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Bogotá offers abundant contrasts: modern shopping malls and open-air markets, high-rise apartments and makeshift shanties, futuristic glass towers and colonial churches. Simultaneous displays of ostentatious wealth and shocking poverty have been a feature of life here for centuries. In the neighborhood of La Candelaria a rich assemblage of colonial mansions grandly conceived by the Spanish were built by native peoples and financed by plundered gold.

Bogotá, a city of more than 7 million people, has grown twentyfold in the past 50 years. It suffers the growing pains typical of any major metropolis on the continent (insufficient public transport, chronic air pollution, petty crime) and a few of its own (a scurrilous drug trade and occasional acts of political violence). However, recent mayors have made some progress in cleaning up parks, resurfacing roads, and implementing a new transport system. In fact, a recent survey indicates that while a majority of Bogotanos feel that the political situation is worsening in Colombia, conditions are improving in Bogotá.