South America
South America Destination Guide


Colombia officially Republic Of COLOMBIA Country, northwestern South America. 440,762 sq, mi (1, 141,568 sq km). Population : 41,008,000. Capital: BOGOTA. More than half of the population is mestizo, followed by Europeans (about one-fifth), mulattoes, blacks, and Indians. Language: Spanish (official). Religion: Roman Catholicism. Currency: peso. The topography is dominated by the ANDES MOUNTAINS. To the southeast lie vast lowlands, drained by the ORINOCO and AMAZON rivers.

Colombia's developing economy is based primarily on services, agriculture, and manufacturing, coffee being the principal cash crop. Coca (for the production of cocaine) and opium poppies (for the production of heroin) are grown and trafficked illicitly on a large scale. Rich in minerals, Colombia is the world's largest producer of emeralds and one of South Americans largest producers of gold. It is a multiparty republic with two legislative houses; its head of state and government is the president. Its earliest known inhabitants were Chibchanspeaking Indians. The Spanish arrived c. 1500 and by 1538 had conquered the area and made it subject to the Viceroyalty of Peru. After 1740 authority was transferred to the newly created Viceroyalty of New Granada.

Parts of Colombia threw off Spanish jurisdiction in 18 10, and full independence came after Spain's defeat by revolutionary leader SIMON BOLIVAR in 1819. Civil war in 1840 slowed development. Conflict between the Liberal and Conservative parties led to the War of a Thousand Days (1899-1903). Years of relative peace followed, but hostility erupted again in 1948; the two parties agreed in 1958 to a plan for alternating governments. A new constitution was adopted in 1991, but democratic power remained threatened by civil unrest. In the early 2 1 st century, leftist rebels and right-wing paramilitary groups funded their activities through kidnapping and narcotics trafficking.

Colombia's 30 million citizens are distributed in several separated population clusters centered in the western one third of the nation. The eastern twothirds, sparsely inhabited and little developed, is a continuation of the Llanos and a small section of the Amazon Basin. In the west the great Andean mountain system is divided into three parallel ranges: the Cordilleras Oriental, Central, and Occidental. In the Cordillera Oriental are several intermontane basins in which the pre Columbian high culture Chibchas lived. Many of the early Spanish colonists settled in the same area with Bogota (3.8 million) eventually becoming the largest city and focal point of the nation; Bucaramanga (420,000) is similarly situated. In the Cordillera Central, other settlers established the town of Medellin (2.5 million) and moved southurn along the mountainside. Along the Caribbean Coast, population grew around the ports of Barran a (920,000), Cartagena (800,000), and Santa Marta 180,000), and expanded inland. Some of this expansion extended up the Cauca Valley and centered on the cities of Manizales (285,000), Pereira (345,000), Armenia (320,000), and Cali (1,100,000).

The various population clusters are poorly interconnected; east west movement is particularly difficult. The Rio Cauca and Rio Magdelena provide a somewhat better line of communication in a north south direction, but even along these routes transport is difficult. Limited interconnection among population clusters has led to strengthening of regional loyalties, lack of economic integration, and political factionalism.

In spite of numerous large cities, Colombia is basically rural. Coffee provides some 50 percent of the nation's exports, and 40 percent of the labor force is engaged in agricultural pursuits. Efforts to diversify the agrarian sector and lessen the poverty of most rural inhabitants have not been very successful. As a consequence, migration rates to the city are high.

Colombia's seven largest cities have about 31 percent of the nation's population. Within the cities is produced a full range of manufactured products from textiles and foods to metalworking and chemicals. Metalworking is facilitated by a steel plant located in the Cordillera Oriental at Belencito. Medellin has had a tradition of textile processing, and in recent years several other kinds of industries have located in the area. Cali, in 1912, had but 27,000 inhabitants; in 1950, 200,000; and today, over 1,000,000. Much of Cali's growth has come from industrialization by both national and foreign corporations. Colombia has a diversity of natural environments in which the growth of a wide variety of crops is feasible. Moreover, coal, iron ore, and petroleum are, if not abundant, at least adequate for further development. The lack of a viable political organization and an adequate infrastructure has hampered economic modernization attempts.

Through its turbulent history, Colombia has been soaked with blood in innumerable civil wars and has endured the continent's most massive and persistent guerrilla insurgency. The country is also the world's major producer of cocaine. With such a background, it's no wonder that violence occurs here more frequently than in neighboring countries, and that Colombia is not as safe. However, if you take the necessary precautions, Colombia is worth the challenge. It is exotic, sensual, wild, complex and fascinating.And it's hard to find such hospitable, spirited and stimulating people as Colombians.

For most travelers, Colombia is unknown. territory a land of myths, cocaine barons, guerrillas, emeralds and the mysterious EI Dorado. It is the land of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and his famous novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude a tale as magical as the country itself. And it is the land that bears the name of Christopher Columbus, who never got as far as Colombia, but where people have rearranged the name to spell 'Locombia,' or 'the mad country,' and not without reason.

Colombia is the largest producer of cocaine, controlling some 80% of the world market. The mafia started small in the early 1970s but, within a short time. developed the trade into a powerful industry, with their own plantations, laboratories, transport services and protection.

The boom years began in the early 1980s. The Medellin Cartel, led by Pablo Escobar, became the principal mafia, and its bosses lived in freedom and luxury. They even founded their own political party and two newspapers, and in 1982 Escobar was elected to Congress.

In 1993 the Colombian government launched a campaign against the drug trade that gradually turned into an all out war. The Medellin Cartel responded violently and managed to liquidate many of its adversaries. The war became even bloodier in August 1989, when Luis Carlos Galan, the leading Liberal contender for the 1990 presidential election, was assassinated. The government responded with the confiscation of nearly 1000 mafia owned properties and announced new laws on extradition a nightmare for the drug barons. The cartel resorted to the use of terrorist tactics, principally car bombs.

The election of Liberal Cesar Gaviria (1990 - 94) brought a brief period of hope. Following lengthy negotiations, which included a constitutional amendment to ban extradition of Colombians, Escobar and the remaining cartel bosses surrendered and the narco terrorism subsided. However, Escobar escaped from his palace like prison following the government's bumbling attempts to move him to a more secure site. An elite 1500 man special unit sought Escobar for 499 days, until they tracked him down in Medellin and killed him in December 1993.

Despite this, the drug trade continued unaffected, While the military concentrated on hunting one man and persecuting one cartel, the other cartels were quick to take advantage of the opportune circumstances, The Cali Cartel, led by the Rodriguez Orejuela brothers, swiftly moved into the shattered Medellin Cartel's markets and became Colombia's largest trafficker. It also diversified into opium poppies and heroin. Although the cartel's top bosses were captured in 1995 and are now behind bars, the drug trade continues to flourish, with other regional cartels and guerrillas filling the gap left behind by these two original mafias.

Villa De Leyva
Santa Marta
San Andres
Falkland Islands
French Guiana (Fr.)
Trinidad and Tobago
Amazon Rainforest
Amazon River
Angel Falls
Easter Island
Nazca Lines
Lake Titicaca
Iguazu Falls
Machu Picchu
Petrohue Falls
South America History
Inca Civilization
Travel Warnings
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