History of Latin America

Latin America refers to countries in the Americas where Latin-derived (Romance) languages are spoken; these countries generally lie south of the United States. By extension, some, particularly in the United States, apply the term to the whole region south of the United States — including non-Romance-speaking countries such as Suriname, Jamaica, and Guyana.Fact|date=July 2008

This region was home to many indigenous peoples and advanced civilizations, including the notable Aztecs, Inca and Maya, before the arrival of Europeans in the late 15th and early 16th centuries. Most of Latin America was colonized by European emigrants, primarily by the Spanish and the Portuguese, and, to a lesser extent, by the French. In the early 19th century most of the countries in the region attained their independence, although a few small colonies remain.


Latin American history extends back many centuries, possibly as long as 30,000 years. Precise dating is difficult because there are few text sources. However, highly-developed civilizations flourished at various times and places, such as the Andean Inca and Central American Maya and the Aztecs.


Christopher Columbus "discovered" the Americas in 1492. Subsequently, the major sea powers in Europe sent expeditions to the New World to build trade networks and colonies and to convert the native peoples to Christianity. Concentrating on the central and southern parts of the Americas allotted to them by the Treaty of Tordesillas, the Spanish and Portuguese built large colonial empires in California, Mexico, and Brazil.

19th Century Revolutions: the Post Colonial Era

Following the model of the U.S. and French revolutions, most of Latin America achieved its independence by 1825. However, Europe and the United States continued to play major roles.

The independence of Latin American countries rendered many of the older colonial power structures obsolete and helped create a new, self-consciously "Latin American" ruling class and intelligentsia. It should be noted, however, that even post independence, the dominant culture remained exclusively European, Catholic and "Western", with little input from remaining indigenous peoples until recent times.

In many cases this restructuring of economic and political realities resulted in a sizable gap between rich and poor, with landed elites controlling the vast majority of land and resources. In Brazil in 1910, for instance, 85% of lands belonged to 1% of the population. Gold mining and fruit growing, in particular, were monopolized by these wealthy landowners. These 'Great Owners' totally controlled the local activity and furthermore were the principal employers and the main source of revenue. This led to a society of peasant workers with little connection to larger political realities who remained in thrall to farming and mining magnates.

After the efforts of Gran Colombia, the Central-American Republic and of the United States of South America the confusing nature of the borders provoked a number of interstate conflicts, whereas the interior of the countries was often plagued by the fights between federalists and centralists who finally asserted themselves only by action and military repression of the opponents. There remained a difficult to define national space, a nation resembling a state, since these states even were identified only by their European (Spanish or Portuguese) roots and their official population sharing the same language and origins.

Continuing instability in the Latin American states caused the recurring emergence of Caudillos, military chiefs whose hold on power depended on their abilities in battle.

The regimes were either presidential, a little liberal and rather democratic; or Parliamentary that is to say more liberal, less democratic and more oligarchic. In both cases, the opinion of the average-man was devalued.

The political life, except with the Caudillos, was occupied by the conservatives and the liberals, who in both cases did not have a social policy. And the popular insurrections, when they were expressed, were often influential and repressed: 100,000 died simultaneously during a Colombian revolt around 1890.

Only some States manage to have some semblance of democracy: Uruguay, and partially Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica and Colombia. The others were clearly oligarchist, sometimes with a major support.

Economically, the Latin America was certainly dependent on Europe (mainly England) and the United States; independence left a place for an increased dependence especially in the nineteenth century which saw an increase in the dependence on the investment provided.

Specialist vocabulary:

Estancias and Haciendas:large-scale farms in which exploitation was rampant.

Fazendas: breeding plantations of coffee/sugar

Ejido: collective ownership, guaranteeing certain rights to each one of the members of the community.

Propriety: the good of only one person.

20th century

:"See for how you can help ."


A few agreements were signed with the American intervention in Cuba in 1898 and Platt Amendment in 1902, which authorized the U.S. to intervene in Cuba if necessary. The old Monroe Doctrine, which impeded European interventions, was therefore replaced by the Big Stick Doctrine, a more interventionist doctrine aimed to defend U.S. interests.

In Colombia, the concession of the Panama Canal was repurchased in 1903, but the Colombian elites opposed this American seizure. A Panamanian insurrection then occurred, armed with military material marked with the "U.S." sign, independence was imposed, and Panama became an ally of the United States.

In Mexico, Porfirio Díaz promised that he would withdraw from power in 1908. Francisco Madero, a moderate liberal whose aim was to modernize the country calmly in order to avoid a socialist revolution, launches an election campaign to defend the liberal ideas in 1910. But Díaz organizes a seventh faked election, which prompted the Mexican Revolution. Riots are organized and some key leaders appear: Pancho Villa in the north, Emiliano Zapata in the west, and a more moderate Francisco I. Madero in Mexico City. The United States finally releases Porfirio Díaz in 1911, who will resign on May 27, and flee, leaving the scene to Madero who will become President on November 6 1911. Madero undertakes a democratization process, but little is made in relation of the agrarian claims while Zapata continues the revolution. In February 18 1913 Adolfo de la Huerta, a conservative general organizes a coup d'état with the support of the United States: Madero is killed on the 22th. Other revolutionary chiefs: Pancho Villa, Zapata, and Venustiano Carranza reject this "usurper" who is soon released by the United States, dissatisfied with his dictatorial behavior. Allies Zapata and Villa take Mexico City in March 1914, but in this working city they are not on their ground and withdraw to their respective bastions. This allows Carranza, after the escape of Huerta in July 1914, to carry out a battle for victory. He then organizes the repression of the rebel armies of Villa and Zapata, in particular by general Álvaro Obregón who gains decisive victories in 1915, takes Mexico City and becomes a "de facto" president in October 1915. The Mexican constitution of 1917 is proclaimed, but little enforced.

Under the orders of Carranza and with the American military support, Obregón continues his military pressure on the rebels. Zapata is finally assassinated in April 10 1919. Carranza, the president, is assassinated in May 15 1920, leaving the place to Obregón, who becomes an elected president. Finally in 1923, it is Pancho Villa who is assassinated.

Mexico finally becomes pacified by the accession of that liberal president, but agrarian aspirations of the work force remain unsatisfied.

Years 1930-1960

The arrival of Franklin Roosevelt in 1933 gives way to his "Good Neighbor Policy" and allows certain nationalizations and attainments of American interests. The Platt Amendment is repealed, "liberating" Cuba. Mexican President Lazaro Cardenas nationalizes certain large American companies, creates Pemex, and redistributes a quantity of land.

Since 1860, Cuba had focused on the cultivation of sugar, of which 82% was now feeding into the American market. Cuba was described however as being the "brothel of the U.S.," where one finds all sorts of pleasures provided he is rich. The U.S. intervened many times to suppress popular uprisings, and to maintain Cuban governments favorable to its own interests. The latter country had a socially advanced constitution whose execution was, however, deeply corrupt, and a large part of the goods and exploits of sugar were at the hands of American companies. Since 1933, Fulgencio Batista was the key autocrat of Cuba. His authoritarian coup in 1952 did not end with an "ignoble" dictatorship, but it did not change much; corruption endured, and the American presence grew. Certain revolutionaries, such as Fidel Castro, organized a revolution to reestablish a democratic state and free itself from the American influence.

Having left Mexico on a yacht christened "Granma" December 2, 1956, the 82 sailors are finally reduced to 13, and lead a guerilla coup of the mountain, of which the principal conflict was a work of propaganda, for example via "Radio Rebelde". More and more powerful against an unmotivated Cuban army, the guerillas conquered Cuba between October 1958 and January 1, 1959.

But Castro, who first states his position as a non-socialist, finally engages his country in agrarian reforms and nationalizations in May 1959 and especially December 1960 which push John Kennedy to intervene, an event better known as the Bay of Pigs Invasion, April 16, 1961. But instead of taking Cuba back to the American "modus operandi", this radicalizes its position, and Cuba proclaims its character definitively socialist, makes friends with the USSR, and arms itself, leading to the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962.

American policies and doctrines imposed on Latin America

:"See for how you can help ."

* Monroe Doctrine (1823): James Monroe proclaimed Europe was to stay out of the independent American nations; this excluded European colonies.
* Big Stick Policy (1890-1920): The USA took the role of 'police officer' for other American countries, usually to protect its own interests.
* Drago Convention (1902):
* Tobar Policy (1907): Military coups and revolutionary governments were officially unrecognized by the USA.
* Wilson Doctrine: Crusade for democracy.
* Good Neighbor Policy (from Hoover to Roosevelt): equal-to-equal diplomacy.
* Kennedy Doctrine: offensive policy against Cuba (Bay of Pigs invasion); containment policy against alleged communist movements, through national security doctrine (counter-insurgency training in the School of the Americas) and the Alliance for Progress
* Lyndon B. Johnson: support for the 1964 Brazilian coup d'état
* Richard Nixon: United States intervention in Chile
* Reagan Doctrine (1980s): The USA would fight against communism and socialism, even backing military coup d'états.

ee also


Mesoamerica : Aztec, Huastec, Mixtec, Maya, Olmec, Pipil, Tarascan, Teotihuacán, Toltec, Totonac, Zapotec
South America :
Chavin, Chibcha, Chimor, Chachapoya, Huari, Inca, Moche, Nazca, Tiwanaku


British, danish, Dutch and New Netherland, French and New France, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, New Spain, Conquistador, Spanish conquest of Yucatan, Spanish conquest of Mexico, Spanish missions in California, Swedish

History by Region

History by Country

*Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Puerto Rico

Other topics : Relations with the USA, Relations with Europe, Relations with the PRC, Feminist history in Latin America, History of the Jews in Latin America, Landless Workers' Movement




*Bakewell, Peter, "A History of Latin America (Blackwell History of the World (Paperback))", Blackwell Publishers 1997
*Brown, Jonathan C. "Latin America: A Social History of the Colonial Period", Wadsworth Publishing Company, 2nd edition 2004
*Burns, Bradford, "Latin America: A Concise Interpretive History", paperback, PrenticeHall 2001, 7th edition
*Green, Duncan, "Silent Revolution: The Rise and Crisis of Market Economics in Latin America", New York University Press 2003
*Herring, Hubert, "A History of Latin America: from the Beginnings to the Present", 1955. ISBN 0-07-553562-9
*Schoultz, Lars, "Beneath the United States: A History of U.S. Policy Toward Latin America", Harvard University Press 1998,
*Skidmore, Thomas E. and Smith, Peter H., "Modern Latin America", Oxford University Press 2005

*"The Cambridge history of Latin America" (11 vls)
*"The Cambridge history of the native peoples of the Americas" (3vls)

*Valenzuela, Arturo. " [http://www.journalofdemocracy.org/articles/gratis/Valenzuela-15-4.pdf Latin American Presidencies Interrupted] " in "Journal of Democracy" Volume 15, Number 4 October 2004

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Military history of Latin America — can include: Military history of Argentina Military history of Colombia Military history of Costa Rica Military history of Cuba Military history of the Dominican Republic Military history of Ecuador Military history of Mexico Military history of… …   Wikipedia

  • History of North America — A composed satellite photograph of North America in orthographic projection The history of North America is the study of the past, particularly the written record, oral histories, and traditions, passed down from generation to generation on the… …   Wikipedia

  • Open Veins of Latin America — Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent   …   Wikipedia

  • Military history of North America — The Military history of North America refers to the chronology of military events on the North American continent. This can be broken down into the following countries and regions: Military history of Canada Military history of Latin America… …   Wikipedia

  • Dance and music of Latin America — Latin American dance and music is sultry and physical. Salsa and the more popular Latin dances were created and embraced into Latin culture as early as 1791.Fact|date=May 2007 Latin American music has had a large influence on the form the dances… …   Wikipedia

  • Military history of South America — The Battle of Chacabuco, 1817, during the Chilean War of Independence, a war often fought across harsh and difficult terrain. The military history of South America can be divided into two major periods pre and post Columbian divided by the… …   Wikipedia

  • List of freshwater ecoregions of Latin America and the Caribbean — This is a list of freshwater ecoregions in Latin America and the Caribbean, as identified by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).The WWF divides the Earth s land surface into ecoregions, defined as large area [s] of land or water containing a distinct… …   Wikipedia

  • Latin America — Latin American redirects here. For Latin American people, see Latin Americans. Latin America Area 21,069,501 km2 (8,134,980 sq mi) Population 572,039,894 …   Wikipedia

  • History of Chile — This article is part of a series Early History …   Wikipedia

  • History of Mexico — This article is part of a series Pre Columbian Mexico …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”