Why Latin America is a Unique Region

The term 'Latin America' is often used to refer to the countries of the Americas that speak Romance languages, such as Spanish, Portuguese, and French. But why is this region called Latin America? The answer lies in its history and the influence of the former colonial powers. 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) was founded in 1948 and initially included Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Chile, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela.

Later on, former colonial powers Spain (197) and Portugal (198) obtained membership. In addition, countries that were not colonial powers in the region but had immigrant populations also joined ECLAC including Italy (1990), Germany (200), Japan (200), South Korea (200), Norway (201), and Turkey (201).The origin of the term 'Latin America' is not immediately obvious. Research has shown that the idea of a part of the Americas having a linguistic and cultural affinity with Romance cultures dates back to the 1830s. This was postulated by Frenchman Saint-Simonian Michel Chevalier who argued that part of the Americas was inhabited by people of the 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 language.

Neither area is culturally or linguistically homogeneous; in substantial parts of Latin America (for example Brazil) there are large populations of non-Romance language speakers. The oldest known human settlement in the area was identified in Monte Verde near Puerto Montt in southern Chile. Its occupation dates back some 14,000 years ago. Over millennia people spread to all parts of North and South America and the Caribbean islands. While the region now known as Latin America extends from northern Mexico to Tierra del Fuego, its geography, topography, climate and arable land meant that populations were not evenly distributed.

Sedentary populations from fixed settlements supported by agriculture gave rise to complex civilizations in Mesoamerica (central and southern Mexico and Central America) and the 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 the Andes were able to sustain distant populations beyond farmers' homes and communities. This allowed for the creation of social hierarchies as well as urbanization with stable settlements in villages and major cities. It also enabled specialization of artisanal labor and transfer of products through tribute and trade. In 1493 Pope Alexander VI granted Catholic Monarchs great power over ecclesiastical appointments and functioning of the church in overseas possessions. The Spanish extensively explored continental territories they claimed but settled in large numbers in areas with dense indigenous populations and exploitable resources such as silver. The first Spanish conquistadors saw indigenous people themselves as an exploitable resource for tribute and labor.

In most of Latin America indigenous people were the largest component with some black slaves serving in auxiliary positions. Over time these populations intermingled resulting in castes. The Roman Catholic Church launched a spiritual conquest to convert indigenous peoples to Christianity without allowing any other religion. The state and Catholic Church were institutional pillars of Spanish colonial rule. At the end of 18th century crown also established a royal army to defend its possessions against foreign incursions especially from British. The number of viceroyalties in Spanish South America also increased. The policy of 19th century was to end slavery even in Latin America.

In Brazil Britain made end of slave trade a condition for diplomatic recognition. Abolitionists pushed for an end to slavery which finally ended in 1888 followed by fall of Brazilian monarchy. The French were also seeking trade links with Latin America to export luxury goods and establish financial links including granting foreign loans to governments often in dire need of income. Today Latin America is a unique region with diverse cultures languages religions histories politics economies geographies climates etc. It is home to many influential figures such as José de San Martín Liberator of Argentina Chile Peru Vicente Guerrero insurgent hero of Mexican independence who joined Iturbide Agustín de Iturbide former royal military officer who achieved independence from Mexico crowned emperor etc.

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