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Latin America
Latin America (orthographic projection).svg
Area 21,069,501 km²
Population 569 million[1]
Pop. density 27 per sq km (70 per sq mile)
Demonym Latin American, American
Countries 20
Dependencies 10
Languages Spanish, Portuguese, French
Time Zones UTC-2 to UTC-8
Largest cities 1. Mexico City
2. São Paulo
3. Buenos Aires
4. Rio de Janeiro
5. Lima
6. Bogotá
7. Santiago
8. Belo Horizonte
9. Caracas
10. Guadalajara

Latin America (Spanish: América Latina or Latinoamérica; Portuguese: América Latina; French: Amérique latine) is a region of the Americas where Romance languages (i.e., those derived from Latin) – particularly Spanish, Portuguese, and variably French – are primarily spoken.[2][3] 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 French 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."[4] 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.[5] 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.[6] 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 Ecuador, Bolivia, Guatemala, and Paraguay), 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 Colombia and Venezuela)—and the coastal areas of Ecuador and Brazil.


Darcy Ribeiro has proposed a classification between “witness peoples (yellow)” (Mexico, Guatemala, Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador), “New peoples (Red)” (Brazil, Venezuela, Colombia, Caribbean nations, Chile and Paraguay) and “transplanted peoples(Blue)” (Uruguay and Argentina).[13]

Latin America can be subdivided into several subregions based on geography, politics, demographics and culture; some subregions are North America, Central America, the Caribbean, the Southern Cone, and Andean states. In terms of culture, society and national identity Mario Sambarino classified Latin American states into Mestizo-American Ecuador, Colombia, Mexico etc.), Indigenous-America (Bolivia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Peru) and European-American (Argentina and Uruguay).[14]

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.[14] Under this scheme, the people of the Brazilian Amazon could be regarded as being just as much "Testimony Peoples" as those of the Peruvian Amazon, and the people of the southern Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul could equally be seen as "Translplanted", just like those of the very similar cultures of neighboring Uruguay and Argentina.



Pre-columbian history

A view of Machu Picchu, a pre-Columbian Inca site in Peru.

The Americas were thought to have been first inhabited by people crossing the Bering Land Bridge, now known as the Bering strait, from northeast Asia into Alaska well over 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[citation needed] from about 8000 BC and 4600 BC, a sedentary group from the coast of Ecuador, 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. These groups are in the circum carribean region. The Chibchas of Colombia, the Quechuas and Aymaras of Bolivia and Perú 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. The Aztec empire was ultimately the most powerful civilization known throughout the Americas, until it's downfall caused by the Spanish invasion.

European colonization

Archaeological site of Chichén-Itzá in Yucatán, Mexico. One of the New Seven Wonders of the World.

With the arrival of the Europeans following Christopher Columbus's voyages, the indigenous elites, such as the Incas and Aztecs, lost power to the heavy European invasion. Hernándo Cortés seized the Aztec elite's power with the help of local groups who did not favor the Aztec elite, and Francisco Pizarro eliminated the Incan rule in Western South America. The European powers of Spain and Portugal 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 from present-day southern Oregon in the United States through the southern tips of the Patagonia. European culture, customs and government were introduced, with the Roman Catholic Church becoming the major economic and political power to overrule the traditional ways of the region, eventually becoming the only official religion of the Americas during this period.

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 25%. 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.

Independence (1810-1825)

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 Haiti, the second oldest nation in the New World after the United States 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 Mexico and Francisco de Miranda in Venezuela. Under the leadership of a new generation of leaders, such as Simón Bolívar of Venezuela, José de San Martin of Argentina, 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. Brazil achieved independence with a constitutional monarchy established in 1822. In the same year in Mexico, 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.

Consolidation and liberal-conservative conflicts (1825-1900)

World wars (1914-1945)

Cold war (1946-1990)

In the 1950s, the Cold War moved close to the United States, in Latin America. The nations of Latin America faced many critical problems, including widespread poverty and poor health care. The United States 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

Military dictators Jorge Rafael Videla of Argentina and Augusto Pinochet of Chile.

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.[15] 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 Fund (IMF), World Bank, and the US Treasury Department during the 80's and 90's.

In recent years, several Latin American countries led by socialist or other left wing governments—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

Left-leaning leaders of Bolivia, Brazil and Chile at the Union of South American Nations summit in 2008.

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, Néstor and Cristina Kirchner in Argentina, Tabaré Vázquez and José Mujica in Uruguay, the Lagos and Bachelet governments in Chile, Evo Morales in Bolivia, Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua, Manuel Zelaya in Honduras (although deposed by the 28 June 2009 coup d'état), and Rafael Correa of Ecuador are all part of this wave of left-wing politicians who also often declare themselves socialists, Latin Americanists or anti-imperialists.


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 European ancestry; and some countries' populations are primarily Mulatto. 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.[1] 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.

Amerindians make up the majority of the population in Bolivia and about half in Peru.
Juniti Saito, head of the Brazilian Air Force and one of over a million Japanese-Brazilians.
Salsa dancers of Mulatto heritage, Camagüey, Cuba.
Vicente Fox An example of a Caucasian Latin American.
Garinagu (Zambos) celebrating in Guatemala.
A representation of a Mestizo, in a Pintura de Castas during the Spanish colonial period of the Americas.
  • Amerindians. The aboriginal population of Latin America, the Amerindians, arrived in Paleolithic times. In post-Columbian times they experienced tremendous population decline, particularly in the early decades of colonization. They have since recovered in numbers, surpassing sixty million (by some estimates), though they compose a majority only in Bolivia and Guatemala, and per some sources in Peru, as well. In Ecuador Amerindians are a large minority that comprises two-fifths of the population. Mexico's 13% is the next largest ratio, and this community is actually the largest Amerindian population in Latin America. Most of the remaining countries have Amerindian minorities, in every case making up less than one-tenth of the total population. In many countries, people of mixed Amerindian and European ancestry make up the majority of the population (see Mestizo).
  • 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 Brazil and Peru; there is also a growing Chinese minority in Panama. Brazil is home to 1.49 million people of Asian descent,[16][17] which includes the largest ethnic Japanese community outside of Japan itself. Peru, with 1.47 million people of Asian descent,[18][19] has one of the largest Chinese communities in the world, with nearly one 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.[20] Koreans also form communities numbering tens of thousands of individuals in several countries, including Brazil, Argentina, and Mexico.[21]
  • Blacks. Millions of African slaves were brought to Latin America from the sixteenth century onward, the majority of whom were sent to the Caribbean region and Brazil. Today, people identified as "Black" are most numerous in Brazil (more than 10 million), and in relative terms in Puerto Rico (15%). Significant populations are also found in Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Panama, Colombia, and Venezuela. Latin Americans of mixed Black and White ancestry, called Mulattoes, are more numerous than Blacks.
  • Mestizos. Intermixing between Europeans and Amerindians began early in the colonial period 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.
  • 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 Republic and Cuba, and are also numerous in Venezuela, Panama, Peru, Colombia, and Puerto Rico, and Ecuador. Smaller populations of mulattoes are found in other Latin American countries.[1]
  • Zambos: Intermixing between Africans and Amerindians was especially prevalent in Colombia, Venezuela, and Brazil, often due to slaves's running away (becoming cimarrones: maroons) and being taken in by Amerindian villagers. People of this mixed ancestry are known as Zambos or (in Central America) Garinagu in Spanish speaking nations, and Cafusos in Brazil.
Ethnic distribution in Latin America (2005)[22]
Country Population Amerindians Whites Mestizos Mulattos Blacks Zambo Asians
 Argentina 39,632,760 1.0% 85.0% 11.1% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 2.9%
 Bolivia 9,775,246 55.0% 15.0% 28.0% 2.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
 Chile 16,800,000 3.2% 52.7% 44.1% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
 Costa Rica 4,024,000 0.8% 82.0% 15.0% 0.0% 0% 2.0% 0.2%
 Brazil 170,406,000 0.4% 53.8% 0.0% 39.1% 6.2% 0.0%
 Colombia[26] 42,105,000 1.9% 23.5% 60.1% 11.0% 3.2% 0.1% 0.0%
 Cuba 11,199,000 0.0% 37.0% 0.0% 51.0% 11.0% 0.0% 1.0%
 Dominican Republic 8,373,000 0.0% 14.6% 0.0% 75.0% 7.7% 2.3% 0.4%
 Ecuador 12,646,000 39.0% 9.9% 41.0% 5.0% 5.0% 0.0% 0.1%
 El Salvador 6,278,000 8.0% 1.0% 91.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
 Guatemala 11,385,000 53.0% 4.0% 42.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.2% 0.8%
 Honduras 6,417,000 7.7% 1.0% 85.6% 1.7% 0.0% 3.3% 0.7%
 Mexico 98,872,000 13.0% 17.0% 70.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
 Nicaragua 5,071,000 6.9% 14.0% 78.3% 0.0% 0.0% 0.6% 0.2%
 Panama 2,856,000 8.0% 10.0% 32.0% 27.0% 5.0% 14.0% 4.0%
 Paraguay 5,496,000 1.5% 20.0% 74.5% 3.5% 0.0% 0.0% 0.5%
 Peru 25,662,000 45.5% 12.0% 32.0% 9.7% 0.0% 0.0% 0.8%
 Puerto Rico 3,965,000 0.0% 74.8% 0.0% 10.0% 15.0% 0.0% 0.2%
 Uruguay 3,337,000 0.0% 88.0% 8.0% 4.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
 Venezuela 24,170,000 1.0% 20.0% 65.0% 10.0% 3.0% 0.9% 0.1%
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 biggest and 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), Cuba and the Dominican Republic. French is spoken in some Caribbean islands, including Guadeloupe, Martinique, and Haiti, as well as in the overseas departments of French Guiana (South America) and in Saint Pierre and Miquelon (North America). Dutch is the official language of some Caribbean islands and in Suriname 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 Argentina, Nicaragua, Panama, and Puerto Rico, as well as in nearby countries that may or may not be considered Latin American, like Belize and Guyana (English is used as a major foreign language in Latin American commerce and education); German, in southern Brazil, southern Chile, Argentina, portions of northern Venezuela, and Paraguay; Italian, in Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, and Venezuela; and Welsh [27][28][29][30][31][32], 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 Caribbean 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 Haiti; 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 Peru, Guatemala, Bolivia, Paraguay, and to a lesser degree, in Mexico, Ecuador, and Chile. In Latin American countries not named above, the population of speakers of indigenous languages is small or non-existent.

In Peru, 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[33] .In Ecuador, 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 Bolivia, Aymara, Quechua and Guaraní hold official status alongside Spanish. Guarani is, along with Spanish, an official language of Paraguay, 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 Argentine province of Corrientes. In Nicaragua, 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. Colombia 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.


Christ the Redeemer (Cristo Redentor) atop Corcovado mountain, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

The vast majority of Latin Americans are Christians, mostly Roman Catholics.[34] About 71% of the Latin American population consider themselves Catholic. [35] Membership in Protestant denominations is increasing, particularly in Brazil, Chile, Guatemala, and Puerto Rico.[33]


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.[36] 28.3 million Americans listed their ancestry as Mexican as of 2006.[37] According to the 2005 Colombian census or DANE, about 3,331,107 Colombians currently live abroad.[38] The number of Brazilians living overseas is estimated at about 2 million people.[39] An estimated 1.5 to two million Salvadorans reside in the United States.[40] At least 1.5 million Ecuadorians have gone abroad, mainly to the United States and Spain.[41]. Approximately 1.5 million Dominicans live abroad, mostly in the US.[42] More than 1.3 million Cubans live abroad, most of them in the US.[43] It is estimated that over 800,000 Chileans live abroad, mainly in Argentina, Canada and Sweden.[44] An estimated 700,000 Bolivians were living in Argentina as of 2006.[45] Central Americans living abroad in 2005 were 3,314,300,[46] of which 1,128,701 were Salvadorans,[47] 685,713 were Guatemalans,[48] 683,520 were Nicaraguans,[49] 414,955 were Hondurans,[50] 215,240 were Panamanians,[51] 127,061 were Costa Ricans [52] and 59,110 were Belizeans.

Currently, Costa Rica and Chile are the only two countries with positive migration rates.[53]



Crime and violence

Crime and violence prevention and public security are now important issues for governments and citizens in Latin America and the Caribbean region. In 2004, violence was the main cause of death in Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, El Salvador, Mexico and Honduras.[54][55] Homicide rates in Latin America are among the highest in the world. From the early 1980s through the mid-1990s, homicide rates 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.[56] Countries with the highest homicide rate per year per 100,000 inhabitants were; Guatemala 57.9, El Salvador 49.1, Venezuela 48, Honduras 59, Colombia 33, Belize 30.8, Brazil 25.7, Dominican Republic 23.56, Puerto Rico 18.8, Ecuador 16.9, and . More than 500,000 people have been killed by firearms in Brazil between 1979 and 2003.[57][58] Cuba has the lowest crime rate in the western hemisphere.[59]Havana is often regarded as the safest large city in the Western Hemisphere.[60]Countries with relatively low crime are Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica and Uruguay.[61]


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: China, USA, India, Brazil and Mexico; Two of the largest five economies in the world are Latin American.[62] More significant is that on a per capita basis most Latin American countries, including all the large countries (Argentina, Mexico, Brazil, Chile, Peru, Venezuela 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 Fund 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[68]


ton CO2
 Argentina 570.526 14,188 51.3 3.7 0.866 (H) 81.8 6.469 7.0 3.7
 Bolivia 43.446 4,379 60.1 11.6 0.729 (M) 64.7 5.492 5.9 0.8
 Brazil 1,975.904 10,153 57.0 9.7 0.813 (H) 82.7 6.470 5.1 1.8
 Chile 246.482 14,461 54.9 3.2 0.878 (H) 83.4 6.789 3.2 3.9
 Colombia 402.458 8,161 58.6 7.6 0.807 (H) 88.3 6.176 2.5 1.2
 Costa Rica 48.918 10,737 49.8 4.6 0.854 (H) 90.5 6.624 2.9 1.5
 Cuba[71] N/A N/A N/A 4.7 0.863 (H) 80.7 N/A N/A 2.3
 Dominican Republic 76.194 8,570 51.6 9.1 0.777 (M) 83.0 5.630 4.8 2.2
 Ecuador 104.669 7,496 53.6 7.9 0.806 (H) 84.4 6.272 5.3 2.2
 El Salvador 43.885 7,570 52.4 14.6 0.747 (M) 77.2 6.164 2.5 0.9
 Guatemala 66.839 4,873 55.1 19.7 0.704 (M) 76.7 5.321 4.0 1.0
 Haiti 11.681 1,317 59.2 31.5 0.531 (M) 60.7 4.090 1.3 0.2
 Honduras 32.670 4,282 53.8 13.7 0.714 (M) 75.4 5.250 4.0 1.1
 Mexico 1,550.257 14,017 46.1 5.9 0.854 (H) 79.8 6.766 1.3 5.2
 Nicaragua 16.751 2,668 43.1 17.0 0.699 (M) 73.4 5.663 3.0 0.7
 Panama 38.305 11,589 56.1 6.7 0.832 (H) 83.1 6.361 9.2 1.8
 Paraguay 29.336 4,751 58.4 10.5 0.761 (M) 77.7 5.756 5.8 0.7
 Peru 244.693 8,825 52.0 10.2 0.806 (H) 78.1 6.216 9.8 1.1
 Uruguay 40.663 13,594 44.9 3.0 0.865 (H) 82.3 6.368 8.9 1.6
 Venezuela 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

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.[72] 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[64]) in 2006 were Bolivia (60.1), Haiti (59.2), Colombia (58.6), Paraguay (58.4), Brazil (57.0) and Panama (56.1), while the countries with the lowest inequality in the region were Nicaragua (43.1), Uruguay (44.9) and Mexico (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):[73] Haiti, Nicaragua, Bolivia and Honduras. Undernourishment affects to 47% of Haitians, 27% of Nicaraguans, 23% of Bolivians and 22% of Hondurans.[74]

Many countries in Latin America have responded to high levels of poverty by implementing new, or altering old, social assistance programs. These include Mexico's Progresa Opportunidades, Brazil's Bolsa Escola and Bolsa Familia, and Chile's Chile Solidario.[75]

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). Chile has already signed an FTA with Canada, and along with Peru are the only two South American nations that have an FTA with the United States. Colombia's government is currently awaiting its ratification by the U.S. Senate.

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 Bogota and Santiago, GDP figures are estimated and expressed in USD, using purchasing power parity exchange rates:[76][77]

Ten largest Latin American metropolitan areas
Rank Metropolitan
Country GDP
Per Capita
perspective GDP 2020(Billions
Rank (2020)
1 Mexico City  Mexico 315 19.4 $16,237 608 1
2 Buenos Aires  Argentina 245 12.6 $19,444 416 3
3 São Paulo  Brazil 225 18.3 $14,480 411 2
4 Rio de Janeiro  Brazil 141 11.5 $13,260 256 4
5 Santiago  Chile 91 6.5 $13,000 160 6
6 Bogota  Colombia 86 8.5 $11,025 163 5
7 Monterrey  Mexico 78 3.9 $20,000 157 7
8 Lima  Peru 67 8.5 $7,882 123 8
9 Belo Horizonte  Brazil 65 5.6 $11,607 129 9
10 Guadalajara  Mexico 60 4.1 $14,634 119 10


Income from tourism is key to the economy of several Latin American countries.[78] Mexico receives the largest number of international tourists, with 21.4 million visitors in 2007, followed by Brazil, with 5.0 million; Argentina, with 4.6 million; Dominican Republic, with 4.0 million;, Puerto Rico, with 3.7 million and Costa Rica with 1.9 million [79] Places such as Cancun, Galapagos Islands, Machu Picchu, Chichen Itza, Cartagena de Indias, Cabo San Lucas, Acapulco, Rio de Janeiro, Salvador, Margarita Island, São Paulo, Salar de Uyuni, Punta del Este, Santo Domingo, Labadee, San Juan, La Habana, Panama City, Iguazu Falls, Puerto Vallarta, Poás Volcano National Park, Punta Cana, Viña del Mar, Mexico City, Quito, Bogota, Buenos Aires, Lima, La Paz and Patagonia are popular among international visitors in the region.[citation needed]

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[78]
 Argentina 4,562 4,313 945 115 57 7.4 1.8 9.1 65 4.08
 Bolivia* 556 205* 475* 58 22 9.4 2.2 7.6 114 3.33
 Brazil 5,026 4,953 985 26 18 3.2 0.5 7.0 45 4,35
 Chile 2,507 1,419 566 151 73 5.3 1.9 6.8 57 4,18
 Colombia 1,193 1,669 1,399 26 25 6.6 1.4 5.9 72 3.89
 Costa Rica 1,973 1,974 1,000 442 343 17.5 8.1 13.3 42 4.42
 Cuba 2,119 1,982 935 188 169 n/d n/d n/d n/d n/d
 Dominican Republic 3,980 4,026 1,012 408 353 36.2 18.8 19.8 67 4,03
 Ecuador 953 637 668 71 35 6.3 1.5 7.4 96 3.62
 El Salvador 1,339 847 633 195 67 12.9 3.4 6.8 94 3.63
 Guatemala 1,448 1,199 828 108 66 16.0 2.6 6.0 70 3.90
 Haiti* n/d n/d 685* n/d 12* 19.4 3.2 4.7 n/d n/d
 Honduras 831 557 670 117 61 13.5 5.0 8.5 83 3.77
 Mexico 21,424 12,901 602 201 103 5.7 1.6 14.2 51 4.29
 Nicaragua 800 255 319 143 36 15.5 3.7 5.6 103 3.49
 Panama 1,103 1,185 1,074 330 211 10.6 6.3 12.9 55 4.23
 Paraguay 416 102 245 68 11 4.2 1.3 6.4 115 3.24
 Peru 1,812 1,938 1,070 65 41 9.0 1.6 7.6 74 3.88
 Uruguay 1,752 809 462 525 145 14.2 3.6 10.7 63 4.09
 Venezuela 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.[81]
  • 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:

The Teresa Carreño Cultural Complex in Caracas.
  • 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 States 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 Zone in Panama from 1903 (the Panama Canal 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, Spaniards 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.[83] 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 Belize, Brazil, Honduras, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Colombia, Panama, Haiti, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, and Cuba.


Palace of Fine Arts, built in the early 20th century in Mexico City.

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 Russia 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.

Presencia de América Latina (Presence of Latin America), by Mexican muralist Jorge González Camarena. Located in the lobby of the Casa del Arte, University of Concepción in Concepción, Chile.

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 Mexico, Colombia, New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Philadelphia.

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.[84]

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.


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).

Amores perros (2000) a film directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu.

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 States, 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 Hollywood 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.


Colombian writer Gabriel García Márquez signing a copy of One Hundred Years of Solitude in Havana, 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 (K'iche') 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).

Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, interviewed in 1971.

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.

Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes

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.

Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges.

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).

Music and dance

Salsa dancing

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.[85] 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,Trinidad, 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.[86][87]

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.

A couple dances Argentine Tango.

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.[88] 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).[89]

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, Trinidad, Dominican Republic, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, and Mexico.[90]

See also

Notes and references

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  3. ^ "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)."
  4. ^ Mignolo, Walter (2005). The Idea of Latin America. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell. pp. 77–80. ISBN 9781405100861. http://books.google.com/books?id=vPacXtsWhewC. 
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