Colombia has both torrid jungles and majestic, snowcapped mountains. By far the most prominent physical features are the three great Andean chains that fan north from Ecuador. The Andean interior is the heart of the country, where in pre-Columbian days the highly advanced Chibcha lived. It has the largest concentration of population and is the area of large-scale cultivation of coffee, Colombia's major crop.
Of the three principal Andean ranges, the Western Cordillera is of the least economic importance. One of Colombia's major cities, Cali, lies just east of the range, in the upper Cauca valley. The Central Cordillera has a towering chain of volcanoes (e.g., Tolima) and is the divide between the valleys of the Magdalena and the Cauca rivers. It was until the 19th cent. an undeveloped region, but with improved transportation, the introduction of coffee culture, and the exploitation of high-grade coal reserves, its cities of Medellín and Manizales have become the economic and industrial core of the republic. A third major city in the Central Cordillera is Armenia. The Eastern Cordillera is the longest chain. Its western slopes yield coffee, and in its intermontane basins grains and cattle are raised. The area is rich in iron, coal, and emeralds. Among the leading cities of the highland basins are Tunja, Bucaramanga, and Cúcuta, in addition to Bogotá. In the eastern foothills of the Andes some hundred miles east of the capital lies a vast supply of light crude oil. Discovered in 1992, the oil fields constitute the largest find in the Americas since Alaska's Prudhoe Bay field (1969) and have revitalized Colombia's petroleum industry.
To the east of the Andes lies more than half of Colombia's territory, a vast largely undeveloped lowland. The plains are crossed by navigable rivers, tributaries of the Orinoco and Amazon systems. The northern section consists of savannas (the llanos), which are devoted to a large extent to cattle and sheep grazing. Villavicencio, at the region's western end, is its major urban center. The dense jungles of the extreme southeast are of negligible economic importance. Leticia is the country's southernmost town, and its only port on the Amazon River. A fourth mountain chain, the Cordillera del Chocó, runs parallel to the Pacific N of Buenaventura. The range's slopes yield dyewoods and hardwoods, rubber, tagua nuts (vegetable ivory) and other forest products, and gold and platinum.
On the Pacific are the ports of Buenaventura and Tumaco, terminus of a pipeline from the oil-rich area of Putumayo across the mountains. Colombia's chief ocean ports, however, lie on the Caribbean coast to the north: Santa Marta, Cartagena, and Barranquilla. At Mamonal, adjacent to Cartagena, is the terminus of the pipeline from the Barrancabermeja oil fields. In the north, separating the La Guajira peninsula from the rest of the country, is the magnificent Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, which contains Colombia's highest peak, Pico Cristóbal (18,947 ft/5,775 m). The difficult terrain in Colombia limits the availability of road and rail transportation and makes air and water travel especially important.
About 60% of Colombia's population are mestizos, and some one fifth are of European descent. Indigenous peoples, who account for only about 1% of today's population, live on the edge of some of the major cities and in remote areas. About 15% of the people are of mixed African and European descent. The small (less than 5%) black population is concentrated along the coasts and in the Magdalena and Cauca valleys. Spanish is the official language. The population is overwhelmingly Roman Catholic. There are universities in all the major cities.
Agriculture has traditionally been the chief economic activity in Colombia. An extremely wide variety of crops is grown, depending on altitude, but coffee is by far the major crop and its price on the world market has affected Colombia's economic health. Among the commercial crops, coffee is grown between elevations of 3,000 and 6,000 ft (914 and 1,829 m); bananas, cotton, sugarcane, oil palm, and tobacco are grown at lower elevations. Between 6,000 and 10,000 ft (1,829 and 3,048 m) potatoes, beans, grains, and temperate-zone fruit and vegetables are grown.
Colombia is rich in minerals, including petroleum, natural gas, coal, iron ore, nickel, gold, copper, emeralds, and platinum. The saltworks at Zipaquirá, near Bogotá, are world famous. Hydroelectric potential was developed during the 1970s and 80s. The manufacturing sector of the economy has expanded greatly in recent decades, although it is heavily dependent on imported materials. Beverages and processed foods, textiles, clothing and footwear, and chemicals are the chief products. Tourism is also a sizable source of income.
Oil replaced coffee as the nation's leading legal export in 1991. Other important official exports include petroleum-related products, coal, nickel, emeralds, apparel, bananas, and cut flowers. Cocaine is the major illicit export, accounting for about 25% of foreign exchange earnings. Once most of the raw materials were grown in Peru and Bolivia, but cultivation has increased in Colombia as a result of those nations coca-eradication programs. The drug trade (Colombia also produces heroin and grows cannabis) has brought riches to some, but has seriously disrupted the fabric of Colombian society with its violence. Industrial and transportation equipment, consumer goods, chemicals, paper products, fuels, and electricity lead Colombia's imports. The United States and Venezuela are the chief trade partners.
During the early 1990s the economy was growing quickly in comparison with that of other Latin American countries, and inflation and unemployment were under control. However, government spending and foreign debt soared in the late 1990s, the country suffered its worst recession in a century, and labor unrest and internal problems related to the drug trade continued to threaten the country's economic stability. The economy improved somewhat in the early 2000s. Colombia is a member of the Andean Community, an economic organization of South American countries.
Colombia is governed under the constitution of 1991 as amended. The president, who is elected for a four-year term, may serve two terms. The legislature, subservient to the president, consists of a 102-seat Senate and a 166-seat House of Representatives. The members are popularly elected for four-year terms. Administratively, Colombia is divided into 32 departments and the capital district.
Prior to the Spanish conquest, Colombia was inhabited by Chibcha, sub-Andean, and Caribbean peoples, all of whom lived in organized, agriculturally based communities. After the Spanish conquest, which began in 1525, the area of present-day Colombia formed the nucleus of New Granada (for colonial history, see New Granada). The struggle for independence was, as in all Spanish-American possessions, precipitated by the Napoleonic invasion of Spain. The revolution was, however, foreshadowed by the rising of the comuneros.
Prominent among the first revolutionary leaders was Antonio Nariño, who took part in the uprising at Bogotá on July 20, 1810. The revolution was to last nine years before the victory of Simón Bolívar at Boyacá (1819) secured the independence of Greater Colombia (Span., Gran Colombia). The new state Bolívar created included what is now Venezuela, Panama, and (after 1822) Ecuador, as well as Colombia. Cúcuta was chosen as capital. While Bolívar, who had been named president, headed campaigns in Ecuador and Peru, the vice president, Francisco de Paula Santander, administered the new nation. Political factions soon crystallized. Santander advocated a union of federal sovereign states, while Bolívar championed a centralized republic.
Although Bolívar's authority prevailed by and large in the constitutional assembly (1828), Greater Colombia soon fell apart. In 1830, Venezuela and Ecuador became separate nations. The remaining territory emerged as the republic of New Granada. Through the 19th cent. and into the 20th cent. political unrest and civil strife reappeared constantly. Strong parties developed along conservative and liberal lines; the conservatives favored centralism and participation by the church in government and education, and the liberals supported federalism, anticlericalism, and some measure of social legislation and fiscal reforms. Civil war frequently erupted between the factions. During the 19th and early 20th cent. three statesmen stand out—Tomás Cipriano de Mosquera, Rafael Núñez, and Rafael Reyes. While Mosquera was president, a treaty was concluded (1846) granting the United States transit rights across the Isthmus of Panama.The New Nation
A new constitution in 1858 created a confederation of nine states called Granadina. Three years later (1861) under Mosquera, the country's name was changed to the United States of New Granada and in 1863 to the United States of Colombia. The antifederalist revolution of 1885 led one year later, during the presidency of Núñez, to the formation of the republic of Colombia and enactment of a conservative constitution. In 1899, five years after Núñez's death, civil war of unprecedented violence broke out and raged for three years. As many as 100,000 people were killed before the Conservatives emerged victorious. Another humiliation occurred when, after the United States had acquired the right to complete the Panama Canal (although the agreement was later rejected by the Colombian congress), the republic of Panama declared and, aided by the United States, achieved its independence from Colombia (1903).
During the semidictatorial administration (1904-9) of Reyes, internal order was restored and the country's trade and productivity were vigorously expanded. Reyes, nevertheless, had to resign because of discontent over his handling of the Panama issue. Soon afterward Colombia recognized (1914) Panama's independence in exchange for rights in the Canal Zone and the payment of an indemnity from the United States.
For the next four decades political life remained fairly peaceful, although there was economic and social unrest in the 1920s and 1930s. Colombia settled (1917) its boundary disputes with Ecuador, and in 1934 a border clash with Peru over the town of Leticia was settled by the League of Nations in Colombia's favor. Under the leadership of the liberals Olaya Herrera (1930-34), Alfonso López (1934-38), and Eduardo Santos (1938-42), wide-ranging reforms were enacted. Colombia participated in World War II on the Allied side. During the war years, internal divisions worsened. The Liberals split and in the 1946 elections presented two candidates, enabling the Conservatives to win.Mid-Century to the Present
In 1948, while an Inter-American Conference was being held in Bogotá, the leftist Liberal leader Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, under whom the party had reunited, was assassinated, precipitating violent riots and acts of vandalism. The death of Gaitán exacerbated the enmity between social groups and plunged the country into a decade of civil strife, martial law, and violent rule that cost hundreds of thousands of lives. Political violence turned into sheer criminality (la violencia), particularly in rural areas. An archconservative dictator, Laureano Gómez, took power in 1950, when the Liberals put forward no candidate. In 1953, Gómez was ousted by a coup led by Gustavo Rojas Pinilla, the head of the armed forces. Repressive measures continued, fiscal reforms failed, the country was plunged into debt, and Rojas Pinilla became implicated in scandalously corrupt schemes.
A military junta, backed by Liberals and Conservatives alike, ousted Rojas Pinilla in 1957. The following year Alberto Lleras Camargo became president, elected under the National Front coalition agreement. The National Front presidential candidate of 1970, Misael Pastrana Borrero, won very narrowly over Rojas Pinilla, who returned to politics as the champion of the underprivileged. Colombia's economy began to recover from the setbacks of the early 1970s as economic diversification and incentives to lure foreign capital into the country were initiated. However, a high inflation rate continued to impede economic growth. In 1974 the Liberal party candidate Alfonso López Michelsen won the first presidential election following the end of the National Front.
Throughout the 1970s and 80s, Colombia's illegal drug trade grew steadily, as the drug cartels amassed huge amounts of money, weapons, and influence. The 1970s also saw the growth of such leftist rebel groups as the May 19th Movement (M-19), the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), and the National Liberation Army (ELN). The violence continued, and many journalists and government officials were killed. The 1980s saw the rise of right-wing paramilitary groups, which were organized to oppose leftist rebels but also attacked on civilians. The guerrillas of the left and right both eventually became involved in the drug trade, which provided a ready source of funding.
In 1986, Virgilio Barco Vargas, of the Liberal party, was elected president; he was succeeded in 1990 by César Gaviria Trujillo, also a Liberal. In 1990 a Constitutional Assembly, which included members of the M-19 group, was elected to draft a new constitution; the document, which came into force on July 5, 1991, included protection for human rights and established citizens' rights to social security and health care. Liberal Ernesto Samper Pizano was elected president in 1994 and, though he appeared to make efforts to combat drug trafficking, he was accused of having accepted money from the Cali cocaine "cartel" for his election campaign. He was cleared of all charges (1996) by the Congress, but his administration was marked by charges of corruption and mismanagement.
The notorious Medellín drug cartel was broken in 1993, and the Cali cartel was later undermined by arrests of key leaders. Drug traffickers continued to have significant wealth and power, however, and FARC and the ELN remain actived, perpetuating a condition of instability. From the 1980s into the early 21st cent., some 3 million Colombians were displaced by political and drug-related violence. Conservative Andrés Pastrana Arango, a former mayor of Bogotá and son of Misael Pastrana, was elected president in 1998. He pledged to work with both leftist rebels and right-wing paramilitary leaders in an attempt to end more than 30 years of conflict in the country.
In Nov., 1998, Pastrana ceded an area the size of Switzerland in S central Colombia to FARC's control as a goodwill gesture, but the rebels negotiated with the government only fitfully, continued to mount attacks, expanded coca production, and essentially established a parallel government in the region under their control. The government's energies also were diverted by a severe recession in 1999 and a major earthquake that hit W Colombia early in 1999, leaving over a thousand people dead. Ongoing negotiations with the rebels in 2000 and 2001 were marred by rebel attacks and kidnappings and fighting between rebels and paramilitaries for control of coca-growing areas in Colombia. As a result, popular disenchantment with Pastrana increased, even as he moved forward with his "Plan Colombia," a $7 billion social aid and antidrug program that included $1.3 billion in largely military aid from the United States.
In Feb., 2002, after FARC hijacked a airplane and kidnapped Senator Ingrid Betancourt, a presidential candidate, Pastrana ordered the military to attack rebel positions and reassert control over the rebel zone. FARC withdrew into the jungle and began attacks against the power grid, telecommunications facilities, and other aspects of Colombia's infrastructure, in an attempt to disrupt the lives of the largely urban population while avoiding a direct conflict with the military. In May, a hard-line rightist candidate, Álvaro Uribe Vélez, who promised to crack down on the leftist rebels, won the presidential election. Uribe, a former governor and senator who ran as an independent, declared a limited state of emergency, broadening the government's police powers, as part of his campaign against the rebels.
By the end of 2003, the government's increased use of its forces had decreased violence somewhat, but the rebels remained strong, if withdrawn into the countryside. Also, the economy improved, cocaine production—a source of rebel income—was reduced with American help, and some paramilitary forces agreed to begin disarming. Despite his resulting popularity, however, in November Uribe lost a referendum that would have increased his control over the government's budget and made other structural governmental changes; the national debt had risen to 50% of the GDP. Negotiations with the paramilitary forces continued into 2004, by which time drug traffickers had become predominant among the paramilitary leaders. Safe zones were established for paramilitaries while negotiations were ongoing, and late in the the demobilization of some paramilitaries began.
The Dec., 2004, kidnapping by bounty hunters in Venezuela of a FARC leader, who was then turned over to Colombian authorities, led to a brief crisis in Colombia's relations with Venezuela in early 2005. Colombia first denied any involvement in the incident, claiming the rebel was captured in a Colombian border town, but subsequently admitted a bounty had been paid. The dispute between the two nations was settled by Feb., 2005, when the nations' presidents met in Caracas, Venezuela.
In June the congress passed legislation designed to facilitate the disarming of paramilitary groups by shielding them from extradition and minimizing the penalties they might faced. The law was criticized for not requiring a complete cease-fire or disarmament by participating groups and for not assuring that criminal activities such as drug-trafficking would end, and it indeed subsequently appeared that some former paramilitaries continued to operate as organized crime groups and corrupt government officials. However, by mid-2006 some 31,000 paramilitary fighters were reported to have demobilized, and in Aug., 2006, Uribe ordered the arrest of a number of senior paramilitary leaders who had refused to surrender as required.
Meanwhile, the situation with respect to the leftist rebels, who continued to mount successful, if more limited, attacks, remained largely unchanged. Uribe also secured changes to the constitution permitting the popular president to run for a second consecutive term. The government began a new round of talks with the ELN in Dec., 2005, but the FARC, who remained responsible for the most significant attacks, rejected any negotiations with Uribe's government. Parties aligned with President Uribe secured a majority of seats in both houses of the congress in the Mar., 2006, elections, and Uribe himself won reelection in May. Talks with the ELN continued through 2006, but did not produce substantive results.
A supreme court investigation exposed paramilitary links to members of Colombia's congress and other politicians, with widespread links revealed in N Colombia; several members of the congress were arrested in late 2006 and 2007. The foreign minister resigned because her brother, a senator, was one of those arrested in Feb., 2007. In Mar., 2007, a leaked CIA report linked the chief of the army to paramilitary death squads that had operated in 2002; the general denied the charge. Testimony from a former paramilitary warlord in May accused the current vice president and defense minister, former government officials, and military leaders of ties to and support for the paramilitaries, who were used to fight drug cartels and leftist rebels. In May, 12 generals were forced to resign after revelations of illegal wiretaps on political leaders and government officials. Revelations about government and military ties to the paramilitaries, the rebels, and the drug dealers continued during the summer; in July, several senators, including Uribe's cousin, became the subject of an investigation into paramilitary links. Additional revelations and charges concerning ties between the paramilitaries and government and military officials were made in 2008. In August, Venezuela's leftist president, Hugo Chávez, offered to act a mediator with the rebels. Although Chávez's efforts led to the release of some hostages in 2008, they also caused strained relations between the two nations in 2007.
In Mar., 2008, a Colombian raid on rebels encamped in Ecuador led to several days of tensions between Colombia and neighboring Ecuador and Venezuela, who mobilized forces to their borders. Colombia said computer files seized in the raid had evidence of ties between the rebels and its neighbors' governments. Colombia subsequently apologized for the raid, which the Organization of American states called a violation of Ecuadorian sovereignty and the OAS charter. Although tensions subsequently eased with Venezuela, relations with Ecuador remained strained. In July, 2008, Colombian forces, posing as a humanitarian group and journalists, rescued a number of hostages from FARC control, include Senator Betancourt. Revelations in 2008 that Colombian soldiers were executing civilians to inflate rebel body counts, in part to advance the careers of officers, led to the dismissal of three generals and other senior officers and, in Nov., 2008, the resignation of the army commander.
Tensions again increased with Venezuela, Ecuador, and Bolivia beginning in mid-2009 over an agreement (signed Nov., 2009) between Colombia and the United States allowing U.S. forces to use Colombian bases to combat drug trafficking. Venezuela especially stridently objected, characterizing the agreement as a belligerent move by the United States and threatening to break relations with Colombia. Colombia-Venezuela relations were also strained by border incidents and Colombian accusations of Venezuelan support for Colombian rebels, including charges that Venezuela had supplied the rebels with weapons (based on the capture from the rebels of weapons purchased by Venezuela from Sweden). In Sept., 2009, the Colombian congress approved a referendum on allowing Uribe to seek a third term.
See O. Fals-Borda, Subversion and Social Change in Colombia (rev. ed., tr. 1969); A. E. Havens and W. L. Flinn, Internal Colonialism and Structural Change in Colombia (1970); T. E. Weil et al., Area Handbook for Colombia (1970); J. M. Henao and G. Arruba, History of Colombia (tr. 2 vol., 1938; repr. 1976); J. B. Sokol et al., Colombia: Economic Development and Policy under Changing Conditions (1984); R. H. Dix, The Politics of Colombia (1986); J. Hartlyn, The Politics of Coalition Rule in Colombia (1988); B. Bagley et al., The State and Society in Colombia (1988).
Colombia officially the Republic of Colombia is a country in northwestern South America. Colombia is bordered to the east by Venezuela and Brazil; to the south by Ecuador and Peru; to the north by the Atlantic Ocean, through the Caribbean Sea; to the north-west by Panama; and to the west by the Pacific Ocean. Colombia also shares maritime borders with Jamaica, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Colombia is the 26th largest nation in the world and the fourth largest in South America (after Brazil, Argentina, and Peru), with an area more than twice that of France. It also has the 29th largest population in the world and the second largest in South America, after Brazil. Colombia has the third largest Spanish-speaking population in the world after Mexico and Spain.
The territory of what is now Colombia was originally inhabited by indigenous tribes including the Muisca, Quimbaya, and Tairona. The Spanish arrived in 1499, and initiated a period of conquest and colonisation which ultimately led to the creation of the Viceroyalty of New Granada (comprising modern-day Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador 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 has a long tradition of constitutional government, and the Conservative and Liberal parties, founded in 1843 and 1848 respectively, are two of the oldest surviving political parties in the Americas. However, tensions between the two 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. Fuelled by the cocaine trade, this escalated dramatically in the 1990s. However, the insurgents lack the military or popular support necessary to overthrow the government, and in recent years the violence has been decreasing. Many paramilitary groups have demobilised as part of a controversial peace process with the government, and the guerrillas have lost control in many areas where they once dominated.
Colombia is a standing middle power with the fourth largest economy in South America. It is very ethnically diverse, and the interaction between descendants of the original native inhabitants, Spanish colonists, African slaves and twentieth-century immigrants from Europe and the Middle East has produced a rich cultural heritage. This has also been influenced by Colombia's incredibly 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 considered to be among 17 of the most megadiverse countries in the world.
The word "Colombia" comes from the name of Christopher Columbus (Spanish:Cristóbal Colón, Italian:Cristoforo Colombo). It was conceived by the revolutionary Francisco de Miranda as a reference to all the New World, especially to those territories and colonies under Spanish and Portuguese rule. The name was then 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 1830, when Venezuela and Ecuador separated, the Cundinamarca region that remained became a new country — the Republic of New Granada. In 1858 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.
Colombia is the 26th largest nation in the world and the fourth largest country in South America. Located in the northwestern region of South America, it 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 the Pacific Ocean. Colombia is part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, a region of the world subject to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Colombian surface features are varied; in the extreme west are the narrow and discontinuous Pacific coastal lowlands, which are backed by the Serranía de Baudó, one of the lowest and narrowest of Colombia's mountain ranges. The broad region of the Río Atrato/Río San Juan Lowland is another major land region.
The western mountain range, the Cordillera Occidental, has peaks reaching up to 13,000 ft (4,000 m). The Cauca River Valley, an important agricultural region home to several large cities, separates the Cordillera Occidental from the central mountain range, the Cordillera Central. Several snow-clad volcanoes in the Cordillera Central have summits that rise above 18,000 ft (5,500 m). The valley of the Magdalena River, a major means of transportation, separates the Cordillera Central from the main eastern range, the Cordillera Oriental. This range differs from Colombia's other mountain ranges in that it contains several large basins. In eastern Colombia lies the sparsely populated lowlands called Llanos Orientales, part of the Orinoco River Basin, and the jungle covered Amazon region part of the Amazon River Basin (both basins called eastern plains) cover almost 60 percent of the country's total land area. The northern plains are mostly part of the Caribbean region which includes the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain range, the Guajira Peninsula, and the Serranía de Macuira.
The climate of Colombia is determined by its proximity to the Equator, with tropical and isothermal climate being most prominent. Climate is also influenced by the trade winds and precipitation which is influenced by the Intertropical Convergence Zone. Colombia is also affected by El Niño and La Niña.
Temperatures generally decrease about 3.5 °F (2 °C) for every 1,000-foot (300-m) increase in altitude above sea level, presenting perpetual snowy peaks to lower hot lands. Rainfall varies by location and is present in two seasons (two dry and two rainy) in Colombia presenting one of the highest rainfalls in the world in the Pacific region. Rainfall in parts of the Guajira Peninsula seldom exceeds 30 in (75 cm) per year. Colombia's rainy southeast, however, is often drenched by more than 200 in (500 cm) of rain per year. Rainfall in most of the rest of the country runs between these two extremes.
Altitude affects not only temperature, but also vegetation. In fact, altitude is one of the most important influences on vegetation patterns in Colombia. The mountainous parts of the country can be divided into several vegetation zones according to altitude, although the altitude limits of each zone may vary somewhat depending on the latitude. The "tierra caliente" (hot land), below 3,300 ft (1,000 m), is the zone of tropical crops. The tierra templada (temperate land), extending from an altitude of 3,300 to 6,600 ft (1,000 to 2,000 m). Wheat and potatoes dominate in the "tierra fría" (cold land), at altitudes from 6,600 to 10,500 ft (2,000 to 3,200 m). In the "zona forestada" (forested zone), which is located between 10,500 and 12,800 ft (3,200 and 3,900 m). Treeless pastures table lands dominate the páramos, or alpine grasslands, at altitudes of 12,800 to 15,100 ft (3,900 to 4,600 m). Above 15,100 ft (4,600 m), where temperatures are below freezing, is the "tierra helada", a zone of permanent snow and ice.
Colombian Flora and Fauna also interact with climate zone patterns. Scrub woodland of scattered trees and bushes dominates the semiarid northeastern steppe and tropical desert. To the south, savannah (tropical grassland) vegetation covers the eastern plains; Colombian portion of the llanos. The rainy areas in the southeast are blanketed by tropical rain forest. In the mountains, the spotty patterns of precipitation in alpine areas complicate vegetation patterns. The rainy side of a mountain may be lush and green, while the other side, in the rain shadow, may be parched. As a result Colombia is considered to be among 17 of the most megadiverse countries in the world.
The environmental challenges Colombia is facing are caused by both natural hazards and human induced effects on the environment. Natural hazards are determined by the global positioning of Colombia by the Pacific ring of fire causing geological instability. Colombia has 15 major volcanoes which have caused tragedies like Armero and geological faults that have caused numerous devastating earthquakes like the 1999 Armenia earthquake. Heavy floods in the mountaneous regions as well as in the low lying watersheds and coastal zones regularly cause deaths and considerable material damage every year during the rainy season. Rainfall intensities vary with the ENSO (El Niño Southern Oszillation) which occurs at unpredictable cycles, causing severe inundations.On the other side, water supply for the urban centers Bogota, Cali, Medellin and many smaller cities comes increasingly under stress as watersheds are affected and ground water tables fall.
Human induced deforestation has substantially changed the andean landscapes and is creeping into Amazonia and into the Pacific region of Choco. Major causes of deforestation are linked to illegal coca production with annual forest losses of around 120.000 ha and to the conversion of tropical lowland forests to oil palm plantations. However, compared to neighbouring countries such as Brazil, Venezuela, Ecuador and Peru deforestation rates of Colombia are still relatively small.
Climate change will most likely affect ecosystems of Colombia in a series of ways. While rainfall intensities, floods and soil erosion will increase in many areas during rainy periods, Andean valleys and Paramos will likely suffer less precipitation in dry seasons causing increased water stress for the natural vegetation and agricultural production. Estimations by the Meteorological Service predict the loss of glaciers on the top of the highest mountains might completely vanish by the end of this century. The islands of the San Andres and Providence Archipel and coastal zones will come under additional pressure by raising sea levels and increased hurricane activities both effects of a temperature raise.
The population increase and the burning of fossil fuels and industry, among other human produced waste has contaminated the environment of major cities and nearby water sources.
Participants in the Colombian armed conflict have also contributed to the pollution of the environment in Colombia. The illegally armed groups have deforested large portions of land to plant illegal crops (mostly on government designated protected areas) while the government fumigated these crops using hazardous chemicals. The guerrillas also destroyed oil pipelines creating major ecological disasters.
Approximately 10,000 BC 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. Within Colombia, the two cultures with the most complex cacicazgo systems were the Tayronas in the Caribbean Region, and the Muiscas in the highlands around Bogotá, both of which were of the Chibcha language family. The Muisca people are considered to have had one of the most developed political systems in South America, after the Incas.
Spanish explorers made the first exploration of the Caribbean littoral in 1499 led by Rodrigo de Bastidas. Christopher Columbus navigated near the Caribbean in 1502. In 1508, Vasco Nuñez de Balboa started the conquest of the territory through the region of Urabá. In 1513, he was also 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. The territory's main population was made up of hundreds of tribes of the Chibchan and Carib, currently known as the Caribbean people, whom the Spaniards conquered through warfare and alliances, while resulting disease such as smallpox and the conquest itself caused a demographic reduction among the indigenous. In the sixteenth century, Europeans began to bring slaves from Africa.
Since the beginning of the periods of Conquest and Colonization, there were several rebel movements under Spanish rule, most of them either being crushed or remaining 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 in 1804 (present day Haiti), who provided a non-negligible degree of support to the eventual leaders of this rebellion: Simón Bolívar and Francisco de Paula Santander. Simón Bolívar had become the first president of Colombia and Francisco de Paula Santander was Vice President; when Simón Bolívar stepped down, Santander became the second president of Colombia. The rebellion finally succeeded in 1819 when the territory of the Viceroyalty of New Granada became the Republic of Greater Colombia organized as a Confederation along Ecuador and Venezuela (Panama was part of Colombia).
Internal political and territorial divisions led to the secession of Venezuela and Quito (today's Ecuador) in 1830. At this time, the so-called "Department of Cundinamarca" adopted then the name "Nueva Granada", which it kept until 1856 when it became the "Confederación Granadina" (Grenadine 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 civil war (1899 - 1902) which together with the United States of America's intentions to influence in 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. Colombia engulfed in a year long war with Peru over a territorial dispute involving the Amazonas Department and its capital Leticia. 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 April 9, 1948. This assassination caused riots in Bogotá and became known as El Bogotazo, the violence from these riots spread through out 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'etat, and negotiated with the guerrillas, and then under the military junta of General Gabriel París Gordillo.
After Rojas deposition the two political parties Colombian Conservative Party and Colombian Liberal Party agreed to the creation of a "National Front", whereby the Liberal and Conservative parties would govern jointly. The presidency would be determined by an alternating conservative and liberal president 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. These guerrilla groups were dominated by Marxist doctrines.
Emerging in the late 1970s, powerful and violent drug cartels 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. Some enemies of these allied with the guerrillas and created or influenced paramilitary groups.
The new Colombian Constitution of 1991 was ratified after being drafted by the Constituent Assembly of Colombia. The constitution included key provisions on political, ethnic, human and gender rights. The new constitution initially prohibited the extradition of Colombian nationals. There were accusations of lobbying by drug cartels in favor of this prohibition. The cartels had previously promoted a violent campaign against extradition, leading to many terrorist attack and mafia style executions. They also tried to influence the government and political structure of Colombia by means of corruption, as in the case of the 8000 Process scandal.
In recent years, 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 (later demobilized, though paramilitarism remains active), 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 1998 and 2002 but failed to do so. President Andrés 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.
During the presidency of Álvaro Uribe, who was elected on the promise of applying military pressure on the FARC and other criminal groups, some security indicators have improved, showing a decrease in reported kidnappings (from 3700 in the year 2000 to 800 in 2005) and a decrease of more than 48% in homicides between July 2002 and May 2005 and of the terrorist guerilla itself reduced from 16.900 insurgents to 8.900 insurgents. It is argued that these improvements have favored economic growth and tourism. The 2006–2007 Colombian parapolitics scandal emerged due to the revelations and judicial implications of past and present links between paramilitary groups, mainly the AUC, and some government officials and many politicians, most of them allied to the governing administration.
The Government of Colombia takes place in a framework of a presidential representative democratic republic as established in the Colombian Constitution of 1991. The Colombian government is divided into three branches of power; the executive, legislative and judicial with special control institutions and electoral institutions. The President of Colombia is the highest representative of the executive branch of government in Colombia and is also the head of state and head of government with supreme administrative authority, followed by the Vice President and the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Colombia.
At a provincial level the executive is managed by department governors, municipal mayors at municipal level and local administrators for smaller administrative subdivisions such as corregidor for corregimientos. The legislative branch of government in Colombia is represented by the National Congress of Colombia which is formed by an upper house the Senate and the Chamber of Representatives. At a provincial level the legislative branch is represented by department assemblies and a municipal level with municipal councils. Both the legislative and executive branches share most of the government power while the judicial branch of Colombia functions as an independent body from the other two branches which are vested with a shared power. The judicial branch under a adversarial system is represented by the Supreme Court of Justice which is the highest entity in this branch but shared in responsibility with the Council of State, Constitutional Court and the Superior Council of the Judicature which also have jurisdictional and regional courts.
Colombia is divided into 32 departments and one capital district which is treated as a department. There are in total 10 districts assigned to cities in Colombia including Bogotá, Barranquilla, Cartagena, Santa Marta, Tunja, Cúcuta, Popayán, Buenaventura, Tumaco and Turbo. Colombia is also subdivided into some municipalities which form departments, each with a municipal seat capital city assigned. Colombia is also subdivided into corregimientos which form municipalities. Each department has a local government which is headed by a department governor and its own department assembly elected for a period of four years in a regional election. Each municipality also headed by a municipal mayor and a municipal council. And for corregimientos there will be an elected corregidor or local leader.
Some departments have also local administrative regional subdivisions such as the departments of Antioquia and Cundinamarca, where towns have a large concentration of population and municipalities are near each other. In the case of some department where the population is still scarce and there are security problems such as in eastern Colombian departments of Amazonas, Vaupés and Vichada there special administrative definitions for territories, some are considered Department corregimientos, which are a hybrid between a corregimiento and a municipality. The difference besides the population is also subject to a cut in the assigned budget.
The executive branch of government is in charge of managing the defense affairs of Colombia with the President of Colombia being the supreme chief of the armed forces, followed by the Minister of Defense, which controls the Military of Colombia and the Colombian National Police among other institutions. The Colombian military is divided into three branches with their respective chains of command; the Colombian National Army, the Colombian Air Force and the Colombian National Armada.
The national police functions as a gendarmerie independently from the Military as the law enforcement agency for the entire country. Each of these operates with their own intelligence apparatus and also separately from the national intelligence agency Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad. The National Police has a presence in all municipality seats of Colombia, while the National Army is formed by divisions, regiments and special units. The Colombian National Armada is formed by the Colombian Marine Corps, Naval Force of the Pacific, Naval Force of the Caribbean, Naval Force of the South, Colombia Coast Guards, Naval Aviation and the Specific Command of San Andres y Providencia. The Colombian Air Force is formed by 13 air units: EMAVI, ESUFA, IMA, CACOM 1, CACOM 2, CACOM 3, CACOM 4, CACOM 5, CACOM 6, CATAM, CAMAN, GACAR and GAORI.
The Foreign affairs of Colombia are headed by the President of Colombia and managed by the Minister of Foreign Affairs. Colombia has diplomatic missions in all the continents, but not in all countries, and also multilateral relations with Brussels (Mission to the European Union) Geneva (Permanent Mission to the United Nations and other International Organizations) Montevideo (Permanent Missions to ALADI and MERCOSUR) Nairobi (Permanent Missions to the United Nations and other International Organizations) New York City (Permanent Mission to the United Nations) Paris (Permanent Mission to UNESCO) Rome (Permanent Mission to FAO) Washington DC (Permanent Mission to the Organization of American States).
The foreign relations of Colombia are mostly concentrated on combating illegal drug trade, improving Colombian image in the international community, fight against terrorism, expanding the Colombian products in the global market and environmental issues. Colombia receives special military and commercial cooperation and support from the United States mainly through Plan Colombia to fight against the internal armed groups as well as special financial preferences from the European Union in certain products.
As a rule, voters are not allowed to wear political propaganda in allusion to a candidate or party, or have electronic devices on their possession while voting.
The Politics of Colombia take place in the framework of a presidential representative democratic republic as established in the Colombian Constitution of 1991. The constitution vested the National Electoral Council along with the National Registry of the Civil State with the function of organizing and controlling the electoral process in Colombia. Since the 2005 reform the electoral process abides by the Law 974 of 2005 which modified the way political parties organize and interact in the government. Colombia goes through three electoral processes to elect candidates for a period of four years; a Presidential election, for president and vice president candidates (authorized to serve one reelection, 8 years), a legislative election for congress; senate and chamber of representatives (authorized many terms through reelection) and a regional election to elect department governors, department assemblies, municipal mayors and municipal councils and Local administrative juntas (executive regional leaders are only authorized one term in office).
The last presidential and legislative elections were on May 28, 2006, in which president Álvaro Uribe was reelected by a vote of 62%, with 22% going to Carlos Gaviria of the Democratic Pole, and 12% to Horacio Serpa of the Liberal Party. Colombia's bicameral parliament is the Congress of Colombia consists of a 166-seat Chamber of Representatives of Colombia and a 102-seat Senate of Colombia. Members of both houses are elected by popular vote to serve four-year terms. With congressmen, Colombia also elects the president. Department deputies, city councils and mayors are elected one year and five months after the president's and congressmen's election. The latest regional election was on October 28, 2007 with some 27 million Colombians apt to vote to elect between some 86 thousand candidates to represent 1,098 Colombian municipalities and 32 governors of Colombian Departments. Colombian authorities mobilized 167,559 soldiers and policemen in order to vigil the 9,950 voting sites.
The election process in the judicial system is headed by the Constitutional Court and members are appointed by the Congress of Colombia out of nominations made by the President and other high ranking tribunals, presidents of courts in the other hand are elected in internal elections. In Electoral Institutions and Control Institutions of Colombia officials are also appointed by the president and approved by congress like the Inspector General of Colombia.
Colombia's economy is fueled by abundant natural resources, a highly literate population and relatively high-valued currency. After experiencing decades of steady growth (average GDP growth exceeded 4% in the 1970-1998 period), Colombia experienced a recession in 1999 (the first full year of negative growth since 1929), and the recovery from that recession was long and painful. Colombia's economy suffers from weak domestic and foreign demand, austere government budgets, and serious internal armed conflicts.
The IMF Economic Indicators published on September 2006, forecast the Colombian GDP to reach US$156.69 billion in 2008. Inflation has been below 6% for 2004, 2005, and 2006. Colombia's main exports include manufactured goods (41.32% of exports), petroleum (28.28%), coal (13.17%), and coffee (6.25%). Unofficially, illegal drugs are also a major export. Colombia is one of the largest producers of pop-up books in the world.
Colombia is also the largest exporter of plantains to the United States. It also exports many types of sugar crops. Within Latin America, Colombia is known as a provider of fine lingerie, with the industry being centered in Medellín. All imports, exports, and the general trade balance are in record levels, and the inflow of export dollars has resulted in substantial reevaluation of the Colombian Peso.
The problems facing the country range from pension system problems to drug dealing to moderately high unemployment (11%). Several international financial institutions have praised the economic reforms introduced by current President Álvaro Uribe, which include measures designed to bring the public-sector deficit below 2.5% of gross domestic product (GDP). The government's economic policy and its controversial democratic security strategy have engendered a growing sense of confidence in the economy, and GDP growth in 2003 was among the highest in Latin America. On May 28, 2007, the American magazine BusinessWeek published an article naming Colombia the most Extreme Emerging Market on Earth.
The principal cities of the country are: Bogotá (the capital of the country), Medellín (one of the principal industrial centers of Colombia and South America), Santiago de Cali (the third principal economic center of Colombia), Barranquilla (the principal port of the country), Cartagena (the second principal port of Colombia and a popular tourist destination), Bucaramanga (an industrial city and a university center) and Cúcuta (the principal boarder city of Colombia; its "Zona Franca" or Free Port is one of the most active in Colombia and all of Latin America).
The Tourism industry in Colombia developed in the 1940s and has maintained a steady growth since then. The main tourist destinations are Bogotá, Cartagena, Eje cafetero, Santa Marta, Medellín, Cali, Barranquilla, San Andrés Island among others, each presenting different tourist attractions. There are different tourist season in Colombia, the two most busy are related to religious celebrations; the holy week and Christmas among other numerous public holidays, including the celebrations surrounding the Independence of Colombia.
The most notable festivities are the Cali's Fair, the Barranquilla's Carnival, the Bogotá summer festival, the Iberoamerican Theater Festival, the Festival of the Flowers, the Vallenato Legend Festival, Carnival of Blacks and Whites and the Fiestas del Mar. Despite Travel advisories warning not to travel to Colombia due to Colombian armed conflict, the country continues to attract more tourists in recent years. The apparent cause is the current hardline approach of President Álvaro Uribe called democratic security to push rebels groups farther away from the major cities, highways and tourist sites that may attract international visitors. Since President Uribe took office in 2002, he has notably increased Colombia's stability and security by significantly boosting its military strength and police presence throughout the country.
This has achieved fruitful results for the country's economy, particularly international tourism. In 2006, Colombia received some 1.5 million international visitors, an astonishing increase of about 50% from the previous year. Lonely Planet, a world travel publisher, picked Colombia as one of their top 10 world destinations for 2006. The World Tourism Organization reported in 2004 that Colombia achieved the third highest percentage increase of tourist arrivals in South America between 2000 and 2004 (9.2%). Only Peru and Suriname had higher increases during the same period. Because of the improved security, Caribbean cruise ships tours stop in Cartagena and Santa Marta. To further point out the improved security in the country, in June 2007, the Travel Channel's show, 5 Takes Latin America, aired an episode on Colombia. Points of interest on the show were Bogotá, Cocora Valley in Salento, and the Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá.
The varied and rich geography, flora and fauna of Colombia has also developed an eco-tourist industry, mostly developed in the National Natural Parks of Colombia which include the areas of Amacayacu Park in the Department of Amazonas, Colombian National Coffee Park in the town of Montenegro, Quindío, the Nevado del Ruiz volcano in Los Nevados National Park (near the city of Manizales), Cocora valley in Salento, Quindío, PANACA theme Park, PANACA Savanna Park, Tayrona Park in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain range (near the city of Santa Marta), the Tatacoa Desert, the Chicamocha Canyon National Park, Gorgona and Malpelo islands, as well as Cabo de la Vela in the Guajira Peninsula.
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 principal airport is El Dorado International Airport in Bogotá. Several national airlines (Avianca, AeroRepública, AIRES , SATENA and EasyFly, ), and international airlines (such as Iberia, American Airlines, Varig, Copa, Continental, Delta, Air Canada, Air France, Aerolineas Argentinas, Aerogal, TAME, TACA) operate from El Dorado. Bogotá's airport is one of the largest and most expensive in Latin America. 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.
Arturo Infante Villarreal is the National Biofuels Coordinator, which is within the Department of National Planning.
Movement from rural to urban areas was very heavy in the mid-twentieth century, but has since tapered off. The urban population increased from 31% of the total population in 1938, to 57% in 1951 and about 70% by 1990. Currently the figure is about 77%. Thirty cities have a population of 100,000 or more. The nine eastern lowlands departments, constituting about 54% of Colombia's area, have less than 3% of the population and a density of less than one person per square kilometer (two persons per sq mi.). Colombia's total population in 2015 is projected to be more than 52 million.
The country has a diverse population that reflects its colourful history and the peoples that have populated here from ancient times to the present. The historic amalgam of the different main groups forms the basics of Colombia's current demographics: European immigrants, Indigenous Natives, Africans, Asians, Middle Easterners and other recent immigrants. Many of the indigenous peoples were absorbed into the mestizo population, but the remaining 700,000 currently represent over eighty-five distinct cultures.
Before the Spanish colonization of the region that would become the country of Colombia, the territory was the home to many different indigenous peoples. Today more than fifty different indigenous ethnic groups inhabit Colombia. Most of them speak languages belonging to the Chibchan, Arawak and Cariban linguistic families. The Quechua language spoken by descendants of the Inca empire has extended northward into Colombia, mainly in urban centers of the Sierra (highland) region. Historically there are established 567 reserves (resguardos) for indigenous peoples and they are inhabited by more than 800,000 people; the 1991 constitution established their native languages as official in their territories, most of them have bilingual education (Native and Spanish). Some of the largest indigenous groups are the Wayuu, the Arhuacos, the Muisca, the Kuna people, the Witoto, the Páez, the Tucano and the Guahibo. The departamentos with the biggest Indian population are Cauca, Guajira and Guainia.
Because of its strategic location Colombia has received several immigration waves during its history. Most of these immigrants have settled in the Caribbean Coast; Barranquilla (the largest city in the Colombian Caribbean Coast) and other Caribbean cities have the largest population of Lebanese, Arab, Sephardic Jewish, Italian, German, French, Portuguese and Gypsy descendants. There are also important communities of Chinese and Japanese descendants in the Caribbean Coast.
The European immigrants were primarily Spanish colonists, but a number of other Europeans (Dutch, German, Italian, French, Swiss, Belgian and Basques, also many North Americans) migrated to the Caribbean region in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and in smaller numbers Poles, Lithuanian, English, Irish and Croatian communities immigrated during the Second World War and the Cold War. For example, former Bogotá mayor Antanas Mockus is the son of Lithuanian immigrants. European descendants are very prominent in professional and political life in the country.
Africans were brought as slaves, mostly to the coastal lowlands, beginning early in the 16th century, and continuing into the 19th century. Large African descendant communities are often found on the Caribbean and Pacific coasts. Other immigrant populations include Asians and Middle Easterners, particularly Lebanese, Jordanians, Syrians, Chinese, Japanese and Koreans. Smaller number of Indians and Pakistanis also live in the country.
Statistics reveal that Colombians are predominantly Roman Catholic and overwhelmingly speakers of Spanish, and that a majority of them are a mixture of Europeans, Africans, and Amerindians.
The Colombian National Administrative Department of Statistics states that 51% of the population is mestizo, of mixed European and Indigenous descent, 35% percent of European descent, 10.6% of African descent, 3.4% of Indigenous descent, and 0.0001% gypsy as of 2005. There are 101 languages listed for Colombia in the Ethnologue database, of which 80 are spoken today as living languages. There are about 500,000 speakers of indigenous languages in Colombia today.
More than two-thirds of all Colombians live in urban areas—a figure significantly higher than the world average. The literacy rate (94 percent) in Colombia is also well above the world average, and the rate of population growth is slightly higher than the world average. Also, a large proportion of Colombians are young, largely because of recent decreases in the infant mortality rate. While 33 percent of the people are 14 years of age or younger, just 4 percent are aged 65 or older.
Over 94% of the entire population over 15 years of age can read and write, and this number has continued to increase throughout the years. Sixty percent of students complete primary schooling (5 years) and move onto secondary schooling (6 years). Most primary schools are private. Approximately 80 percent of Colombian children enter school, but they usually join a preschool academy until age 6 and then go to school. The school year can extend from February to November or from August to June in the capital city while in many other cities it extends from August to June. Primary education is free and compulsory for nine years for children between 6 and 12 years of age. The net primary enrollment (percentage of relevant age-group) in 2001 was 86.7 percent. The completion rate (percentage of age-group) for children attending elementary school (primaria) in 2001 totaled 89.5 percent. In many rural areas, teachers are poorly qualified, and only five years of primary school are offered. Secondary education (educación media) begins at age 11 and lasts up to six years, in some cases 7 (mostly in private schools, where it usually is vocational training). Secondary-school graduates are awarded the diploma (high-school diploma). Net secondary enrollment in 2001 was 53.5 percent. School life expectancy in 2001 was 11.1 years. Total public spending as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2001 was 4.4 percent—one of the highest rates in Latin America—as compared with 2.5 percent at the end of the 1980s. Government expenditures on education in 1999 totaled 19.7 percent of total government spending. The ratio of pupils to teachers in 2001 in primary school was 26:1 and in secondary school, 19:2. Colombia has 24 public universities. A total of 92.5 percent of the population is literate (male: 92.4 percent; female: 92.6 percent), according to a 2003 estimate. Literacy is at 93 percent in urban areas, but only 67 percent in rural areas. People in Colombia are educated in Spanish (see also Colombian Spanish). The second most spoken language is English.
The National Administrative Department of Statistics (DANE) does not collect religious statistics, and accurate reports are hard to obtain. Based on various studies, more than 95% of the population adheres to Christianity, in which a huge segment of the population, between 81% and 90%, practices Roman Catholicism. About 1% of Colombians practice indigenous religions.
The Colombian constitution guarantees religious freedom, but also states that the State "is not atheist or agnostic, nor indifferent to Colombians' religious sentiment." Religious groups are readily able to obtain recognition as organized associations, but some smaller ones face difficulty in obtaining recognition as religious entities, which is required to offer chaplaincy services in public facilities.
Colombian culture lies at the crossroads of Latin America, and is distinguished by having a very multicultural society. European, African, Native American, American, Middle Eastern, and other Latin American cultural influences such as Mexico and the Caribbean are all felt in Colombia's modern culture. Due to Colombia's geography and years of social and political instability, Colombian culture has been heavily fragmented into five major cultural regions which also correspond to Colombian natural regions. Urban migration, industrialization, globalization, and other political, social and economic issues have altered the Colombian lifestyle throughout the years.
The country's imposing landscape, poor transportation infrastructure and fears of armed groups and bandits on intercity highways have all contributed to very strong regional identities, which many argue are stronger than national identity. The differences in accent, dress, music, food, politics and general attitude very greatly between the paisas of Antioquia and the coffee region, the costeños of the Caribbean coast, the llaneros of the eastern plains, the Bogotanos and residents of the central highlands (Boyacá Cundinamarca) , the inhabitants of the Pacific coast, and the vast Amazon region to the south.
Inherited from colonial times, Colombia maintains its large base of Roman Catholic traditions which largely influence and unite its multicultural society. The mixing of various different ethnic traditions is reflected in Colombia's music and dance. The most well-known genres of music in Colombia are cumbia and vallenato, the latter being strongly influenced by global pop culture.
Colombia has many celebrations and festivals throughout the year, with a majority stemming from Catholic religious traditions. Prominent examples of festivals include the Ibero-American Theater Festival, Barranquilla's Carnival, Carnival of Blacks and Whites, Colombian independence day, Holy Week, and Christmas. A powerful cultural medium in Colombia is television; the telenovela Betty La Fea has gained international success through localized versions in the United States, Mexico, and Croatia. Television has also played a role in the development of the local film industry.
As in many Latin American countries, Colombians have developed a passion for Football (soccer). The Colombian national football team is seen as a symbol of unity and national pride, though local clubs also inspire fierce loyalty and sometimes-violent rivalries. Colombia has "exported" many famous players, such as Freddy Rincon, Carlos Valderrama, Ruben Dario Bustos, and Faustino Asprilla. Other Colombian athletes have achieved success in other sports, such as NASCAR's Juan Pablo Montoya, Major League Baseball's Edgar Rentería and Orlando Cabrera, and the PGA Tour's Camilo Villegas.
Other famous Colombians include the Nobel Prize winning author Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the artists Fernando Botero, Luis Caballero, the musicians Shakira, Juanes, and Carlos Vives, and the actors Rafael Novoa, Catalina Sandino Moreno, and Sofia Vergara.
The Cuisine of Colombia developed mainly from the food traditions of European countries. Spanish, Italian and French culinary influences can be seen in Colombian cooking. American cuisine, the cuisine of neighboring Latin American countries, Mexico and the Caribbean, as well as the cooking traditions of the Native Americans have all influenced Colombian cuisine.
National symbols have arisen from Colombia's multiculturalism and are objects or themes that are representative of Colombia, the Colombian people, and their shared culture. Cultural expressions in Colombia are promoted by the government through the Ministry of Culture.