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Latin American Chage
Over the course of the past half-millennium, the 33 countries that now comprise Latin America and the Caribbean have gone through drastic change. Since the discovery of the New World in 1492, each country has gone through some level of colonization by a European power and transition to its current state. During this period the regions have seen political, social, religious and economic transformations of various degrees. Nevertheless, many scholars argue that regardless of the changes encountered, many are merely on the surface with little to no meaningful change instilled. A Variety of leaders have attempted to improve their country by both conservative and liberal means. Despite these attempts, though, the underlying foundation of colonial ideals remains.
The colonial period began with the discovery of Hispaniola by Christopher Columbus in 1492 and most Latin American countries gained their independence in the nineteenth century. The colonization of Latin America and the Caribbean was dominated by the Iberian countries with small colonies established by the French, English and Dutch. Regardless of the nationality of the colonizers, almost all of the colonies shared basic characteristics, which have persevered over time in some way or another. It is possible to organize the traits of these colonies into four distinct categories: economic development, religious and social mixing, racial and ethnic mixing and political structures.
There were two basic industries found in the New World that shaped their economies: agriculture and mining. Both of these required tremendous labor input to match the demand of continental Europe. Goods such as sugar, cotton, coffee, indigo, tobacco, silver and copper were produced and exported in great quantities. At a very early point in the development of the colonies it was understood that the European settlers werenít willing to do the physical labor themselves; instead African slaves were brought to the New World in order to work on the plantations. When the situation arose that African slaves didnít adapt to the conditions properly, Native Indians were forced to labor.
This subjugation of Africans and the indigenous populations has had dramatic effects on society. As most regions emancipated the slaves sometime in the mid eighteenth century, a social pyramid developed where white eliteís at the top, mulatto landowners and poor whites in the middle and Blacks and Indians at the bottom. This social structure developed into the stereotypical and racist notions found in most regions today. Regardless of the change in government, sweeping social change has not occurred and almost all of these two groups remain poor.
The plantation was the center of the agriculture life. Large-scale agriculture is still important as many countries rely on these products as they put large strain on export Ėoriented growth. Only recently has there been any significant attempts at industrialization and many countries are economically backward.
From the very outset of the exploration of the New World, members of the church have been side by side with the explorers and colonists. The church had a dual role in Latin America. The church was interested in saving the souls of the indigenous peoples found in the newly discovered regions and also they reinforced the control of the Iberian powers. A unique form of Catholicism emerged that was a mixture of the three cultures mentioned above. The most vivid example of this fusion can be seen in Brazil were dozens of religions have sprouted with African, indigenous and European roots.
The final topic of colonial legacies is politics. From an early point in the history of Latin America, the regions have enjoyed a certain level of autonomy. There was a tendency towards administrative centralism and regional/local decision making which was primarily due to the physical distances to Europe. This incomplete control led to the growth of regionalism, strongman rule and ineffective government that constantly threatened national unity after independence was granted. Nearly every province rebelled against their central government at one point after independence. Nevertheless, these were never social revolutions and the poor were never any better off afterwards. The pattern of privilege remained.
It is easy to see many of the aforementioned legacies in Present day Mexico. When excavating for the subway system near the cathedral square of the colonial capital the Great Temple of the Aztecs was unearthed. The
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Latin America, Import substitution industrialization, Brazil, Economic history of Mexico, Economic history of Chile
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