Latin America


Location: Western Hemisphere south of US.  (Mexico, Central America, S. America, Caribbean Islands.)

Topography: VERY diverse.  Andes Mountains (Vertical Climate), Amazon Rain Forest, Pampas (grasslands), deserts, vast river systems (Amazon)

Early Civilizations (Pre-Columbian)

Mayan (c 300 - 900 Ad) Central America & Southern Mexico; Math, astronomy, calendar, cities,  writing systems.

Aztec (1200-1521): Mexico; huge empire, legal system, very warlike, human sacrifice

Inca (1200-1535): Peru; vast gold supply; road system; terracing for agriculture, medicine, engineering, measurement and record keeping.

European Imperialism

Columbus 1492 claimed “New World” for Spain.

Spain and Portugal:  colonized LA. Conquered natives.

Three “Gs”: Gold Glory, God – Motives of conquistadors (conquerors)

Population in the New World

Native Population: 90% died of disease, murder

African Slave Trade: Brought for cheap labor when natives died.

 Racial Diversity

Peninsulares (b. in Europe)

Creoles (sons of peninsulares) – barred from highest positions in government and church. (Criollos)

Meztizo (white + Indian) & Mulatto (w+African) – laborers and townspeople.  Few political rights.

African & Native Americans – bottom of social structures, little or no freedom or rights

 Feudal Society

Viceroys – Representatives of king or queen in Spanish colonies.

Landed aristocracy:  wealthy landowners controlled the govt.

Military: supported landowners

Roman Catholic Church: unifying force ; become very wealthy

Peasants: worked on encomiendas (plantations) very poor

Encomienda system – Spanish get grants of land and labor of specific native peoples. (farming or mines)

Independence Movements 18th C

Reasons: unjust condition of colonial rule, enlightenment ideas,  Influence:  inspired by freedoms won in American and French Revolutions, Napoleonic wars distract European countries.

Lasting Spanish & Portuguese influences:  Language, Religion (RC) class structure, family, “machismo”

Revolutionary Leaders

Toussaint L’Overture (Haiti):  1791 slave revolt. 1804 1st independent country in LA.

Simon Bolivar (“Gran Columbia”) fought for an independent and unified Latin America.  In 1819 organized an army & led a successful revolt against the Spanish.  Later named president of Gran Colombia (Present day – Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, and Panama)

 Jose de San Martin (Peru & Argentina ) Bernardo O’Higgins (Chile) worked together to drive Spanish from Chile in 1818

Miguel Hidalgo & Jose Morelos (Mexico) Priests who led a Indian/Mestizo revolution.   They were executed but revolution continued.  Mexico gained independence in 1821

Latin America Today

Relations with U.S: Geographic and economic closeness; 

Monroe Doctrine (West closed to E. Influence),

 Roosevelt Corollary US would be police to protect foreign investments.

Good Neighbor Policy – promised to consult with LA before enforcing Monroe Doctrine, several trade agreements (1933)

Organization of American States: peaceful form for solving disputes and settling common problems. 35 countries including US – (Cuba has been excluded) (1948)


Cuba: 1898 Sp. American war US supported revolt against Spain. 1959 – Communist revolution led by Fidel Castro, US trade embargo, Missile crisis, end of USSR means isolation

Growth of Democracy: In recent years democratically elected governments have been replacing military dictatorships

Economic Resources: rich in oil, tin, copper, silver.

Economic Problems

Similar to other “Developing” nations

Urbanization (overcrowding, unemployment)

Pollution: air & water, crowded cities, poor sanitation

Subsistence farming

Cash crops

Single Crop economies

Lack of investment capital

Large foreign debts

Deforestation: Brazil, cutting rainforest for more farmland to pay foreign debt.  Threat to world Oxygen supply