Background Notes: Republic of Columbia

Contributed By RealAdventures

Nationality: Noun and adjective--Colombian(s).
Population: 40.7 million.
Annual growth rate: 1.8%.
Religion: Roman Catholic 90%.
Language: Spanish.
Education: Years compulsory--9. Attendance--80% of children enter school. Only 5 years of primary school are offered in many rural areas. Literacy--93% in urban areas, 67% in rural areas.
Health: Infant mortality rate--25/1,000. Life expectancy--men 65 yrs., women 76 yrs.

Colombia is the third-most populous country in Latin America, after Brazil and Mexico. Movement from rural to urban areas has been heavy. The urban population increased from 57% of the total population in 1951 to about 74% by 1994. 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.).

The ethnic diversity in Colombia is a result of the intermingling of indigenous Indians, Spanish colonists, and African slaves. Today, only about 1% of the people can be identified as fully Indian on the basis of language and customs.

During the pre-Colombian period, the area now known as Colombia was inhabited by indigenous peoples who were primitive hunters or nomadic farmers. The Chibchas, who lived in the Bogota region, dominated the various Indian groups.

The Spanish sailed along the north coast of Colombia as early as 1500, but their first permanent settlement, at Santa Marta, was not made until 1525. In 1549, the area was established as a Spanish colony with the capital at Santa fe de Bogota. In 1717, Bogota became the capital of the Viceroyalty of New Granada, which included what is now Venezuela, Ecuador, and Panama. The city became one of the principal administrative centers of the Spanish possessions in the New World, along with Lima and Mexico City. In August 2000 the capital's name was officially changed from "Santa Fe de Bogota" to the more usual "Bogota."

On July 20, 1810, the citizens of Bogota created the first representative council to defy Spanish authority. Full independence was proclaimed in 1813, and in 1819 the Republic of Greater Colombia was formed.

Type: Republic.
Independence: July 20, 1810.
Constitution: 1991.
Branches: Executive--President (chief of state and head of government). Legislative--bicameral Congress. Judicial--Supreme Court, Constitutional Court, Council of State, Superior Judicial Council.
Administrative divisions: 32 departments; Bogota, capital district.
Major political parties: Conservative Party of Colombia, Liberal Party, and a score of small political movements (most of them allied with one or the other major party).
Suffrage: Universal, age 18 and over.

President--Andres PASTRANA Arango
Vice President--Gustavo BELL Lemus
Minister of Foreign Affairs--Guillermo FERNANDEZ de Soto
Ambassador to the United States--Luis Alberto MORENO
Ambassador to the Organization of American States--Luis Alfredo RAMOS
Ambassador to the United Nations--Alfonso VALDIVIESO

GDP: $87.9 billion.
Annual growth rate: 3%.
Per capita GDP: $ 2,020.
Government: 20.5 % of GDP.
Manufacturing: 13.6 % of GDP: Types--textiles and garments, chemicals, metal products, cement, cardboard containers, plastic resins and manufactures, beverages.
Agriculture: 14.7 % of GDP: Products--coffee, bananas, cut flowers, cotton, sugar cane, livestock, rice, corn, tobacco, potatoes, soybeans, sorghum. Cultivated land--8.2% of total area.
Other sectors (by percentage of GDP): Financial services--17.7%. Commerce--11.7%. Transportation and communications service--8.3%. Mining and quarrying--4.7%. Construction and public works--4.1%. Electricity, gas, and water--3%.
Trade: Exports--$12.7 billion: petroleum, coffee, coal, ferro-nickel, bananas, flowers, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, textiles and garments, gold, sugar, cardboard containers, printed matter, cement, plastic resins and manufactures, emeralds. Major markets--U.S., Germany, Netherlands, Japan. Imports--$11.8 billion: machinery/equipment, grains, chemicals, transportation equipment, mineral products, consumer products, metals/metal products, plastic/rubber, paper products, aircraft, oil and gas industry equipment, and supplies. Major suppliers--U.S., Venezuela, Germany, Japan, Panama.
Exchange rate: 2150 Colombian pesos=U.S.$1 (August, 2000).

Colombia seeks diplomatic and commercial relations with all countries, regardless of their ideologies or political or economic systems. In 1969, it formed what is now the Andean Community along with Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, and Peru (Venezuela joined in 1973 and Chile left in 1976). In the 1980s, Colombia broadened its bilateral and multilateral relations, joining the Contadora Group, the Group of Eight (now the Rio Group), and the Non-Aligned Movement -- which it chaired from 1994 until September 1998. In addition, it has signed free trade agreements with Chile, Mexico, and Venezuela.

Colombia has traditionally played an active role in the United Nations and the Organization of American States, and in their subsidiary agencies. Former President Gaviria became Secretary General of the OAS in September 1994 and was re-elected in 1999. Colombia was a participant in the December 1994 and April 1998 Summits of the Americas and followed up on initiatives developed at the summit by hosting two post-summit, ministerial-level meetings on trade and science and technology.

Colombia regularly participates in international fora, including CICAD, the Organization of American States' body on money laundering, chemical controls, and drug abuse prevention. Although the Colombian Government ratified the 1988 UN convention on narcotics in 1994 -- the last of the Andean Governments to do so -- it took important reservations, notably to the anti-money-laundering measures, asset forfeiture and confiscation provisions, maritime interdiction, and extradition clauses. Colombia subsequently withdrew some of its reservations, most notably a reservation on extradition.

In 1822, the United States became one of the first countries to recognize the new republic and to establish a resident diplomatic mission. Today, about 25,000 U.S. citizens live in Colombia, most of them dual nationals. Currently 250 American businesses are registered.

Despite the strain which decertification and related issues placed on bilateral relations during the Samper Administration, the U.S. and Colombian Governments continued to cooperate and consult. In 1995 and 1996, the U.S. and Colombia signed important agreements on environmental protection and civil aviation. The two countries have signed agreements on asset sharing and chemical control. In 1997, the U.S. and Colombia signed an important maritime ship-boarding agreement to allow for search of suspected drug-running vessels. During the period 1988-1996, the United States provided approximately $765 million in assistance to Colombia. In 1999, U.S. assistance exceeded $200 million. This funding supported Colombia's counternarcotics efforts, such as arresting drug traffickers, seizing drugs and illegal processing facilities, and eradicating coca and opium poppy.

Under the Pastrana Administration, relations with the U.S. have improved significantly. The United States responded to the Colombian Government's request for international support to Plan Colombia by approving a $1.3 billion aid package in July 2000, in addition to previously programmed assistance of nearly $300 million for FY 2000. U.S. programs are a combination of military and police assistance to increase counternarcotics capabilities, and also includes a package of nearly $230 million for human rights, humanitarian assistance, alternative development, and economic and judicial reforms. These programs are an integral component of our support for Plan Colombia's overall goals.

Ambassador--Anne W. Patterson
Deputy Chief of Mission--Barbara C. Moore
Political and Economic Counselor--Leslie A. Bassett
Consul General--Kenneth Sackett
Commercial Counselor--Karla King
Administrative Counselor--Robert E. Davis
Defense Attache--Col. Leocadio Muniz
Public Affairs Officer--James H. Williams
Regional Security Officer--Charles Sparks
USAID Director--George Wachtenheim

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