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Colombia

eastern south pacific lowlands

Colombia (Republic of), fourth largest country in South America. It extends over 440,831 sq mi (1,141,748 sq km) of the extreme northwest of South America, bounded on the northwest by Panama, on the northeast by Venezuela, on the southeast by Brazil, and on the south by Peru and Ecuador. It is the only South American country that has both an Atlantic and a Pacific coastline.

Land and climate

Nearly half of the country is mountainous; more than half is comparatively uninhabited lowland plain. There are 4 major regions. By far the most important is the Andean region, where 3 great ranges branch out northward from the Pasto knot near the Ecuadorian border: the western, central, and eastern Cordilleras. Some 80% of the population lives in the narrow mountain valleys and basins of this region. Between the central and eastern Cordilleras, the Magdalena (Colombia's chief river) flows for 1,000 mi (1,609 km) to the Caribbean at the port of Barranquilla. A third of the population lives in the eastern cordillera (mountain chain), where the seat of government has been located since Chibcha times. Bogotá, the capital and largest city of Colombia, stands on a plateau at an altitude of 8,661 ft (2,640 km). The Caribbean coastal lowlands are the home of about 17% of the population; the chief centers are the ports of Barranquilla, Cartagena, and Santa Maria. The rivers draining the Caribbean lowlands—the Magdalena, Cauca, San Jorge, and César—form a maze of swamps and lagoons.

The Pacific lowlands are a rainy, marshy littoral. Buenaventura and Tumaco are Colombia's chief Pacific ports. The Pacific lowlands and the eastern plains beyond the eastern Cordillera account for only 5% of the population. The northern section of the eastern region is part of the Ilanos (tropical grasslands) of northern South America; the southern section is almost impenetrable jungle.lthough most of Colombia lies in the north tropical zone, the climate varies with topography. An excessively high rainfall prevails in the Pacific lowlands. Altitude modifies the climate of the highlands: The semitropical tierra caliente (hot land) extends to about 3,000 ft (914 m), where it is succeeded by the tierra templada (temperate land) coffee belt (to about 6,500 ft/2,000 m), the tierra fria (cold land) (6,500–10,000 ft/2,000–3,000 m) where grain and potatoes are grown, and the almost polar páramos (grazing lands) below the snowline. The vast eastern plains are subject to successive wet and dry seasons, while in the Caribbean lowlands a hot, dry climate predominates.

People

More than half of Colombians are mestizos (of mixed European and Native American ancestry); there are about 20% whites, with minorities of mulattoes, blacks, and Native Americans.

Economy

Colombia is a major world coffee producer. It also grows cotton, bananas, sugar, tobacco, cocoa, rice, sorghum, corn, wheat, and barley. The country has the largest coal reserve in Latin America and substantial reserves of uranium. Other resources include oil, gas, and precious metals. Transportation is hindered by mountain ranges, but cities are joined by road, rail, or river and an advanced air network. Tourism is becoming an important source of foreign exchange.

History

Chibcha Native Americans of the eastern cordilleras had a highly developed culture when the Spanish arrived in the early 16th century. Spain ruled the area until independence, which followed Simón Bolívar's Boyacá victory over Spanish colonial forces (1819). At the end of the 19th century thousands died in fighting between liberals and conservatives, Colombia's 2 main political parties. Another civil war between liberals and conservatives, with about 200,000 casualties, lasted from 1948 until 1958, when a democratic government was reestablished. In the mid-1980s the government began battling the large and well-organized drug cartels that traffic in cocaine, which is processed from coca grown in Peru. In 1989 the United States supplied military personnel to help combat the increasing related violence. At the end of the 1990s the situation had not changed.

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