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Colombia MAP AND DESCRIPTION
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Colombia is a unitary constitutional republic comprising thirty-two departments. The country is located in northwestern South America, bordered to the northwest by Panama; to the north by the Caribbean Sea; to the east by Venezuela and Brazil; to the south by Ecuador and Peru; and to the west by the Pacific Ocean. Colombia is the 26th largest country by area and the fourth largest in South America after Brazil, Argentina and Peru. With over 46 million people, Colombia is the 27th largest country in the world by population and has the second largest population of any Spanish-speaking country in the world, after Mexico. Colombia is a middle power, with the fourth largest economy in Latin America, and the third largest in South America. Colombia produces coffee, flowers, emeralds, coal, and oil. These products comprise the primary sector of the economy.

The territory of what is now Colombia was originally inhabited by indigenous peoples including the Muisca, Quimbaya, and Tairona. The Spanish arrived in 1499 and initiated a period of conquest and colonization ultimately creating the Viceroyalty of New Granada (comprising modern-day Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, north-western Brazil and Panama), with its capital at Bogotá. Independence from Spain was won in 1819, but by 1830 "Gran Colombia" had collapsed with the secession of Venezuela and Ecuador. What is now Colombia and Panama emerged as the Republic of New Granada. The new nation experimented with federalism as the Granadine Confederation (1858), and then the United States of Colombia (1863), before the Republic of Colombia was finally declared in 1886. Panama seceded in 1903. Colombia was the first constitutional government in South America, and an important promoter of the Pan American organizations, initially through the Congress of Panama and later as founder of the Organization of American States. The Liberal and Conservative parties, founded in 1848 and 1849, are two of the oldest surviving political parties in the Americas.

Colombia is ethnically diverse. The interaction between descendants of the original native inhabitants, Spanish colonists, Africans brought as slaves and twentieth-century immigrants from Europe and the Middle East has produced a varied cultural heritage. This has also been influenced by Colombia's varied geography. The majority of the urban centres are located in the highlands of the Andes mountains, but Colombian territory also encompasses Amazon rainforest, tropical grassland and both Caribbean and Pacific coastlines. Ecologically, Colombia is one of the world's 17 megadiverse countries, and is considered the most megadiverse per square kilometer.

Geography

The geography of Colombia is characterized by containing five main natural regions that present their own unique characteristics, from the Andes mountain range region shared with Ecuador and Venezuela; the Pacific Ocean coastal region shared with Panama and Ecuador; the Caribbean Sea coastal region shared with Venezuela and Panama; the Llanos (plains) shared with Venezuela; to the Amazon Rainforest region shared with Venezuela, Brazil, Peru and Ecuador. Colombia is the only South American country which borders both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

Climate

The striking variety in temperature and precipitation results principally from differences in elevation. Temperatures range from very hot at sea level to relatively cold at higher elevations but vary little with the season. Temperatures generally decrease about 3.5°F (2°C) for every 1,000-ft (300-m) increase in altitude above sea level, presenting perpetual snowy peaks to hot river valleys and basins. Rainfall is concentrated in two wet seasons (roughly corresponding to the spring and autumn of temperate latitudes) but varies considerably by location. Colombia's Pacific coast has one of the highest levels of rainfall in the world, with the south east often drenched by more than 200 in (500 cm) of rain per year. On the other hand rainfall in parts of the Guajira Peninsula seldom exceeds 30 in (75 cm) per year. Rainfall in the rest of the country runs between these two extremes.

Religion

The National Administrative Department of Statistics (DANE) does not collect religious statistics, and accurate reports are difficult to obtain. However, based on various studies, more than 95% of the population adheres to Christianity, the vast majority of which (between 81% and 90%) are Roman Catholic. About 1% of Colombians adhere to indigenous religions and under 1% to Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism. However, around 60% of respondents to a poll by El Tiempo reported that they did not practice their Catholic faith actively.

Like the rest of Latin America, Colombia is seeing a continuous increase of Protestant adherents, most of them being converts from Catholicism to Protestantism. Now Protestants constitute between 10 to 13% of the Colombia population While Colombia remains a mostly Roman Catholic country by baptism numbers, the Colombian constitution guarantees freedom and equality of religion after 1991. Religious groups are readily able to obtain recognition as organized associations, although some smaller ones have faced difficulty in obtaining the additional recognition required to offer chaplaincy services in public facilities and to perform legally recognized marriages. Before the constitution guaranteed freedom of religion, Catholicism was the official states religion. After the 1991 constitution, there was a separation between the Catholic Church and the state, although the Catholic Church still holds a privilege position in Colombia.

Culture

Colombia lies at the crossroads of Latin America and the broader American continent, and as such has been hit by a wide range of cultural influences. Native American, Spanish and other European, African, American, Caribbean, and Middle Eastern influences, as well as other Latin American cultural influences, are all present in Colombia's modern culture. Urban migration, industrialization, globalization, and other political, social and economic changes have also left an impression.

Historically, the country's imposing landscape left its various regions largely isolated from one another, resulting in the development of very strong regional identities, in many cases stronger than the national. Modern transport links and means of communication have mitigated this and done much to foster a sense of nationhood, but social and political instability, and in particular fear of armed groups and bandits on intercity highways, have contributed to the maintenance of very clear regional differences. Accent, dress, music, food, politics and general attitude vary greatly between the Bogotanos and other residents of the central highlands, the paisas of Antioquia and the coffee region, the costeños of the Caribbean coast, the llaneros of the eastern plains, and the inhabitants of the Pacific coast and the vast Amazon region to the south east.

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