Twenty essays which attempt to portray contemporary Colombia by surveying its land, people, history, politics, economy, culture, and foreign relations are presented in this, the twelfth of the Caribbean Conference volumes edited by A. Curtis Wilgus.
The book is divided into six parts: Part I, Geography and Anthropology; II, History and Government; III, the Economy; IV, the Culture; V, International Relations; and VI, Bibliography and Reference. The introduction by the editor, rather than presenting a universal unifying theme, deals in rather minute detail with the U.S.-modelled Universidad de los Andes of Bogotá.
The first essay is a competent, lucid, and succinct appraisal of the complex geography of Colombia by Robert C. West. Robert L. Carneiro’s view of Colombian aboriginal cultures is an able synthesis, too. The next paper, by Carlos Angulo C., about archeological implications of some recent finds near Barranquilla, while interesting, is hardly pertinent in such a general survey.
The second group of papers begin with Theodore E. Nichols’ study of Colombia as a Spanish colony. This effort, on the whole, succeeds in tracing the broad themes of colonial economic and political developments to 1810, but suffers from the author’s apparent penchant for text-book-like platitudes. Robert L. Gilmore, on the other hand, has contributed a very important over-view of National Period Colombia, far and above one of the best essays in this tome. The survey of Colombian bi-partisan political program, by Federico G. Gil, is competent and informative.
The third group of papers treats the Colombian economy. Of these, the first, by Carlos Garcés O., is a good general description of the agricultural sector which highlights both potential growth and its present stagnation. James Eder’s paper on mining and manufacturing is heavily weighted with ethical considerations and recommendations. A pair of short essays, one by Andrés Uribe C. which emphasizes the preeminence of coffee on the Colombian economic scene, the other, by Mauricio Obregón, which calls for the creation of a Latin American economic union, complete the quartet.
Culture, around which heading the next group of papers are grouped, is inaugurated by a stimulating essay on Colombian educational history by Orlando Fals-Borda, the well-known Colombian sociologist. The last three essays in this part drop off in quality and content, though the study of Colombian music and musicians by Guillermo Espinosa, while all too brief, is informative and worthy of note.
Colombia’s diplomatic relations with the United States form the subject of E. Taylor Parks’ study, which leads the reader into the fifth group of essays. Mr. Parks has ably explored a theme which he knows well, but says too little about recent Colombian-U.S. relations. Less rewarding is Madaline W. Nichols’ contribution, which traces the arbitration principle through the years (1819-1830) of Gran Colombian diplomacy. The last three papers deal with the Colombian tourist industry, the role of the corporation in Colombia, and conclude with an eight-page exposition by a Florida congressman of his devotion to inter-American good will, his loyalty to his alma mater (the University of Florida), and to his constituents’ welfare.
The final paper, by Eleanor Mitchell, brings the reader back to Colombia, the ostensible subject of this volume, through her well-researched appraisal of Colombian bibliographic studies.
In summary, this volume, like the country it attempts to portray, is a badly blended pot-pourri of extremes, ranging from erudite scholarship to brochurese trivia.