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En Route; More Than You’d ever Want to Know About Colombia

February 2
In Miami now, having taken a short flight from Tampa.  Good news is I was able to check my bag through to Medellin, and so won’t have to go through the hassle of claiming, rechecking and going through security at MIA, which is always a zoo.  Now, whether my bag actually makes it to Medellin is a different question.


Used a free pass to get into the AA flight lounge in Miami, so I can rest in comfort for five hours.  Then, I’ll fly from Miami to Medellin, Colombia, a flight of some 3 1/2 hours, arriving around 10 PM.

Traveling to South America is far easier than much of the travel I do. For one thing, it’s close, but even more importantly, there is little or no time change. That makes a huge difference at both ends of the trip.

So, here’s more than you might ever want to know about Colombia. As usual, this description is pieced together (stolen) from several websites, ranging from tourism to the CIA. It may or may not be accurate.

First a view from a tourism site. Twice the size of France, and with a diversity of landscapes and cultures that would be hard to find even in countries five times its size, Colombia should by all rights be one of the world’s top travel destinations.
Pick a climate, and it’s yours—if you find the light jacket weather of Bogotá cold, drive an hour down through the mountains and sunbathe next to the pool of your rented hacienda. If you don’t want to sit still, head off into the Amazon or any of the country’s other many inland jungles, snow-capped volcanoes, rocky deserts, endless plains, lush valleys, coffee plantations, alpine lakes, deserted beaches.

For culture, intellectual Bogotá might lead the rest of Latin America in experimental theater, indie-rock, and just sheer volume of bookstores, but you could also get a completely alien education in an Amazonian malocca, or you could delve into the huge Latin music scene of salsa and cumbia, with the most exciting dance display being the enormous Carnival of Barranquilla.

For history, wander the narrow streets of South America’s original capital in Bogotá, check out old Spanish colonial provincial retreats like Villa de Leyva, trek through the thick jungle-covered mountains of the northeast to the Lost City of the Tayrona Indians. Walk the walls of Cartagena’s achingly beautiful old city, looking over the fortified ramparts upon which the colonial history of South America pivoted.

For nightlife, hot Cali is today’s world capital of salsa, claiming that competitive distinction even over Colombia’s other vibrant big city party scenes, which keep the music going long into the small hours of the morning.
For dining, you’ll find everything from the ubiquitous cheap, delicious Colombian home-style meals to world-class upscale and modern culinary arts in the big cities, with cuisines from all corners of the world represented.
And for relaxing, there are gorgeous tropical beaches along Colombia’s Caribbean and Pacific coasts, but you can find even more laidback and peaceful retreats on the idyllic and unspoilt Caribbean island of Providencia.
The political violence has subsided substantially throughout the majority of the country and savvy travelers have already flocked here from around the world—come before everyone else catches on!

Sounds pretty good, eh? And now, for a less commercial point of view. Colombia, with a population of approximately 47 million and a size about twice that of France, is the only country in South America with coastlines on both the North Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea as well as the country with the world’s second most biodiversity. Lying to the south of Panama, Colombia controls the land access between Central and South America. With Panama to the north, Colombia is surrounded by Venezuela to the east, Brazil to the southeast, and Ecuador and Peru to the south west. The country was named in honor of Christopher Columbus, following the Italian version of his name (Cristoforo Colombo). Although Columbus never actually set foot on the current Colombian territory, in his fourth voyage he visited Panama, which was part of Colombia until 1903.


Colombia was originally inhabited by numerous,indigenous cultures like the Muisca and the Tayrona. The area that now is Colombia was colonized by the Spanish when America was ‘discovered’ by Europeans. The process of colonization radically altered the social structures of the areas and through war and disease brought by the Spanish, the indigenous populations shrank dramatically in size and their numbers dwindle since then. The Spanish brought European settlers and African slaves, while most of the population in the colony was of mixed Spanish and Indigenous ancestry.

The country became independent from Spain in 1810. It was one of the five countries liberated by Simón Bolívar (the others being Ecuador, Venezuela, Peru and Bolivia). Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela and Panama then formed the first Republic of Colombia. Ecuador and Venezuela declared their independence from Colombia in 1830. Panama declared its independence from Colombia in 1903. The history of the country in the years to come following independence was marked by several civil wars. The legacy of these conflicts, together with troublesome social issues, early state repression against rural communities and peasants and world polarization caused by the Cold War culminated in a communist insurgent campaign by the FARC and the ELN to overthrow the Colombian Government.

A nearly five-decade-long conflict between government forces and antigovernment insurgent groups, principally the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) heavily funded by the drug trade, escalated during the 1990s. More than 31,000 former paramilitaries had demobilized by the end of 2006 and the United Self Defense Forces of Colombia as a formal organization had ceased to function. In the wake of the paramilitary demobilization, emerging criminal groups arose, whose members include some former paramilitaries. The insurgents lack the military or popular support necessary to overthrow the government, but continue attacks against civilians. Large areas of the countryside are under guerrilla influence or are contested by security forces.

In the years following 2002 the safety has been improving throughout the country. In 2012 the government and the FARC started peace talks aiming at bringing the 50 year old Civil War to an end once and for all. The Colombian Government has stepped up efforts to reassert government control throughout the country, and now has a presence in every one of its administrative departments. Despite decades of internal conflict and drug related security challenges, Colombia maintains relatively strong democratic institutions characterized by peaceful, transparent elections and the protection of civil liberties. Colombia is currently in a process of recovery, and is creating an economy thriving and attractive to many national and international investors. Ending the conflict, high income inequalities and rebuilding itself from the legacy of war are some of the issues that confront the country.

Colombia is in the midst of a demographic transition resulting from steady declines in its fertility, mortality, and population growth rates. The birth rate has fallen from more than 6 children per woman in the 1960s to just above replacement level today as a result of increased literacy, family planning services, and urbanization. However, income inequality is among the worst in the world (fertile territory for Bernie Sanders in the unlikely event that he’s not elected president), and more than a third of the population lives below the poverty line.

Colombia experiences significant legal and illegal economic emigration and refugee flows. Large-scale labor emigration dates to the 1960s; Venezuela and the United States continue to be the main host countries. Colombia is the largest source of Latin American refugees in Latin America, nearly 400,000 of whom live primarily in Venezuela and Ecuador. Forced displacement remains prevalent because of violence among guerrillas, paramilitary groups, and Colombian security forces. Afro-Colombian and indigenous populations are disproportionately affected. A leading NGO estimates that 5.2 million people have been displaced since 1985, while the Colombian Government estimates 3.6 million since 2000.

Colombia’s consistently sound economic policies and aggressive promotion of free trade agreements in recent years have bolstered its ability to weather external shocks. Real GDP has grown more than 4% per year for the past four years, continuing almost a decade of strong economic performance. All three major ratings agencies have upgraded Colombia’s government debt to investment grade, which helped to attract record levels of investment in 2013 and 2014, mostly in the hydrocarbons sector. Colombia depends heavily on energy and mining exports, making it vulnerable to a drop in commodity prices. Colombia is the world’s fourth largest coal exporter and Latin America’s fourth largest oil producer. Economic development is stymied by inadequate infrastructure, inequality, poverty, narco-trafficking and an uncertain security situation. Moreover, the unemployment rate of 9.2% in 2014 is still one of Latin America’s highest. The SANTOS Administration’s foreign policy has focused on bolstering Colombia’s commercial ties and boosting investment at home.

Colombia is an illicit producer of coca, opium poppy, and cannabis; world’s leading coca cultivator with 83,000 hectares in coca cultivation in 2011, a 17% decrease over 2010, producing a potential of 195 mt of pure cocaine; the world’s largest producer of coca derivatives; supplies cocaine to nearly all of the US market and the great majority of other international drug markets; in 2012, aerial eradication dispensed herbicide to treat over 100,549 hectares combined with manual eradication of 30,486 hectares; a significant portion of narcotics proceeds are either laundered or invested in Colombia through the black market peso exchange; important supplier of heroin to the US market; opium poppy cultivation is estimated to have fallen to 1,100 hectares in 2009 while pure heroin production declined to 2.1 mt; most Colombian heroin is destined for the US market (2013)

So, let me know if you need any heroin, put in your order as a comment to this post (just kidding, all of you federal agencies monitoring this blog). I’m going to sign off now, and meet you in Medellin.  Sorry if this post bored you, but, hey, nobody told you had to read the whole damn thing.  From here on, it ought to get more interesting (I hope).

Hasta luego.

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