Country profile: Colombia

When Colombia first gained independence from former colonial power Spain in 1819, it was originally known as Grand Colombia, comprising Ecuador and Venezuela.

In 1830, Ecuador and Venezuela seceded from Grand Colombia and present-day Colombia became known as New Granada from 1830 until 1863.

Throughout its modern history, Colombia has been wracked by internal strife and border disputes.

Colombia participated in the second world war on the Allied side, but internal divisions worsened during the war years.

The country has endured decades of alternating civil strife, violent rule and martial law.

Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc), Latin America’s oldest and most capable armed revolutionary guerrilla army, grew out of the unrest in the 1950s and ’60s.

The Colombian flag
The Colombian flag

The Colombian flag

Its activities have included – and continue to include, bombings – drug-trafficking, kidnappings, extortion and hijackings aimed at Colombian political, military and economic targets.

Colombia is the world’s largest supplier of cocaine; it supplies up to 90% of the lucrative US market and the majority of the cocaine that is trafficked to other international markets.

According to the CIA World Factbook, Colombia is an illicit producer of coca, opium poppy and cannabis.

It is the world’s leading coca cultivator. The cultivation of coca in 2002 was 144,450 hectares, a 15% decline since 2001.

This seems to indicate that there has been some progress in the war on the drug cartels that flourish there.

Colombia is also an important supplier of heroin to the US market. A significant amount of the proceeds of illicit narcotics sales from around the world are laundered or invested on the Colombian black market.

Throughout the 1970s and ’80s, the illegal drug trade grew steadily, with the drug cartels amassing huge amounts of money, weapons and influence. This influence appears to be slowly but steadily declining.

The country is a presidential republic with a very low degree of democratic participation.

Conflict between the extreme left-wing groups, such as Farc, and drug producers is the cause of constant internal strife and unrest.

Capital: Bogota
Official name: Republic of Colombia
Government type: (Democratic) Republic

People walk among the rubble after an attack by Farc  in Cauca
People walk among the rubble after an attack by Farc  in Cauca

People walk among the rubble
after an attack by Farc
 in Cauca

Population: 42,954,279 (July 2005 estimate)

Languages: Spanish
Ethnic diversity: Mestizo 58%, white 20%, mulatto 14%, black 4%, mixed black-Amerindian 3%, Amerindian 1%

Literacy rate:
total population over 15 years: 92.5%; male: 92.4%; female: 92.6% (2003 est)

Religion: Roman Catholic 90%; other 10%

Political parties and leaders: Colombian Communist Party or PCC, Jaime Caicedo; Conservative Party or PSC, Carlos Holguin Sardi]; Democratic Pole or PDI, Samuel Moreno Rojas; Liberal Party or PL, Juan Fernando Cristo.

Colombia has about 60 formally recognised political parties, most of which do not have a presence in the government.

Political pressure groups and leaders: The two largest guerrilla groups active in Colombia are: Farc and the National Liberation Army (ELN). The largest paramilitary group is the United Self-Defence Groups of Colombia (AUC).
International organisation participation includes: FAO, G-3, G-24, G-77, IFRCS, IHO, ILO, IMF, IMO, Interpol, IOC, IOM, ISO, ITU, LAES, LAIAOAS, OPANAL, OPCW, PCA, RG, UN, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNHCR, UNIDO, UPU, WCL, WCO, WFTU, WHO, WIPO, WMO, WToO, WTO.

Military branches: Army (Ejercito Nacional), Navy (Armada Nacional, including Naval Aviation, Marines, and Coast Guard), Air Force (Fuerza Aerea Colombiana).

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe
Colombian President Alvaro Uribe
Colombian President Alvaro Uribe

Military manpower: Military age: 18 years of age for compulsory and voluntary military service; conscription is for a period of 24 months (2004).

Military manpower: There are approximately 10,212,400 males aged 18-49 available for military service.


Location: Northern South America, bordering the Caribbean Sea, between Panama and Venezuela, and bordering the North Pacific Ocean, between Ecuador and Panama.

Area: total: 1,138,910sq km; land: 1,038,700sq km; water: 100,210sq km
Land boundaries: Total: 6004km
Border countries: Brazil 1643km, Ecuador 590km, Panama 225km, Peru 1496km, Venezuela 2050km.
Coastline: 3208km (Caribbean Sea 1760 km, North Pacific Ocean 1448 km).
Maritime claims: Territorial sea: 12nm
Exclusive economic zone: 200nm
Continental shelf: 200m depth or to the depth of exploitation.

Members of the United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC)
Members of the United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC)

Members of the United Self-
Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC)

Climate: Tropical along coast and eastern plains; cooler in highlands
Terrain: Flat coastal lowlands, central highlands, high Andes Mountains, eastern lowland plains.
Natural resources: Petroleum, natural gas, coal, iron ore, nickel, gold, copper, emeralds, hydropower.
Land use: Arable land: 2.42%; permanent crops: 1.67%; other: 95.91% (2001).
Natural hazards: Highlands subject to volcanic eruptions; occasional earthquakes; periodic droughts.
Environment – current issues: Deforestation; soil and water quality damage from overuse of pesticides; air pollution, especially in Bogota, from vehicle emissions.
Environment – international agreements: Colombia is party to: Antarctic Treaty, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Marine Life Conservation, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94, Wetlands.

Signed, but not ratified: Law of the Sea


Colombia’s economy seems poised for recovery and in 2003 it recorded one of the highest gross domestic products (GDP) increases in Latin America.

However, Colombia is trapped in a serious internal armed struggle.

Colombia’s two leading exports, coffee and oil, face uncertain future and sweeping economic reforms, along with a security strategy designed to give a sense of confidence, may be what is required to bolster the economy.

GDP: $6039.06 per person
GDP – real growth rate: 3.4% (2003 estimate)

Industries: Textiles, food processing, oil, clothing and footwear, beverages, chemicals, cement; gold, coal, emeralds.

Exports: Petroleum, coffee, coal, apparel, bananas, cut flowers.
Imports: Industrial equipment, transportation equipment, consumer goods, chemicals, paper products, fuels.
Labour force: 18.3 million (1999 est)
Labour force – by occupation: Services 46%, agriculture 30%, industry 24% (1990)
Unemployment rate: 13.6% (2003 est)

Currency: Colombian peso

Transnational issues

Disputes – international: Nicaragua and Venezuela have unresolved maritime border disputes with Colombia. Colombian-organised illegal narcotics, guerrilla, and paramilitary activities penetrate all of its neighbours’ borders and have created a serious refugee crisis with more than 300,000 persons having fled the country.
Sources:, CIA World Factbook,,

Source: Al Jazeera