Colombia Essay, Research Paper
Colombia, republic in South America, situated in the northwestern part of the continent, and bounded on the north by Panama and the Caribbean Sea, on the east by Venezuela and Brazil, on the south by Peru and Ecuador, and on the west by the Pacific Ocean. Colombia is the only country of South America with coasts on both the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean. The total land area of the country is 1,141,748 sq km (440,831 sq mi). The capital and largest city is Bogot?.
IILAND AND RESOURCES The distinguishing topographical feature of Colombia is the Andes mountain chain, situated in the central and western parts of the country, and extending north-south across almost its entire length. The Andes comprise three principal and parallel ranges: the Cordillera Oriental, the Cordillera Central, and the Cordillera Occidental. On the Caribbean coast is the isolated mountain mass known as the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, which includes Colombia’s highest point at Pico Crist?bal Col?n (5776 m/18,950 ft). The Cordillera Central contains the volcanic peaks of Huila (5750 m/ 18,865 ft) and Tolima (5616 m/ 18,425 ft). About 240 km (about 150 mi) south of the Caribbean, the Cordillera Central descends to marshy jungle. The cordillera peaks are perpetually covered with snow; the timberline in these mountains lies at about 3000 m (about 10,000 ft).
East of the Cordillera Oriental are vast reaches of torrid lowlands, thinly populated and only partly explored. The southern portion of this region, called selvas (rain forests), is thickly forested and is drained by the Caquet? River and other tributaries of the Amazon River. The northern and greater part of the region comprises vast plains, or llanos, and is traversed by the Meta and other tributaries of the Orinoco River. Between the cordilleras are high plateaus, a number of which are about 2400 m (about 8000 ft) above sea level, and fertile valleys, traversed by the principal rivers of the country. The principal river of Colombia, the Magdalena, flows north between the Cordillera Oriental and the Cordillera Central, across practically the entire country, emptying into the Caribbean near Barranquilla after a course of about 1540 km (about 960 mi). The Cauca, also an important means of communication, flows north between the Cordillera Central and the Cordillera Occidental, merging with the Magdalena about 320 km (about 200 mi) from the Caribbean. In the west the Pat?a cuts its way through the Andes to empty into the Pacific. The coastline of Colombia extends for about 1760 km (about 1090 mi) along the Caribbean and for about 1450 km (about 900 mi) along the Pacific. River mouths along the coasts are numerous, but no good natural harbors exist.
AClimate Colombia lies almost entirely in the Torrid Zone, a meteorological term denoting the areas of the earth’s surface between the tropic of Cancer and the tropic of Capricorn. The climate, however, varies with the elevation. The low regions along the coast and the deep Pat?a and Magdalena river valleys are torrid, with average annual temperatures of 24? to 27? C (75? to 80? F). From about 500 to 2300 m (about 1500 to 7500 ft) the climate is subtropical, and from about 2300 to 3000 m (about 7500 to 10,000 ft) it is temperate. Above about 3000 m (about 10,000 ft) is the cold-climate zone, where temperatures range from -18? to 13? C (0? to 55? F). The average January and July temperatures in Bogot? are the same: 14? C (57? F). The averages for the same months in Barranquilla are 27? C (80? F) and 28? C (82? F).
Throughout the year, three-month periods of rain and dry weather alternate. Along the Pacific coast precipitation is heavy. At Bogot? the annual rainfall averages about 1060 mm (about 42 in), and in Barranquilla it averages about 800 mm (about 32 in). Dry weather prevails on the slopes of the Cordillera Oriental.
BNatural Resources The mineral resources of the country are varied and extensive. Colombia is the major world source of emeralds. Other significant reserves include petroleum and natural gas, coal, gold, silver, iron ore, salt, platinum, and some uranium.
CPlants and Animals The indigenous flora and fauna of Colombia are as varied as the topography. Mangroves and coconut palms grow along the Caribbean coast, and the forest regions, which cover about one-half of the country, include such commercially useful trees as mahogany, lignum vitae, oak, walnut, cedar, pine, and several varieties of balsam. Tropical plants also yield rubber, chicle, cinchona, vanilla, sarsaparilla, ginger, gum copal, ipecac, tonka beans, and castor beans.
Among the wildlife are the larger South American mammals, such as jaguars, pumas, tapirs, peccaries, anteaters, sloths, armadillos, and several species of monkey and red deer. Alligators, once numerous along the principal rivers, have been intensively hunted and are becoming scarce. Many varieties of snakes inhabit the tropical regions. Birdlife includes condors, vultures, toucans, parrots, cockatoos, cranes, storks, and hummingbirds.
DSoils Colombia contains several fertile low-lying valleys, but only about 2 percent of the country’s land area, chiefly at higher elevations, is cultivated. Soil exhaustion and erosion, largely the result of slash-and-burn farming methods, are problems in agricultural regions.
IIIPOPULATION The racial makeup of the Colombian population is diversified. About 58 percent of the people are mestizo (of mixed Spanish and Native American ancestry), about 20 percent are of unmixed European ancestry, and about 14 percent are mulatto (of mixed black and white ancestry). The remaining 8 percent is made up of blacks, Native Americans, and people of mixed race.
APopulation Characteristics, Religion, and Language The population of Colombia (1997 estimate) is 37,852,050, giving the country an overall population density of 33 persons per sq km (86 per sq mi). Some 73 percent of the population is classified as urban. The principal centers of population are in the Magdalena and Cauca river valleys and in the Caribbean coastal region. The concordat of 1973 preserves a privileged status for Roman Catholicism; about 95 percent of the people are Roman Catholic. Small Protestant and Jewish minorities exist. The official language of Colombia is Spanish, although a new constitution adopted in 1991 recognizes the languages of ethnic groups in their territories and provides for bilingual education.
BPolitical Divisions and Principal Cities Colombia is divided into 32 departments and one capital district. The capital and largest city is Bogot?, an industrial center with a population (1993 estimate) of 5,025,989. Other important commercial cities include the trading and textile centers of Medell?n (1,594,967) and Cali (1,655,699); Barranquilla (1,033,951), which provides both a seaport and a major international airport; and Cartagena (707,092), a seaport and oil pipeline terminal.
CEducation Elementary education is free and compulsory for five years. Much effort has been devoted to eliminating illiteracy, and 91 percent of all Colombians over age 15 could read and write by 1995. Courses in Roman Catholicism are compulsory in all public schools, most of which are controlled by the Roman Catholic church. Protestant churches maintain a number of schools, chiefly in Bogot?. The national government finances secondary- and university-level schools and maintains primary schools in municipalities and departments that cannot afford to do so. In 1995 some 4.7 million pupils annually attended primary schools; 3.0 million students attended secondary schools, including vocational and teacher-training institutions. In the late 1980s Colombia had some 235 institutions of higher education; total enrollment in 1996 was 644,200. Among the largest universities are the National University of Colombia (1867) in Bogot? (parts of which date from the 16th century), the University of Cartagena (1827) in Cartagena, the University of Antioquia (1822) in Medell?n, and the University of Nari?o (1827) in Pasto.
DCulture The heritage of the Spanish colonial period is more noticeably preserved in Colombia than in any other South American country, and family life and dress often still conform to traditional norms. Although Colombia is a country of many racial mixtures, its culture is diversified more by region than by ethnicity. The Native American civilization was rapidly assimilated into that of the Spanish settlers, whose language nearly all Colombians speak today.
Distinguished Colombian writers include the 19th-century novelist Jorge Isaacs and, in the 20th century, poet Germ?n Pard? Garc?a and novelist Gabriel Garc?a M?rquez, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1982.
The National Library in Bogot? (1777) contains about 800,000 volumes; it also administers town and village libraries throughout the country. The leading museums are located in Bogot?. The National Museum contains collections relating to the Spanish conquest and the colonial period. The National Archaeological Museum exhibits utensils, stone carvings, textiles, gold works, and other materials found at sites throughout the country. The famous Gold Museum features a noted collection of pre-Columbian gold objects.
For Colombian literature and music, see Latin American Literature; Latin American Music; Latin American Architecture; Pre-Columbian Art and Architecture.
IVECONOMY Colombia is primarily an agrarian nation, although it experienced rapid industrial growth in recent decades. In the early 1990s the country undertook an economic reform program that opened its economy to international trade and investment, and it is the only country in Latin America that maintained scheduled payments on loans during a debt crisis in the late 1980s. For these reasons the country enjoys one of the highest credit ratings in the region. Colombia’s agricultural sector once was dependent on coffee as its principal cash crop, but has successfully diversified since a decline in international coffee prices in the late 1980s. Its mining sector contributes significantly to the economy, with large deposits of fossil fuels, precious metals, and emeralds, of which Colombia supplies about one-half the world supply. The central government budget included revenues of $11.2 billion (1994) and expenditures of $7.3 billion (1993). The gross domestic product (GDP) in 1996 was $85.2 billion, or about $2280 per capita. Not included in these official statistics is the economic impact of coca cultivation and the illegal cocaine trade, reportedly with profits worth $300 million annually in the early 1990s.
AAgriculture Coffee is Colombia’s principal crop. Although Colombia is second only to Brazil in the annual volume of coffee produced and is the world’s leading producer of mild coffee, the crop was bypassed by petroleum in the mid-1990s as the country’s largest source of foreign income. In the mid-1970s coffee accounted for 80 percent of Colombia’s export earnings; by 1995 coffee only brought in 25 percent of the nation’s export earnings. High production costs, low international prices, and a worm that destroys coffee beans all combined to drastically reduce the earnings of Colombian coffee growers in the early 1990s. Coffee is cultivated chiefly on mountain slopes between about 900 and 1800 m (about 3000 and 6000 ft) above sea level, principally in the departments of Caldas, Antioquia, Cundinamarca, Norte de Santander, Tolima, and Santander. More than 150,000 coffee plantations, chiefly small, extend over approximately 1 million hectares (approximately 2.5 million acres). Coffee output totaled 696,200 metric tons in 1997, with most of the exported coffee going to the United States.
While coffee is Colombia’s leading agricultural product, the country’s diverse climate and topography permits cultivation of a wide variety of other crops. Annual production of principal cash crops in addition to coffee are cacao beans (47,300 metric tons), sugarcane (32.8 million), tobacco (28,700), cotton (102,200), bananas, and cut flowers. Chief food crops are rice (1.8 million), cassava (1.8 million), potatoes (515,800),and plantains. Plants producing pita, sisal, and hemp fibers, used in the manufacture of cordage and coarse sacking material, are also cultivated. In 1997 the livestock population included 26.3 million cattle, 2.5 million hogs, 2.4 million sheep, and 2.5 million horses.
BForestry and Fishing Much of the forestland of Colombia is inaccessible because of poor transportation facilities, or contains trees of relatively little value. The cut of roundwood in Colombia in 1995 was 20.5 million cu m (724 million cu ft). Much of the wood is used as fuel.
The coastal waters and many rivers and lakes of Colombia provide a variety of fish, notably trout, tarpon, sailfish, and tuna. The total catch in 1995 was 146,400 metric tons. About one-quarter of the annual catch consists of freshwater species of fish.
CMining Petroleum and gold are Colombia’s chief mineral products. A number of other minerals are extracted, including silver, emeralds, platinum, copper, nickel, coal, and natural gas. The petroleum operations are under control of a national petroleum company and several foreign-owned concessions. Production of crude petroleum is centered in the Magdalena River valley, about 650 km (about 400 mi) from the Caribbean, and in the region between the Cordillera Oriental and Venezuela; it amounted to 228 million barrels in 1996. Much of Colombia’s oil is shipped to Cura?ao for refining. New oil reserves discovered about 200 km (about 125 mi) east of Bogot? are expected to provide Colombia with energy self-sufficiency into the 21st century, with annual extraction from the reserves of 180 million barrels anticipated by the late 1990s. Colombia is one of the world’s leading exporters of coal. Two-thirds of an annual production of 30.1 million metric tons comes from a single open-pit mine, the world’s largest, on the Guajira Peninsula. Some 9.7 billion cu m (331 billion cu ft) of natural gas was produced in 1996.
Gold, mined in Colombia since pre-Columbian times, is found principally in the department of Antioquia and to a lesser extent in the departments of Cauca, Caldas, Nari?o, Tolima, and Choc?. Colombia is the leading gold producer of South America, with an output of 22,064 kg (10,008 lb) in 1996. Platinum, discovered in Colombia in 1735, is found in the gold-bearing sands of the San Juan and Atrato river basins. Colombia has the largest platinum deposits in the world, producing about 51,500 troy oz annually. The chief emerald-mining centers are the Muzo and Chiver mines. Still other mineral products are lead, manganese, zinc, mercury, mica, phosphates, and sulfur.
DManufacturing The manufacturing industries in Colombia, stimulated in the 1950s by the establishment of high protective tariffs on imports, are generally small-scale enterprises, producing for the domestic market. Together, they account for 16 percent of Colombia’s yearly national output. Cotton-spinning mills, principally in the cities of Barranquilla, Manizales, Medell?n, and Samac?, are important manufacturing establishments. Other industries include the manufacture of foodstuffs, tobacco products, iron and steel, and transportation equipment. Chemical products are becoming increasingly important, and footwear, Panama hats, and glassware are made.
EEnergy Colombia has many hydroelectric installations, and 81 percent of its electricity was produced by such facilities in 1996. A drought in 1992 brought about electricity rationing in much of the country. Consequently the government initiated the construction of new thermoelectric power plants and improved natural gas distribution to urban residences. In 1996 the country’s annual output of electricity was 54 billion kilowatt-hours.
FCurrency and Banking The basic unit of currency is the Colombian peso (1037 pesos equal U.S.$1; 1996). The Bank of the Republic is the sole bank of issue and operates the mint, salt, and emerald monopolies for the government. It also shares responsibility for monetary policy with the government monetary board. More than 25 commercial banking institutions, as well as the government development banks and several other official and semiofficial financial institutions, operate in Colombia. Stock exchanges serve Bogot?, Medell?n, and Cali.
GCommerce and Trade The principal export of Colombia is coffee, which typically accounts for about one-sixth of the yearly value of all exports. Petroleum, cotton goods, fresh-cut flowers, bananas, chemicals, sugar, coal, gold, emeralds, and cattle are other leading exports. The most important imports are mechanical and electrical equipment, chemicals, food, and metals. Colombia’s annual exports earned $9.8 billion and its imports cost some $13.9 billion in 1995. The United States is Colombia’s main trading partner, and Venezuela, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, Brazil, and Peru also have a significant amount of trade with the country. Colombia is an original member of the Andean Group (1969), which also includes Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela. Colombia entered into two other trade associations in 1995, the Group of Three and the Association of Caribbean States (ACS). The Group of Three, composed of Mexico, Venezuela, and Colombia, aims to phase out trade barriers between those countries. The ACS, composed of the members of the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM) and 12 other Latin American nations, was the fourth largest trading bloc in the world in the mid-1990s. In addition, the Andean Group agreed in March 1996 to begin reducing trade barriers among its member nations. These associations assured Colombia an important position in regional trade.