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Country Facts

Full country name: Republic of Colombia
Area: 1,141,748 sq km
Population: 44,725,543 (July 2011 est.)
Capital City: Bogotá (population: 7.2 million)
People: Colombia is an ethnic melting pot in which some 60% acknowledge that they have mixed Spanish/indigenous roots, 20% claim direct European descent, 18% are of Afro-Colombian origin, and 2% belong to indigenous communities. There are tiny Christian and Muslim Arab minorities, small and declining Jewish communities in the major cities, and a small group claiming Romany roots.
Language: Spanish with some isolated pockets where indigenous languages remain in use.
Religion: Predominantly Roman Catholic, with some evangelical influences in parts of the country.
Currency: Peso.
Major political parties: Historically the two major political parties were the Liberals and the Conservatives, but this changed when Alvaro Uribe became president in 2002 after running as an independent. And in 2010, Juan Manuel Santos became President as head of a party formed to support Uribe, the Party de la U. He won the presidential election on 20 June 2010 with a 69% majority over Antanas Mockus of the Green party and went on to form a broad coalition government that includes the El Partido de la U, the Liberals, Conservatives and Cambio Radical – leaving only Polo Democrático (the main leftist force in Congress) and the Greens as significant parties that are outside Government.
Government: Democratically elected representative system with a strong executive.
Legislature: Bicameral Congress; 102 member Senate and 165 member Chamber of Deputies are both directly elected for 4-year terms.
Head of State: President Juan Manuel Santos
Foreign Minister: Maria Angela Holguin
Membership of international groupings/organisations: Colombia is a member of the Andean Community, UN, G3, Organisation of American States (OAS), Latin American Integration Association (ALADI), Latin American Economic System (SELA), Association of Caribbean States (ACS), the Caribbean Development Bank, Andean Development Corporation (CAF), and the Inter-American Development Bank (AIDB) amongst others.


The health sector underwent considerable reform in the 1990s, with a social security system established in 1993. Colombia aims to ensure universal health coverage through a mix of contributory and subsidised health schemes using both public and private sectors. By the end of 2004, 14.7 million people were covered by the contributory scheme and 15.4 million under the subsidised programme. But adequate funding is a problem.

Colombia has significantly reduced the population growth rate from 3.1% per year in the early 1960s to 1.6% in 2004, and is currently estimated at 1.2% (2010 est)

Life expectancy at birth, total (years): 74.3
Mortality rate under-5 (per 1,000 births): 16.9

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Basic Economic Facts

GDP: US$288 billion (est 2010)
GDP per head: US$6,141 (est 2010)
Annual Growth: 4.3% (2010)
Inflation: 3.2% (2010)
Unemployment: 11.8% (2010)
Major Industries: Oil, Mining, Construction, Financial Sector, Agriculture, Manufacturing and Transport
Major trading partners: US, Ecuador, other Andean Countries, Mexico, Brazil, EU and China.
Value of UK exports to Colombia: £218 million (2010)
Value of UK imports from Colombia: £622 million (2010)
Colombia has a sustained record of sound economic policies, and has strong economic fundamentals. The Colombian authorities’ have responded appropriately to the global financial crisis, and have demonstrated a commitment to maintaining this solid record. Growth has returned strongly since the global crisis in 2009. Having hit 4.3% in 2010, it is expected to move further upwards in 2011.

While the well-publicised security issues in Colombia have sometimes been a deterrent to companies to do business there, many well-known companies operate in Colombiaand do so very profitably. Colombia is now attracting increasing international attention and has been placed amongst a small group of emerging markets (the so-called CIVETS) that are seen as the next group of countries after the BRICS. In March 2011 Colombian debt was once again given investment grade status, reflecting its economic stability and potential.

The Colombian economy is still primarily focussed on primary goods. Crude oil, coal, coffee and cut flowers are Colombia's principal legal exports. But there is significant interest in broadening the value-added and looking to innovation and technology to help generate high-quality employment.

President Santos is currently pushing through a number of important economic reforms, including restructuring how mining royalties are spent and introducing a fiscal rule to ensure that the mining/oil and gas bonanza is saved for the future.

Security, by and large, tends to be a manageable risk. Colombia has been listed as having one of the best environments for doing business in Latin America. While red tape does exist, it is manageable.
In February 2006, the Colombians signed a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the US. This has yet to be ratified by the US Congress, however, hope remains that progress will be seen in 2011. The FTA is aimed at providing a stimulus for the economy, as business – both national and international – will look to capitalise on the immediate duty free access to the US market for 99.9% of all Colombian products that the agreement will provide.

Colombia is a member of the CAN bloc of countries (Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia), with whom the EU started negotiations in 2007 for an EU-CAN association agreement. Following these, the European Union agreed a Multiparty Trade Agreement with Colombia and Peru in May 2010. This is currently moving towards the process of ratification.

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Before Spanish rule, Colombia was populated by indigenous peoples. Most were hunters or nomadic agriculturists, but one part of the country, the high basins of the Eastern Cordillera, was densely occupied by Chibcha Indians who had become sedentary farmers.

1525 First permanent Spanish settlement at Santa Marta by Rodrigo de Bastidas.
1810 Colombia declares its independence from Spanish rule.
1819 Republic of Gran Colombia (embracing the present republics of Venezuela, Colombia, Panama and Ecuador) is proclaimed following successful campaign waged by Simon Bolivar in the early 1800s.
1948 Assassination of popular Liberal leader, Jorge Eliecer Gaitan, provokes serious rioting in Bogotá. Several thousand are killed.
1948-58 Conflict between Liberal and Conservative Party supporters spreads to rural areas. As many as 200,000 are killed during this period, known as 'La Violencia'.
1957 Colombia's only military dictator during the 20th Century, General Rojas Pinilla, is ousted after 4 years in power.
1958 Liberal and Conservative parties agree power-sharing arrangement (National Front) which formally runs until 1974.

Recent History

Mid-1960s Colombia's 2 main guerrilla groups, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and National Liberation Army (ELN), are established
1980s Medellin and Cali drug cartels consolidate their control of the drugs trade. Paramilitary groups, hired initially for self-defence purposes, emerge as a significant force.
1982 Belisario Betancur (Conservative) becomes President. Takes first serious steps towards a negotiated settlement of guerrilla conflicts.
1985 FARC establishes political party, Patriotic Union (UP), thousands of its members killed by illegal armed groups over the next decade. M-19 takes over Palace of Justice in Bogotá; army recaptures building, but over 100 are killed, including 11 senior judges.
1989-90 Big increase in drug-related violence. Medellin Cartel, opposed to extradition, assassinates Luis Carlos Galan, favourite to win Liberal Party presidential nomination in 1990 and kills 200 policemen in Medellin. President Barco (1986-90) appeals to international community for support in his struggle against narco-traffickers.
1990 After long and difficult negotiations, M-19 guerrillas demobilise and establish a democratic political movement.
1991 Constituent Assembly (with former-guerrillas well represented) drafts new constitution.
1991-92 Various rounds of peace talks between government of President Gaviria (1990-94) and FARC and ELN guerrillas fail to make headway.
1993 Pablo Escobar, infamous head of the Medellin drug cartel, killed by police in Medellin.
1994-1998 Administration of President Samper (Liberal) dogged by drug-related corruption scandals. But progress is made in dismantling Cali drug cartel. FARC and ELN guerrillas show little interest in negotiating with Samper government.
1998 Andres Pastrana (Conservative, but standing as an independent) wins Presidential elections.
2002 President Pastrana breaks off three-year old peace talks with FARC, and terminates their demilitarised zone. Peace talks with ELN break down and attempts to restart them stall.
2002 Alvaro Uribe (dissident Liberal, standing for independent Primero Colombia Movement) wins Presidential elections. Inaugurated 7 August, amidst a mortar attack perpetrated by the FARC.
2003 Formal peace talks between the Government and the United Paramilitary Groups (AUC) initiated in July, 7 months after the AUC announced a unilateral ceasefire. This agreement commits the AUC to demobilise completely by the end of 2005.
2005 Negotiations between the AUC and the government continue. On 22 July the Justice and Peace law is passed and becomes the legal framework to accompany the demobilisation process.
2006 On 18 April the Colombian Government announced that the demobilisation process of the AUC had been completed.
2006 In May President Alvaro Uribe secures a second, 4-year term.
2008 French-Colombian former Presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, plus other US and Colombian FARC hostages, freed by Colombian military operation.
2008 The sudden collapse of pyramid investment schemes - used by some of the poorest savers - triggers violent protests. Several towns are put under curfew.
2009 Farc rebels free six high-profile hostages, including a former provincial governor held since 2001.
2009 Relations with Venezuela deteriorate again after plans to allow US troops to use Colombian military bases as part of a drive to curb drug-trafficking are unveiled.
2009 Colombia and US sign deal giving the US military access to seven Colombian bases
2010 Colombia’s constitutional court blocks President Uribe from seeking the presidency for a third time.
2010 Venezuela breaks off all relations with Colombia after accusations from the out-going Uribe government of collaboration with FARC guerrillas.
2010 Juan Manuel Santos wins presidential elections with a landslide victory of 69%. Inaugurated on 7 August.
2010 President Santos and President Chavez of Venezuela announce ties between the two countries had been restored.
2010 September - Farc steps up its campaign of violence. Colombian army kills senior Farc commander Mono Jojoy in air strike in Macarena region.
2011 February - Farc releases several hostages in what it describes as unilateral "gesture of peace" to government.

BBC News Country TimeLine: Colombia (

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Relations with Neighbours

Colombia's relations with other countries in Latin America are generally good. Relations with Venezuela and Ecuador, strained in the last years of Uribe’s Presidency, have recovered thanks to the more conciliatory tone taken by President Santos. Santos’s push for improved neighbourly relations has been driven not only by the recognition that many of Colombia’s internal problems spill over its borders, but also by his desire to position Colombia as a regional leader. Other significant steps towards this goal have seen a Colombian, Maria Emma Mejia, becoming Secretary General of UNASUR, and, in 2011, President Santos and Hugo Chavez brokering a deal that would allow the re-entry of Honduras into the Organisation of American States.

Relations with the International Community

Colombia has strong economic relations with the US and EU and growing trade links with the Far East. The UN maintains a large presence in Bogotá dealing with human rights, displacement, drugs and crime, health and labour issues.

Over the last decade, the US has provided considerable financial assistance to Colombia's security and counter-narcotics policies through 'Plan Colombia' – though in 2011, the US announced that these funds would diminish significantly. The Organisation of American States (OAS) provided monitoring support for the process of paramilitary demobilisation, and the conduct of elections.

Relations with the UK

President Santos has embarked upon an ambitious and wide ranging programme of reform in Colombia. This, coupled with the UK’s own renewed focus on Latin America, means that this is a moment of great opportunity for UK – Colombia relations.

Colombia remains a relatively untapped market for UK business – but the improving security situation, as well as Santos’s internationalist policies and a growing economy, will provide significant opportunities in the coming years.

We are working closely on international issues with Colombia during its two year stint as non-permanent member of the Security Council. On counter narcotics, our close and longstanding bilateral relationship will continue.

Human rights concerns, which placed a significant strain on the bilateral relationship under the previous government, remain. But we welcome the Colombian government’s determination to make human rights “a non-issue”. The UK is clear about its concerns but recognises the progress that has been made and is working with Colombia to improve the situation.

Jeremy Browne has visited Colombia twice in the last year, and President Santos’s visit to the UK in late 2011 will provide an opportunity to formalise a broader and deeper bilateral relationship.

Human Rights

The tone of the national debate on human rights in Colombia changed markedly after the government of President Santos took office on 7 August 2010. In his inauguration speech President Santos declared that the defence of human rights would be a “firm and unavoidable commitment” of his government. In a meeting following the inauguration he told FCO Minister of State Jeremy Browne of his determination to make human rights a “non-issue” in Colombia. These commitments have so far translated into an improved dialogue with civil society, better relations with the judiciary and improvements in some areas under the direct control of the government, such as conduct of the military.

Nevertheless, the situation on the ground continues to cause concern. Human rights defenders are frequently victims of violence and intimidation; indigenous and Afro-Colombian people suffer displacement, threats and massacres; and impunity levels remain high. The activities of illegal armed groups are a significant obstacle to progress in many parts of the country. Further barriers include poverty, corruption, a lack of resources, the worst winter floods in Colombia’s history, the complicated situation of land distribution and the government’s lack of control over many remote areas.

The Colombian government has embarked on an ambitious reform programme which includes new legislation to combat corruption, reform the judiciary, restitute land to displaced people and compensate victims. In his inauguration speech, President Santos set out a programme which included reform of the justice system. He held early meetings with senior judges and committed to implementing a package of reforms to depoliticise the judiciary, improve its administration and give it greater resources. The Supreme Court elected ex-Congresswoman Viviane Morales as Fiscal General (Attorney General) in late 2010, which was a clear sign that previously strained relations between the government and judiciary had improved.

The new Colombian government is committed to tackling forced displacement. On Thursday 26 May the Colombian Senate approved a new Land and Victims Bill. This bill will provide restitution of land to displaced individuals and communities. Struggles over land ownership, and the injustice and cruelty they have generated, have been at the heart of the violence that has disfigured Colombia for 200 years and of the on-going conflict in its different forms. Guerrillas and other illegal armed groups compete to control land for illicit crops, trafficking, and extortion. Landowners and unscrupulous “investors” have used violent groups to force poor, often indigenous, farmers to flee their properties, or to sell them at risible prices. They have often then used bribery and intimidation to “legalise” their spoils as land remains a big source of political power and patronage in Colombia, and in the recent past powerful landowners had extensive links with illegal armed groups. Despite the demobilisation of the formal paramilitary armies after 2003, and the efforts of the Supreme Court to deal with the most notorious cases of politicians involved with paramilitaries, many of the structures and relationships still remain. Therefore, this is one of the most important reforms passed in Colombia in the last 20 years.

In advance of the new law the government used existing legislation to implement an accelerated restitution programme, “el plan de choque”, in certain areas of the country. On 17 January 2011 President Santos announced that 121,000 hectares had already been restored to 38,000 families. However, a huge challenge remains and there are fears that violence could increase as beneficiaries begin to return to their land.

A fuller assessment of the human rights situation in Colombia can be found in the 2010 FCO Human Rights Command Paper ( .


Though overall coca production in Colombia has decreased significantly in recent years the drugs trade continues to fuel the armed conflict in Colombia and the growth of the criminal bands – known as the BACRIM – who have caused a new threat to Colombia’s internal security. Actors involved in the drugs trade also contribute directly to serious human rights abuses and environmental damage.

Specific Areas of UK Assistance

Click here ( a full schedule of UK projects on-going in Colombia - [new window, 40.5KB].

Counter-Narcotics Assistance

Despite past and present governments enjoying significant successes in reducing coca production, the majority of the cocaine sold on UK streets still has its origin in Colombia. We remain determined to reduce the harm caused to the UK by this flow of illegal drugs from Colombia and work in partnership with Colombian law enforcement agencies to support their efforts to tackle the problem.

Our counter narcotics assistance to Colombia encompasses intelligence sharing, increasing law enforcement capacity and promoting best practice. The operational sensitivity and personal risk to the staff involved in this work requires that it remains confidential.

The Embassy also funds a number of projects through the Drugs and Crime Fund.
Regional patterns of coca production and cocaine export are changing. To counter these developments, our work in Colombia is evolving to take on a greater regional dimension.

Climate Change

Colombia is the most forward-leaning country on climate change in Latin America. The Green Growth agenda is one of the key priorities of the Colombian government, which is keen to work with the UK to move to a low-carbon transition.

On the international negotiations, Colombia launched the Cartagena Dialogue in March 2010. It also signed the Copenhagen Accord and included its commitments in the Accord’s Annex (zero deforestation, 77% renewable electricity and 20% fuels from biofuels by 2020). Colombia is beginning to develop Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs) and low-carbon development plan. The Colombian government sees the UK as the partner of choice.

Although a relatively small emitter at the moment (only 0.35% of world total emissions), Colombia is at a crossroads. Colombia ranks among the next tier of emerging countries (CIVETS). Its economy is currently on a par with South Africa and has high growth potential. President Santos’s 2010-14 “Prosperity for All” economic plan includes a target of 6.2% GDP. Over the next couple of years, they will take long-term decisions about how to develop its economy. Unless they get this right, Colombia could lock itself into a long-term high carbon pathway and become one of the major emitters of tomorrow.

Human Rights Assistance

In 2011/12 the Embassy will support over £400,000 worth of project work focusing on human rights. Priorities will include support for civil society and a more effective judiciary; assisting the land restitution process; and new work on the links between business and human rights.


A recent report by the International Committee of the Red Cross confirmed that Colombia remains one of the most heavily mined countries in the world. Our engagement on humanitarian demining in Colombia is being integrated alongside international governmental and non-governmental partners.

DFID assistance

Through DfID, the UK channels most of its development assistance via international organisations, primarily the UN, the EU, the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) and international NGOs. The UK provides a significant percentage of the European Commission’s aid programme to Colombia, which in 2011-13 will total €56m. Priority areas are: peace and stability, including alternative development (70%); rule of law, justice and human rights (20%); and productivity, competition and trade (10%).

In addition, DfID provides grants to a number of international NGOs who are active in Colombia (£13 million for the Latin America region). DfID’s Civil Society Challenge Fund also supports four individual projects working with communities affected by violence.

Cultural and Education

The British Council has had a centre in Bogotá since 1940 and has an active cultural relations programme. It is the largest British Council operation in the Americas, a result of its activity in teaching and examinations administration and its contractual arrangements with the Colombian Ministry of National Education.
It works in three areas:

Education and Society

-- English


It is a leading provider of educational and cultural services in Colombia. In addition to having its largest language teaching operation in Latin America based in Colombia, it has been lead consultant for the Colombian Ministry of Education and Local Education Authorities in a major government initiative to improve language teaching and learning in schools: Colombia Bilingue. The British Council actively promotes educational opportunities in the UK for Colombian students and supporting a network of private educational consultants. Increasingly, the Council has been supporting the development of Higher Education links between the UK and Colombia, a priority for the Colombian government.

Through its series of cultural events, and through its close relationship with the Ministry of Culture’s efforts to promote the creative industries in Colombia, the Council projects the UK's creativity, cultural diversity and thus encourages a greater awareness of the UK. Major recent projects have included Hay Festival Cartagena, dance workshops for non-disabled and disabled dancers supported by UK integrated dance specialists, and managing the UK’s contribution to the 2010 Bogotá International Theatre Festival.

Recent Inward Visits


-- November 2006 Vice-President Francisco Santos

-- January 2007 Foreign Minister Maria Consuelo Araujo

-- February 2007 Defence Minister Juan Manuel Santos

May 2008 Vice-President Francisco Santos

-- October 2008 Vice President Francisco Santos

October 2008 Foreign Minister Jaime Bermudez

-- May 2009 Foreign Minister Jaime Bermudez

December 2009 Foreign Minister Jaime Bermudez

-- January 2010 Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Adriana Mejia

July 2010 President-elect José Manuel Santos

-- January 2011 Vice Minister Defence Yaneth Giha

-- January 2011 Deputy Foreign Minister Patti Londoño

Recent Outward Visits


-- August 2006 Kim Howell MP, as FCO Minister of State

-- September 2006 Lord Triesman, as FCO Minister of State

-- October 2006 Kim Howells MP, as FCO Minister of State

-- November 2007 Kim Howells MP, as FCO Minister of State

-- December 2008 Sir Peter Ricketts, as head of the Diplomatic Service

-- May 2009 Alan Campbell MP, as Home Office Minister of State for Crime Reduction

-- May 2009 Gillian Merron MP, as FCO Parliamentary Under Secretary of State

-- October 2009 Chris Bryant MP, as FCO Parliamentary Under Secretary of State

-- August 2010 Jeremy Browne MP, as FCO Minister of State

-- October 2010 Michael Bear, as Lord Mayor of London

-- October 2010 James Brockenshire MP, as Home Office Minister

-- May 2011 Jeremy Browne MP, as FCO Minister of State

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Colombia lies entirely within the tropics, but climate and land use vary greatly according to altitude, ranging from the arid low-lying Guajira peninsula in the north-east and tropical lowlands of the Caribbean and Pacific coasts, to the bleak pastures of the Andean páramo (high moorlands). The Andes' western, central and eastern cordilleras (mountain ranges) run parallel south-west to north-east. The physical geography means that large areas are very sparsely populated.

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Trade and Investment with the UK

UK investment in Colombia is substantial, at over US$17 billion. SAB Miller is the country's largest foreign investor, with Anglo American and BHP Billiton also having significant projects. UK companies are particularly active in Colombia's oil and gas industry; extractive industries; environment; and financial services.

UK-Colombia trade is growing but remains relatively low. Colombia is the UK's fifth largest export market in South America. UK goods exports to Colombia in 2010 were valued at £218million (up 31% over 2009). Principal sectors were pharmaceuticals, machinery and whisky. In addition the UK exports a further £100 million of services to Colombia. Colombian exports to the UK in the same year totalled £622 million, over half of which is represented by coal.

UK Trade & Investment Country Profile: Colombia (

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Executive power is exercised by the President (assisted by a Cabinet), who is elected for a 4-year term by national elections. Legislative power is vested in two chambers, consisting of a Senate (102 members elected for 4 years) and the House of Representatives (165 members elected for four years). The country is divided up into 32 departments and 1 Capital District. The 1886 Constitution was reformed by a Constituent Assembly in 1991.

The 2002 elections, reinforced by 2010 elections confirmed that the 2 traditional parties, the Liberals and the Conservatives, no longer totally dominate political life. Congress is now learning how to handle coalition politics following the success of a number of independent candidates, and representatives of political movements.

A key feature of the country's democratic system has been its resilience. This is reflected in the strong tradition of elected civilian Governments broken only twice, for a cumulative total of less than 5 years of non-civilian rule, since the founding of the Republic in 1819, giving the country the longest democratic legacy among Latin American countries.

In the mid-1960s two main guerrilla groups, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and National Liberation Army (ELN) were established. Successive Presidents have had to face the consequences of internal armed conflict. The previous President Andres Pastrana's programme focused on peace processes with all the guerrilla groups, the fight against corruption, fiscal and political reform, an expansion of the state's role in education and health, better income distribution and poverty reduction, and job creation. Under 'Plan Colombia' the previous Colombian Government produced a drugs strategy that included targets to reduce the cultivation, processing and distribution of drugs by half from 2000-2005. The strategy, now adopted by the current government, also reinforced existing judicial measures to hit drug traffickers and confiscate assets and tackles the interconnected problems of violence, social and economic inequality, and abuse of human rights.


President Juan Manuel Santos secured a four-year term in elections held on 20 June 2010. The former Minister of Defence in the previous government won the election by a landslide victory of 69%.

Regional and municipal elections took place on 14 March 2010. The former President Alvaro Uribe maintained an absolute majority of seats in the Senate. The two major parties supporting Uribe, the Party of U and the Conservative Party got 27 and 23 seats respectively. Uribe’s government also maintained a majority in the chamber. The party of U elected 48 deputies, followed by 39 of its main opponent the Liberal Party.

One of the main opposition parties the Polo Democratico party won the mayorship of Bogotá in 2008.

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Last Updated: June 2011

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