|General background: Colombia was one of the
three countries that emerged from the collapse of Gran
Colombia in 1830 (the others being Ecuador and Venezuela).
A 40-year insurgent campaign to overthrow the Colombian
Government escalated during the 1990s, undergirded in
part by funds from the drug trade. Although the violence
is deadly and large swaths of the countryside are under
guerrilla influence, the movement lacks the military
strength or popular support necessary to overthrow the
government. An anti-insurgent army of paramilitaries
has grown to be several thousand strong in recent years,
challenging the insurgents for control of territory
and illicit industries such as the drug trade and the
government's ability to exert its dominion over rural
areas. While Bogota continues to try to negotiate a
settlement, neighboring countries worry about the violence
spilling over their borders.
Area comparative: Slightly less than three times
the size of Montana
along coast and eastern plains; cooler in highlands
Terrain: Flat coastal lowlands, central
highlands, high Andes Mountains, eastern lowland plains
Population: 41,008,227 (July 2002 est.)
Ethnic groups: Mestizo 58%, White 20%, Mulatto
14%, Black 4%, Mixed Black-Amerindian 3%, Amerindian
Religions: Roman Catholic 90%
Government type: Republic; executive branch
dominates government structure
Legal system: Based on Spanish law; a new
criminal code modelled after US procedures was enacted
in 1992-93; judicial review of executive and legislative
acts; accepts compulsory ICJ jurisdiction, with reservations.
Economic overview: Colombia's economy suffered
from weak domestic demand, austere government budgets,
and a difficult security situation. A new president
takes office in 2002 and will face economic challenges
ranging from pension reform to reduction of unemployment.
Two of Colombia's leading exports, oil and coffee,
face an uncertain future; new exploration is needed
to offset declining oil production, while coffee harvests
and prices are depressed. Problems in public security
are a concern for Colombian business leaders, who
are calling for progress in the government's peace
negotiations with insurgent groups. Colombia is looking
for continued support from the international community
to boost economic and peace prospects.
Communication/Telephone system: Modern system
in many respects, nationwide microwave radio relay
system; domestic satellite system with 41 earth stations;
fiber-optic network linking 50 cities. Satellite earth
stations - 6 Intelsat, 1 Inmarsat; 3 fully digitalized
international switching centers; 8 submarine cables.
Places of interest: With dramatically beautiful
rainforests, mountains and beaches, lovely cities
and enchanting people, Colombia should be among the
world's most attractive and intoxicating destinations.
Travel tips: The US State Department and the
Australian Department of Foreign Affairs both warn
their citizens not to travel to Colombia at this time.
The UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office warns that
'violence and kidnapping are serious problems, and
all foreign nationals are potential targets.