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Regions of Colombia economic center. Many national and international companies have headquarters or regional offices in the ­city. Industries include steel milling, textile manufacturing, and food and beverage processing, as well as the production of cement, chemicals, and pharmaceuticals. Oil refineries are common. Agricultural production is still very important to the area, and coffee and cut flowers are major exports. The region also is a major producer of ­coca. During recent decades, however, the area has gained wide-­ spread notoriety of an undesirable nature. You may have heard of the Medellín Cartel, which was perhaps the world’s most powerful international drug trafficking organization. Medellín also was a focal point for the violence that hampered the entire country for decades. To add to the city’s misery, during the early 1990s, it logged an astronomical murder rate that reached about 9,000 killings a year. During recent years, however, the homicide rate has dropped to around 25 per 100,000, which makes it much safer than many American cities. The drop is attributed mainly to a reduction in ­gang-­related ­activity. The Cauca ­Valley Lying between the Cordillera Central and the Cordillera Occi-­ dental (Western Range) is a huge structural valley drained by the Cauca River. The valley stretches from Ecuador northward to the Caribbean. The Cauca River, itself, begins near Popayán and flows almost straight, northward, until it joins the Mag-­ dalena, near its mouth. Through much of its course, the river flows through relatively soft volcanic ash. As a result, it has eroded deep valleys with steep escarpments (slopes). Most communities, including Popayán and Cali, are built on rela-­ tively flat terraces, hundreds of feet above the river ­itself. The Spanish entered the Cauca Valley from both the south (Peru and Ecuador) and the north (Caribbean coastal settle-­ ments). They found an environment that was ­ well-­suited to the growing of sugarcane, a ­labor-­intensive cash crop of great



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