History of Modern Latin America
eBook - ePub

History of Modern Latin America

1800 to the Present

Teresa A. Meade

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eBook - ePub

History of Modern Latin America

1800 to the Present

Teresa A. Meade

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Now available in a fully-revised and updated second edition, A History of Modern Latin America offers a comprehensive and accessible introduction to the rich cultural and political history of this vibrant region from the onset of independence to the present day.

  • Includes coverage of the recent opening of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba as well as a new chapter exploring economic growth and environmental sustainability
  • Balances accounts of the lives of prominent figures with those of ordinary people from a diverse array of social, racial, and ethnic backgrounds
  • Features first-hand accounts, documents, and excerpts from fiction interspersed throughout the narrative to provide tangible examples of historical ideas
  • Examines gender and its influence on political and economic change and the important role of popular culture, including music, art, sports, and movies, in the formation of Latin American cultural identity
  • Includes all-new study questions and topics for discussion at the end of each chapter, plus comprehensive updates to the suggested readings

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Introduction to the Land and Its People

Latin America is a vast, geographically and culturally diverse region stretching from the southern border of the United States to Puerto Toro at the tip of Chile, the southernmost town of the planet. Encompassing over 8 million square miles, the 20 countries that make up Latin America are home to an estimated 600 million people who converse in at least five European-based languages and six or more main indigenous tongues, plus African Creole and hundreds of smaller language groups.
Historians disagree over the origin of the name ‚ÄúLatin America.‚ÄĚ Some contend that geographers in the sixteenth century gave the name ‚ÄúLatin America‚ÄĚ to the new lands Spain and Portugal colonized, in reference to the Latin-based languages imposed on indigenous people and imported African slaves in the newly acquired territories. More recently, others have argued that the name originated in France in the 1860s under the reign of Napoleon III, as a result of that country's short-lived attempt to fold all the Latin-language-derived countries of the Americas into a neocolonial empire. Although other European powers (Britain, Holland, and Denmark) colonized parts of the Americas, the term ‚ÄúLatin America‚ÄĚ generally refers to those territories in which the main spoken language is Spanish or Portuguese: Mexico, most of Central and South America, and the Caribbean countries of Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic. The former French possessions of Haiti and other islands of the Caribbean, French Guiana on the South American continent, and even Quebec in Canada, could be included in a broadened definition of Latin America. However, this book defines Latin America as the region that fell under Spanish and Portuguese domination beginning in the late fifteenth and into the mid-sixteenth centuries. The definition also encompasses other Caribbean and South American countries such as Haiti and Jamaica among others, since events in those areas are important to the historical trajectory. This definition follows the practice of area scholars, who have generally defined Latin America and the Caribbean as a socially and economically interrelated entity, no matter what language or culture predominates.


Latin America boasts some of the largest cities in the world, including S√£o Paulo (Brazil), Mexico City, Buenos Aires (Argentina), Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), Lima (Peru), and Bogot√° (Colombia). Population figures, however, are controversial since most of these gigantic urban centers include, in addition to the housed and settled population, transitory masses of destitute migrants living in makeshift dwellings or in the open air. It is hard for census takers and demographers to obtain an accurate count, or offer a more precise estimate, under those circumstances.
Not only does Latin America have some of the largest population centers in the world, but its countryside, jungles, mountains, and coastlines are major geographical and topographical landmarks (see Map 1.1). The 2.6-million-square-mile Amazon Basin is the largest rainforest in the world. Spanning the far north of Brazil, stretching into Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, French Guiana, Guyana, Suriname, and Venezuela, it is home for approximately 15 percent of all living species on the planet. South and to the east of the Amazon Basin in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso lays the Pantanal, the world's largest wetlands. Other superlatives include the Andes as the highest mountain range of the Americas and the longest range in the world, stretching nearly the entire length of the continent. This geologically young and very seismically active range includes Aconcagua in Argentina on the border with Chile, the highest peak in the Americas, which at 22,841 ft exceeds Denali (Mt McKinley) in Alaska by over 2,000 ft The Atacama Desert, spanning Argentina, Bolivia, and Chile, is the driest place and the largest depository of sodium nitrates on the planet. Elsewhere in the Andean region is Lake Titicaca, the most elevated navigable body of water in the world. This huge lake forms the boundary between Peru and Bolivia, and the Bolivian city of La Paz is the world's highest-altitude capital city. Angel Falls in Venezuela is the highest waterfall in the world; at 3,212 ft it is almost 20 times higher than Niagara Falls. Angel Falls connects through tributaries to the world's largest river (in volume), the Amazon. In its 25,000 miles of navigable water, this mighty ‚ÄúRiver Sea,‚ÄĚ as the Amazon River is called, contains 16 percent of the world's river water and 20 percent of the fresh water on Earth.
Map 1.1 The vegetation of South America. (Courtesy Cathryn L. Lombardi and John V. Lombardi, Latin American History: A Teaching Atlas, © 1993 by the Regents of the University of Wisconsin System. Reprinted by permission of The University of Wisconsin Press)


The sheer diversity of the population of Latin America and the Caribbean has made the region extremely interesting culturally, but has also affected the level of economic and political equality. Latin America is exceedingly diverse, a place where the interaction, cross-fertilization, mutation, interpenetration, and reinvention of cultures from Europe, Asia, Africa, and indigenous America has produced a lively and rich set of traditions in music, art, literature, religion, sport, dance, and political and economic trends. Bolivia, for example, elected an indigenous president in 2005 who was a former coca leaf farmer. President Evo Morales won easily with the backing of poor and indigenous Bolivians but met hostility from wealthy and middle-class citizens who worry about the effects of his socialist redistribution proposals and follow more ‚ÄúWestern‚ÄĚ traditions. Morales defeated a recall in 2008 and went on to be re-elected by landslides in 2009 and 2014. In a situation reflecting growing tensions in other countries over extractive development projects, Morales in subsequent terms in office has come under fire from environmentalists and even some indigenous supporters for his embrace of foreign oil and natural gas exploration in formerly protected areas. Thus ethnic and racial strife has accompanied the push to develop resources more than 500 years past the original fifteenth-century encounter. (See Map 1.2.)
Map 1.2 The countries of Latin America. (Courtesy Cathryn L. Lombardi and John V. Lombardi, Latin American History: A Teaching Atlas, © 1993 by the Regents of the University of Wisconsin System. Reprinted by permission of The University of Wisconsin Press)
In Bolivia, Guatemala, and Peru, people who trace their ethnicity back to the pre-Columbian era constitute the majority, or near majority, while in Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, and Venezuela, people of mixed European and indigenous ancestry, known as mestizos, or in parts of Central America as ladinos, comprise the majority. Africans were imported as slaves from the sixteenth until the mid-nineteenth centuries, and their descendants still comprise over half of the population in many areas. People in the Caribbean islands of Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico, as well as in many South American nations, especially Brazil, are descendants of a mixture of Africans and Europeans, called mulattos or Afro-descendants, a more appropriate term that implies heritage rather than skin color. Blacks, or Afro-descendants, are in the majority in Haiti and in many of the Caribbean nations that were in the hands of the British, Dutch, French, or other colonial powers. Everywhere in Latin America there is evidence of racial mixture, giving rise to the term casta, which the Spaniards used to denote any person whose ancestors were from all three major ethnic groups: indigenous, European, and African. Although this has a pejorative connotation in some regions, the creation of such a term suggests that racial mixture in Latin America is so extensive as to make it often awkward, and imprecise, to list each combination. This book uses all of these designations, including indigenous and Indian interchangeably, since that is yet the standard practice in the literature of the major languages of the region.
Large numbers of Europeans immigrated to Latin America in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In addition to the majority who came from Spain, Portugal, and Italy, immigrants arrived from France, Germany, Poland, Russia, and the Middle Eastern countries of Turkey, Syria, and Lebanon; a large number of Eastern European and German Jews sought refuge in Latin America both before and in the years immediately after World War II. Many European migrants settled in the Southern Cone countries of Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, and the southernmost region of Brazil. Japanese also immigrated to Brazil, especially to S√£o Paulo, where they were resettled on coffee plantations and eventually moved into urban areas to form the largest community of Japanese outside Japan. In addition, Japanese moved in large numbers to Peru, while Koreans and Chinese migrated to every part of Latin America. Chinese and East Indians were brought as indentured servants to many of the countries of the Caribbean region beginning in the nineteenth and extending into the twentieth century.
Because race in Latin America was from the earliest days of the arrival of Europeans identified along a continuum from indigenous and black at one end to white Europeans at the other, any discussion of racial categories has been very complicated. By contrast, the United States largely enforced a system of bipolar identity inherited from British colonialism, which then solidified in the late nineteenth century after the Civil War. Nonetheless, race everywhere is socially constructed ‚Äď for example, it is estimated that nearly half of those who identify in the United States as African American have some white ancestors ‚Äď and in Latin America race is a conflicted category. Many Latin Americans who identify as white, and are seen as white because of their social status, education, and physical features, might not be considered white in the United States and vice versa. There are any number of stories of black South American diplomats who were outraged when they encountered discrimination in Washington, DC, not because they objected to racial profiling, but because they considered themselves white. It is estimated that of a total population of 589,107,173 in the countries of Latin America, a third define themselves as white; a bit over a quarter as mestizo (mixed white and Indian); 15 percent as mulatto/Afro-descendant (mixed white and African); 11 percent as indigenous/Indian; 5 percent as black; less than 1 percent as Asian; with the remaining 7.7 percent as other/unknown. This very substantial number, including Garifuna of Central America, some South Asians, and mixtures of some or all races, indicates the fluidity of racial categorization. (See Table 1.1).
Table 1.1 Racial origins of the population of Latin Americans.
Identified as Number (million) Percent of total
White 197.4 33.5
Mestizo 162 27.5
Mulatto 84.8 14.4
Indigenous 65.4 11.1
Black 30 5.1
Asian 4.1 0.7
Other/Unknown 45.4 7.7
(Venezuela no longer tabulates ethnic/racial categories; however, its population is 26,749,000. Applying to this the country's 1998 ratios [mes...

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