The Society and Its Environment
The varied people of Columbia
COLOMBIA IS THE FIFTH LARGEST country in Latin America and
third largest population (28 million) in the region.
Unlike most of
its Andean neighbors, Colombia is a nation of cities;
percent of the people lived in urban areas in the late
addition to Bogotá, the capital, which had an estimated
of 5 million in 1988, three other cities had populations
million or more: Cali, Medellín, and Barranquilla.
urban centers had populations of between 100,000 and
than 100 cities had 10,000 or more inhabitants.
Three-fifths of the country was sparsely populated
lowlands and jungle. Ninety-eight percent of the
concentrated in the interior two-fifths of the national
mainly in the narrow valleys and intermontane basins
formed by the
three ranges of the Andes Mountains that divide the
north to south. The dominant language was Spanish, and the
majority of the people were (at least nominally) Roman
Seventy percent of the population was of mixed blood;
Indians, and blacks accounted for the rest. The country's
and political elite remained predominantly white, however.
Over the past nearly 500 years, Colombian society has
highly stratified, with a castelike elite, correlation
color and class membership, and limited vertical mobility.
social structure was the offspring of a colonial society
rigidly segregated into two groups: the white elite of
cultured, rich, and politically powerful persons and the
proletarians and peasants. A small middle group, composed
merchants and minor officials, actually belonged with the
class in terms of powerlessness.
Independence did little to change this configuration,
prestige continued to be determined by birth and
postindependence period did not encourage a revolutionary
the stratification system but instead reinforced the
The continuing political anarchy, the difficulty of
development because of ineffective use of capital and
and the lack of an urban labor movement inhibited change
the nineteenth century and discouraged the growth of an
independent, viable middle class.
The rugged terrain and inadequate transportation system
reinforced social and geographic distance, keeping the
superior but disunited masses fragmented and powerless.
middle sector lacked a collective consciousness,
identify individually with the upper class. The elite was
social group with sufficient cohesion to articulate goals
them known to the rest of the society.
In the twentieth century, the society began to
change--not so much in values or orientation but in
the economic bases and an expansion of the social classes.
Improvements in transportation, communication, and
coupled with industrialization and rapid urban
society somewhat by expanding economic opportunities.
moved up from the masses into the lower, the middle, and
infrequently the upper classes. Nevertheless, the
class continued to dominate the country by maintaining
control over forces that encouraged change and by
absorbing or coopting other social sectors into the economic and
Generally, however, the upper class did not admit these
mobile groups to the inner circle of power cliques and
Data as of December 1988