Colombia in Perspective
Located ”at the top” of South America, Colombia is bordered by the Caribbean Sea to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the west. It is the only South American country to be bounded by two oceans. It is the 26th largest country in the world with a total of 1,138,910 sq. km.
Gran Colombia was formed upon the defeat of the Spanish in the early 19th century but fractured into 3 separate countries, Venezuela, Ecuador and Colombia in 1830. At this point Panama was still part of Colombia.
Although Colombia has suffered from years of internal conflicts it has one of the longest running and strongest democratic governments in Latin America.
Its geography ranges from eastern lowland plains to flat coastal lowlands to central highlands and high Andes Mountains. The elevation is at its lowest point at the Pacific Ocean at 0m to the highest point, Pico Cristobal Colon at 5,775 m. Due to the wide range of altitudes Colombia is home to many various micro climates.
Colombia is divided into three large branches by the Andes Mountains: to the west, the Pacific coast with its expansive and still untamed jungles; to the east lies the coast of the Caribbean Sea bounded by the stunning Sierra Nevada Mountains of Santa Marta; to the south we find the Orinoquia / Amazon region. The Amazon is shared with Venezuela, Brazil, Peru and Ecuador and consists of almost 320 million square kilometers of jungle. After Madagascar and Brazil, Peru and Colombia have the largest biodiversity of species. Colombia, alone has over 50,000 varieties of flowers, including its national flower, the orchid.
It is estimated that by July of 2013 there will be 45,700,000 plus inhabitants which makes it the 29th most populated country in the world. Approximately 75 % of the population live in urban centers. Bogota is the capital with 8.262 million; Medellin 3.497 million; Cali 2.352 million; Barranquilla 1.836 million; Bucaramanga 1.065 million – (data from 2009)
There are approximately 23,000,000 people in the work force which is 18% agricultural, 13% industrial and 69% service oriented. In 2012, approximately 10% of the population was unemployed and over 30% of the population lived below the poverty line.
Colombia is a republic and its civil law system has been influenced by both the French and Spanish systems. The President is Juan Manuel Santos and the Vice President Angelino Garzon – both since August 2010.
The president acts as the head of government and the chief of state with the cabinet being appointed by the president. Elections for president and vice-president occur every four years, which means the next elections will be held in 2014. A president may run for a second term.
The Colombian Congress/Congreso consists of two houses. The Senate or Senado with 102 seats and the Chamber of Representatives or Camara de Representantes with 166 seats. Members of both of these houses are elected by popular vote every 4 years.
Colombia has aggressively pursued free trade agreements with many countries which include Canada, Chile, China, Costa Rica, Israel, Japan, Mexico, Panama, South Korea, Switzerland, Turkey, Venezuela, the E.U. and the United States. This and and sound economic policies have led to a growth in the real GDP of more than 4% per year over the past few years.
Standard & Poor’s (S&P), Moody’s, and Fitch have all classified Colombia’s government debt as investment grade however Colombia is vulnerable as its economy is dependent on its ability to export. Its exports reached a high in March of 2012 of $5.71 Billion USD.
Oil and coal are the major products exported and account for almost 60% of the total. Coffee stands at the third largest traded product and bananas are in position 4. As much as Colombia is known for its flower industry this is actually their 7th biggest export commodity. The United States accounts for 36 % of the total sales, with China at 6%, Spain 5% and Venezuela at 4%.
Colombia is the United States’ largest supplier of coal and the third largest Latin provider of oil as well. Foreign investment, particularly in the gas and oil industries reached a record amount of almost $16 billion dollars in 2012.
Colombia has suffered from decades of internal conflict but beginning with the terms of former President Alvaro Uribe, a new era of increased security and prosperity has given hope to the citizens. Tens of thousands of paramilitary and guerillas have surrendered their arms. While not all have integrated back into society the government continues to work towards a lasting peace. Talks with the largest insurgent guerilla group have been ongoing in Havana and although no terms have been reached, it should be the goal of both sides to settle the five decades of strife. Generally security is very good in most of the large urban areas and the majority of the conflict remaining is unseen and confined to somewhat distant rural areas.
Over the past decade Colombia has made huge strides towards resolving its internal problems. An Argentinian writer once said, ”governments like men move forward by steps”. Colombian has been taking bold steps forward !