What is Latin America All About?

Latin America is the part of the Americas that comprises regions where Romance languages that derive from Latin, e.g. Spanish, Portuguese and French, are spoken predominantly. The United Nations has played a role in defining the region, establishing a geoscheme for the Americas, which divides the region geographically into North America, Central America, South America and the Caribbean. The United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), founded in 1948 and initially called the Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLA), consisted of Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Chile, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela.

They also included the establishment of 1948 Canada, France, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and the United States. Later on, former colonial powers Spain (197) and Portugal (198) obtained membership. In addition to these countries, other nations that were not colonial powers in the region but had immigrant populations joined ECLAC such as Italy (1990), Germany (200), Japan (200), South Korea (200), Norway (201) and Turkey (201). The Association for Latin American Studies was founded in 1966 and its membership is open to anyone interested in Latin American studies.

The origin of the term Latin America is still debated today. It was created in the 19th century after the political independence of countries from Spanish and Portuguese empires. It also became popular in France during Napoleon III's reign as part of his attempt to create a French empire in the Americas. Research has shown that the idea of a part of the Americas having a linguistic and cultural affinity with Romance cultures dates back to 1830s when Frenchman Saint-Simonian Michel Chevalier postulated that part of the Americas was inhabited by people of Latin race and could therefore ally itself with Latin Europe in a struggle with Teutonic Europe, Anglo-Saxon America and Slavic Europe.

The distinction between Latin America and Anglo-America is based on predominant languages spoken in each region; Romance language in Latin America and English-speaking cultures in Anglo-America. Neither area is culturally or linguistically homogeneous; for example in substantial parts of Latin America indigenous languages are still spoken today. The oldest known human settlement in this region was identified in Monte Verde near Puerto Montt in southern Chile with occupation dating back some 14000 years ago. Over millennia people spread to all parts of North and South America and Caribbean islands.

The diversity of geography, topography, climate and arable land meant that populations were not evenly distributed across Latin America. Sedentary populations from fixed settlements supported by agriculture gave rise to complex civilizations in Mesoamerica (central and southern Mexico and Central America) and high Andean populations of Quechua and Aymara as well as Chibcha. Agricultural surpluses from intensive maize cultivation in Mesoamerica and resistant potatoes and grains in Andes were able to sustain distant populations beyond farmers' homes and communities. This allowed for creation of social hierarchies as well as urbanization with stable settlements in villages and major cities; specialization of artisanal labor; transfer of products through tribute and trade.

In Andes llamas were domesticated to transport goods while Mesoamerica did not have large domestic animals to aid human labor or provide meat. Mesoamerican civilizations developed writing systems while Andes had knotted quipus as an accounting system. The Spanish extensively explored continental territories they claimed but settled mainly in areas with dense indigenous populations and exploitable resources such as silver mines. Indigenous people were seen as an exploitable resource for tribute and labor by individual Spaniards who received grants for assignment of forced labor as reward for their participation in conquest.

In most parts of Latin America indigenous people were majority population while other racial groups included whites from Europe; blacks from Africa; mestizos from mixed race marriages between Europeans and indigenous people; mulattos from mixed race marriages between Europeans and blacks; zambos from mixed race marriages between blacks and indigenous people; etc. The Roman Catholic Church launched a spiritual conquest to convert indigenous peoples to Christianity without allowing any other religion while Spanish crown established royal army to defend its possessions against foreign incursions especially from British Empire. At end of 18th century crown also increased number of viceroyalties in Spanish South America while José de San Martín liberated Argentina; Chile; Peru; Vicente Guerrero joined Agustín de Iturbide to achieve independence from Mexico who was crowned emperor afterwards; etc. In 19th century policy was to end slavery even in Latin America with Britain making it a condition for diplomatic recognition with Brazil being totally dependent on slaves until abolitionists pushed for an end to slavery which finally ended in 1888 followed by fall of Brazilian monarchy next year.

French were also seeking trade links with Latin America to export luxury goods as well as establish financial links including granting foreign loans to governments often in dire need of income. Mexican conservatives sought European monarch to place him on throne during Reform War while Mexican liberals fought for La Reforma to strengthen their side. In most parts of Latin America indigenous people are still majority population today while other racial groups include whites from Europe; blacks from Africa; mestizos from mixed race marriages between Europeans and indigenous people; mulattos from mixed race marriages between Europeans and blacks; zambos from mixed race marriages between blacks and indigenous people; etc.

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