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A Look at Colombia

  • Region: Northern South America

  • Capital: Bogotá

  • Population: 44,379,598 (July 2007)

  • Size: About twice the size of Texas

  • Independence: From Spain on July 20, 1810

  • Currency: Colombian peso

  • Languages: Spanish

  • Literacy rate: 92.8% (2004)

  • Education: Free and mandatory between the ages of 5 and 15

  • Primary School Enrollment Rate: 83% (2004

  • Life Expectancy: Female, 76.2; Male, 68.4 (2007)

  • Infant Mortality Rate: 20.13 deaths/1,000 live births (2007)

  • HIV/AIDS Prevalence Rate: 0.6% of the population or 190,000 people (2005)

  • Poverty Rate: 49.2% of the population lives below the national poverty line (2005)

  • People living on less that $2 a day: 17.8% of population (1990-2004)

  • People living on less that $1 a day: 7% of population (1990-2004)

  • Access to Clean Drinking Water: 93% (2004)

  • Access to Proper Sanitation: 86% (2004)

  • Doctor to Patient Ratio: 135 doctors for every 100,000 people (2004)

**All statistics from CIA World Factbook 2007 & UNDP Human Development Report 2006


History of Colombia

Colombia today is unfortunately best known for violence and drugs. Since the 1960s over 200,000 Colombians have died and 3 million have lost their homes in the fighting that first began as a struggle for land and social equality.


In Colombia, the people of European ancestry have enjoyed the most wealth and the best opportunities for jobs, education and healthcare while the majority of the indigenous, African and multi-racial populations live in poverty.


In the late 1960s, this inequality led to the formation of two rebel groups that wanted to take over the government, claiming that they would run the country with the interests of the people in mind. But instead of helping to improve Colombia and conditions for the poor, the two main rebel groups, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN) only brought more violence and unrest.


In response to the creation of these groups, the United Self-Defense Force of Colombia (AUC) was formed by citizens claiming to protect the state and themselves. Ultimately, all three groups have been involved in kidnappings, massacres, assassinations and torture, leaving the average Colombian caught in the middle of violence that has lasted over 40 years. Today the AUC, FARC, and ELN are all on the United States' list of foreign terrorist groups. The government of Colombia is working to engage all sides in peace talks. The US has a close relationship to the current government of Colombia.



The Influence of the Drug Trade

Colombia's civil war is difficult to resolve because of the involvement of the AUC, FARC and ELN in the illegal drug trade. Colombia is the leading producer of cocaine in the world and it supplies 90 percent of the cocaine found in the United States. Drug-related crime is the second highest cause of death in the country and the sale of drugs provides the money the AUC, FARC and ELN need to continue fighting and buying weapons.


Although the government of Colombia has tried to put a stop to cocaine production, efforts have not really worked so far because of the high demand for illegal drugs around the world. In addition, growing coca (the plant used to make cocaine) is often the most lucrative way peasant farmers can make enough money to feed their families. Because farmers make a lot more money selling coca than other legal crops, it is hard to convince them to stop growing it.



Destroying Coca - Cocaine Fields and its Impact

In recent years, the US (through Plan Colombia) has sponsored the destruction of coca fields in Colombia in order to stop the flow of drugs into the US. This project has been harmful for rural farmers because of the effects on the environment, human health and the loss of livelihood to many small farmers.


Many complain that the chemicals used to destroy the coca fields also poison the soil, not allowing farmers to grow anything at all. Because the poison is sprayed from planes, it often destroys surrounding crops as well as coca plants. In addition, many argue that the destruction of coca is unfair since the plant has traditional use in medicines and religious ceremonies.


Fortunately, in some regions, with the help of various nonprofit organizations, peasant farmers have begun to turn to different agricultural and income generating activities such as the production of arts and crafts. Growing and harvesting certain plants indigenous to the region allow farmers and artisans to distance themselves from the drug trade and the violent civil war and slowly move their country towards peace.



The Refugee Crisis

For 50 years, Colombia has been plagued by drug-fueled internal conflict, pitting guerrilla groups, paramilitaries and government forces against one another. The result is an enormous population of refugees in the country. Estimates put the number of internally-displaced persons since 1985 at nearly 4 million, with 200,000 new IDPs every year.


According to the U.N. Refugee Agency, Colombia contains the most IDPs in the Western Hemisphere, and the second-most in the world (after Sudan). Due to discrimination, indigenous communities are disproportionately affected by the displacement, often being forced to abandon their traditional ways of life.



How Belart Makes a Difference

By working together with Colombian government Institutions like FUPAD, Acción Social and International Institutions as USAID and Aid To Artisans, we support vulnerable and displaced citizens (85% of whom are women) in harvesting tagua, fique-agave and other natural materials in a sustainable way.


Through these practices and as a member of the US Fair Trade Federation, Belart also supports the manufacturing of goods from these materials under Fair Trade practices and the opening of new international Fair Trade markets for their distribution.

It is Belart’s firm conviction and belief that by supporting cross-cultural, respectful and enduring partnerships with these communities, we are creating a sustainable, economically-beneficial and productive alternative to the illegal and dangerous drug trade.


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