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Colombia-The Establishment of United States Military Ties

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Colombia Index


A Navy training ship
Courtesy Colombia Tourist Office

The initial contacts between Colombian and United States military personnel in the early twentieth century were less than auspicious for the development of future relations. Although the settlement to the War of a Thousand Days was negotiated aboard a United States Navy ship, relations between the two countries soon soured when President Theodore Roosevelt, spurred by the Colombian Senate's refusal to ratify a treaty for the construction of a transisthmian canal across Colombian territory, took advantage of a rebellion in Colombia's northernmost department to achieve his goal. As Colombian troops headed northward to the department of Panama to put down the revolt, they were halted at the isthmus by the United States Navy gunships sent to intercept them. Within weeks, on November 3, 1903, Panama declared its independence from the Republic of Colombia. Two days later, the new national government was granted recognition by the United States. Colombia's resentment against the United States was only partially assuaged in 1922, when the United States government agreed to pay the Colombian administration the sum of US$25 million for the loss of its territory.

During the 1930s, United States-Colombian military contacts were reestablished under somewhat more favorable, though no less disconcerting, conditions. In 1932, on the eve of the Leticia conflict, the first United States naval officer was sent "on loan" to Colombia to assist with plans for the defense of the country's ports and with arms purchases. When fighting erupted, the United States government--which then had advisers in Colombia and Peru-- briefly found itself supporting both sides in the war. The officer sent "on loan" resigned his commission in 1934 but continued privately to serve as an adviser to the Colombian navy. In 1938 the first United States Navy mission was sent to Colombia. Following the German invasion of Poland in 1939, formal contacts between the Colombian and United States armies also were established as plans were formulated for the overall defense of the Panama Canal.

Although Colombia had remained neutral in World War I, the government supported the Allies both prior to and during World War II. In 1940 Colombia allowed the United States to construct and operate air and naval bases on its territory, thereby providing a strategic position for defending the western approach to the Panama Canal. Colombia also nationalized German holdings in the country, ordered the departure of all German nationals, and authorized the operation of a counterespionage network that was maintained by officials at the United States embassy and the consulates located throughout the country. In late 1943, following the sinking of several Colombian cargo vessels by German submarines operating in the Caribbean, Colombia formally declared war on the Axis Powers.

Although the PC had criticized the nature of Colombian-United States ties during World War II, the relationship between the armed forces of the two nations remained strong after the PC assumed power in 1946. Colombia continued to maintain a military representative on the Inter-American Defense Board, an organization established early in 1942 to provide for hemispheric military cooperation and collective defense. Colombia also was among the first Latin American countries to send personnel for training at the United States Army's School of the Americas, which opened in Panama in 1949. The amount of postwar United States military assistance made available to Colombia--initially under the Mutual Defense Assistance Act and later under the Mutual Security Act--also continued to rise. In 1951 Colombia became one of the first countries in Latin America to sign a Military Assistance Agreement with the United States, which made the country eligible for receipt of grant aid. Between 1950 and 1964, Colombia received the fourth greatest amount of United States military assistance in Latin America, after Brazil, Chile, and Peru.

In 1950 Colombia's cooperation with the United States military changed form after the newly installed administration of Laureano Gómez Castro decided to support the United Nations (UN) sanctioned police action in Korea. After being refitted for combat by the United States Navy, the frigate Almirante Padilla--the premier vessel of the Colombian navy--carried out coastal patrol duty for the multinational task force in Korea. Colombia also provided a 1,000-troop army infantry battalion. The battalion was assigned to a United States infantry regiment, and Colombian troops fought alongside United States soldiers. The Colombians remained in combat service until the commencement of the Panmunjom armistice negotiations in July 1953 and returned home in November 1954. Of the 3,089 Colombian soldiers who served in Korea, 131 were killed in combat and 448 were wounded; 69 men were classified as missing in action. Noncombatant casualties included 10 dead and 162 injured.

During the Korean conflict, both domestic and foreign critics accused the Colombian government of being a United States puppet. The Gómez administration found pragmatic as well as political reasons, however, for sending Colombian troops abroad. In addition to earning the favor of the United States, Colombian troops were trained and equipped with United States matériel at no cost to the Colombian regime. The Colombian military kept the equipment upon returning home. The troops also gained valuable combat experience, which they used to help put down the rural fighting, then bordering on guerrilla warfare, that in the early 1950s represented a serious domestic problem.

Data as of December 1988

BackgroundColombia was one of the three countries that emerged from the collapse of Gran Colombia in 1830 (the others are Ecuador and Venezuela). A four-decade long conflict between government forces and anti-government insurgent groups, principally the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) heavily funded by the drug trade, escalated during the 1990s. The insurgents lack the military or popular support necessary to overthrow the government and violence has been decreasing since about 2002, but insurgents continue attacks against civilians and large areas of the countryside are under guerrilla influence or are contested by security forces. More than 31,000 former paramilitaries had demobilized by the end of 2006 and the United Self Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) 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 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. However, neighboring countries worry about the violence spilling over their borders.
LocationNorthern South America, bordering the Caribbean Sea, between Panama and Venezuela, and bordering the North Pacific Ocean, between Ecuador and Panama
Area(sq km)total: 1,138,914 sq km
land: 1,109,104 sq km
water: 100,210 sq km
note: includes Isla de Malpelo, Roncador Cay, and Serrana Bank
Geographic coordinates4 00 N, 72 00 W
Land boundaries(km)total: 6,309 km
border countries: Brazil 1,644 km, Ecuador 590 km, Panama 225 km, Peru 1,800 km, Venezuela 2,050 km

Coastline(km)3,208 km (Caribbean Sea 1,760 km, North Pacific Ocean 1,448 km)

Climatetropical along coast and eastern plains; cooler in highlands

Elevation extremes(m)lowest point: Pacific Ocean 0 m
highest point: Pico Cristobal Colon 5,775 m
note: nearby Pico Simon Bolivar also has the same elevation
Natural resourcespetroleum, natural gas, coal, iron ore, nickel, gold, copper, emeralds, hydropower
Land use(%)arable land: 2.01%
permanent crops: 1.37%
other: 96.62% (2005)

Irrigated land(sq km)9,000 sq km (2003)
Total renewable water resources(cu km)2,132 cu km (2000)
Freshwater withdrawal (domestic/industrial/agricultural)total: 10.71 cu km/yr (50%/4%/46%)
per capita: 235 cu m/yr (2000)
Natural hazardshighlands subject to volcanic eruptions; occasional earthquakes; periodic droughts
Environment - current issuesdeforestation; soil and water quality damage from overuse of pesticides; air pollution, especially in Bogota, from vehicle emissions
Environment - international agreementsparty to: Antarctic Treaty, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Marine Life Conservation, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94, Wetlands
signed, but not ratified: Law of the Sea
Geography - noteonly South American country with coastlines on both the North Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea
Population45,644,023 (July 2009 est.)
Age structure(%)0-14 years: 28.9% (male 6,679,701/female 6,522,976)
15-64 years: 65.4% (male 14,571,536/female 15,297,179)
65 years and over: 5.6% (male 1,103,391/female 1,469,240) (2009 est.)
Median age(years)total: 27.1 years
male: 26.1 years
female: 28 years (2009 est.)
Population growth rate(%)1.377% (2009 est.)
Birth rate(births/1,000 population)19.57 births/1,000 population (2009 est.)
Death rate(deaths/1,000 population)5.54 deaths/1,000 population (July 2009 est.)

Net migration rate(migrant(s)/1,000 population)-0.26 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2009 est.)
Urbanization(%)urban population: 74% of total population (2008)
rate of urbanization: 1.7% annual rate of change (2005-10 est.)
Sex ratio(male(s)/female)at birth: 1.03 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 1.02 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 0.95 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.75 male(s)/female
total population: 0.96 male(s)/female (2009 est.)
Infant mortality rate(deaths/1,000 live births)total: 18.9 deaths/1,000 live births
male: 22.53 deaths/1,000 live births
female: 15.14 deaths/1,000 live births (2009 est.)

Life expectancy at birth(years)total population: 72.81 years
male: 68.98 years
female: 76.76 years (2009 est.)

Total fertility rate(children born/woman)2.46 children born/woman (2009 est.)
Nationalitynoun: Colombian(s)
adjective: Colombian
Ethnic groups(%)mestizo 58%, white 20%, mulatto 14%, black 4%, mixed black-Amerindian 3%, Amerindian 1%

Religions(%)Roman Catholic 90%, other 10%

Country nameconventional long form: Republic of Colombia
conventional short form: Colombia
local long form: Republica de Colombia
local short form: Colombia
Government typerepublic; executive branch dominates government structure
Capitalname: Bogota
geographic coordinates: 4 36 N, 74 05 W
time difference: UTC-5 (same time as Washington, DC during Standard Time)
Administrative divisions32 departments (departamentos, singular - departamento) and 1 capital district* (distrito capital); Amazonas, Antioquia, Arauca, Atlantico, Bogota*, Bolivar, Boyaca, Caldas, Caqueta, Casanare, Cauca, Cesar, Choco, Cordoba, Cundinamarca, Guainia, Guaviare, Huila, La Guajira, Magdalena, Meta, Narino, Norte de Santander, Putumayo, Quindio, Risaralda, San Andres y Providencia, Santander, Sucre, Tolima, Valle del Cauca, Vaupes, Vichada
Constitution5 July 1991; amended many times

Legal systembased on Spanish law; a new criminal code modeled after US procedures was enacted into law in 2004 and reached full implementation in January 2008; judicial review of executive and legislative acts; has not accepted compulsory ICJ jurisdiction

Suffrage18 years of age; universal
Executive branchchief of state: President Alvaro URIBE Velez (since 7 August 2002); Vice President Francisco SANTOS Calderon (since 7 August 2002); note - the president is both the chief of state and head of government
head of government: President Alvaro URIBE Velez (since 7 August 2002); Vice President Francisco SANTOS Calderon (since 7 August 2002)
cabinet: Cabinet consists of a coalition of the three largest parties that supported President URIBE's reelection - the PSUN, PC, and CR - and independents
elections: president and vice president elected by popular vote for a four-year term (eligible for a second term); election last held 28 May 2006 (next to be held in May 2010)
election results: President Alvaro URIBE Velez reelected president; percent of vote - Alvaro URIBE Velez 62%, Carlos GAVIRIA Diaz 22%, Horacio SERPA Uribe 12%, other 4%

Legislative branchbicameral Congress or Congreso consists of the Senate or Senado (102 seats; members are elected by popular vote to serve four-year terms) and the House of Representatives or Camara de Representantes (166 seats; members are elected by popular vote to serve four-year terms)
elections: Senate - last held 12 March 2006 (next to be held in March 2010); House of Representatives - last held 12 March 2006 (next to be held in March 2010)
election results: Senate - percent of vote by party - NA; seats by party - PSUN 20, PC 18, PL 18, CR 15, PDI 10, other parties 21; House of Representatives - percent of vote by party - NA; seats by party - PL 35, PSUN 33, PC 29, CR 20, PDA 8, other parties 41

Judicial branchfour roughly coequal, supreme judicial organs; Supreme Court of Justice or Corte Suprema de Justicia (highest court of criminal law; judges are selected by their peers from the nominees of the Superior Judicial Council for eight-year terms); Council of State (highest court of administrative law; judges are selected from the nominees of the Superior Judicial Council for eight-year terms); Constitutional Court (guards integrity and supremacy of the constitution; rules on constitutionality of laws, amendments to the constitution, and international treaties); Superior Judicial Council (administers and disciplines the civilian judiciary; resolves jurisdictional conflicts arising between other courts; members are elected by three sister courts and Congress for eight-year terms)

Political pressure groups and leadersNational Liberation Army or ELN; Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia or FARC
note: two largest insurgent groups active in Colombia
International organization participationBCIE, CAN, Caricom (observer), CDB, FAO, G-3, G-24, G-77, IADB, IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICC, ICCt, ICRM, IDA, IFAD, IFC, IFRCS, IHO, ILO, IMF, IMO, IMSO, Interpol, IOC, IOM, IPU, ISO, ITSO, ITU, ITUC, LAES, LAIA, Mercosur (associate), MIGA, NAM, OAS, OPANAL, OPCW, PCA, RG, UN, UNASUR, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNHCR, UNIDO, Union Latina, UNWTO, UPU, WCL, WCO, WFTU, WHO, WIPO, WMO, WTO
Flag descriptionthree horizontal bands of yellow (top, double-width), blue, and red
note: similar to the flag of Ecuador, which is longer and bears the Ecuadorian coat of arms superimposed in the center

Economy - overviewColombia has experienced accelerating growth between 2002 and 2007, with expansion above 7% in 2007, chiefly due to advancements in domestic security, to rising commodity prices, and to President URIBE's promarket economic policies. Colombia's sustained growth helped reduce poverty by 20% and cut unemployment by 25% since 2002. Additionally, investor friendly reforms to Colombia's hydrocarbon sector and the US-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement (CTPA) negotiations have attracted record levels of foreign investment. Inequality, underemployment,and narcotrafficking remain significant challenges, and Colombia's infrastructure requires significant updating in order to sustain expansion. Economic growth slipped in 2008 as a result of the global financial crisis and weakening demand for Colombia's exports. In response, URIBE's administration has cut capital controls, arranged for emergency credit lines from multilateral institutions, and promoted investment incentives such as Colombia's modernized free trade zone mechanism, legal stability contracts, and new bilateral investment treaties and trade agreements. The government has also encouraged exporters to diversify their customer base away from the United States and Venezuela, Colombia's largest trading partners. Nevertheless, the business sector continues to be concerned about the impact of a global recession on Colombia's exports, as well as the approval of the CTPA, which is stalled in the US Congress.
GDP (purchasing power parity)$396 billion (2008 est.)
$386.7 billion (2007 est.)
$359.7 billion (2006 est.)
note: data are in 2008 US dollars
GDP (official exchange rate)$240.8 billion (2008 est.)
GDP - real growth rate(%)2.4% (2008 est.)
7.5% (2007 est.)
6.9% (2006 est.)
GDP - per capita (PPP)$9,200 (2008 est.)
$9,100 (2007 est.)
$8,600 (2006 est.)
note: data are in 2008 US dollars
GDP - composition by sector(%)agriculture: 9%
industry: 38.1%
services: 52.9% (2008 est.)
Labor force21.3 million (2008 est.)

Labor force - by occupation(%)agriculture: 22.4%
industry: 18.8%
services: 58.8% (2005 est.)
Unemployment rate(%)11.3% (2008 est.)
11.2% (2007 est.)
Population below poverty line(%)49.2% (2005)
Household income or consumption by percentage share(%)lowest 10%: 0.8%
highest 10%: 45.9% (2006)
Distribution of family income - Gini index53.8 (2005)
57.1 (1996)
Investment (gross fixed)(% of GDP)24.3% of GDP (2008 est.)
Budgetrevenues: $83.22 billion
expenditures: $82.92 billion; including capital expenditures of $NA (2008 est.)
Inflation rate (consumer prices)(%)7% (2008 est.)
5.5% (2007 est.)

Stock of money$21.58 billion (31 December 2008)
$21.81 billion (31 December 2007)
Stock of quasi money$26.57 billion (31 December 2008)
$27.25 billion (31 December 2007)
Stock of domestic credit$89.69 billion (31 December 2008)
$85.34 billion (31 December 2007)
Market value of publicly traded shares$87.03 billion (31 December 2008)
$102 billion (31 December 2007)
$56.2 billion (31 December 2006)
Economic aid - recipient$511.1 million (2005)

Public debt(% of GDP)42.6% of GDP (2008 est.)
51.8% of GDP (2004 est.)
Agriculture - productscoffee, cut flowers, bananas, rice, tobacco, corn, sugarcane, cocoa beans, oilseed, vegetables; forest products; shrimp
Industriestextiles, food processing, oil, clothing and footwear, beverages, chemicals, cement; gold, coal, emeralds

Industrial production growth rate(%)0.8% (2008 est.)

Current account balance-$6.712 billion (2008 est.)
-$5.838 billion (2007 est.)
Exports$38.53 billion (2008 est.)
$30.58 billion (2007 est.)

Exports - commodities(%)petroleum, coffee, coal, nickel, emeralds, apparel, bananas, cut flowers
Exports - partners(%)US 38%, Venezuela 16.2%, Ecuador 4% (2008)
Imports$37.56 billion (2008 est.)
$31.17 billion (2007 est.)

Imports - commodities(%)industrial equipment, transportation equipment, consumer goods, chemicals, paper products, fuels, electricity
Imports - partners(%)US 29.2%, China 11.5%, Mexico 7.9%, Brazil 5.9% (2008)

Reserves of foreign exchange and gold$23.67 billion (31 December 2008 est.)
$20.95 billion (31 December 2007 est.)
Debt - external$46.38 billion (31 December 2008)
$44.55 billion (31 December 2007)

Stock of direct foreign investment - at home$67.23 billion (31 December 2008 est.)
$56.45 billion (31 December 2007 est.)
Stock of direct foreign investment - abroad$13.18 billion (31 December 2008 est.)
$10.93 billion (31 December 2007 est.)
Exchange ratesColombian pesos (COP) per US dollar - 2,243.6 (2008), 2,013.8 (2007), 2,358.6 (2006), 2,320.75 (2005), 2,628.61 (2004)

Currency (code)Colombian peso (COP)

Telephones - main lines in use6.82 million (2008)
Telephones - mobile cellular41.365 million (2008)
Telephone systemgeneral assessment: modern system in many respects; telecommunications sector liberalized during the 1990s; multiple providers of both fixed-line and mobile-cellular services; fixed-line connections stand at about 15 per 100 persons; mobile cellular telephone subscribership is about 90 per 100 persons; competition among cellular service providers is resulting in falling local and international calling rates and contributing to the steep decline in the market share of fixed line services
domestic: nationwide microwave radio relay system; domestic satellite system with 41 earth stations; fiber-optic network linking 50 cities
international: country code - 57; submarine cables provide links to the US, parts of the Caribbean, and Central and South America; satellite earth stations - 10 (6 Intelsat, 1 Inmarsat, 3 fully digitalized international switching centers) (2008)
Internet country code.co
Internet users17.117 million (2008)
Airports992 (2009)
Pipelines(km)gas 4,560 km; oil 6,094 km; refined products 3,383 km (2008)
Roadways(km)total: 164,257 km (2005)

Ports and terminalsBarranquilla, Buenaventura, Cartagena, Santa Marta, Turbo
Military branchesNational Army (Ejercito Nacional), National Navy (Armada Nacional, includes Naval Aviation, Naval Infantry (Infanteria de Marina, IM), and Coast Guard), Colombian Air Force (Fuerza Aerea de Colombia, FAC) (2008)
Military service age and obligation(years of age)18-24 years of age for compulsory and voluntary military service; service obligation - 18 months (2004)
Manpower available for military servicemales age 16-49: 11,478,109
females age 16-49: 11,809,279 (2008 est.)
Manpower fit for military servicemales age 16-49: 8,212,944
females age 16-49: 10,045,435 (2009 est.)
Manpower reaching militarily significant age annuallymale: 446,432
female: 437,164 (2009 est.)
Military expenditures(% of GDP)3.4% of GDP (2005 est.)
Disputes - internationalin December 2007, ICJ allocates San Andres, Providencia, and Santa Catalina islands to Colombia under 1928 Treaty but does not rule on 82 degrees W meridian as maritime boundary with Nicaragua; managed dispute with Venezuela over maritime boundary and Venezuelan-administered Los Monjes Islands near the Gulf of Venezuela; Colombian-organized illegal narcotics, guerrilla, and paramilitary activities penetrate all neighboring borders and have caused Colombian citizens to flee mostly into neighboring countries; Colombia, Honduras, Nicaragua, Jamaica, and the US assert various claims to Bajo Nuevo and Serranilla Bank

Refugees and internally displaced personsIDPs: 1.8-3.5 million (conflict between government and illegal armed groups and drug traffickers) (2007)
Electricity - production(kWh)50.58 billion kWh (2007 est.)
Electricity - production by source(%)fossil fuel: 26%
hydro: 72.7%
nuclear: 0%
other: 1.3% (2001)
Electricity - consumption(kWh)38.59 billion kWh (2007 est.)
Electricity - exports(kWh)876.7 million kWh (2007 est.)
Electricity - imports(kWh)39.4 million kWh (2007 est.)
Oil - production(bbl/day)600,600 bbl/day (2008 est.)
Oil - consumption(bbl/day)291,000 bbl/day (2008 est.)
Oil - exports(bbl/day)294,000 bbl/day (2008 est.)
Oil - imports(bbl/day)16,540 bbl/day (2007 est.)
Oil - proved reserves(bbl)1.355 billion bbl (1 January 2009 est.)
Natural gas - production(cu m)9 billion cu m (2008 est.)
Natural gas - consumption(cu m)8.1 billion cu m (2008 est.)
Natural gas - exports(cu m)900 million cu m (2008)
Natural gas - proved reserves(cu m)105.9 billion cu m (1 January 2009 est.)
HIV/AIDS - adult prevalence rate(%)0.6% (2007 est.)
HIV/AIDS - people living with HIV/AIDS170,000 (2007 est.)
HIV/AIDS - deaths9,800 (2007 est.)
Major infectious diseasesdegree of risk: high
food or waterborne diseases: bacterial diarrhea
vectorborne diseases: dengue fever, malaria, and yellow fever
water contact disease: leptospirosis (2009)
Literacy(%)definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 90.4%
male: 90.1%
female: 90.7% (2005 census)

School life expectancy (primary to tertiary education)(years)total: 12 years
male: 12 years
female: 13 years (2006)
Education expenditures(% of GDP)4.7% of GDP (2006)

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