Latin America

Figure 1.--We are not sure what country these brothers are from. Two of the boys are named Veron and Ivan. The family name is Esteves. The first names are somewhat unsual for Latin America. We believe that the portrait was probably taken in the 1920s.

We are preparing a series of pages on national clothing styles. We now have over 70 countries listed in our country section. Most have a linked page with at least some basic information on clothing in that country. We have developed detailed information for several mostly European counties and the United States. Many of the country pages, however, are just being sketched out at this time. So don't expect too much yet. We have a lot of other pages to do, so it will be a while before we can focus on all the countries on our list. Of course here we need your assisatnce. HBC does not have the capability to visit or even reserach all of these countries. Do let us know if you have any text or images to contribute about your country. We are interested in adding information about every different countries around the world. The current Euro-centric focus of HBC is because European readers have been the most willing to contribute information. We have tried to create a page for each country, even if only limited information is available. This provides a location for collecting information. We hope that our readers will contribute insights into fashion trends in their own countries. HBC has collected information on more than individual countries. The information on most of these countries still sketchy. We have, however, succeeded in collecting quite detailed infornation on America and several European countries. Our information on Latin American and the Caribbean, however, is relatively limited. Hopefully our Latin American readers will provide us some information to expand this section of HBC.


Latin America streaches from the Rio Grande to Tierra del Fuego. The region is dominated by South America in both area and population.. The region as any jigsaw puzzel fan can instantly tell broke away from the African continent as the Atlantic Ocean formed. I remember as a school boy interested in maps, noting this. Only since World War II, however, has the concept of plate tectonics and continental drift provided the scientific foundation for this. The supercontinent Pangaea started to move away from each other some 250 million years ago. This is the basis of the biological diversity of the Old and New World. South America as it developed has several important land areas. They include the Andes Mountains, Atacama Desert, Guiana Highlands, Brazilian Higlands, Amazonian Basin, and the Pampas grasslands. The Andes is the longest mountain range in the world and this is not including its northerly extension into North America. It is second only to the Himalayas in he heights of its peaks. And it includes the higest active volcanos in the world. The major rivers are the Amazon, Orionoco, Sao Franciso, and Rio de la Plata (Parana/Paraguay) system. The Amazon is the world's largest river in terms of the volume of water transported. And the Amazonian Basin is the largest storehouse of species. And in contrast to the abunantly watered Amazonian Basin, across the Andes is the Atacama Desert, the world's driest desert. The Equator runs through the middle of Amazonian Basin and Andes, but the region's north-south orientation and extreme elevations of the Andes (Sierra) creates a wide range of climatic conditions. The Amazon and Andes also create varied precipitation patterns. Natural resources include a range of minerals: alunima/bauxite (Jamaica), copper (Chile and Peru) ,gold, iron (Brazil), nickel (Cuba), silver, tin, and other metals. Several countries (Mexico, Trinidad, and Venezuela) have important petroleum resources. Other countries also have natural gas. Many countries are important exporters of agricultural commodities and the region has the largest reserve of potential agricultural land to develop. The Caribbean islands are a chain of volcanic islands. Central America and Mexico have different geological origins. After South America and North America collided the collisionn of tectonic plates and formed the Andes, Sierra Madre, and Rocky Mountains all along the Pacific Coast.


South and Central America were the home of the great Native American civilizations. The isolation of the Americas probably explains the failure of Native American civilization to make the transition to the Bronze Age. Despite their impressive achievements, they were stone-age peolples and easily overcome by the Conqistadores. Many Native American tribes were wiped out by the Conquistadores. European diseases to which isolated Native Americans had no immunity played a key role in the fall of their principal civilizations. The region developed as Portuguese and Spanish colonies in which the surviving Native American peoples were Christinized and exploited economically. Modern South Americans are an ethnic mix of Europeans, Native Americans, and Africans imported as slaves to replace decimated Native American populations. The ethnic mix varies from country to country. None of the countries in the region have achieved the success of either Europe and North America. Argentina came the closest, but faltered. Today Brazil is making considerable progress. The key question in studying the history of the region is why have these countries have not developed economically and socially so that they can provide their people a decent standard of living. Many Latin Americans influenced by Marxist thought blame the United State and to a lesser extent European economic exploitation. Such conclusions are not based on any real economic analysis, but rather a muddled mix of ideologically-nationalist kant, often effectively used by populist politicans. There is a general reluctance among academics and politicans in the region to more deeply investigate the region's economic failure. Regional annalysts not only fail to assess the reason for the disparity between North and Soith America, but why many poor Asian countries in the post-World War II era are making the transition to modern economies while Latin America is not. Here are the national histories we have compiled on South American countries.


Latin America for much of its history has been a economic and backwater. Although colonized by Europeans over a century before North America, the region lagged far behind North America. Spanish conquistadores had very different motivations than the religious desidents that landed at Plymouth. Spanish and Portuguese authorities in fact banned religious desidents from the colonies. Even after independence, average incomes were far below North America. No important medical, technical, and scientific developments have come from the region. This was in large measure the heritage of the Inquisition as well as poor educational systems and a reluctance to invest in the region's human capital. The economies are largely based on resource extraction rather than manufacturing and processing. Very high import duties prevented the development of world class companies. Some countries (especially Argentina and Uruguay) in the early 20th century looked like they were preparing to make the transition to a modern developed ecomomies. Populist politicans making commitments to labor unions and other groups that the country's nascent developing economies could not support. The result was economic stagnation from which the countries have yet to emerge. Communist economic experiments in other countries (Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela) have proven even more damaging, but continued to be persued for ideological and political reasons. There is widespread sympathy in Latin America and a general failure to assess their ecoconomc history dispationately. Free market economics first attempted in Chile have proven remarakably successful and several countries (Brazil, Chile, and Colombia) have achieved notable ecomomic progress. A major problem in the area continues to be corruption and drug traficking, problem affecting several countries, including Mexico.

Regions and Countries

Latin America (América Latina) is the generally accepted term for the countries located south of the Rio Grande, the birder betweem Mexico and the United States. This is a cultural rather than a geographic term as it includes South America, parts iof North America (Mexico and Central America) and the Carubbean. The term is derived as most of these counties were colonized by Spain and Portugal, countries with Romance languages derived from Latin--thus the term Latin. The region as a whole includes sime 26 independent countries and a number of colonial dependencies. French Guiana is considered to be a part of metropolitan France. While most of the area was colonized by Spain and Portugal. The Caribean was at first the Spanish Main, but the Spanish were lured to the Mainland by rumors of gold. Several of the Caribbean islands were thus colonized by Britain, Denmark, France, and the Netherlands. Puerto Rico is an American Commonwealth. These islands became very valuable sugar islands and African captives were imported to wirk the plantations. The Carinbean islands are thus in many cases diffeent culturally and ethnically from the rest of the region. Non-Latin islands are such a small part of the region's population that the term Latin America tends to be used as the most usable desription of the region. And for both cultural and geographic reasons, we divide our discussion of Latin America into three sub-regions: South America, Central America, and the Caribbean.


The history of religion in Latin America is a facinating study of contrasts. The religions of the great civilizations of Meso-America, but less so the Andes, were some of the most violent and bloody if not the most barbvaric religious traditions in human history. We know of nothing like this in ancient civilizations around the world. Just why this is we do not know. It is sometimes attrivuted to the austere environment in which the Aztecs developed, not all of Meso-America was like that. And interestingly the more primitive tribes had less violent religious orientations. Beginning with Columbus (1492), this all became crashing down. The Spanish and Portuguese in only a few decades destroyed the Native anericab empirs and theur religions, espcially the Spanish which were the Europeans that came in contact with the great Native American empires. The Spanish were of course horrified with the idols and gore they found in Aztec religion. And considering the fact tht they were horrified with Luther a Protestahbtism, one can imagine the reaction to Native american religion. Ad the Conquistadores and padres in short order destroyed the temples and religious artifacts on which they could lay their hands. The Native merican religions were not entirely rooted out, but any open practice was. Latin America was the one place in the world that European imperialism completely destroyed and replace local religions and culture. And while they incororated speficial aspets of the old religion, it was a huge and massive chanbge. Catholcism became a major part of Latrin American culture. And because the Reformation began as the Spanish and Portuhuese were building theur empires, the Inquisition went to great lengths to keep Protestaants out of the New World. The Church worked to limit the brutality of the Conquistadores and resulting Repartimiento/Encomienda. On the other hand the Church supported the Spanish/Portuguese social order and the subgegation of the Native American peasantry. Even after the Latin American Was of liberation, Protestants made little inroads in Latin America. The Catholic Church dominated religious life in both the Spanish Empire and the Portuguese Empire (Brazil). The role of the Church was a major issue in the 19th cebtury debate between conservatives and liberals. Only after World War II did the religious environnment in Latin America begin to change. There have been two major influences. First, without the Inquistion, Protestantism brgan to enter the region. With little institutional support, Potestantism has grown throughout the region and commonly have more commited followers than the Catholic Church. Second, Marxism began to attract adherents, and leaders like Fidel Castro have sharply resticted the role of the Church. And within the Church we see the development of liberation theology. Today authors are begining the discuss the decline of Catholic culture in the region.


Ethnically the population of the Latin America countries is extremely diverse. The infigenous population was Native Americans. There was a large and already diverse population living throughout the Americas. A very large, but debated number of Native Americans persishe during the European conquest (especoally the 15th century). European avarice and mistreatment was a factor, but the primary factor was the unknowing introduction of European diseases to which the Native Americans had no resistance. Even so, Native Americans are a major component of the ethnic mix in many countries (the Andeam countries, northern Central America, and Mexico). Europeans colonized the Americas beginning with Columbus' voyage (1492). Spain and Portugal were at first the major colonial powers and dominated South and Central America. The Spanish also attempted to control North America, but lacked the nacal power to exclude the other Europan maritine countries. The English and French fought over North America with the British eventually defeating the French in the French and Indian wars which included important Caribbean battles. North America was this largely settled by the British and subsequently other European immigrant groups. Other countries also participated in the colonial process, including Denmark and the Netherlands. All except the Russians left an ethnic foot print, but it is the British who dominated. This ethnic mix was significantly widened by the importation of captive Africans as slaves. This was primarily to work immensly profitable sugar plantations in Brazil and the Caribbean. Some slaves were imported by the English North American colonie, but the vast majority went to Brazil znd the Caibbean. Historians debate the size and cultural level of Brazilian Native Americans, bu large numbers died as a result os slave raiding and disease. As a result, Afrricans make up a much larger part of Brazil's ethnic mox than Native mericans. The mixing of these peoples have created mestizos and mulattoes. More diversity as created by European (Italians were especially important) and Asian (China and Japan) immigration beginning in the 19th century. The British imported South Asians as indenturred laborers after aboloshing slavery (Jamaica and Trinidad).

Societal Failure

Latin America is one of the several world regions and while there are many similarities with the countries south of the Rio Grande, there are enormous difference from country to country. There has been less diversity in social thought. From the beginning of my study of the region as a young man, I was struck by the dichotomy betweem Nort America and Latin America. Both regions have enormous natural resources and came to be dominated by Europen powers at about the same time (actually Latin America) a century earlier. I wondered why North America developed so much more rapidly and successfully than South America. The differences were not as apparent in the 19th century. For a time it seemed like revolutionary movements with suceeded in achieving independence would create democratic republics that could achieve the same successes reported in America and Canada to the north. The Mexican-American War showed that the two republics were faroly evenly matched. The American victory was largely due to superior military leadership. The hopes of the liberal democrats who led the Latin American revolutions were dashed as military coups led to insability and a landed aristocracy resisted social reforms. More recently we see Argentina and Uruguay, two coutries on the cusp of achieving economic development fail. And than after World War II we note the Asian Tigers achieve impresive development while Latin Anmerica languashed and large numbers of its peoplke attemp to migrate to North America. Today the implementation of free market ideas has become to make a difference in the regions lsrgest country--Brazil. Most countries, however, report little social progress. And many countrie (Bolivia, Cuba, Edcuador, Nicaraga, and Venezuela) seem intent on pursuing economic and political models that have failed whereever they have been tried. Amnd one has to ask whu so many Latin Amnericans look so fondly on Cuba, a disaterous economic failure where people are no allowed basic democratic freedoms. It is thus useful to look at some of the major individuals who have influence social thought in the region.


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Created: June 30, 1988
Spell checked: July 30, 1999
Last updated: 7:23 PM 2/17/2014