While Colombia began to open its economy to international trade slightly throughout the 1990s, the country did not truly put itself on the map until the early 2000s. At that time, the government made a great effort to overcome the nation’s security problems that had created Colombia’s negative perception abroad.
SAFE ENVIRONMENT: The last decade has witnessed Colombia’s guerrillas’ numbers decrease significantly, whilst an intensive programme for the country’s economic globalisation was put into practice, resulting in the signing of Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with Colombia’s natural markets, first, and more recently with firstclass partners, including the US, Canada, the EU and South Korea. Investors have shifted their gaze towards the Colombian economy, which has received the majority of its international attention in its mining and energy sectors. However, the country still needs to increase the transparency of its institutions and processes, a movement that is already under way. Determined to develop a booming industry segment and making the most of its natural resources, Colombia is set to further strengthen its role in the global arena.
GEOGRAPHY: As South America’s northernmost nation, with a surface area of 1.34m sq km, Colombia shares borders with four South American neighbours (Venezuela, Brazil, Peru, and Ecuador), as well as with Central American countries Panama, Jamaica, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Honduras, and Costa Rica. Colombia’s strategic location affords it coastline on both the Caribbean Sea (1760 km) and the Pacific Ocean (1448 km). Its three separate Andes mountain ranges make ground transportation and infrastructure development challenging, but they also provide significant variety in terms of both climates and resources. In November 2012, the International Court of Justice granted Colombia sovereign rights over a group of islands in the western Caribbean formerly disputed with Nicaragua, although it granted the Central American country the right to harvest the economic territory of the seas adjacent to the islands – a blow to the islands’ economies.
GOVERNMENT: Colombia is organised as a unitary constitutional republic, as outlined by the constitution of 1991. The president, elected by popular vote for fouryear terms, is the highest representative of both the Republic and the government. Colombia’s current president, Juan Manuel Santos, was appointed on August 7, 2010, and will be up for re-election in 2014.
The legislative function is chiefly assigned to the Congress, which consists of two chambers: The Senate and the House of Representatives. Both chambers are elected by popular vote and serve four-year terms.
LOCAL GOVERNMENT: Colombia is divided into 32 departments, plus a Capitol district (the city of Bogotá).
Each department elects a governor every four years.
The governor heads a regional assembly. Departments are divided into municipalities, which are similarly governed by a mayor, as the head of a council. In addition, municipalities are divided into different districts ( corregimientos), whose structures vary depending on the size and density of population of the district.
POPULATION: According to 2009 estimates from the National Administrative Department of Statistics (El Departamento Administrativo Nacional de Estadística, DANE), Colombia has a population of just over 45m people, which makes it the 27th-largest country in the world in terms of population. Roughly 75% of the populace live in cities, with the remaining 25% in rural areas.
The population has a rich ethnic diversity as a result of interaction between indigenous natives, Spanish colonists, Africans brought as slaves, and 20th-century immigrants from Europe and the Middle East. As a consequence, the country’s cultural heritage is widely varied. The majority of the urban centres are located in the highlands of the Andes Mountains, namely Bogotá (7.3m inhabitants as of 2010) and Medellín (2.7m inhabitants as of 2012) as the country’s two most populated cities. Moreover, Colombia also has a number of second-tier cities with low population density throughout the Amazon rainforest, on its plains, and along both its Caribbean and Pacific coastlines.
RELIGION: Some 90% of the population is Roman Catholic. Dating back to Spain’s colonisation of the region, Roman Catholicism was the nation’s official religion until the 1991 constitutional reform removed the Roman Catholic Church’s status as state church and amended two articles that protect the freedom of worship to its citizens. The remaining 10% includes Protestants, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jews and Muslims.
Colombia is home to some of the region’s most wellknown churches such as the Prima Cathedral located in the heart of the nation’s capital, the Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá, and Las Lajas of Ipiales, argued by many as among the world’s most beautiful cathedrals.
LANGUAGE: Spanish is the official language and is by far the most widely spoken, although San Andrés and Providence islands also list English as an official language. The Colombian accent in Spanish is neutral, making it a popular choice for media dubbing and international call centres. Although English is included in Colombian educational curricula, it remains relatively rare among the general population. On an executive level, many Colombians have studied in the US or Europe and tend to have some degree of English proficiency.
Colombia lists a total of 100 languages, of which 20 no longer have any known speakers. Of the remaining 80, the most widely spoken alternative to Spanish is Wayuu, with 135,000 speakers in Colombia.
CULTURE & HERITAGE: The current culture is a product of various influences including the indigenous populations, Spanish conquistadors and African slaves. The second-largest wave of immigration since the Spanish colonisation came from the Middle East (Syria, Palestine and Lebanon) during the 50 years surrounding the turn of the 20th century. Colombia counts seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites: five cultural and two natural. Music is very important and the country’s own music is derived from the many different communities that have formed modern-day Colombia, including African, indigenous and Spanish influences. Dancing is of equivalent importance with popular styles such as merengue, cumbia, vallenato, bambuco and salsa. Salsa originally stems from Cuba, but it also has many varieties including Colombian or Cali style, which is unique for maintaining a still upper body while constantly moving one’s feet. The Colombian city of Cali, for which the style is named, is known as the “Capital de la Salsa.”
Colombian cuisine is also becoming a focus for attracting cultural tourism. Two typical dishes include the traditionally central Colombian Ajiaco soup (potato, chicken and guasca herb-based soup served with corn, avocado, rice, cream and capers) and Medellín’s popular dish, Bandeja Paisa (a full plate of beans, rice, fried egg, beef, arepa, chorizo, and chicharrón).
CLIMATE: Broadly described as tropical, the climate actually experiences steep temperature contrasts due to varying elevations across the Andean nation. Due to its proximity to the equator, temperatures remain relatively stable year-round, which leads many to consider it a country without seasons. Colombia’s warmest climates (24°C-30°C) are located at sea level, in the Amazonian rainforests, in the La Guajira desert and along its two coastlines. Temperatures drop as one climbs the Andes Mountains. At around 1500 metres above sea level, cities such as Medellín enjoy temperatures between 20°C and 25°C, while higher up, in cities such as Bogotá (2625m above sea level), one can expect temperatures between 10°C and 17°C. Temperatures dip past freezing above 3000 metres. Rainfall is relatively constant and abundant year round, with the rainy season from October to December considered to be the winter season. Colombia’s Pacific coast and jungle rank among the highest levels of rainfall worldwide.
Colombia is affected by the cyclical phenomena El Niño and La Niña. El Niño is characterised by higher than usual temperatures in the Pacific Ocean which results in severe droughts for Colombia, while La Niña is the reverse: lower than average Pacific temperatures causing significant rainfall and flooding. Both represent substantial hardships for sectors such as agriculture and hydroelectric power generation.
NATURAL RESOURCES: Colombia is considered to be a leader in terms of natural resources despite the fact that these resources have, to date, remained predominantly unexploited. The country is enhancing its position as a producer of crude oil, with output of 1.01m barrels per day (bpd) as of May 2013, and the government’s goal is to exceed 1.5m bpd by 2015, which will rank Colombia among the world’s top 20 crude oil producers. Furthermore, Colombia ranks 10th worldwide in coal production, primarily in the La Guajira desert region, amounting to 85m tonnes per year and covering some 2% of the world’s total.
Going forward, the Ministry of Energy and Mines has set the ambitious goal of reaching an annual production of 97m tonnes by 2013. Lastly, Colombia has large deposits of gold, nickel, copper, silver, platinum and emeralds, although the majority of these minerals are currently still in their exploration phase. During the last 11 years, Colombia has experienced a huge surge in mining production, increasing from $8300m in 2000 to over $45,000m in 2011, a growth of over 500%.
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