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Colombia Looks Ahead most of the country’s current problems, of course, are directly related to two primary factors. The first is the huge gap that exists between the wealthy ­power ­elite and the poor and powerless. The second, and most challenging, is the ongoing international drug trade and the tremendous power of those who control it. These two obstacles exert a strongly negative impact on existing social, economic, and political ­systems. In the rest of this chapter, we will review the way(s) in which each topic discussed in previous chapters may influence Colombia’s future, beginning with the natural environment. Little can be done to avoid many of the country’s devastating environmental hazards. The Andes, after all, lie squarely on the Pacific Rim of Fire, which is the world’s largest zone of geologic instability. Violent volcanic eruptions and devastating earthquakes have happened on many occasions in the past. Certainly, they shall continue to wreak havoc. As the population expands, an increasing number of people will be vulnerable to their wrath. Periodic droughts and occasional severe floods will also continue. The effect of a warming earth remains a giant question mark in regard to the wet tropical and ­ wet-­and-­dry tropical ­climates. Colombia’s natural environment also offers many positive conditions on which the country can build. Its has good harbors on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, and the country’s location places it closer to the United States and the Panama Canal than any other South American country. Because of its mountainous terrain and vertical climate zones, the country experiences many microclimates. This presents a huge advantage in that a wide variety of crops from tropical to ­upper-­middle latitudes can be grown. Mountain valleys and coastal plains offer fertile volcanic ash–derived, or alluvial, soils. There are ample natural grasslands for grazing livestock. Caribbean beaches (particularly near Santa Marta) offer great tourist potential. So do spectacular mountain scenery and the fascinating tropical rainforests and ­ savannas—­with windows



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