 5890; twice as high as in 2005.
The petroleum sector is important for the economy: In 2019, crude oil accounted for 31 percent of Colombia’s total exports, and other petroleum products accounted for a further 14 percent. Other important export goods are coffee (8.2 per cent), flowers (2.9 per cent) and gold (3.4 per cent). Palm oil became a significant industry in Colombia throughout the 2010s, accounting for eleven percent of total agricultural revenue in 2017. Colombia has become the world’s fourth producer of palm oil, behind Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.
Colombia’s main trading partners are the United States, Israel, China and Panama. Comunidad Andina (CAN) and Mercado Común Centroamericano (MCCA) are also important trading partners. Colombia has several bilateral trade agreements, including with the United States, Mexico and Venezuela, and multilateral agreements that include agreements with the EU, CAN, the Pacific Alliance and Mercosur.
Despite the civil war, the Colombian economy has seen some growth over the past two decades. Growth, however, has not been stable: In 2007 there was 6.9 per cent of GDP growth, before it went down to 1.65 per cent in 2009 and again to 6.66 per cent in 2011. In 2015, economic growth was 2, 48 percent. The decline is due to lower demand for raw materials and lower international oil prices.
Like most other Latin American countries, Colombia has liberalized its economic policies since the late 1980s. They entered into free trade agreements with several countries, facilitated foreign capital and have pursued an increasingly market-oriented internal policy. Expanding oil recovery and some diversification of business have to some extent limited the social costs of this economic policy.
Colombia is also the world’s largest producer of coca plants, used to extract cocaine, and is one of the major drug suppliers to the North American market. At the end of 2017, the cultivation of coca plants took up 171,494 hectares of the country’s agricultural land; more than tripled compared to 2013. Colombia’s Department of Justice and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (or UNODC according to Abbreviationfinder.org) estimated Colombia’s cocoa growers to be $ 559 million for 2016. Drug production has a significant impact on the social, political and economic development of the country and consequences for the environment.
Knowledge and culture
Colombia has a rich cultural heritage based on its history and features from different ethnic groups. Cultural expressions from Colombia, including in the form of music, have had a great impact both regionally and internationally. The country has many music festivals, including the World Salsa Festival in Cali, held every year.
There are many musical genres in Colombia, the best known being cumbia, salsa and vallenato, all of which are dance rhythms from the Caribbean. It is especially internationally renowned salsa, with many popular bands and performers, including Fruko y sus Tesos, Grupo Niche, Latin Brothers, Orquesta Guayacán and more recently Orquesta La-33.
Cumbia is a popular music genre that started on the north coast of Colombia and Panama, and is probably the most widely used musical form in South America. Different countries have given cumbia their own local expressions. Originally from the La Guajira region of northern Colombia, Vallenato is popular folk music with distinctive accordion tones. It has become internationally known through, among others, artist Juan Carlos Vives. Other internationally known musicians from Colombia are Shakira, Juanes, ChocQuibTown and Puerto Candelaria.
Colombia’s educational system consists of a combination of public and private schools, colleges and universities, as in several other Latin American countries. The middle class and more affluent families send their children to private schools, while the working class and people living in rural areas only have access to public institutions. Unlike other Latin American countries, the university sector is relatively strong, with good access to resources compared to private universities.
Colombian mass media is largely privately owned. The country’s biggest newspapers are El Tiempo and El Espectador, both with editorial roots in the conservative political direction. Television and especially radio are very important media outside the big cities. Good online newspapers have also been developed, which nuances the media image with critical investigative journalism, including La Silla Vacía, Las2orillas and Verdad Abierta.
The literature of Colombia is especially associated with magical realism, a literary genre represented by, among others, Gabriel García Márquez, known as Gabo in Colombia. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1982 for his extensive writing.
Colombian food is diverse and varies from region to region. Among the most typical dishes are bandeja paisa, ajiaco santafereño, arepa paisa, arroz con coco and tamales tolimenses. Fresh fruit is an important part of the food culture.