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May 5, 2008

Wikipedia: Latin America

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Latin America

Area 21,069,501 km²
Population 562 million
Countries 20
Dependencies 10
GDP $3.33 Trillion (exchange rate)
$5.62 Trillion (purchasing power parity)
Languages Spanish, Portuguese, Quechua, Aymara, Nahuatl, Mayan languages, Guaraní, Italian, English, French, Haitian Creole, Spanish creole, German, Welsh, Dutch, Cantonese, Japanese, Vietnamese, and many others
Time Zones UTC -2:00 (Brazil) to UTC -8:00 (Mexico)
Largest Cities 1. Mexico City
2. São Paulo
3. Buenos Aires
4. Rio de Janeiro
5. Lima
6. Bogotá
7. Santiago de Chile
8. Belo Horizonte
9. Caracas
10. Guadalajara

Latin America (Portuguese: América Latina; Spanish: Latinoamérica or América Latina; French: Amérique latine) is the region of the Americas where Romance languages, those derived from Latin (particularly Spanish and Portuguese), are primarily spoken.



  • In most common contemporary usage, Latin America refers only to those territories in the Americas where the Spanish or Portuguese languages prevail: Mexico, most of Central and South America, plus Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico in the Caribbean.
  • Strictly speaking, Latin America can designate all of those countries and territories in the Americas where a Romance language (i.e. languages derived from Latin, and hence the name of the region) is spoken: Spanish, Portuguese, French, and creole languages based upon these. Indeed, this was the original intent when the term was popularized by Napoleon III as part of his campaign to install Maximilian as emperor of Mexico.[citation needed] Using this definition, Latin America includes not only all Spanish and Portuguese speaking countries, but also the current and former French territories in the hemisphere, including Haiti, Quebec in Canada, Louisiana in the United States, Martinique and Guadeloupe in the Caribbean, French Guiana in South America, and St. Pierre and Miquelon near Newfoundland.
  • Often, particularly in the United States, the term may be used to refer to all of the Americas south of the U.S., including such countries as Belize, Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, Antigua and Barbuda and the Bahamas, where English prevails.
  • The former Dutch colony Suriname, the Netherlands Antilles, and Aruba are not usually considered part of Latin America, although in the latter two, a predominantly Iberian-derived creole language, Papiamento, is spoken by the majority of the population.
  • In historical terms, Latin America could be defined as all those parts of the Americas that were once part of the Spanish, Portuguese, and French Empires, which speak languages stemming from Latin. Under this definition, much of the U.S. Southwest, as well as Florida and French Louisiana, would be also included in the region.

The distinction between Latin America and Anglo-America, and more generally the stress on European heritage (or Eurocentrism), is simply a convention by which Romance-language and English speaking cultures are distinguished, being the predominant languages at this time in history. There are, of course, many places in the Americas (e.g. highland Ecuador, Bolivia and Guatemala) where American Indian cultures and languages are important, as well as areas in which the influence of African cultures is strong (e.g. the Caribbean, including parts of Colombia and Venezuela, coastal Ecuador, coastal Peru and coastal Brazil).


Look up Latin America in
Wiktionary, the free dictionary.

Originally, Amérique latine was a political denomination thought coined by French Emperor Napoleon III, in citing Amérique latine and Indochine as goals for his region’s imperial expansion, [1] thus justifying French imperial claims to the native peoples and their lands; eventually, Amérique latine denominated the Americas colonised by Spanish, Portuguese, and French settlers between the fifteenth and nineteenth centuries; nevertheless, Michel Chevalier introduced his alternate etymology, the Southern Americas, in 1836, in Lettres sur l’Amérique du Nord.[2] In the United States, before the 1890s, Spanish America was the nominal term for the region until early in the twentieth century when Latin America became current. [3]

Contemporaneously, Latin America is equivalent to Latin Europe, implying supranationality greater than statehood and nationhood. Supranational identity is expressed through common socio-economic initiatives and organizations, such as the Union of South American Nations; nevertheless, the terms Latin American, Latin, Latino, and Hispanic denote and connote different things.

Many Latin Americans do not speak Latinate languages, but native tongues transplanted by immigration, e.g. German in Paraguay. Moreover there are Latin European-derived cultures resultant from European immigrants blending with the indigenous peoples and with the imported African slaves, thus, they are Latin American, but not Spanish, Portuguese, and French, as usually connoted by the Latin American term.

Francophone Canada (except Québec) and the U.S., such as Acadia, French Louisiana, and places north of Mexico are excluded from the socio-political definition of Latin America, despite significant or predominant populations speaking a Latinate language, because they are not sovereign states and are geographically discrete from Latin America proper; yet, French Guiana, a French dependency, is included. Some Latin American countries do not have a Romance language as the official language, yet are denominated Latin American countries, i.e. Dutch-speaking Suriname, and the Anglophone countries of Belize and Guyana.

To avoid the ambiguities inherent to South America, the term Ibero-America is used in Spain and Portugal in referring to the nations and countries once colonies of itself and of Portugal; Ibero-America derives from the Iberian Peninsula wherein lay Spain and Portugal. The Organization of South American States (OEI — Organzación de Estados Iberoamericanos) extends the definition by including Spain and Portugal (the Mother Countries of Latin America) as member states.


Main article: History of Latin America
See also: History of South America for a treatment of pre-Columbian civilisations and a general overview of the region’s history.

The Americas are thought to have been first inhabited by people crossing the Bering Land Bridge, now the Bering strait, from northeast Asia into Alaska more than 10,000 years ago. 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. Some groups formed permanent settlements, such as the Chibchas (or “Muiscas” or “Muyscas”) and the Tairona groups. The Chibchas of Colombia, the Quechuas of Peru and the Aymaras of Bolivia were the three Indian groups that settled most permanently.

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

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

Archaelogical sites of Chichén-Itzá in Yucatán Mexico.

Archaelogical sites of Chichén-Itzá in Yucatán Mexico.

Rano Raraku Moai in Easter Island buried to their shoulders.

Rano Raraku Moai in Easter Island buried to their shoulders.

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.

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. Hernán 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 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 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. Intermarriage 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.

Dates of independence of countries in the Americas.

Dates of independence of countries in the Americas.

By the end of the eighteenth century, Spanish and Portuguese power waned as other European powers took their place, notably Britain and France. Resentment grew over the restrictions imposed by the Spanish government, as well as the dominance of native Spaniards (Iberian-born peninsulares) over the major institutions and the majority population, including the colonial-born Spaniards (criollos, Creoles). Napoleon’s invasion of Spain in 1808 marked the turning point, compelling Creole 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 the Juntas and the Spanish colonial authorities, with initial Creole victories, including Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla in Mexico and Francisco de Miranda in Venezuela, crushed by the Spanish troops. Under the leadership of Simón Bolívar, José de San Martin and other Libertadores in South America, the independence movement regained strength, and by 1825, all Spanish Latin America, except for Puerto Rico and Cuba, gained independence from Spain. Brazil achieved independence with a constitutional monarchy established in 1822. During the same year in Mexico, a military officer, Agustín de Iturbide, led conservatives who created a constitutional monarchy, with Iturbide as emperor (followed by a republic, 1823).

Political divisions

Latin America is politically divided into the following countries and territories:
The countries included in all definitions are:

Independent Countries and Puerto Rico
  • Flag of Argentina Argentina
  • Flag of Bolivia Bolivia
  • Flag of Brazil Brazil
  • Flag of Chile Chile
  • Flag of Colombia Colombia
  • Flag of Costa Rica Costa Rica
  • Flag of Cuba Cuba
  • Flag of the Dominican Republic Dominican Rep.
  • Flag of Ecuador Ecuador
  • Flag of El Salvador El Salvador
  • Flag of Guatemala Guatemala
  • Flag of Honduras Honduras
  • Flag of Mexico Mexico
  • Flag of Nicaragua Nicaragua
  • Flag of Panama Panama
  • Flag of Paraguay Paraguay
  • Flag of Peru Peru
  • Flag of Puerto Rico Puerto Rico
  • Flag of Uruguay Uruguay
  • Flag of Venezuela Venezuela

The more expansive definition can include:

Independent Countries French dependencies Netherlands
United States
  • Flag of Argentina Argentina
  • Flag of Bolivia Bolivia
  • Flag of Brazil Brazil
  • Flag of Chile Chile
  • Flag of Colombia Colombia
  • Flag of Costa Rica Costa Rica
  • Flag of Cuba Cuba
  • Flag of the Dominican Republic Dominican Rep.
  • Flag of Ecuador Ecuador
  • Flag of El Salvador El Salvador
  • Flag of Guatemala Guatemala
  • Flag of Haiti Haiti
  • Flag of Honduras Honduras
  • Flag of Mexico Mexico
  • Flag of Nicaragua Nicaragua
  • Flag of Panama Panama
  • Flag of Paraguay Paraguay
  • Flag of Peru Peru
  • Flag of Uruguay Uruguay
  • Flag of Venezuela Venezuela
  • Flag of French Guiana French Guiana
  • Flag of Guadeloupe Guadeloupe
  • Flag of Martinique Martinique
  • Flag of Saint Barthélemy Saint Barthélemy
  • Flag of Saint Martin (France) Saint Martin
  • Flag of Saint Pierre and Miquelon Saint Pierre and Miquelon
  • Flag of Aruba Aruba
  • Flag of the Netherlands Antilles Netherlands Antilles
  • Flag of Puerto Rico Puerto Rico

Owing to their geographical location, Belize, the Falkland Islands, Guyana, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago could be added to this grouping, but they are not culturally or linguistically Latin American. They maintain economic ties with nearby countries, and are grouped by the United Nations in the predominantly Latin American region of South America. All except Suriname are also the objects of long-standing territorial claims by their Latin American neighbors.



Racial groups

The population of Latin America is a composite of ancestries, ethnic groups and races, making the region one of the most — if not the most — diverse in the world. The specific composition varies from country to country: Some have a predominance of a mixed population, in others people of Amerindian origin are a majority, some are dominated by inhabitants of European ancestry and some populations are primarily of African descent. Most or all Latin American countries have Asian minorities. Europeans and groups with part-European ancestry combine for nearly 80% of the population.[4]


Amerindians make up the majority of the population in Bolivia and a plurality in Peru.

Amerindians make up the majority of the population in Bolivia and a plurality in Peru.

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 one country, Bolivia. In Peru they are a plurality, while in Ecuador, Guatemala and Mexico, they are large minorities of more than 25%. Most of the other countries have small Amerindian minorities. In many countries, people of mixed Indian and European ancestry make up the majority of the population (see Mestizo).


People of Asian descent are numerous in Latin America. The first Asians to settle in Latin America were Filipino, as a result of Spain’s trade involving Asia and the Americas. The majority of ethnic Asians in Latin America are of Japanese ancestry and reside mainly in Brazil, home to the largest ethnic Japanese community outside of Japan itself, numbering 1.5 million.[5] Peru has important Chinese and Japanese communities. Indians, Koreans, and Vietnamese are also among the largest ethnic Asian communities in the region. In the Panama canal zone there is also a Chinese minority; descendants of migrant workers who built the Panama Canal.


A significant number of Latin Americans are of African ancestry

A significant number of Latin Americans are of African ancestry

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 constitute important minorities in Brazil, Cuba, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Peru, Nicaragua and Ecuador. They compose a majority in Haiti, at more than 90% of the population.


Beginning in the late fifteenth century, large numbers of Iberian colonists settled in what became Latin America — Portuguese in Brazil and Spaniards elsewhere in the region — and at present most white Latin Americans are of Spanish or Portuguese origin. Iberians brought the Spanish and Portuguese languages, the Catholic faith and many traditions.

Millions of Europeans have immigrated to Latin America since most countries gained independence in the 1810s and 1820s, with most of the immigration occurring in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and the bulk of the immigrants settling in Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil. Italians formed the largest group of immigrants, and next were Spaniards and Portuguese.[6] Many others arrived, such as Germans, Poles, Ukrainians, Russians, Jews, Irish and Welsh. Whites make up the vast majority of the population in Argentina, Uruguay, and Southern Brazil. In absolute numbers, Brazil has the largest population of whites in Latin America, Argentina the second and Mexico[citation needed] the third.

Latin americans of European descent are predominant in the region of the Argentina, Uruguay and Southern Brazil.

Latin americans of European descent are predominant in the region of the Argentina, Uruguay and Southern Brazil.

Latin American countries attracted European immigrants to work in agriculture, commerce and industry. Many Latin American governments encouraged immigrants from Europe to civilize the region.[7] Despite their different origins, these immigrants integrated in the local societies and most of their descendants only speak Spanish or, in Brazil, Portuguese. For example, people of Italian descent make up half of Argentina’s and Uruguay’s population, but only a few of them are able to speak Italian. The only notable exceptions are some communities of Germans and Italians across Southern Brazil who still preserve their languages. Brazil has the biggest population of Italians outside of Italy; São Paulo city alone has more Italians than Rome.[8]

Immigration from the Middle East took place also since the 19th century, and consisted largely of Christian Lebanese and Syrians. They have generally assimilated into the European-descended population.


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 the countries of Latin America: Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay,Peru and Venezuela. Mestizos additionally compose large minorities in nearly all the mainland countries.

The degree of Amerindian admixture varies with social class. In Chile, for example, it is higher in the lower classes, and almost negligent in most of the middle and upper class mestizos, a vast segment of whom are indistinguishable from whites.[9]


Mulattoes are biracial descendants of mixed European and African ancestry, mostly European settlers and African slaves during the colonial period. The vast majority of mulattoes are found in Brazil, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Colombia, and Venezuela. There is also a small presence of mulattoes in other Latin American countries.[4]


Slaves often ran away (cimarrones) and were taken in by Amerindian villagers. Intermixing between Africans and Amerindians produced descendants known as zambos. This was especially prevalent in Colombia, Venezuela and Brazil.

In addition to the foregoing groups, Latin America also has millions of people of mixed African, Amerindian and European triracial ancestry, mostly in Colombia, Venezuela and Brazil but with a much smaller presence in a number of other countries.

Racial distribution

The following table shows the different racial groups and their percentages for all Latin American countries and territories.[4][10]

Country Population White Mestizo Mulatto Amerindian Black White and
Mixed Other1
Argentina 40,301,927 97% 3%
Aruba 100,018 80% 20%
Bolivia 9,119,152 15% 30% 55%
Brazil 190,010,647 53.7% 38.5% 6.2% 1.6%
Chile 16,284,741 3% 95% 2%
Colombia 44,379,598 20% 58% 14% 1% 4% 3%
Costa Rica 4,133,884 1% 3% 94% 2%
Cuba 11,394,043 65.05% 24.86% 11% 1%
Dominican Republic 9,365,818 16% 11% 73%
Ecuador 13,755,680 10% 62% 25% 3%
El Salvador 6,948,073 9% 90% 1%
French Guiana 199,509 12% 88%
Guadeloupe 452,776 5% 95%
Guatemala 12,728,111 40.5% 59.4% 0.1%
Haiti 8,706,497 95% 5%
Honduras 7,483,763 1% 90% 7% 2%
Martinique 436,131 5% 95%
Mexico 108,700,891 17% 52% 30% 1%
Netherlands Antilles 223,652 85% 15%
Nicaragua 5,675,356 17% 69% 5% 9%
Panama 3,242,173 10% 70% 6% 14%
Paraguay 6,669,086 95% 5%
Peru 28,674,757 15% 37% 45% 3%
Puerto Rico 3,944,259 80.5% 0.4% 8% 4.1% 7%
Saint Barthélemy 6,852 100%
Saint Martin 33,102 100%
Saint Pierre and Miquelon 7,036 100%
Uruguay 3,460,607 88% 8% 4%
Venezuela 26,023,528 7% 2% 90% 1%
Total 562,461,667 34.2% 23.1% 15.4% 10.9% 4.9% 7.6% 1.7% 1.8%

1 May include one or more of the previous groups.


See also: Indigenous languages of the Americas
Romance languages in Latin America: Green-Spanish; Orange-Portuguese; Blue-French

Romance languages in Latin America: Green-Spanish; Orange-Portuguese; Blue-French

Castillian Spanish is the predominant language in the majority of Latin American countries. Portuguese is spoken primarily in Brazil, the most populous country in the region. French is spoken in some countries of the Caribbean, Guadeloupe, Martinique, and French Guiana and Haiti. 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; German, in southern Brazil, southern Chile, Argentina, and German-speaking villages in northern Venezuela; Italian, in Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and, to a lesser extent, Venezuela; and Welsh, in southern Argentina.

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 absolute numbers, Mexico contains the largest population of indigenous-language speakers of any country in the Americas, surpassing those of the Amerindian-majority countries of Guatemala, Bolivia and the Amerindian-plurality country of Peru. In Latin American countries not named above, the population of speakers of indigenous languages is tiny or non-existent.

In Peru, Quechua is an official language, alongside Spanish and any other indigenous language in the areas where they predominate. 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, Brasil.

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

The vast majority of Latin Americans are Christians, mostly Roman Catholics. However, membership in the Roman Catholic Church in Latin America is declining while membership in Protestant churches is increasing, particularly in countries such as Guatemala, Brazil, and Puerto Rico.

Also, indigenous creeds and rituals are still practiced in countries such as Bolivia, Guatemala, México and Perú. Various Afro-Latin American traditions such as Santería, Candomblé, Umbanda, Macumba, and tribal-voodoo religions are also practiced, mainly in Cuba, Brazil, and Haiti.

Brazil has an active quasi-socialist Roman Catholic movement known as Liberation Theology, and Brazil is also the country with more practioners in the world of Allan Kardec’s Spiritism. Practitioners of the Jewish, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Buddhist, Islamic, Hindu, and Bahá’í denominations and religions exist.


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. According to the 2005 Colombian census or DANE, about 3,331,107 Colombians currently live abroad.[11] Some 60,000 to 80,000 Argentineans a year have been emigrating, but emigration slowed in 2002 after the bank accounts of many people were frozen, so that they had no money for overseas travel.[11] The number of Brazilians living overseas is estimated at about 2 million people.[12] Remittances to Mexico rose from $6.6 billion to $24 billion between 2000 and 2006, but stabilized in 2007. Much of the reported increase between 2000 and 2006 may reflect better accounting, but the slowdown in 2007 may reflect tougher U.S. border and interior enforcement.[11]


Economic performance

Aerial view of a financial district in São Paulo, Brazil.

Aerial view of a financial district in São Paulo, Brazil.

Skyline of Mexico City, Mexico.

Skyline of Mexico City, Mexico.

Skyline of Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Skyline of Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Skyline of Lima, Peru.

Skyline of Lima, Peru.

Skyline of Santiago, Chile.

Skyline of Santiago, Chile.

According to ECLAC,[13] an economic growth rate of 5.3% is estimated for 2006, equivalent to a per capita increase of 3.8%. This marks the fourth consecutive year of economic growth, and the third consecutive year of rates exceeding 4%, after an average annual growth rate of only 2.2% between 1980 and 2002. A breakdown of the annual rates of GDP growth (in U.S. dollars at constant 2000 prices) is transcribed as follows:

Country 2004 2005 2006 2007a 2008 a
Flag of Argentina Argentina 9 9.2 8.5a 7.5 5.5
Flag of Bolivia Bolivia 4.2 4 4.6 3.9 5.4
Flag of Brazil Brazil 5.7 3.2 3.8 5.4 4.5
Flag of Chile Chile 6 5.7 4 5.9 5
Flag of Colombia Colombia 4.9 4.7 6.8 6.6 7.5
Flag of Costa Rica Costa Rica 4.3 5.9 8.2 6 5
Flag of Cuba Cubab 5.4 11.8 12.5 N/A N/A
Flag of the Dominican Republic Dominican Republic 2 9.3 10.7 8 4.5
Flag of Ecuador Ecuador 8 6 3.9 2.7 3.4
Flag of El Salvador El Salvador 1.9 3.1 4.2 4.2 3.8
Flag of Guatemala Guatemala 3.2 3.5 4.9 4.8 4.3
Flag of Haiti Haiti -2.6 0.4 2.2 3.2 4.3
Flag of Honduras Honduras 5 4.1 6 5.4 3.4
Flag of Mexico Mexico 4.2 2.8 4.8 2.9 3
Flag of Nicaragua Nicaragua 5.3 4.3 3.7 4.2 4.7
Flag of Panama Panama 7.5 6.9 8.1 8.5 8.8
Flag of Paraguay Paraguay 4.1 2.9 4.3 5 4
Flag of Peru Peru 5.1 6.7 7.6 8.9 9.5
Flag of Uruguay Uruguay 11.8 6.6 7 5.2 3.8
Flag of Venezuela Venezuela 18.3 10.3 10.3 8 6
Latin America 6 4.5 5.3 4.7 N/A

Notes: a. Estimates b. Figures provided by the National Statistics Office of Cuba, under evaluation by ECLAC
Sources: 1. All countries, except Cuba: IMF [1] 2. Cuba and Latin America: ECLAC [2]PDF (230 KiB)

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.[14] 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[15]) in 2006 were Bolivia (60.1), Haiti (59.2), Colombia (58.6), Brazil (58), Paraguay (57.8) and Chile (57.1), while the countries with the lowest inequality in the region were Nicaragua (43.1), Ecuador (43.7), Venezuela (44.1) and Uruguay (44.9). 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 low.

Crime and Violence

See also: Crime and Violence in Latin America

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. In Latin America, violence is now among the five main causes of death and is the principal cause of death in Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, El Salvador and Mexico. 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.[16] 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.[17] ==

Trade blocs

The major trade blocs or agreements in the region are Mercosur and the Andean Community of Nations (CAN). Minor blocs or trade agreements are the G3 and the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). 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, Chile has signed an FTA with the United States, and Colombia’s and Peru’s legislatures have approved an FTA with the United States and are awaiting its ratification by the US Senate.

Panama Canal.

Panama Canal.

Standard of living, consumption and the environment

The following table lists (in alphabetical order) all the countries in Latin America indicating Gross Domestic Product (GDP), per capita income in nominal terms and adjusted to purchasing power parity (PPP), Gross Domestic Product in 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.

Country GDP per

GDP per


Gini index

HPI-1 %


of life[22]


per 1,000

ton CO2
Flag of Argentina Argentina 6,258 15,546 51.3 4.1 0.869 (H) 81.8 6.969 173 7.5 3.7
Flag of Bolivia Bolivia 1,167 3,829 60.1 13.6 0.695 (M) 64.7 5.492 52 3.9 0.8
Flag of Brazil Brazil 5,742 9,081 57.0 9.7 0.800 (H) 82.7 6.470 118 5.4 1.8
Flag of Chile Chile 8,903 13,083 54.9 3.7 0.867 (H) 83.4 6.789 140 5.9 3.9
Flag of Colombia Colombia 2,911 6,218 58.6 7.9 0.791 (M) 88.3 6.176 55 7.5 1.2
Flag of Costa Rica Costa Rica 5,173 9,585 49.8 4.4 0.846 (H) 90.5 6.624 193 6 1.5
Flag of Cuba Cuba[26] 3,500 4,100 N/A 4.7 0.838 (H) 80.7 N/A 2 N/A 2.3
Flag of the Dominican Republic Dominican Republic 3,667 6,412 51.6 10.5 0.779 (M) 83.0 5.630 111 8 2.2
Flag of Ecuador Ecuador 3,058 6,973 53.6 8.7 0.772 (M) 84.4 6.272 55 2.7 2.2
Flag of El Salvador El Salvador 2,661 5,530 52.4 15.1 0.735 (M) 77.2 6.164 64 4.2 0.9
Flag of Guatemala Guatemala 2,327 4,438 55.1 22.5 0.689 (M) 76.7 5.321 108 4.8 1.0
Flag of Haiti Haiti 550 1,240 59.2 35.4 0.529 (M) 60.7 4.090 20 3.2 0.2
Flag of Honduras Honduras 1,462 3,818 53.8 16.5 0.700 (M) 75.4 5.250 14 5.4 1.1
Flag of Mexico Mexico 8,060 12,078 52.1 6.8 0.829 (H) 79.8 6.766 191 2.9 4.2
Flag of Nicaragua Nicaragua 896 2,515 43.1 17.9 0.710 (M) 73.4 5.663 38 4.2 0.7
Flag of Panama Panama 5,217 9,204 56.1 8.0 0.812 (H) 83.1 6.361 102 8.5 1.8
Flag of Paraguay Paraguay 1,657 4,191 58.4 8.8 0.755 (M) 77.7 5.756 69 5 0.7
Flag of Peru Peru 3,366 7,081 52.0 11.6 0.773 (M) 78.1 6.216 54 8.9 1.1
Flag of Uruguay Uruguay 6,036 10,578 44.9 3.5 0.852 (H) 82.3 6.368 154 5.2 1.6
Flag of Venezuela Venezuela 6,834 11,150 48.2 8.8 0.792 (M) 80.0 6.089 120 8 6.6

Notes: (H) High human development; (M) Medium human development


Main article: Latin American culture
A type of traditional Mexican dance and costume.

A type of traditional Mexican dance and costume.

The rich mosaic of Latin American cultural expressions is the product of many diverse influences:

  • Native cultures of the peoples that inhabited the continents prior to the arrival of the Europeans.
  • European cultures, brought mainly by the Spanish, the Portuguese and the French. This can be seen in any expression of the region’s rich artistic traditions, including painting, literature and music, and in the realms of science and politics. The most enduring European colonial influence was language. Italian and British influence has been important as well.
  • 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 Brazil, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Colombia, Panama, Haiti, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic and Cuba.


Main article: Latin American literature
See also: List of Latin American writers

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 USA 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 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 Prizewinners: in addition to the Colombian Gabriel García Márquez (1982), also the Chilean poet Gabriela Mistral (1945), the Guatemalan novelist Miguel Ángel Asturias (1967), the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda (1971), and the Mexican poet and essayist Octavio Paz (1990).


Main article: Latin American art
See also: List of Latin American artists
Guggenheim Guadalajara, is scheduled to be completed in 2011 Guadalajara Mexico.

Guggenheim Guadalajara, is scheduled to be completed in 2011 Guadalajara Mexico.

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.

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

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

An important artistic movement generated in Latin America is Muralismo 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, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Philadelphia.

Mexican painter Frida Kahlo remains by far the most known and famous Latin American artist. She 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.

Music and dance

See also: Dance and music of Latin America, Latin American music, Latin pop, and Latin dance
Brazilian Carnival

Brazilian Carnival

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.

Hispano-Caribbean 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 Hispano-Caribbean counterparts with an element of jazz and modern sound as well.[27][28]

Other Latin American musical genres include the Argentine, and Uruguayan tango, the Antillean Soca, and Calypso, the Central American (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. In Brazil, samba, North American jazz, European classical music, and choro combined to form bossa nova.

A couple dances Argentine Tango

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.[29] 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 Argentinian 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 as well as musical ensembles such as Inti Illimani, Quilapayún and Illapu, 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).[30]

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, Guatemala, and Mexico.[31]


Main article: Latin American cinema

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 was a big industry in the first half of the 20th century. The industry re-emerged after the 1976-1983 military dictatorship to produce the Academy Award winner The Official Story in 1985. The Argentine economic crisis affected the production of films in the late 1990s and early 2000s, but many Argentine movies produced during those years were internationally acclaimed, including Nueve reinas (2000) and El abrazo partido (2004).

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.

Cantinflas in Ahí está el detalle.

Cantinflas in Ahí está el detalle.

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.

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

Latin America Portal
Trinidad, Cuba

Trinidad, Cuba

Plantation of Colombian coffee

Plantation of Colombian coffee

  • Crime and Violence in Latin America
  • Anglo America
  • Southern Cone
  • Hispanic America
  • Ibero-America
  • United States-Latin American relations
  • Americas (terminology)
    • Use of the word American
    • America (disambiguation)
    • Free Trade Area of the Americas
    • Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas
  • Caribbean
    • Association of Caribbean States
    • Caribbean Community
    • Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States
  • Central America
    • Central American Common Market
  • North America
    • North American Free Trade Agreement
  • South America
    • Andean Community
    • Mercosur
    • Union of South American Nations
  • Latin Union, Latin Europe, Latin Africa
  • Latino, Latino Canadian, Afro-Latin American, Asian Latin American, White Latin American, Latin American British
  • List of Latin Americans
    • List of Latin American artists
    • List of Latin American writers
  • Latin American culture
  • Latin American studies
  • Irish settlement in Argentina
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