At the start of the 21st century, the remote town of Barbacoas, in southern Colombia, was connected to the rest of the region by only one roadway. This 57 km highway between Barbacoas and the nearest town, Junin, was in major disrepair and could take between 14 and 24 hours to travel. Due to political instability, guerilla warfare by the FARC and other nongovernmental paramilitary groups, and the remoteness of the region, the government failed to maintain the condition of the highway and let it fall into disrepair.
The United States proposed the enactment of a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with Colombia in 2004. The United States said that, by lowering the tariffs in a few markets and by making the majority of the other markets entirely duty-free, it could become more competitive. While the Colombian Government responded positively to such a contract, significant groups declared their opposition.
In January 1997, the Colombian government under President Ernesto Samper declared a state of economic crisis. They planned to cut spending, increase taxes, and reduce wage increases in order to reduce the budget deficit, which had reached $4.4 billion in 1996. They developed additional plans to privatize industry, including selling state-owned mining and electrical companies. President Samper had previously supported social welfare programs and labor unions but said that the austerity measures were necessary because there was simply no money available.
The Colombian military and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas have been at war since 1964. Colombian citizens, especially indigenous, are often caught in the crossfire between the two armies. Both the government and FARC have forced children to fight for them.
The U’wa people have practiced their traditional culture in the Northeast forests of the Colombian Andes since time immemorial. At the end of the 20th century, there were up to 5,000 people in U’wa communities.