Since the 1960s, Colombia has experienced a massive migration to its cities that has transformed what was a mostly agrarian society into one of the most urbanized nations in Latin America. Bogotá, Medellín, Cali and Barranquilla have seen increased economic activity, access to better education and health-care systems, and accelerated technological development.
Though urban areas are poised to remain Colombia's primary growth generator, the country finds itself on the cusp of a rural revival. Recent political negotiations offer the chance to end a half-century of violence and to redistribute farmland among those displaced by the upheaval—a historic development that could drastically reshape the economy and make Colombia a global player.
Urbanization began nearly 50 years ago as a consequence of unrest after the newly formed National Front consolidated the Conservatives and the Liberals. With unchecked power, the government instituted draconian policies such as Accelerated Economic Development, which forcibly removed hundreds of thousands of people from their family farms in favor of expanding industrial agribusiness.
Various insurgencies arose across the country, sparking guerrilla wars and funding their activities through the narcotics trade. Caught between confiscated land, rampant violence and drug trafficking, many rural Colombians became desperate for security and opportunities for work.
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The exodus to the cities from the countryside accelerated as Colombia transitioned to a primarily export-based economy and established urban jobs, particularly in the extraction and processing industries. In the 1970s, coffee production and exports doubled. By the 1980s, more emphasis was placed on oil, which provided more jobs and ultimately led to a tripling of oil exports. This surge gave rise to private companies, which helped diversify the economy and increase domestic consumption.
The growth spurred a vast number of rural inhabitants to flock to the cities. By the 2000s, Colombia's urbanization rates were among the fastest in Latin America, with the population of cities rising to 75 percent from 72 percent of the total. From 2000 to 2011, the nation posted 4 percent annualized growth in gross domestic product, with Bogotá alone contributing 25 percent of GDP.