For the most current version of this Note, see Background Notes A-Z.
Area: 1.14 million sq. km. (440,000 sq. mi.); about the size of California and Texas combined; fourth-largest country in South America.
Cities: Capital--Bogota (pop. 8.26 million; 2011). Other major cities include Medellin, Cali, Barranquilla, and Cartagena.
Terrain: Flat coastal areas, with extensive coastlines on the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea, three rugged parallel mountain chains, central highlands, and flat eastern grasslands.
Climate: Tropical on coast and eastern grasslands, cooler in highlands.
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Colombian(s).
Population (2011): 46.04 million.
Annual population growth: 1.2%.
Religion: 80% Catholic; 13.5% non-Catholic Christian; 4.5% other religious groups (including Seventh Day Adventist, Mormon, Jehovah’s Witness, Islam, and Judaism); 2% no religion.
Education: Education is free and compulsory for the first 5 years; only 5 years of primary school are offered in many rural areas. Attendance--90% of children are enrolled in primary school; 74% in secondary schools. Literacy--93% (2009).
Health: Infant mortality rate--16/1,000. Life expectancy--total population 75 years, men 71.27 years, women 78.03 years.
Ethnic groups: Mestizo (58%), white (20%), mulatto (14%). The population of Afro-Colombians and indigenous groups is officially reported to be around 10%. Non-governmental groups (NGOs) and human rights groups estimate this number may actually be more than 25%.
Independence: July 20, 1810 (from Spain).
Constitution: July 5, 1991.
Branches: Executive--president (head of state and government). Legislative--bicameral Congress. Judicial--Supreme Court, Constitutional Court, Council of State, Superior Judicial Council. The Prosecutor General is nominated (along with two other candidates) by the president and elected by the Supreme Court. This office is not a part of the executive branch; it is an independent agency.
Administrative divisions: 32 departments; Bogota, capital district.
Major political parties: Colombian Conservative Party, Colombian Liberal Party, Social Party of National Unity, Radical Change, Alternative Democratic Pole, Party of National Integration, and numerous smaller movements.
Suffrage: Universal, age 18 and over.
GDP (purchasing power parity; International Monetary Fund (IMF) 2010): $435.1 billion.
GDP (current prices; IMF): $285.5 billion.
Annual growth rate: 4%-6% (2011 projected); 5.1% (first quarter 2011).
Per capita GDP (purchasing power parity; IMF 2010 est.): $9,566.
Natural resources: Coal, petroleum, natural gas, iron ore, nickel, gold, silver, copper, platinum, emeralds.
Industry (14.4% of GDP): Types--textiles, garments, footwear, chemicals, metal products, cement, plastic resins and manufactures, beverages, wood products, pharmaceuticals, machinery, electrical equipment.
Agriculture (7.1% of GDP): Products--coffee, bananas, cut flowers, cotton, sugarcane, livestock, rice, corn, tobacco, potatoes, soybeans, sorghum, cocoa beans, oilseed.
Services (46% of GDP): Government services, financial services, commerce, transportation and communication, construction and public works, utilities.
Mining (7.8% of GDP): Main products--coal, gold, nickel.
Trade: Exports (2010 est.)--$39 billion: petroleum, coffee, coal, nickel, emeralds, apparel, bananas, cut flowers. Major markets--U.S., E.U., China, Ecuador. Imports (2010 est.)--$41 billion: machinery/equipment, grains, chemicals, transportation equipment, mineral products, consumer products, paper products, oil and gas industry equipment, electricity. Major suppliers--U.S., China, Mexico, Brazil, Germany.
Colombia is the third-most populous country in Latin America, after Brazil and Mexico. Sixty-one cities have a population of 100,000 or more; four cities have a population of more than 1 million. Most of Colombia’s population is concentrated around the northern and western departments. The nine eastern lowlands departments, constituting about 54% of Colombia's area are sparsely populated (less than 3% of the population; density of less than one person per square kilometer).
Ethnic and cultural diversity in Colombia reflects the indigenous, European (mainly Spanish), and African heritages of its inhabitants. Today, only about 3% of the people identify themselves as indigenous. Afro-Colombians and indigenous groups have faced challenges related to their integration into mainstream Colombian society.
Around 45.5% of Colombians live below the poverty line, and the country continues to face large income disparities and inadequate social services. The history of the country, including decades-long violent conflict involving outlawed armed groups and drug cartels coupled with human rights violations, has complicated the advancement of government social programs to address these extensive problems. Colombia continues to make progress in improving the security of the country, which is an essential building block for stability and democracy.
HISTORY, GOVERNMENT, AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
During the pre-Columbian period, the area now known as Colombia was inhabited by indigenous societies situated at different stages of socio-economic development, ranging from hunters and nomadic farmers to the highly structured Chibchas, who are considered to have been one of the most developed indigenous groups in South America.
Santa Marta was the first permanent Spanish settlement founded in 1525. Santa Fe de Bogota was founded in 1538 and, in 1717, became the capital of the Viceroyalty of New Granada, which included what are now Venezuela, Ecuador, and Panama. Bogota was one of three principal administrative centers of the Spanish possessions in the New World.
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 to include all the territory of the former Viceroyalty (Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador and Panama). Simon Bolivar was elected its first president with Francisco de Paula Santander as vice president. Conflicts between followers of Bolivar and Santander led to the formation of two political parties that have since dominated Colombian politics. Bolivar's supporters, who later formed the nucleus of the Conservative Party, sought strong centralized government, alliance with the Roman Catholic Church and a limited franchise. Santander's followers, forerunners of the Liberals, wanted a decentralized government, state control over education and other civil matters, and a broader suffrage.
Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, each party held the presidency for roughly equal periods of time. Colombia maintained a tradition of civilian government and regular, free elections. Notwithstanding the country's commitment to democratic institutions, Colombia's history also has been characterized by widespread, violent conflict. Two civil wars resulted from bitter rivalry between the Conservative and Liberal parties: The War of a Thousand Days (1899-1903) claimed an estimated 100,000 lives and La Violencia (the Violence) (1946-1957) claimed about 300,000 lives.
La Violencia (The Violence) and the National Front
The assassination of Liberal leader Jorge Eliecer Gaitan in 1948 sparked the bloody conflict known as La Violencia. Conservative Party leader Laureano Gomez came to power in 1950, but was ousted by a military coup led by General Gustavo Rojas Pinilla in 1953. When Rojas failed to restore democratic rule and became implicated in corrupt schemes, he was overthrown by the military with the support of the Liberal and Conservative Parties.
In July 1957, an alliance between former Conservative President Laureano Gomez (1950-53) and former Liberal President Alberto Lleras Camargo (1945-46) led to the creation of the National Front. It established a power-sharing agreement between the two parties and brought an end to "La Violencia." The presidency would be determined by regular elections every 4 years and the two parties would have parity in all other elective and appointive offices. This system was phased out in 1978.
Post-National Front Years
During the post-National Front years, the Colombian Government made efforts to negotiate a peace with the persistent guerrilla organizations that flourished in Colombia's remote and undeveloped rural areas. In 1984, President Belisario Betancur, a Conservative, negotiated a cease-fire with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the Democratic Alliance (M-19) that included the release of many imprisoned guerrillas. The National Liberation Army (ELN) rejected the government's cease-fire proposal at that time. The M-19 pulled out of the cease-fire when it resumed fighting in 1985. The army suppressed an M-19 attack on the Palace of Justice in Bogota in November 1985, during which 115 people were killed, including 11 Supreme Court justices. The government and the M-19 renewed their truce in March 1989, which led to a peace agreement and the M-19's reintegration into society and political life. The M-19 was one of the parties that participated in the process to enact a new constitution (see below), which took effect in 1991. The FARC ended the truce in 1990 after some 2,000-3,000 of its members who had demobilized had been murdered.
A new constitution in 1991 brought about major reforms to Colombia's political institutions. While the new constitution preserved a presidential, three-branch system of government, it created new institutions such as the Inspector General, a Human Rights Ombudsman, a Constitutional Court, and a Superior Judicial Council. The new constitution also reestablished the position of Vice President. Other significant constitutional reforms provide for civil divorce, dual nationality and the establishment of a legal mechanism ("Tutela") that allows individuals to appeal government decisions affecting their constitutional rights. The constitution also authorized the introduction of an accusatory system of criminal justice to be instituted gradually throughout the country, replacing the previous written inquisitorial system. A constitutional amendment approved in 2005 allows the president to hold office for two consecutive 4-year terms.
Colombian governments have had to contend with the combined terrorist activities of left-wing guerrillas, the rise of paramilitary self-defense forces in the 1990s, and the drug cartels. Narco-terrorists assassinated three presidential candidates during the election campaign of 1990. After Colombian security forces killed Medellin cartel leader Pablo Escobar in December 1993, indiscriminate acts of violence associated with his organization abated as the cartels were broken into multiple and smaller trafficking organizations that competed against each other in the drug trade. Guerrillas and paramilitary groups also entered into drug trafficking as a way to finance their military operations.
The administration of Andres Pastrana (1998-2002), a Conservative, faced the challenges of increased countrywide attacks by the FARC and ELN, widespread drug production, and the expansion of paramilitary groups. The Pastrana administration unveiled its "Plan Colombia" in 1999 as a 6-year strategy to deal with these longstanding problems, and sought support from the international community. Plan Colombia was a comprehensive program to combat narco-terrorism, spur economic recovery, strengthen democratic institutions and respect for human rights, and provide humanitarian assistance to internally displaced persons.
In November 1998, Pastrana ceded a sparsely populated area the size of Switzerland in south-central Colombia to the FARC's control to serve as a neutral zone where peace negotiations could take place. The FARC negotiated with the government only fitfully while continuing to mount attacks and expand coca production, seriously undermining the government's efforts to reach an agreement. Negotiations with the rebels in 2000 and 2001 were marred by rebel attacks, kidnappings and fighting between rebels and paramilitaries for control of coca-growing areas in Colombia. In February 2002, after the FARC hijacked a commercial aircraft and kidnapped a senator, Pastrana ordered the military to attack rebel positions and reassert control over the neutral zone. The FARC withdrew into the jungle and increased attacks against Colombia's infrastructure, while avoiding large-scale direct conflicts with the military.
Alvaro Uribe, an independent, was elected president in May 2002 on a platform to restore security to the country. Among his promises was to continue to pursue the broad goals of Plan Colombia within the framework of a long-term strategy. In the fall of 2002, Uribe released a democratic security strategy that employed political, economic, and military means to weaken all illegal armed groups. The Uribe government offered to negotiate a peace agreement with these groups with the condition that they would agree to a unilateral cease-fire and to end drug trafficking and kidnapping.
In December 2003, the Colombian United Self-Defense Forces (AUC) paramilitary group entered into a peace agreement with the government that has led to the collective demobilization of over 31,000 AUC members. In addition, more than 20,000 members of the FARC, AUC, ELN, and other illegal armed groups have individually surrendered their arms. In July 2005, President Uribe signed the Justice and Peace Law, which provides reduced punishments for the demobilized if they renounce violence and return illegal assets, which are to provide reparations to victims.
Colombian leaders presented a new strategy in January 2007 in order to consolidate gains under Plan Colombia and its follow-on programs. This strategy eventually became known as the National Consolidation Plan (Plan Nacional de Consolidacion, or PNC). The PNC is a civilian-led whole-of-government approach that builds upon successful Plan Colombia programs to establish state presence in traditionally ungoverned spaces. By improving access to social services--including justice, education, housing, and health--strengthening democracy, and supporting economic development through sustainable growth and trade, the Colombian Government seeks to permanently recover governance in Colombia's historically marginalized rural areas and break the cycle of guerilla violence.
Between 2002 and 2008, Colombia saw a decrease in homicides by 44%, kidnappings by 88%, terrorist attacks by 79%, and attacks on the country's infrastructure by 60%. In 2008, senior FARC commander Luis Edgar Devia-Silva, aka “Raul Reyes,” was killed during a Colombian Government operation; FARC Commander Manuel Munoz-Ortiz, aka “Ivan Rios,” was killed at the hands of his own chief of security; and FARC founding member Manuel Marulanda-Velez, aka “Tirofijo,” died from a reported heart attack. Since 2000, the FARC has not carried out large-scale multi-front attacks, although it has mounted some operations that indicate it has not yet been broken. Peace efforts with the FARC stalled in 2010.
On August 7, 2010, Juan Manuel Santos was inaugurated as President of Colombia. He had previously served as Minister of National Defense for Uribe’s second presidential term, as Minister of Finance under President Andres Pastrana, and as Minister of Trade under President Cesar Gaviria.
The Santos administration has maintained positive trends in security consolidation. The Colombian police and military successfully coordinated operations that resulted in the death of top FARC military commander “Mono Jojoy” and ER-PAC (neo-paramilitary group) leader “Cuchillo”. Security forces captured, killed, or demobilized over 4,200 guerrillas and BACRIM (mafia-type organized criminals) in 2010. The number of FARC fighters has decreased from 16,000 in 2001 to approximately 8,000 in 2011. Over the past decade, more than 54,000 paramilitaries and guerrillas have demobilized, while kidnappings have fallen 90%, homicides 46%, and terrorist attacks 71%. Colombian law enforcement interdicted over 175 metric tons (MT) of cocaine and cocaine base in 2010. In addition, ridership on Colombia’s roads has doubled since 2000, and tourism has doubled since 2004 as a result of efforts to improve security nationwide.
President Santos has been active in addressing many human and labor rights concerns through increasing the budget for the government’s program to protect human rights defenders and labor leaders, engaging in frequent dialogues with non-governmental groups (NGOs) and unions, and reducing corruption in the government and military. President Santos has supported legislation to provide reparations for victims of violence, land restitution, and intelligence reforms. He has also created new presidential programs for Afro-Colombian and Indigenous issues. Vice President Angelino Garzon, a respected former labor leader, coordinates human and labor rights issues and has promptly condemned human rights abuses and threats against unions. Colombia has now established an accusatorial judicial system, which should resolve critical human rights cases, but the country still needs to implement reform legislation, provide more resources to the Prosecutor General, and show movement on priority cases.
Another important step taken by President Santos has been securing the passage of several critical laws including an anti-corruption law, victim’s reparation and land restitution laws, and labor formalization laws. He has also mandated ministry reorganization and executive branch reform (including dismantling the discredited Administrative Department of Security--DAS--intelligence service), natural resource royalty re-distribution, fiscal reform, and the implementation of more tools to improve citizen safety.
The Victims and Land Restitution Law, signed into law by Santos in June 2011, focuses on making reparations available to 4 million victims affected by the country’s ongoing civil conflict. This landmark law will offer monetary compensation to the victims of human rights violations such as forced disappearance or homicide. It will also offer monetary compensation or land restitution to people who lost their land as a result of the conflict. If the land is now uninhabitable because it is not secure or is now a natural park or other protected place, compensation will be made in the form of equivalent lands in another part of the country. If land restitution does not fully compensate for the loss of land, a monetary award will be made. Victims (and the families of these victims) who were guerillas or paramilitaries will not be eligible for compensation, and it is unclear whether victims of criminal bands or state violence will be eligible for compensation. The law will continue to aid past and current victims through 2021.
Building on the “democratic security” agenda of the previous administration, President Santos campaigned on “democratic prosperity,” focusing on economic development (jobs), security, and poverty reduction. The Santos administration recently passed a first employment and formalization law as the next logical step, which seeks to create 2.5 million jobs, formalize 500,000 informal jobs, and reduce annual unemployment to single digits, all by 2014. He has also submitted legislation to reduce the deficit through fiscal discipline measures.
At the end of 2010, 56% of Colombians held a favorable opinion of the United States, 59% approved of President Barack Obama, and 66% favored the U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement (CTPA). While security and counternarcotics continue to be key issues, the U.S. and Colombia are broadening their relationship. President Obama met with President Santos at the UN General Assembly in September 2010 and in Washington DC on April 7, 2011. In October 2010, over 40 U.S. officials met with their counterparts in Bogota for the first High-Level Partnership Dialogue on issues like energy, human rights, and scientific exchange. A second round was held in Washington DC in May 2011 and expanded to include issues such as culture and education, and social and economic reform.
Colombia has taken an active, prominent role in global and regional institutions like the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR). Colombia chairs the Iran and Sudan Sanctions Committees in the UNSC, contributes to three UN peacekeeping missions (Haiti, the Sinai, and Sierra Leone), and used its April 2011 UNSC presidency to focus on Haiti reconstruction efforts. Colombia is also conducting security and counternarcotics training for 14 countries across the Americas. Santos successfully reestablished relations with Venezuela and Ecuador, allowing for greater collaboration on counternarcotics, border security, and trade.
Principal Government Officials
President--Juan Manuel SANTOS Calderon
Vice President--Angelino GARZON
Minister of Foreign Affairs--Maria Angela HOLGUIN Cuellar
Minister of Defense--Rodrigo RIVERA Salazar
Minister of Interior and Justice--German VARGAS Lleras
Ambassador to the United States--Gabriel SILVA Lujan
Ambassador to the Organization of American States--Luis Alfonso HOYOS Aristazabal
Ambassador to the United Nations--Nestor OSORIO Londono
Colombia maintains an embassy in the United States at 2118 Leroy Place NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202-387-8338). Consulates are located in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, San Francisco, San Juan, and Washington DC.
Colombia's Ministry of Defense is charged with the country's internal and external defense and security. This ministry, under a civilian Minister of Defense, exercises jurisdiction over an army, navy (including marines and coast guard), air force, and national police. Security forces number about 435,000 uniformed personnel--285,000 military and 150,000 police. Colombian military personnel often receive training in the United States or from U.S. instructors in Colombia. The United States provides training and equipment to the Colombian military and police through the military assistance programs, foreign military sales, and the international narcotics control program.
President Uribe instituted a wealth tax in 2002, which raised over $800 million, with 70% used to increase 2002-2003 defense spending. A similar tax imposed from 2007-2011 and levied on the country's wealthiest individuals and enterprises is expected to raise up to $3.7 billion. Real spending on defense has increased every year since 2000, but especially under President Uribe. Colombian spending on defense grew from $2.6 billion in 2001 to over $9 billion in 2009.
Narcotics and Narco-Trafficking
The United States and Colombia continue to enjoy a close counternarcotics partnership. Under Plan Colombia, significant U.S. funding, technical assistance, and material support has been provided to Colombian-led counternarcotics programs aimed at interdicting and eradicating drugs at the source as well as expanding the capacity of Colombian military, police, and judicial institutions.
North America is home to 40% of the world’s cocaine-using population, and the United States has the largest consumer market for cocaine. An estimated 90%-95% of the cocaine entering the United States is produced in Colombia, and approximately 90% of all U.S.-bound cocaine is transported across the U.S.-Mexico border by Mexican traffickers. The Colombian Government, with the help of U.S. support, has made real progress in weakening drug trafficking organizations, disrupting the supply of illicit drugs to the United States, and establishing a security presence in former conflict regions.
Colombia was responsible for about half of the world’s production of cocaine in 2008. The past decade has seen a 57% overall decrease in pure cocaine production in Colombia, mostly due to eradication efforts by the Colombian Government. In 2009-2010, eradication of coca plants decreased by 12% (101,000 hectares were sprayed and 44,775 hectares were manually eradicated). The capacity for cocaine production increased by 3% (10 metric tons), mainly due to higher yields and improved techniques by “cocaleros” (coca growers). Despite the recent reduction in eradication, Colombia remains committed to fighting both the production of drugs and narco-trafficking. In 2010, Colombian security forces seized 226 metric tons of cocaine and coca base, 262 metric tons of marijuana, and 350 kilos of heroin. Colombia also destroyed 2,400 drug laboratories in 2010, including 256 cocaine processing laboratories, 2,138 smaller coca base labs, and six heroin labs.
The involvement of Colombian terrorist groups, including the FARC, in narcotics production and trafficking increases the difficulty in addressing this problem. The United States is committed to helping Colombia improve the rule of law and prevent drugs from reaching the United States through strong interdiction, eradication, and alternative development programs. U.S. assistance has helped create economic opportunities for Colombians and has also helped promote a lifestyle change and supported state presence. With U.S. assistance, Colombian alternative development programs have supported the cultivation of over 650,000 hectares of agricultural, forestry plantation, and natural forest management activities. Over the last 10 years, the programs have also completed approximately 1,290 social and productive infrastructure projects with communities that agree to remain illicit-crop free. More than 400,000 families in 18 departments have benefited from these programs. Additionally, these projects have leveraged over $759 million in private and public sector funding for alternative development initiatives.
Colombia has traditionally maintained an excellent extradition relationship with the United States when it comes to narco-criminals. The Uribe administration extradited over 1,000 fugitives to the United States. Among those extradited were Cali Cartel leaders Gilberto Rodriguez Orejuela and his brother Miguel; FARC leaders Juvenal Ovidio Palmera Pineda (aka "Simon Trinidad") and Omaira Rojas Cabrera (aka "Sonia"); and former AUC leaders Salvatore Mancuso and Diego Murillo. In 2009, 186 criminals were extradited to the U.S., including former AUC leader Hebert Veloza-Garcia (aka “HH”) and FARC member Gerardo Antonio Aguilar Ramirez (aka “Cesar”). In April 2011, President Santos agreed to extradite drug kingpin Walid Makled to Venezuela instead of the United States. Makled, aka "the Turk", is a Venezuelan citizen who was arrested on a U.S. warrant in Colombia in late 2010.
Colombia is a free market economy with major commercial and investment ties to the United States. In 1990, the administration of President Cesar Gaviria (1990-94) initiated economic liberalization or "apertura," with tariff reductions, financial deregulation, privatization of state-owned enterprises, and adoption of a more liberal foreign exchange rate. These policies eased import restrictions and opened most sectors to foreign investment, although agricultural products remained protected.
The Uribe administration sought to maintain prudent fiscal policies and pursued tough economic reforms including tax, pension, and budget reforms. The Santos administration has been promoting economic growth by pursuing free trade agreements with other South American and Asian countries, as well as the U.S. and Canada. The average unemployment rate in 2011 is around 10%, down from 12% in 2009. Despite recent improvements in Colombia’s economy, the country continues to have a high rate of poverty (45.5%) and one of the highest levels of income disparity in the world.
Colombia's economic growth in the last decade can be attributed to an increase in security, resulting in greater foreign investment; economic reforms in the oil and gas sectors; prudent monetary policy; and export growth fueled in part by the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act (ATPDEA) of 2002. Investments as a percentage of GDP were around 28% in mid-2011, which is higher than both Brazil and Chile.
First-quarter GDP growth for 2011 was 5.1%, and economists project growth levels between 4% and 6% in 2011. Per capita GDP has doubled since 2002, while unemployment fell from 15.7% in 2002 to 11.8% in 2010. Colombia has concluded or is pursuing free trade agreements (FTAs) with the U.S., EU, Canada, Switzerland, Turkey, Panama, South Korea, and Japan in addition to its existing trade agreements with Mexico, Chile, Central America, the Andean Community of Nations, and Mercosur.
Industry and Agriculture
As the most industrially diverse member of the Andean Community, Colombia has five major industrial centers--Bogota, Medellin, Cali, Barranquilla, and Bucaramanga--each located in a distinct geographical region. Colombia's industries include mining (coal, gold, and emeralds), oil, textiles and clothing, agribusiness (cut flowers, bananas, sugarcane, and coffee), beverages, chemicals and petrochemicals, cement, construction, iron and steel products, and metalworking. There is also a burgeoning service economy comprised of tourism and information technology exports (call centers, software development, animation).
Colombia's diverse climate and topography permit the cultivation of a wide variety of crops. In addition, all regions yield forest products, ranging from tropical hardwoods in the lowlands, to pine and eucalyptus in the colder areas. Cacao, sugarcane, coconuts, bananas, plantains, rice, cotton, tobacco, cassava, and most of the nation's beef cattle are produced in the hot regions from sea level to 1,000 meters elevation. The temperate regions--between 1,000 and 2,000 meters--are better suited for coffee, flowers, corn and other vegetables, pears, pineapples, and tomatoes. The cooler elevations--between 2,000 and 3,000 meters--produce wheat, barley, potatoes, cold-climate vegetables, flowers, dairy cattle, and poultry.
While Colombia faces challenges in terms of labor rights, it has committed to sweeping reforms under the Labor Action Plan announced by Presidents Obama and Santos on April 7, 2011. The Colombian Government recently began hiring 100 additional labor inspectors as part of a commitment to double the labor inspectorate by hiring 480 inspectors over the next 4 years. A significant number of these inspectors will be dedicated to addressing worker rights abuses in the palm oil, sugar, mines, ports, and flowers sectors, and preventive inspections in these sectors and for temporary service agencies have already begun. New legislation also establishes criminal penalties, including imprisonment, for employers that undermine the right to organize and bargain collectively or threaten workers who exercise their labor rights. Furthermore, the Government of Colombia has also secured legislation establishing a separate Labor Ministry to provide better institutional capacity to protect labor rights.
To address issues of impunity in crimes against labor unionists, the Colombian Government has exceeded its Action Plan commitments in appointing 100 full-time judicial police inspectors for labor violence cases, and has developed improved training for judicial police investigators and prosecutors on such cases. Priority labor violence cases do remain, but Colombia is showing a commitment to reduce the number of unresolved cases. The Colombian Government has also expanded its protection program for threatened union activists and reduced the backlog of risk assessments by 75% for those unionists applying for protection.
Colombia is the United States' third-largest export market in Latin America behind Mexico and Brazil. U.S. exports to Colombia in 2010 were $12.1 billion, up 26% from the previous year. U.S. imports from Colombia in 2010 were $15.6 billion, up 38% from 2009 due to high crude oil prices and a low dollar. Colombia's major exports are petroleum, coffee, coal, nickel, cut flowers, and bananas. The United States is Colombia's largest trading partner, representing about 41% of Colombia's exports and 27% of its imports.
Mining and Energy
Colombia has considerable mineral and energy resources, especially coal and natural gas reserves. Mining and energy-related investments have grown because of higher oil prices, increased demand, improved output, and pro-business reforms. These reforms have significantly liberalized Colombia’s petroleum sector, leading to an increase in exploration and production contracts from both large and small hydrocarbon industries.
Natural Gas. In 2010, natural gas reserves totaled 5.4 trillion cubic feet. Natural gas production totaled 1.090 million cubic feet per day on average during 2010.
Crude Oil. The country’s production of crude oil has nearly doubled since 2007, reaching 927,000 barrels per day (bbl/d) in May 2011. Colombia had 1.9 billion barrels of proven crude oil reserves in 2010, the fifth-largest in South America.
Refining Capacity. The country's current oil-refining capacity is 325,000 bbl/d, and is expected to grow to 415,000 in 2016 according to the Ministry of Mines and Energy.
Coal. As of 2010, Colombia was the tenth-largest coal producing country and the fifth-largest coal exporting country in the world. It is the largest coal producer in Latin America (74.3 million tons in 2010). Colombia also is the largest exporter of coal to the U.S.
Gems. Colombia historically has been the world's leading producer of emeralds and after a short lull in production it has returned to being a leader in this field. Emerald production rose to 5.23 million carats in 2010, up from 2.12 million carats in 2008.
Precious Metals. Colombia is also a significant producer of gold (53.6 tons in 2010), silver (15.3 tons in 2010), and platinum (1 ton in 2010).
In 2010, total foreign direct investment (FDI) in Colombia was $6.8 billion, a slight decrease from the $7.2 billion in 2009. The Central Bank estimates that FDI in the first quarter of 2011 will be higher than the first quarter of 2010. On average, the United States has been the largest source of new FDI in Colombia, particularly in mining and hydrocarbon projects. The bulk of total new investment in Colombia is in the manufacturing, mining, and energy sectors. The only activities closed to foreign direct investment are defense, national security, and disposal of hazardous wastes.
In 1969, Colombia, along with Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, and Peru, formed what is now the Andean Community. (Venezuela joined in 1973 and announced its departure in 2006; Chile left in 1976.) In the 1980s, Colombia broadened its bilateral and multilateral relations. The country joined the Contadora Group, the Group of Eight (now the Rio Group), and was the chair-country of the Non-Aligned Movement from 1994 until September 1998. In addition, it has signed free trade agreements with Chile, Canada, Mexico, Central America's Northern Triangle (El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras), Mercosur, and the European Free Trade Association (EFTA).
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 Organization of American States (OAS) in September 1994 and was re-elected in 1999. In March 2006, Bogota hosted the Sixth Regular Session of the Inter-American Committee against Terrorism. Colombia also hosted the 38th OAS General Assembly in Medellin in early June 2008.
Colombia has participated in all five Summits of the Americas (most recently in April 2009) and followed up on initiatives developed at the first two summits by hosting two post-summit, ministerial-level meetings on trade and science and technology. Cartagena, Colombia will be the site of the Sixth Summit of the Americas in April 2012. The International Labor Organization (ILO) elected two Colombian members to its Administrative Tribunal in June 2011; Colombians have not held these positions for the last 13 years.
In 1822, the United States became one of the first countries to recognize the republic of Colombia and to establish a resident diplomatic mission in the country.
During the Pastrana administration (1998-2002), relations with the United States improved significantly. The United States responded to the Colombian Government's request for international support for Plan Colombia (see above) by providing substantial assistance designed to increase Colombia's counternarcotics capabilities and expand and consolidate government presence. This assistance also went toward improving the livelihoods of the most vulnerable Colombians by providing sustainable social and economic opportunities, protecting human rights, strengthening rule of law, and making governance more transparent, participatory, and accountable.
Recognizing that terrorism and the illicit narcotics trade in Colombia are inextricably linked, in 2002 the U.S. Congress expanded statutory authorities that made U.S. assistance to Colombia more flexible in order to better support President Uribe’s campaign against narcotics and terrorism. The U.S. continues close cooperation with the current administration of Colombia on these issues.
Since 2007, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has invested nearly $740 million in socio-economic and humanitarian assistance to Colombia. On November 17, 2009, the U.S. Government signed a multi-year country assistance agreement with the Government of Colombia, allotting nearly $212 million and $214 million in funding for the first and second years, respectively. This agreement links the socio-economic and humanitarian assistance implemented by the U.S. Government with that provided by the public and private sectors of Colombia. The results thus far have been impressive, but much remains to be done.
U.S. policy toward Colombia supports the Colombian Government's efforts to strengthen its democratic institutions, promote respect for human rights and the rule of law, foster socio-economic development, address immediate humanitarian needs, and end the threats to democracy posed by narcotics trafficking and terrorism. Promoting security, stability, and prosperity in Colombia will continue to be long-term American interests in the region.
Today, the U.S. Government estimates that there are 60,000 U.S. citizens living in Colombia and 70,000-86,000 U.S. citizens visiting Colombia in any given month. Approximately 250 American businesses conduct operations in Colombia.
In 1995-97, the United States and Colombia signed important agreements dealing with environmental protection, asset sharing, and chemical control. A notable maritime ship-boarding agreement signed in 1997 allowed for searches of suspected drug-running vessels. In 2008, the countries signed a memorandum of understanding on renewable and clean energy. In June 2010, the U.S. and Colombia signed a Science and Technology Agreement to promote innovation in both countries. The two entered into an Open Skies Agreement in May 2011, marking the 100th Open Skies Agreement signed by the U.S. The U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement was signed in November 2006. If ratified by the U.S. Congress, the agreement would enable U.S. businesses to better compete with other countries that have already established FTAs with Colombia.
Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
Ambassador--P. Michael McKinley
Deputy Chief of Mission--Perry Holloway
Political Counselor--Mark A. Wells
Economic Counselor--Timothy Stater
Consul General--Raymond Baca
Commercial Counselor--Margaret Hanson-Muse
Management Counselor--Theresa M. Leech
Military Group Commander--COL Michael Brown
Narcotics Affairs Section Director--James Story
Defense Attache--COL Paul Murray
Public Affairs Officer--Mark Wentworth
Regional Security Officer--Robert Myers
USAID Director--Nadereh Lee (Acting)
Calle 24, Bis #48-50
(tel: (571) 315-0811; fax: (571) 315-2197)
The mailing address is Carrera 45 No. 24B-27
Other Contact Information
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20520
(Main Switchboard: 202-647-4000)
U.S. Department of Commerce, Trade Information Center, International Trade Administration
1401 Constitution Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20230
Colombian-American Chamber of Commerce
Calle 98, # 22-64, Oficina 1209
Apartado Aereo 8008
(tel: (571) 587-7278; fax: (571) 587-7278-2)
Chapters in Barranquilla, Cali, Cartagena, Medellin