Despite Colombiaâ€™s wealth of natural resources, geographical position and advantageous climate, historical circumstances have bequeathed this Andean nation a multitude of social problems: high unemployment, a housing shortage, malnutrition and hunger, high rates of infant mortality and abandoned children, widespread poverty, pervasive alcoholism and drug abuse, widespread juvenile delinquency, high rates of crime and violence, human rights abuses, entrenched and violently polarized guerrilla factions, and inadequate health and education services.The roots of these problems can be traced back to the legacy of Spanish colonialism and imperialism. Even after Colombiaâ€™s independence from Spain, the new governors did not establish a political and social structure for the benefit of all of its citizens, but rather for only for the very small, mostly Spanish-descendant class. The effect of such institutionalized inequality has proven to be disastrous for the overall quality of life of Colombiaâ€™s citizens, including, ironically, its wealthiest, who have to live in fear of being kidnapped or murdered.In the years following World War II, the situation was exacerbated by two major factors: the new market for cocaine, and the Cold War, which resulted in the United States and the Soviet Union subsidizing opposing and often violent ideological factions in Colombia, both of which used the fight against the other as an excuse for committing atrocities on innocent civilians. Extremists on both the right and the left also accepted funding and arms from the highly lucrative cocaine trade, which had a vested interest in undermining any form of social order which interfered with its traffic.
Colombiaâ€™s rural poor, in particular, have experienced the brunt of suffering, often being the target of extreme violence and having their territory appropriated and/or pillaged by wealthy landowners, and multinational interestsâ€”such as the Chiquita Banana, which was exposed recently for subsidizing paramilitaries near their plantations, both for â€śprotectionâ€ť and to repress any attempts by Chiquitaâ€™s low-paid workers to form unions. Guerrilla warfare, paramilitaries and the narcotics trade are additional factors resulting in the displacement of millions of refugees, who have fled to the overcrowded cities, or more frequently, left to other countriesâ€”Ecuador in particularâ€”in search of safety and better opportunities. Women comprise 55 percent of internal refugees, and are often at high risk of sexual violence and unwanted pregnancies.
The Colombian governmentâ€™s response to this crisis has been criticized as being deficient. While over 90 percent of Colombians over the age of 15 can read and write, education in the rural provinces is often inadequate, with poorly qualified and underpaid teachers offering only the basics of primary school education, with no vocational or higher education opportunities.
During the 1990s, Colombia led the world in kidnapping rates, and was almost as high in murder rates, particularly in its cities. However, even though violence and crime still exists, over the past 10 years, crime and violence have declined, due in part to the decline in the power of drug cartels and the governmentâ€™s hard-line stance. Furthermore, in the last few years, Colombiaâ€™s GDP growth has been constant, unemployment has not risen and rates of poverty, including rates of extreme poverty, have dropped several percentage pointsâ€”all of which has attracted increasing national and international investments.
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