* national histories Latin America

National Histories: Latin America--Regional Trends

Latin American history
Figure 1.--American views of Latin America are largely formed by the relationship with Mexico, our nearest neighbor. Note the boys in the crowd. To often historians forget that children during all historical periods and were impacted in various ways by historical events. This is a celebration of Independence Day on Palateros Street in Mexico City during 1906--one of the last years pf the Porfiriato. Source: Agustin Victor Casaloa.

Latin America is an imprecise term, but it is the best term available to define the countries south of the Rio Grande. It of course relates to the fact that the primary colonial countries in Central and South A were the Iberian countries--Portugal and Spain. It is here that the Latin linuistic heritage was most pronounced, but perhaps not the Latin cultural heritage. These two countries were not the only colonial powers in the region. There were British Danish, Dutch, and French colonies in Central and South America and more importantly the Caribbean. Even so it is the Portuguese and Spanish colonies that dominate the region and the region's tumultuous history. And of course that heritage outside the Caribbean is a blend of the colonial and existing Native American heritage. Here the colonial power and importance of Native Americans vay from country to country and furthur diversity resulted from immigration. The Caribbean and Brzil is different from much of the rest of the region in that here the Native Americans were largely eliminated and replacec through the slsve trade by captive Africans.

The Caribbean

The Caribbean Native American people were at a much more primnitive level of social development than the great civilizations on the mainland. The Caribbean Native American tribes were almost totally wiped out by the Conquistadores and . European diseases to which isolated Native Americans had no immunity. The subsequent history of the Caribbean is a colorful mix of pirates, explorers, religious refugees and slave traders. The European countries colonizing the Caribbean is more mixed than the sitution that developed on the mainland of South abd Central America. The countries colonizing the various islands included: Denmark, England, France, the Netherlands, and Spain. And at the end of the 19th Century the United States entered the Caribbean. The Caribbean became a center for piracy in the early colonia period. The Spanish trasure ships and the merchant vessels supplyong the increasingly prosperous colonies provided a host of enticing targets. With the destruction of the Native Americans, the Europeans imported African slaves to work the platantions they developed. The most important crop became sugar which generated vast fortunes, helping to finance the Industrial Revolution in England. The most important single was Haiti which generated enormous revenue for France. The French Revolution, however, inspired one of the few successful slave rebellions in history and the Hatians were able to even defy Napoleon. Slavery was finally ended in the 19th century, primarily because of the British Royal Navy operations. The economic prosperity in the Caribbean declined in yhe 19th century. Conditions vary from island to island. The British islands are the most prosperous. Cuba and Haiti are the poorest. Tourism has become an industry of major importance.

Central America and Mexico

Northern Central America and Mexico were the home to important Native American civilizations, including the Maya and Aztec peoples. Despite stunning achievements, they were stone-age peoples and unable to effectively resist the Spanish Conquistadores. Central America became part of the Spanish colonial empire. The only exception was a small coastl area south of Mexico where an English settlemnt developed--British Honduras (modern Belize). Panama in particular was importaht, because it was over the Istmus that treasure shipments from Peru were transhipped to the Caribbean for transport to Spain. Relatively few Africas were imported for slave labor, although ths varied from country to country. Central Americans declared independence from Spain after the defeat of the Spanish royal armies in South America and Mexico. There were attempts by Mexico to annex Central America and an attempt at a Central American union. Eventually the various countries decided to persue a separate national future. The various countries encountered the same basic problems as the South american republics. Political life was dominated by the European land owning elite. The countries lurched between parlimentary regimes and periods of military or dictatorial rule. The Fench attempted to build a canal accross Panama. This was eventually accomplished by the United States, facilitating the independence of Panama. The region became involved in the Cold war, first Guatemala and than El Salvadoir and Nicaragua. The Nicaraguan civil war threatened to engulf all of the region. Democratic regimes now exist thoughout the region, but the countries still struggle to develop prosperous socities. Since independence and a failed effort at unon, Mexico has perued a separate historical path. Mexicans struggled over a centratist or federal approach. Texas rebelled. A war with theUnited States cost Mexico large areas of the north. One of the world's notable revolutions left Mexico with one-part rule by the Partido Revoluciario Institutinal (PRI). The PRI controlled Mexico until finally permutting a democratic election (2002). The PRI while carrying out needed social reforms, failed to create a prosperous Mexico.

South America

South America was the home of the important Native American civilizations--especually the Inca. 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 South American countries 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 South 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.


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Created: 2:09 AM 6/19/2008
Last updated: 1:33 AM 3/6/2014