During the nineties, Colombia has made significant progress in the process of consolidating its economy and similar progress has been made in the social sphere, even if on this front there is still a long way to go. Although it falls into the category that the UN – by virtue of the good performance of socio-demographic indicators – defines “high human development”, it has a modest per capita income. The new course of economic policy, launched at the turn of the 1980s, has embarked on the path of liberalization and privatization, at the same time launching forms of infrastructure modernization. However, serious problems are still unsolved, in particular the condition of poverty of a large percentage of the population (about one third), social inequalities, the violation of human rights, as well as the heavy role exercised by drug trafficking activities on political life and economic and social issues of the country.
According to 800zipcodes, the population is steadily increasing, although at a pace far more moderate than in the past: between 1994 and 1998 the number of residents has increased from 34, 5 to 40.8 million; infant mortality remains quite high (25 ‰ in 1996), while the illiteracy index appears to be contained. The urbanization process is slowing down in large agglomerations in favor of medium and small cities, a counter-trend that also affects other Latin American states. The distribution of the population has also changed due to the persistence of internal migratory flows directed to the East, towards the Amazon, a phenomenon sustained for some time by government policy; in those regions an agricultural and forestry exploitation is taking place, which assumes a destructive character with heavy and well-known repercussions on the forest ecosystem.
The capital, Bogotá (over 6 million residents), with its extensive hinterland, represents the area of greatest density, an urban region of 250 km ² which is also the main Colombian industrial and business center, since headquarters of over 65 % of the top 500 companies in the country. In the Central Cordillera there are also the other two important urban nodes of the Colombia, Medellín and Cali, vital commercial and industrial centers, while Barranquilla, on the Caribbean coast, is the main oil port of the country. In January 1999the south-western region of Colombia was hit by a violent earthquake and a series of subsequent minor tremors, which resulted in deaths, injuries and the collapse of 60 % of the area’s production infrastructure.
The rate of economic growth, which between 1993 and 1994 was around 5%, favored the containment of the inflation rate and of the foreign debt, which is one of the lowest in the Latin American area. In recent years, the Colombian economic structure has gradually diversified and modernized, with the support of huge investments, including foreign ones: an industrial sector characterized by a good technological level is now added to the traditional sectors (market agriculture, cattle breeding, mineral resources). and productive, with the recent development of the mechanical, metallurgical, chemical and petrochemical branches. The national economy has received considerable impetus from the discovery and exploitation of new oil fields (in particular in Cupiagua and Cuisiana, in the eastern plains) and of methane, which are configured as the leading sector of the Colombian economy.50 % of the active population.
The favorable trend of the economic indicators cannot make us forget the serious problems that still weigh on the social development of Colombia, especially considering that the improvement in the quality of life concerns a still too modest percentage of the population, and that the gap between the poor and the well-to-do it tends to increase, particularly in urbanized areas. In the cities, environmental degradation is worsening and the extensive shantytowns continue to represent real reservoirs for drug trafficking and for the crime connected to it. As for the countryside, it should be remembered that over 65 % of cultivated land belongs to about 4% of the population, i.e. the owners of large and very large fincas, intended for the cultivation of export products (mainly bananas, sugar cane and cotton); the crisis in coffee cultivation has affected above all the multitude of small farmers, and this event has favored the expansion of the cultivation of coca, opium poppy – introduced in the 1980s – and Indian hemp. In a recent study sponsored by the UN, great importance is attached to the renewal that is affecting the administrators of local and municipal authorities, in increasing numbers chosen by free elections rather than by government nomination, which allow the population to elect candidates from outside the traditional groups of power related to drug trafficking:out of 16 cities a mayor from another city was elected; Furthermore, these new mayors employ external and higher-educated collaborators, so that the number of graduates in the municipal staff has risen from one in 39 in the early 1980s to the current one in 13.