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July 2008

Colombia, 2008

Colombia, 2008

Colombia, formally known as the Republic of Colombia, is the fourth-largest country in South America, covering an area of 1.14 million sq km (440,000 sq mi), about the size of California and Texas combined. Colombia lies in the northwestern part of South America; it is the only South American country with coastlines on both the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea. Colombia’s continental neighbors are Ecuador and Peru to the south, Brazil and Venezuela to the east, and the Isthmus of Panama to the west.

Colombia is the third-most populous country in Latin America, after Brazil and Mexico. According to the 2005 census, the capital city of Bogota has an estimated population of 7.1 million. Other major cities include Medellin, Cali, Barranquilla and Cartagena. These cities are also the four major industrial centers. Ethnic diversity in Colombia is a result of the intermingling of indigenous peoples, Europeans and Africans. Today, only about 1% of the people can be identified as fully indigenous on the basis of language and customs.

The mainland territory is divided into four major geographic regions. First, the coastal region consists of the Caribbean Lowlands and the Pacific Lowlands. The second region, encompassing the central and Andean Highlands, consists of three rugged parallel mountain ranges (the eastern Cordillera, the central Cordillera, and the western Cordillera), which constitute 33 percent of the country’s land area. An isolated range, the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, rises on the Caribbean coast and includes Colombia’s highest point at Pico Cristóbal Colón (5,776 meters). The third region consists of the intervening high plateaus and fertile valley lowlands. Finally, eastern Colombia includes the great plains (llanos) in the northern part and the tropical rainforest (selva) in the southern half. Colombia’s arable land is located mostly in patches on the Andean mountainsides. In 2005, the total area of arable land was estimated at 2.01 percent (approximately 21,000–23,000 sq km) and an estimated 1.37 percent (14,230 sq km) of that was planted to permanent crops.

Colombia has 20,000 km of rivers. Its principal rivers are the Magdalena, 1,540 km; the Putumayo, 1,500 km; and the Cauca, 1,014 km. The Cauca and Magdalena, which flow northward, divide the three principal Andean mountain ranges and join after emerging from the mountains and descending through marshy lowlands to the Caribbean near Barranquilla. In the west, the Patía flows through the Andes and empties into the Pacific. A total of 18,140 km of waterways are navigable by riverboats.

Mainly as a result of differences in elevation, Colombia has a striking variety in temperatures, with little seasonal variation. The habitable areas of the country are divided into three climatic zones: hot (tierra caliente; below 900 meters in elevation), temperate (tierra temblada; 900–2,000 meters), and cold (tierra fría; 2,000 meters to about 3,500 meters). The hottest month is March, and the coldest months are July and August. Precipitation is generally moderate to heavy, with the highest levels in the Pacific Lowlands and in parts of eastern Colombia. The wettest month is October, and the driest month is February. Natural hazards include volcanic eruptions, occasional earthquakes, and periodic droughts.

Colombia has numerous agricultural export products, energy resources, and minerals. These resources include coal, coffee, copper, emeralds, flowers, fruits, gas, gold, hydropower, iron ore, natural nickel, petroleum, platinum, and silver. Colombia ranks first in Latin America for its coal, fourth for natural gas, and sixth for oil. In addition, the country is second only to Brazil in hydroelectric potential. Potential natural gas reserves in offshore basins along the Caribbean Coast are estimated to cover 150 to 200 years of consumption. Most of the natural gas reserves are located in the Llanos Basin in the foothills of the eastern Cordillera.

The Colombian government consists of three branches: executive--President (chief of state and head of government), legislative--Bicameral Congress, and judicial--Supreme Court, Constitutional Court, Council of State, and Superior Judicial Council. Since 2002, Alvaro Uribe Velez has been the president of Colombia.

Three American employees of Northrop Grumman Corporation were among fifteen hostages, including ex-Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, who were rescued July 2, 2008 after enduring years in captivity by the Colombian rebel group, Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.

CIA World Factbook; U.S. State Department Background Notes; LC Federal Research Division; NASA, 2008/06; 2008/03; 2007/02