Trading Partners: Fondo Paez and Ocamonte
- Total population: 44,725,543 (2011)
- Life Expectancy: 75 years (2011)
- Per capita income (power purchasing parity): $9,800 USD (2010)
- Exports: petroleum, coffee, coal, nickel, emeralds, apparel, bananas, cut flowers
-mixed black-Amerindian (3%)
- Languages: Spanish is official; many Amerindian groups speak Quechua
- 2nd largest coffee-exporting country of the world
From the time of Spanish colonialism (1500s-1800s) to the current war on drugs, the history of Colombia has violent and oppressive. A lack of tolerance and viable mechanisms for defining the nation's identity contribute to the conflicts that erode the nation. Years of internal strife between political parties - a bloody dispute known as La Violencia - followed by persistent guerilla movements in the mountainous regions have wreaked havoc on the country and incurred countless numbers of human rights' violations on its people over the last century. Despite the creation of a democratic constitution and republic in 1991 - complete with a an Inspector General, a Human Rights Ombudsman, and a Constitutional Court - the present situation in Colombia is questionably "democratic." Colombian governments have had to contend with terrorist activities of left-wing guerrillas, the rise of paramilitary self-defense forces in the 1990s, and powerful drug cartels. Primarily concerned with establishing national security, President Alvaro Uribe (elected in 2002) has worked under martial-law-like conditions, often exercising more executive power than generally afforded presidents under democratic rule. In recent years, the timeless struggle of several indigenous communities - including that of our producer partner Fondo Paez - has resurfaced and called international attention to the rampant injustices carried out against the populations of Amerindians (many of whom are found in coffee-producing regions).
Three departments in Colombia – Cundinamarca (including the capital Bogotá), Antioquia and Valle – concentrate 53 percent of the national production. Therefore, a few sectors in specific locations are prioritized, leaving most of the vast and rich country to fend for itself, resulting in enormous inequalities in resources and defense.
In recent years, the US government has spent billions of dollars to eradicate the drug market under the "Plan Colombia" (enacted by President Clinton) as drug trafficking is believed to be a root cause of the violence. But as Witness for Peace puts it “Ostensibly to fight the War on Drugs, this aid package has done little more than inflame a complicated conflict that already places civilians in the crossfire, and destroys huge quantities of legitimate subsistence and economic crops.”
Among those important crops, of course, is coffee. Colombia is second the largest exporter of washed arabicas, thanks in part to its year-round production, and savvy marketing around the world - exemplified by the famous Juan Valdez and his mule, a New York City ad agency creation. The majority of this production is by smallholders (with an average farm size of 1.4 hectares) with parcels located on steep hillsides of altitudes between 1.300 and 1.800 meters.
The export of Colombian coffee is very much controlled by just a few actors, primarily by the National Coffee Federation, and is only just beginning to recognize the value of facilitating producers’ participation in a growing fair trade market.
Insight and perspective provided by:
Adolfo Garces, Fondo Paez - Colombia
Oscar Hernandez, Aficionado of Latin American history, world politics, and globalization.