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Latin America ( or Latinoamérica; ; ) is a region of the Americas where Romance languages (i.e., those derived from Latin) – particularly Spanish, Portuguese, and variably French – are primarily spoken. Latin America has an area of approximately 21,069,501 km² (7,880,000 sq mi), almost 3.9% of the Earth's surface or 14.1% of its land surface area. As of 2008, its population was estimated at more than 569 million.

Etymology and definitions

The idea that a part of the Americas has a cultural affinity with the Romance cultures as a whole can be traced back to the 1830s, in particular in the writing of the Frenchmarker Saint-Simonian Michel Chevalier, who postulated that this part of the Americas were inhabited by people of a "Latin race," and that it could, therefore, ally itself with "Latin Europe" in a struggle with "Teutonic Europe," "Anglo-Saxon America" and "Slavic Europe." The idea was later taken up by Latin American intellectuals and political leaders of the mid- and late-nineteenth century, who no longer looked to Spain or Portugal as cultural models, but rather to France. The actual term "Latin America" was coined in France under Napoleon III and played a role in his campaign to imply cultural kinship with France, transform France into a cultural and political leader of the area and install Maximilian as emperor of Mexico.In contemporary usage:

The distinction between Latin America and Anglo-America (or, in some uses, North America), which can be criticized for stressing only the European heritage of these regions (that is, for Eurocentrism), is a convention based on the predominant languages in the Americas by which Romance-language and English-speaking cultures are distinguished. Neither area is culturally or linguistically homogenous; in substantial portions of Latin America (e.g., highland Ecuadormarker, Boliviamarker, Guatemalamarker, and Paraguaymarker), American Indian cultures and, to a lesser extent, Amerindian languages, are predominant, and in other areas, the influence of African cultures is strong (e.g., the Caribbean basin—including parts of Colombiamarker and Venezuelamarker)—and the coastal areas of Ecuadormarker and Brazilmarker.


Latin America can be subdivided into several subregions based on geography, politics, demographics and culture; some subregions are North America, Central America, the Caribbeanmarker, the Southern Cone, and Andean states. In terms of culture, society and national identity Mario Sambarino classified Latin American states into Mestizo-American Ecuadormarker, Colombiamarker, Mexicomarker etc.), Indigenous-America (Bolivia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Peru) and European-American (Argentina and Uruguay).

In Darcy Ribeiro's classification system Latin American countries are classified as "New Peoples" (Chile, Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil etc.), that merged from the mix of several cultures while Peru, Bolivia and Mexico are "Testimony Peoples", remnants of ancient civilizations and Argentina and Uruguay, former "New Peoples" that became "Transplantated Peoples", essentially European, after massive immigration.


Pre-colombian history

The Americas were thought to have been first inhabited by people crossing the Bering Land Bridge, now known as the Beringmarker strait, from northeast Asia into Alaskamarker more than 10,000 years ago. The earliest known settlement, however, was identified at Monte Verde, near Puerto Montt in Southern Chile. Its occupation dates to some 14,000 years ago and there is some disputed evidence of even earlier occupation. Over the course of millennia, people spread to all parts of the continents. By the first millennium AD/CE, South America’s vast rainforests, mountains, plains and coasts were the home of tens of millions of people. The earliest settlements in the Americas are of the Las Vegas Culture from about 8000 BC and 4600 BC, a sedentary group from the coast of Ecuadormarker, the forefathers of the more known Valdivia culture, of the same era. Some groups formed more permanent settlements such as the Chibchas (or "Muiscas" or "Muyscas") and the Tairona groups. The Chibchas of Colombiamarker, the Quechuas and Aymaras of Boliviamarker and Perúmarker were the three Indian groups that settled most permanently.

The region was home to many indigenous peoples and advanced civilizations, including the Aztecs, Toltecs, Caribs, Tupi, Maya, and Inca. The golden age of the Maya began about 250, with the last two great civilizations, the Aztecs and Incas, emerging into prominence later on in the early fourteenth century and mid-fifteenth centuries, respectively.

European discovery

With the arrival of the Europeans following Christopher Columbus's voyages, the indigenous elites, such as the Incans and Aztecs, lost power to the Europeans. Hernándo Cortés destroyed the Aztec elite's power with the help of local groups who disliked the Aztec elite, and Francisco Pizarro eliminated the Incan rule in Western South America. European powers, most notably Spainmarker and Portugalmarker, colonized the region, which along with the rest of the uncolonized world was divided into areas of Spanish and Portuguese control by the line of demarcation in 1493, which gave Spain all areas to the west, and Portugal all areas to the east (the Portuguese lands in South America subsequently becoming Brazil). By the end of the sixteenth century, Europeans occupied large areas of North, Central and South America, extending all the way into the present southern United States. European culture and government was imposed, with the Roman Catholic Church becoming a major economic and political power, as well as the official religion of the region.

Diseases brought by the Europeans, such as smallpox and measles, wiped out a large proportion of the indigenous population, with epidemics of diseases reducing them sharply from their prior populations. Historians cannot determine the number of natives who died due to European diseases, but some put the figures as high as 85% and as low as 20%. Due to the lack of written records, specific numbers are hard to verify. Many of the survivors were forced to work in European plantations and mines. Intermixing between the indigenous peoples and the European colonists was very common, and, by the end of the colonial period, people of mixed ancestry (mestizos) formed majorities in several colonies.


Simon Bolivar, one of the main Independence movement leaders
By the end of the eighteenth century, Spanish and Portuguese power waned on the global scene as other European powers took their place, notably Britain and France. In Latin America resentment grew among the majority of the population over the restrictions imposed by the Spanish government, as well as the dominance of native Spaniards (Iberian-born Peninsulares) in the major social and political institutions. Napoleon's invasion of Spain in 1808 marked a turning point, compelling Criollo elites to form juntas that advocated independence. Also, the newly independent Haitimarker, the second oldest nation in the New World after the United Statesmarker and the oldest independent nation in Latin America, further fueled the independence movement by inspiring the leaders of the movement, such as Simón Bolívar and José de San Martin, and by providing them with considerable munitions and troops.

Fighting soon broke out between juntas and the Spanish colonial authorities, with initial victories for the advocates of independence. Eventually these early movements were crushed by the royalist troops by 1812, including those of Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla in Mexicomarker and Francisco de Miranda in Venezuelamarker. Under the leadership of a new generation of leaders, such as Simón Bolívar, José de San Martin and other Libertadores in South America, the independence movement regained strength, and by 1825, all Spanish America, except for Puerto Rico and Cuba, had gained independence from Spain. Brazilmarker achieved independence with a constitutional monarchy established in 1822. In the same year in Mexicomarker, a military officer, Agustín de Iturbide, led a coalition of conservatives and liberals who created a constitutional monarchy, with Iturbide as emperor. This First Mexican Empire was short-lived and was followed by the creation of a republic in 1823.

In the 1950s, the Cold War moved close to the United Statesmarker, in Latin America. The nations of Latin America faced many critical problems, including widespread poverty and poor health care. The United Statesmarker feared the politics of socialism and communism would be particularly appealing to the countries of Latin America. At the same time, many United States citizens worried about the threat to their own security and businesses in Latin America. This led the United States to take up a very aggressive military strategy of containment. Through the Cold War, the United States removed many democratically elected leaders of Latin American countries through covert C.I.A. operations and replaced them with leaders who were more friendly to the United States' interests.

Arguably, this interference with the democratic system in these countries created a blowback because many Latin Americans rejected the United States involvement. Many of the leaders who were put into power positions by the United States became dictators and oppressors as well.

Late 20th century military regimes

By the 1970s leftists had acquired a significant political influence which prompted the right-wing, ecclesiastical authorities and a large portion of the individual country's upper class to support coup d'etats to avoid what they perceived as a communist threat. This was further fueled by Cuban and United States intervention which led to a political polarization. Most South American countries were in some periods ruled by military dictatorships.

Around the 1970s, these regimes collaborated in Operation Condor killing many leftist dissidents, including some urban guerrillas.However, by the early 90's all countries had restored their democracies.

Washington Consensus

The set of specific economic policy prescriptions that were considered the "standard" reform package were promoted for crisis-wracked developing countries by Washington, DC-based institutions such as the International Monetary Fundmarker (IMF), World Bank, and the US Treasury Departmentmarker during the 80's and 90's.

In recent years, several Latin American countries led by socialist or other left wing governments, some of which—including Argentina and Venezuela—have campaigned for (and to some degree adopted) policies contrary to the Washington Consensus set of policies. (Other Latin counties with governments of the left, including Brazil, Chile and Peru, have in practise adopted the bulk of the policies). Also critical of the policies as actually promoted by the International Monetary Fund have been some US economists, such as Joseph Stiglitz and Dani Rodrik, who have challenged what are sometimes described as the "fundamentalist" policies of the International Monetary Fund and the US Treasury for what Stiglitz calls a "one size fits all" treatment of individual economies.The term has become associated with neoliberal policies in general and drawn into the broader debate over the expanding role of the free market, constraints upon the state, and US influence on other countries' national sovereignty.

Turn to the left

Since the 2000s, or 1990s in some countries, left-wing political parties have risen to power. The rise of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, Lula da Silva in Brazil, Fernando Lugo in Paraguay, the Kirchner in Argentina, the Bachelet government in Chile, Evo Morales in Bolivia, Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua, (deposed) Manuel Zelaya in Honduras and Rafael Correa of Ecuador are all part of this wave of left-wing politicians who also often declare themselves socialists(cite needed), Latin Americanists(cite needed) and anti-imperialists(cite needed).


Ethnic groups

The population of Latin America is a composite of ancestries, ethnic groups, and races, making the region one of the most diverse in the world. The specific composition varies from country to country: Many have a predominance of a European-Indian, or Mestizo, population; in others, Amerindians are a majority; some are dominated by inhabitants of purely European ancestry; and some countries' populations are primarily of African descent. Most Latin American countries have varying sizes of Asian minorities. Europeans are the largest single group, and they and people of part-European ancestry combine for approximately 80% of the population. In addition to the following groups, Latin America also has millions of tri-racial people of African, Amerindian, and European ancestry. Most are found in Colombia, Venezuela, and Brazil, with a much smaller presence in a number of other countries.

Difference between race and ethnicity

Ethnicity refers to selected cultural and sometimes physical characteristics used to classify people into groups or categories considered to be significantly different from others. A race is a biological subspecies, or variety of a species, consisting of a more or less distinct population with anatomical traits that distinguish it clearly from other races.

  • Amerindians: The aboriginal population of Latin America, the Amerindians, experienced tremendous population decline, particularly in the early decades of colonization. They have since recovered in numbers, surpassing sixty million, though they compose a majority in only two countries: Boliviamarker and Perumarker. In Ecuadormarker, Mexicomarker and Guatemalamarker, Amerindians are large minorities comprising two–fifths of the population. Most of the remaining countries have Amerindian minorities, in every case making up one–tenth or less of the population. In many countries, people of mixed Amerindian and European ancestry make up the majority of the population (see Mestizo).
  • Africans; Millions of African slaves were brought to Latin America from the sixteenth century onward, the majority of whom were sent to the Caribbeanmarker region and Brazilmarker. Brazil is home to Latin America's largest black population outside Africa. Today, people of African descent compose a majority of Haitimarker, the Dominican Republicmarker, Brazilmarker, and have significant populations in Colombiamarker, Belizemarker, Cubamarker, Nicaraguamarker, Venezuelamarker, Hondurasmarker, Panamamarker, Puerto Rico, and Ecuadormarker.
  • Asians; People of Asian descent number several million in Latin America. The first Asians to settle in the region were Filipino, as a result of Spain's trade involving Asia and the Americas. The majority of Asian Latin Americans are of Japanese or Chinese ancestry and reside mainly in Brazilmarker and Perumarker; there is also a growing Chinese minority in Panama. Brazil is home to 1.49 million people of Asian descent, which includes the largest ethnic Japanese community outside of Japanmarker itself. Peru, with 1.47 million people of Asian descent, has one of the largest Chinese communities in the world, with nearly 1 million Peruvians being of Chinese ancestry. The Japanese community also maintains a strong presence in Peru, and a past president and a number of politicians there are of Japanese descent. Koreans also form communities numbering tens of thousands of individuals in several countries, including Brazil, Argentina, and Mexico.
  • Mestizos: Intermixing between Europeans and Amerindians began early and was extensive. The resulting people, known as mestizos, make up the majority of the population in half of the countries of Latin America. Additionally, mestizos compose large minorities in nearly all the other mainland countries.
Majority Mestizos (Europeans with Amerindians); Hondurasmarker 85.6%, Nicaraguamarker 78.3%, Paraguaymarker 74.5%, Mexicomarker 70.0%, El Salvadormarker 91.0%
Majority Indianmestizos (Mestizos with Amerindians); Ecuadormarker 39.0%, Perumarker 45.5%, Guatemalamarker 53.0%, Boliviamarker 55.0%
  • Mulattoes: Mulattoes are people of mixed European and African ancestry, mostly descended from Spanish or Portuguese settlers on one side and African slaves on the other during the colonial period. Brazil is home to Latin America's largest mulatto population. Mulattoes form a majority of population in the Dominican Republicmarker and Cuba, and are also numerous in Haitimarker and Colombiamarker. Smaller populations of mulattoes are found in other Latin American countries.

  • Zambos:Slaves often ran away (cimarrones) and were taken in by Amerindian villagers. Intermixing between Africans and Amerindians produced descendants known as Zambos or (in Central America) Garinagu in Spanish speaking nations and Cafusos in Brazil. This was especially prevalent in Colombiamarker, Venezuelamarker, and Brazilmarker.

Ethnic distribution

Ethnic distribution in Latin America 2005 (No Race)
Country Population Amerindians Criollos Mestizos Mulattos Blacks Zambo Asians
Indian-mestizos 59,604.000 2.7% 76.7% 18.4% 0.2% 0.0% 0.1% 1.8%
12,646.000 39.0% 9.9% 41.0% 5.0% 5.0% 0.0% 0.1%
11,385.000 53.0% 4.0% 42.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.2% 0.8%
25,662.000 45.5% 12.0% 32.0% 9.7% 0.0% 0.0% 0.8%
8,329.000 55.0% 15.0% 28.0% 2.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
Afro-mestizos 58,022.000 46.9% 10.4% 35.4% 5.7% 1.1% 0.0% 0.5%
2,856.000 8.0% 10.0% 32.0% 27.0% 5.0% 14.0% 4.0%
24,170.000 1.0% 20.0% 65.0% 10.0% 3.0% 0.9% 0.1%
42,105.000 1.0% 20.0% 60.0% 12.0% 4.0% 2.2% 0.8%
Afro-criollos 69,131.000 2.4% 18.5% 46.9% 27.1% 3.6% 0.6% 0.9%
11,199.000 0.0% 37.0% 0.0% 51.0% 11.0% 0.0% 1.0%
3,915.000 0.0% 74.8% 0.0% 10.0% 15.0% 0.0% 0.2%
170,406.000 0.4% 53.8% 0.0% 39.1% 6.2% 0.0% 0.5%
8,373.000 0.0% 14.6% 0.0% 75.0% 7.7% 2.3% 0.4%
Mestizos 193,893.000 0.4% 51.6% 0.0% 40.8% 6.7% 0.1% 0.4%
6,278.000 8.0% 1.0% 91.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
6,417.000 7.7% 1.0% 85.6% 1.7% 0.0% 3.3% 0.7%
98,872.000 13.0% 17.0% 70.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
5,071.000 6.9% 14.0% 78.3% 0.0% 0.0% 0.6% 0.2%
5,496.000 1.5% 20.0% 74.5% 3.5% 0.0% 0.0% 0.5%
Criollos 122,134.000 12.5% 13.7% 72.4% 0.7% 0.0% 0.2% 0.5%
37,032.000 1.0% 85.0% 11.1% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 2.9%
15,211.000 8.0% 52.7% 39.3% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
4,024.000 0.8% 82.0% 15.0% 0.0% 0% 2.0% 0.2%
3,337.000 0.0% 88.0% 8.0% 4.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
Total 502,784.000 9.2% 36.1% 30.3% 20.3% 3.2% 0.2% 0.7%


Spanish and Portuguese are the predominant languages of Latin America. Portuguese is spoken only in Brazil, the most populous country in the region. Spanish is the official language of most of the rest of the countries on the Latin American mainland, as well as in Puerto Rico (where it is co-official with English), Cubamarker and the Dominican Republicmarker. French is spoken in some Caribbeanmarker islands, including Guadeloupemarker, Martiniquemarker, and Haitimarker, as well as in the overseas departments of French Guianamarker (South America) and in Saint Pierre and Miquelonmarker (North America). Dutch is the official language of some Caribbean islands and in Surinamemarker on the continent; however, as Dutch is a Germanic language, these territories are not considered part of Latin America.

Other European languages spoken in Latin America include: English, by some groups in Argentinamarker, Nicaraguamarker, Panamamarker, and Puerto Rico, as well as in nearby countries that may or may not be considered Latin American, like Belizemarker and Guyanamarker (English is used as a major foreign language in Latin American commerce and education); German, in southern Brazilmarker, southern Chilemarker, Argentina, portions of northern Venezuelamarker, and Paraguay; Italian, in Brazil, Argentina, Uruguaymarker, and Venezuela; and Welsh , in southern Argentina.
Most widely spoken Pre-contact languages distribution area in Latin America, at the beginning of 21st century: Quechua, Guarani, Aymara, Nahuatl, Mayan languages, Mapuche
In several nations, especially in the Caribbeanmarker region, creole languages are spoken. The most widely spoken creole language in the Caribbean and Latin America in general is Haitian Creole, the predominant language of Haitimarker; it is derived primarily from French and certain West African tongues with some Amerindian and Spanish influences as well. Creole languages of mainland Latin America, similarly, are derived from European languages and various African tongues. Native American languages are widely spoken in Perumarker, Guatemalamarker, Boliviamarker, Paraguaymarker, and to a lesser degree, in Mexicomarker, Ecuadormarker, and Chilemarker. In Latin American countries not named above, the population of speakers of indigenous languages is small or non-existent.

In Perumarker, Quechua is an official language, alongside Spanish and any other indigenous language in the areas where they predominate. Another widely used language is known as riverian which is also known as nicolacian, which is spoken in rural parts of Mexico .In Ecuadormarker, while holding no official status, the closely related Quichua is a recognized language of the indigenous people under the country's constitution; however, it is only spoken by a few groups in the country's highlands. In Boliviamarker, Aymara, Quechua and Guaraní hold official status alongside Spanish. Guarani is, along with Spanish, an official language of Paraguaymarker, and is spoken by a majority of the population (who are, for the most part, bilingual), and it is co-official with Spanish in the Argentinemarker province of Corrientes. In Nicaraguamarker, Spanish is the official language, but on the country's Caribbean coast English and indigenous languages such as Miskito, Sumo, and Rama also hold official status. Colombiamarker recognizes all indigenous languages spoken within its territory as official, though fewer than 1% of its population are native speakers of these. Nahuatl is one of the 62 native languages spoken by indigenous people in Mexico, which are officially recognized by the government as "national languages" along with Spanish.


The vast majority of Latin Americans are Christians, mostly Roman Catholics. Membership in Protestant denominations is increasing, particularly in Brazil, Chile, Guatemala, and Puerto Rico.


Due to economic, social and security developments that are affecting the region in recent decades, the focus is now the change from net immigration to net emigration. About 10 million Mexicans live in the United States. 28.3 million Americans listed their ancestry as Mexican as of 2006. According to the 2005 Colombian census or DANE, about 3,331,107 Colombians currently live abroad. The number of Brazilians living overseas is estimated at about 2 million people. An estimated 1.5 to two million Salvadorans reside in the United States. At least 1.5 million Ecuadorians have gone abroad, mainly to the United States and Spain.. Approximately 1.5 million Dominicans live abroad, mostly in the US. More than 1.3 million Cubans live abroad, most of them in the US. It is estimated that over 800,000 Chileans live abroad, mainly in Argentina, Canada and Sweden. An estimated 700,000 Bolivians were living in Argentina as of 2006. Central Americans living abroad in 2005 were 3,314,300, of which 1,128,701 were Salvadoransmarker, 685,713 were Guatemalansmarker, 683,520 were Nicaraguans, 414,955 were Hondurans, 215,240 were Panamaniansmarker, 127,061 were Costa Ricansmarker and 59,110 were Belizeansmarker.

Currently, Costa Rica and Chile are the only two countries in Latin American with positive migration rates.


Inequality and poverty

Inequality and poverty continue to be the region's main challenges; according to the ECLAC Latin America is the most unequal region in the world. Moreover, according to the World Bank, nearly 25% of the population lives on less than 2 USD a day. The countries with the highest inequality in the region (as measured with the Gini index in the UN Development Report) in 2006 were Boliviamarker (60.1), Haitimarker (59.2), Colombiamarker (58.6), Paraguaymarker (58.4), Brazilmarker (57.0) and Panamamarker (56.1), while the countries with the lowest inequality in the region were Nicaraguamarker (43.1), Uruguaymarker (44.9) and Mexicomarker (46.1). One aspect of inequality and poverty in Latin America is unequal access to basic infrastructure. For example, access to water and sanitation in Latin America and the quality of these services remain relatively low.

According to the World Bank the poorest countries in the region were (as of 2008): Haitimarker, Nicaraguamarker, Boliviamarker and Hondurasmarker. Undernourishment affects to 47% of Haitiansmarker, 27% of Nicaraguans, 23% of Boliviansmarker and 22% of Hondurans.

Crime and Violence

Crime and violence prevention and public security have become key social issues of concern to public policy makers and citizens in the Latin American and Caribbean region. As of 2004 violence is the principal cause of death in Brazilmarker, Colombiamarker, Venezuelamarker, El Salvadormarker and Mexicomarker and among the five main causes of death in the region. Homicide rates in Latin America are among the highest of any region in the world. From the early 1980s through the mid-1990s, intentional homicide rates in Latin America increased by 50 percent. The major victims of such homicides are young men, 69 percent of whom are between the ages of 15 and 19 years old. Many analysts agree that the prison crisis will not be resolved until the gap between rich and poor is addressed. They say that growing social inequality is fuelling crime in the region. But there is also no doubt that, on such an approach, Latin American countries have still a long way to go. Countries with the highest homicide rate per year per 100,000 inhabitants were; Guatemalamarker 57.9, El Salvadormarker 49.1, Venezuelamarker 48, Hondurasmarker 45.2, Colombiamarker 33, Belizemarker 30.8, Brazilmarker 25.7, Dominican Republicmarker 23.56, Puerto Rico 18.8, Ecuadormarker 16.9, and . More than 500,000 people have been killed by firearms in Brazil between 1979 and 2003.Countries with relatively low crime are Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica and Uruguay.

Trade blocs

The major trade blocs (or agreements) in the region are the Union of South American Nations, composed of the integrated Mercosur and Andean Community of Nations (CAN). Minor blocs or trade agreements are the G3 Free Trade Agreement, the Dominican Republic – Central America Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA) and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). However, major reconfigurations are taking place along opposing approaches to integration and trade; Venezuela has officially withdrawn from both the CAN and G3 and it has been formally admitted into the Mercosur (pending ratification from the Brazilian and Paraguayan legislatures). The president-elect of Ecuador has manifested his intentions of following the same path. This bloc nominally opposes any Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the United States, although Uruguay has manifested its intention otherwise. On the other hand, Mexico is a member of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Chilemarker has already signed an FTA with Canadamarker, and along with Perumarker are the only two South American nations that have and FTA with the United Statesmarker. Colombiamarker's government is currently awaiting its ratification by the U.S. Senate.

Standard of living, consumption, and the environment

According to Goldman Sachs BRIMC review of emerging economies, by 2050 the largest economies in the world will be as follows: Chinamarker, USAmarker, Indiamarker, Brazilmarker, and Mexicomarker; Two of the largest five economies in the world are Latin American. More significant is that on a per capita basis most Latin American countries, including all the large countries (Argentina, Mexico, Brazil, Chile, Peru, Venezuala and Colombia), have per capita GDPs greater than that of China in 2009, while some of this group are substantially more developed than China.

The following table lists all the countries in Latin America indicating a valuation of the country's GDP (Gross domestic product) based on purchasing-power-parity (PPP), GDP per capita also adjusted to the (PPP), a measurement of inequality through the Gini index (the higher the index the more unequal the income distribution is), the Human Development Index (HDI), the Environmental Performance Index (EPI), and the Quality-of-life index. GDP and PPP GDP statistics come from the International Monetary Fundmarker with data as of 2006. Gini index, the Human Poverty Index HDI-1, the Human Development Index, and the number of internet users per capita come from the UN Development Program. The number of motor vehicles per capita come from the UNData base on-line. The EPI index comes from the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy and the Quality-of-life index from The Economist Intelligence Unit. Green cells indicate the 1st rank in each category, while yellow indicate the last rank.

Summary of socio-economic performance indicators for Latin American countries
Country GDP
based on




Billions USD

GDP per







Gini index



HPI-1 %







of life










ton CO2
570.526 14,188 51.3 4.0 0.866 (H) 81.8 6.469 7.0 3.7
43.446 4,379 60.1 12.6 0.729 (M) 64.7 5.492 5.9 0.8
1,975.904 10,153 57.0 9.7 0.813 (H) 82.7 6.470 5.1 1.8
246.482 14,461 54.9 3.3 0.878 (H) 83.4 6.789 3.2 3.9
402.458 8,161 58.6 8.1 0.807 (H) 88.3 6.176 2.5 1.2
48.918 10,737 49.8 3.8 0.854 (H) 90.5 6.624 2.9 1.5
4.7 0.863 (H) 80.7 2.3
76.194 8,570 51.6 9.6 0.777 (M) 83.0 5.630 4.8 2.2
104.669 7,496 53.6 7.6 0.806 (H) 84.4 6.272 5.3 2.2
43.885 7,570 52.4 13.6 0.747 (M) 77.2 6.164 2.5 0.9
66.839 4,873 55.1 20.3 0.704 (M) 76.7 5.321 4.0 1.0
11.681 1,317 59.2 32.4 0.531 (M) 60.7 4.090 1.3 0.2
32.670 4,282 53.8 14.9 0.714 (M) 75.4 5.250 4.0 1.1
1,550.257 14,017 46.1 6.7 0.854 (H) 79.8 6.766 1.3 5.2
16.751 2,668 43.1 16.0 0.699 (M) 73.4 5.663 3.0 0.7
38.305 11,589 56.1 6.9 0.832 (H) 83.1 6.361 9.2 1.8
29.336 4,751 58.4 10.8 0.761 (M) 77.7 5.756 5.8 0.7
244.693 8,825 52.0 11.0 0.806 (H) 78.1 6.216 9.8 1.1
40.663 13,594 44.9 3.3 0.865 (H) 82.3 6.368 8.9 1.6
362.772 12,372 48.2 7.3 0.844 (H) 80.0 6.089 4.8 6.6
Notes: (H) High human development; (M) Medium human development

Largest economic cities

The following table provides GDP figures for the largest Latin American cities and their surrounding urban areas in 2005. The only perspective of change in the GDP values by 2020 is between Bogotamarker and Santiagomarker, GDP figures are estimated and expressed in USD, using purchasing power parity exchange rates:

Ten largest Latin American metropolitan areas
Rank Metropolitan
Country GDP

Per Capita

perspective GDP 2020(Billions
Rank (2020)
1 Mexico Citymarker 315 19.4 $16,237 608 1
2 Buenos Airesmarker 278 12.6 $19,444 413 3
3 São Paulomarker 265 18.3 $14,480 441 2
4 Rio de Janeiromarker 156 11.5 $13,260 296 4
5 Santiagomarker 91 6.5 $13,000 160 6
6 Bogotamarker 86 8.5 $11,025 163 5
7 Monterreymarker 78 3.9 $20,000 157 7
8 Limamarker 67 8.5 $7,882 129 8
9 Belo Horizontemarker 65 5.6 $11,607 122 9
10 Guadalajaramarker 60 4.1 $14,634 108 10


Income from tourism is key to the economy of several Latin American countries. Mexicomarker receives the largest number of international tourists, with 21.4 million visitors in 2007, followed by Brazilmarker, with 5.0 million; Argentinamarker, with 4.6 million; Dominican Republicmarker, with 4.0 million; ,Puerto Rico, with 3.7 million and Costa Ricamarker with 1.9 million Places such as Cancunmarker, Galapagos Islandsmarker, Machu Pichu, Chichen Itzamarker, Cartagena de Indiasmarker, Cabo San Lucasmarker, Acapulcomarker, Rio de Janeiromarker, Margarita Islandmarker, São Paulomarker, Salar de Uyunimarker, Punta del Estemarker, Santo Domingomarker, Labadeemarker, San Juanmarker, La Habanamarker, Panama Citymarker, Iguazu Fallsmarker, Puerto Vallartamarker, Poás Volcano National Park, Punta Canamarker, Viña del Marmarker, Mexico Citymarker, Quitomarker, Bogotamarker, Buenos Airesmarker, Limamarker, La Pazmarker and Patagonia are popular among international visitors in the region.

Performance indicators for international tourism in Latin America
Latin American














(col 2)/(col 1)




per 1000 pop.







as %

of exports

goods and




as %


% Direct &



in tourism









4,562 4,313 945 115 57 7.4 1.8 9.1 65 4.08
* 556 205* 475* 58 22 9.4 2.2 7.6 114 3.33
5,026 4,953 985 26 18 3.2 0.5 7.0 45 4,35
2,507 1,419 566 151 73 5.3 1.9 6.8 57 4,18
1,193 1,669 1,399 26 25 6.6 1.4 5.9 72 3.89
1,973 1,974 1,000 442 343 17.5 8.1 13.3 42 4.42
2,119 1,982 935 188 169 n/d n/d n/d n/d n/d
3,980 4,026 1,012 408 353 36.2 18.8 19.8 67 4,03
953 637 668 71 35 6.3 1.5 7.4 96 3.62
1,339 847 633 195 67 12.9 3.4 6.8 94 3.63
1,448 1,199 828 108 66 16.0 2.6 6.0 70 3.90
* n/d n/d 685* n/d 12* 19.4 3.2 4.7 n/d n/d
831 557 670 117 61 13.5 5.0 8.5 83 3.77
21,424 12,901 602 201 103 5.7 1.6 14.2 51 4.29
800 255 319 143 36 15.5 3.7 5.6 103 3.49
1,103 1,185 1,074 330 211 10.6 6.3 12.9 55 4.23
416 102 245 68 11 4.2 1.3 6.4 115 3.24
1,812 1,938 1,070 65 41 9.0 1.6 7.6 74 3.88
1,752 809 462 525 145 14.2 3.6 10.7 63 4.09
771 817 1,060 28 19 1.3 0.4 8.1 104 3.46
  • Note (1): Countries marked with * do not have all statistical data available for 2006 or 2007. Data shown is for reference purposes only (2003 for Haiti and 2005 for Bolivia.
  • Note (2): Green shadow denotes the country with the best indicator. Yellow shadow denotes the country with the lowest performance for that indicator.


Latin American culture is a mixture of many cultural expressions worldwide. It is the product of many diverse influences:
  • Indigenous cultures of the people who inhabited the continent prior to the arrival of the Europeans. Ancient and very advanced civilizations developed their own political, social and religious systems. The Maya, the Aztecs and the Incas are examples of these.
  • Western civilization, in particular the culture of Europe, was brought mainly by the colonial powers—the Spanish, Portuguese and French—between the 16th and 19th centuries. The most enduring European colonial influence is language and Roman Catholicism. More recently, additional cultural influences came from the United Statesmarker and Europe during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, due to the growing influence of the former on the world stage and immigration from the later. The influence of the United States is particularly strong in northern Latin America, especially Puerto Rico, which is a United States territory. In addition, the United States held the twenty-mile-long Panama Canal Zonemarker in Panama from 1903 (the Panama Canalmarker opened to transoceanic freight traffic in 1914) to 1999, when the Torrijos-Carter Treaties restored Panamanian control of the Canal Zone. South America experienced waves of immigration of Europeans, especially Italians and Germans. With the end of colonialism, French culture was also able to exert a direct influence in Latin America, especially in the realms of high culture, science and medicine. This can be seen in any expression of the region's artistic traditions, including painting, literature and music, and in the realms of science and politics.
  • African cultures, whose presence derives from a long history of New World slavery. Peoples of African descent have influenced the ethno-scapes of Latin America and the Caribbean. This is manifest for instance in dance and religion, especially in countries such as Belizemarker, Brazil, Honduras, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Colombia, Panama, Haiti, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, and Cuba.


Pre-Columbian cultures were primarily oral, though the Aztecs and Mayans, for instance, produced elaborate codices. Oral accounts of mythological and religious beliefs were also sometimes recorded after the arrival of European colonizers, as was the case with the Popol Vuh. Moreover, a tradition of oral narrative survives to this day, for instance among the Quechua-speaking population of Peru and the Quiché of Guatemala.

From the very moment of Europe's "discovery" of the continent, early explorers and conquistadores produced written accounts and crónicas of their experience—such as Columbus's letters or Bernal Díaz del Castillo's description of the conquest of Mexico. During the colonial period, written culture was often in the hands of the church, within which context Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz wrote memorable poetry and philosophical essays. Towards the end of the 18th Century and the beginning of the 19th, a distinctive criollo literary tradition emerged, including the first novels such as Lizardi's El Periquillo Sarniento (1816).

The 19th Century was a period of "foundational fictions" (in critic Doris Sommer's words), novels in the Romantic or Naturalist traditions that attempted to establish a sense of national identity, and which often focussed on the indigenous question or the dichotomy of "civilization or barbarism" (for which see, say, Domingo Sarmiento's Facundo (1845), Juan León Mera's Cumandá (1879), or Euclides da Cunha's Os Sertões (1902)).

At the turn of the 20th century, modernismo emerged, a poetic movement whose founding text was Nicaraguan poet Rubén Darío's Azul (1888). This was the first Latin American literary movement to influence literary culture outside of the region, and was also the first truly Latin American literature, in that national differences were no longer so much at issue. José Martí, for instance, though a Cuban patriot, also lived in Mexico and the U.S. and wrote for journals in Argentina and elsewhere.

However, what really put Latin American literature on the global map was no doubt the literary boom of the 1960s and 1970s, distinguished by daring and experimental novels (such as Julio Cortázar's Rayuela (1963)) that were frequently published in Spain and quickly translated into English. The Boom's defining novel was Gabriel García Márquez's Cien años de soledad (1967), which led to the association of Latin American literature with magic realism, though other important writers of the period such as the Peruvian Mario Vargas Llosa and Carlos Fuentes do not fit so easily within this framework. Arguably, the Boom's culmination was Augusto Roa Bastos's monumental Yo, el supremo (1974). In the wake of the Boom, influential precursors such as Juan Rulfo, Alejo Carpentier, and above all Jorge Luis Borges were also rediscovered.

Contemporary literature in the region is vibrant and varied, ranging from the best-selling Paulo Coelho and Isabel Allende to the more avant-garde and critically acclaimed work of writers such as Diamela Eltit, Ricardo Piglia, or Roberto Bolaño. There has also been considerable attention paid to the genre of testimonio, texts produced in collaboration with subaltern subjects such as Rigoberta Menchú. Finally, a new breed of chroniclers is represented by the more journalistic Carlos Monsiváis and Pedro Lemebel.

The region boasts five Nobel Prize winners: in addition to the two Chilean poets Gabriela Mistral (1945) and Pablo Neruda (1971), there is also the Colombian writer Gabriel García Márquez (1982), the Guatemalan novelist Miguel Ángel Asturias (1967), and the Mexican poet and essayist Octavio Paz (1990).


Beyond the rich tradition of indigenous art, the development of Latin American visual art owed much to the influence of Spanish, Portuguese and French Baroque painting, which in turn often followed the trends of the Italian Masters. In general, this artistic Eurocentrism began to fade in the early twentieth century, as Latin-Americans began to acknowledge the uniqueness of their condition and started to follow their own path.

From the early twentieth century, the art of Latin America was greatly inspired by the Constructivist Movement. The Constructivist Movement was founded in Russiamarker around 1913 by Vladimir Tatlin. The Movement quickly spread from Russia to Europe and then into Latin America. Joaquin Torres Garcia and Manuel Rendón have been credited with bringing the Constructivist Movement into Latin America from Europe.

An important artistic movement generated in Latin America is muralism represented by Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, José Clemente Orozco and Rufino Tamayo in Mexico and Santiago Martinez Delgado and Pedro Nel Gómez in Colombia. Some of the most impressive Muralista works can be found in Mexicomarker, Colombiamarker, New York Citymarker, San Franciscomarker, Los Angelesmarker and Philadelphiamarker.

Painter Frida Kahlo, one of the most famous Mexican artists, painted about her own life and the Mexican culture in a style combining Realism, Symbolism and Surrealism. Kahlo's work commands the highest selling price of all Latin American paintings.

Colombian sculptor and painter Fernando Botero is also widely known by his works which, on first examination, are noted for their exaggerated proportions and the corpulence of the human and animal figures.

Music and dance

Latin America has produced many successful worldwide artists in terms of recorded global music sales. The most successful have been Roberto Carlos who has sold over 100 million records, Carlos Santana with over 75 million, Luis Miguel, Shakira and Vicente Fernandez with over 50 million records sold worldwide. One of the main characteristics of Latin American music is its diversity, from the lively rhythms of Central America and the Caribbean to the more austere sounds of the Andes and the Southern Cone. Another feature of Latin American music is its original blending of the variety of styles that arrived in The Americas and became influential, from the early Spanish and European Baroque to the different beats of the African rhythms.

Caribbean Hispanic music, such as merengue, bachata, salsa, and more recently reggaeton, from such countries as the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Cuba, and Panama has been strongly influenced by African rhythms and melodies. Haiti's compas is a genre of music that draws influence and is thus similar to its Caribbean Hispanic counterparts, with an element of jazz and modern sound as well.

Another well-known Latin American musical genre includes the Argentine and Uruguayan tango, as well as the distinct nuevo tango, a fusion of tango, acoustic and electronic music popularized by bandoneón virtuoso Ástor Piazzolla. Equally renown, the samba, North American jazz, European classical music and choro combined to form bossa nova in Brazil, popularized by guitarrist João Gilberto and pianist Antonio Carlos Jobim.

Other influential Latin American sounds include the Antillean Soca and Calypso, the Honduras (Garifuna) Punta, the Colombian cumbia and vallenato, the Chilean Cueca, the Ecuadorian Boleros, and Rockoleras, the Mexican ranchera, the Nicaraguan Palo de Mayo, the Peruvian Marinera and Tondero, the Uruguayan Candombe, the French Antillean Zouk (Derived from Haitian Compas) and the various styles of music from Pre-Columbian traditions that are widespread in the Andean region.
The classical composer Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887–1959) worked on the recording of native musical traditions within his homeland of Brazil. The traditions of his homeland heavily influenced his classical works. Also notable is the recent work of the Cuban Leo Brouwer and guitar work of the Venezuelan Antonio Lauro and the Paraguayan Agustín Barrios. Latin America has also produced world-class classical performers such as the Chilean pianist Claudio Arrau, Brazilian pianist Nelson Freire and the Argentine pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim.

Arguably, the main contribution to music entered through folklore, where the true soul of the Latin American and Caribbean countries is expressed. Musicians such as Yma Súmac, Chabuca Granda, Atahualpa Yupanqui, Violeta Parra, Victor Jara, Mercedes Sosa, Jorge Negrete, Luiz Gonzaga, Caetano Veloso, Susana Baca, Chavela Vargas, Simon Diaz, Julio Jaramillo, Toto la Momposina as well as musical ensembles such as Inti Illimani and Los Kjarkas are magnificent examples of the heights that this soul can reach.

Latin pop, including many forms of rock, is popular in Latin America today (see Spanish language rock and roll).

More recently, Reggaeton, which blends Jamaican reggae and dancehall with Latin America genres such as bomba and plena, as well as that of hip hop, is becoming more popular, in spite of the controversy surrounding its lyrics, dance steps (Perreo) and music videos. It has become very popular among populations with a "migrant culture" influence – both Latino populations in the U.S., such as southern Florida and New York City, and parts of Latin America where migration to the U.S. is common, such as Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, and Mexico.


Latin American film is both rich and diverse. Historically, the main centers of production have been México, Brazil, Cuba, and Argentina.

Latin American cinema flourished after the introduction of sound, which added a linguistic barrier to the export of Hollywood film south of the border. The 1950s and 1960s saw a movement towards Third Cinema, led by the Argentine filmmakers Fernando Solanas and Octavio Getino. More recently, a new style of directing and stories filmed has been tagged as "New Latin American Cinema."

Argentine cinema has been prominenent since the first half of the 20th century and today averages over 60 full-length titles yearly. The industry suffered during the 1976–1983 military dictatorship; but re-emerged to produce the Academy Award winner The Official Story in 1985. A wave of imported U.S. films again damaged the industry in the early 1990s, though it soon recovered, thriving even during the Argentine economic crisis around 2001. Many Argentine movies produced during recent years have been internationally acclaimed, including Nueve reinas (2000), El abrazo partido (2004) and El otro (2007).

In Brazil, the Cinema Novo movement created a particular way of making movies with critical and intellectual screenplays, a clearer photography related to the light of the outdoors in a tropical landscape, and a political message. The modern Brazilian film industry has become more profitable inside the country, and some of its productions have received prizes and recognition in Europe and the United Statesmarker, with movies such as Central do Brasil (1999), Cidade de Deus (2003) and Tropa de Elite (2007).

Cuban cinema has enjoyed much official support since the Cuban revolution and important film-makers include Tomás Gutiérrez Alea.

Mexican cinema in the Golden Era of the 1940s boasted a huge industry comparable to Hollywoodmarker at the time. Stars included María Félix, Dolores del Rio and Pedro Infante. In the 1970s Mexico was the location for many cult horror and action movies. More recently, films such as Amores Perros (2000) and Y tu mamá también (2001) enjoyed box office and critical acclaim and propelled Alfonso Cuarón and Alejandro González Iñarritu to the front rank of Hollywood directors. Alejandro González Iñárritu directed in (2006) Babel and Alfonso Cuarón directed (Children of Men in (2006), and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban in (2004)). Guillermo del Toro close friend and also a front rank Hollywood director in Hollywood and Spain, directed Pan's Labyrinth (2006) and produce El Orfanato (2007). Carlos Carrera (The Crime of Father Amaro), and screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga are also some of the most known present-day Mexican film makers. Rudo y Cursi released in December (2008) in Mexico directed by Carlos Cuarón.

It is also worth noting that many Latin Americans have achieved significant success within Hollywood, for instance Carmen Miranda and Salma Hayek, while Mexican Americans such as Robert Rodriguez have also made their mark.

See also

Notes and references

  1. "Latin America." The New Oxford Dictionary of English. Pearsall, J., ed. 2001. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press; p. 1040: "The parts of the American continent where Spanish or Portuguese is the main national language (i.e. Mexico and, in effect, the whole of Central and South America including many of the Caribbean islands)."
  2. McGuiness, Aims (2003). "Searching for 'Latin America': Race and Sovereignty in the Americas in the 1850s" in Appelbaum, Nancy P. et al. (eds.). Race and Nation in Modern Latin America. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 87–107. ISBN 0-8078-5441-7
  3. Composition of macro geographical (continental) regions, geographical sub-regions, and selected economic and other groupings, UN Statistics Division. Accessed on line 23 May 2009. ( French)
  4. Latin America and the Caribbean. The World Bank. Retrieved on 17 July 2009.
  5. Country Directory. Latin American Network Information Center-University of Texas at Austin. Retrieved on 17 July 2009.
  6. [ Identity and modernity in Latin America By Jorge Larraín (page 3)
  7. Larraín, Jorge. Identidad chilena. 2001. Editorial LOM.
  9. MOFA: Japan-Brazil Relations
  12. MOFA: Japan-Brazil Relations
  13. Mestizos by Lizcano
  14. Mestizos by IndomestizosLizcano
  15. Composición Étnica de las Tres Áreas Culturales del Continente Americano al Comienzo del Siglo XXI
  16. Cap.%202.%20Pensar%20a%20los%20indios,%20tarea%20de%20criollos.pdf massive immigration of European Argentina Uruguay Chile Brazil
  17. Latinoamerican.
  18. Ethnic distribution in Latin America
  19. Reference for Welsh language in southern Argentina, Welsh inmigration to Patagonia
  20. Reference for Welsh language in southern Argentina, Welsh inmigration to Patagonia
  21. Reference for Welsh language in southern Argentina, Welsh inmigration to Patagonia
  22. Reference for Welsh language in southern Argentina, Welsh inmigration to Patagonia
  23. Reference for Welsh language in southern Argentina, Welsh inmigration to Patagonia
  24. Reference for Welsh language in southern Argentina, Welsh inmigration to Patagonia
  25. Watching Over Greater Mexico: Mexican Migration Policy and Governance of Mexicanos Abroad
  27. Brasileiros no Exterior — Portal da Câmara dos Deputados
  28. Country Overview: El Salvador, United States Agency for International Development
  29. Chavistas in Quito,, January 7, 2008
  30. Dominican Republic: Remittances for Development
  31. Cubans Abroad,
  32. Chile: Moving Towards a Migration Policy, Migration Information Source
  33. Migration News
  34. WorldBank Migration and Remittances Factbook 2008
  41. [ United Nations Population Division
  42. La región sigue siendo la más desigual del mundo, según Cepal América Economía
  45. [1] Viva Rio: Innovative Approaches Against Urban Crime
  46. [2] UN: Latin America: Making Cities Safer
  47. BBC NEWS | Americas | Latin America: Crisis behind bars
  48. UN highlights Brazil gun crisis. BBC News, June 27, 2005.
  50. [3]International Journal of Epidemiology: Understanding the uneven distribution of the incidence of homicide in Latin America
  51. [4]
  52. International Monetary Fund [5]
  53. Human Development Report, UNDP
  54. page 13–16
  55. page 25–26
  56. page 310–313
  57. The IMF does not report statistics for Cuba. Data from the CIA World Factbook is used
  58. 150 Richest Cities in the World, 2005
  59. Data corresponds to 2007
  60. Population estimated for 2007 (search values for each country profile)
  61. Data corrresponds to 2005.

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