What is Latin America?

We explain what Latin America is, how it is its population, economy and religions. In addition, information on health, poverty and science.

  1. What is Latin America?

Latin America or Latin America is the set of American nations descended from the Spanish, Portuguese and French colonies established from the sixteenth century. It includes the different degrees of miscegenation produced in them among ethnicities and cultures: European, American aboriginal and African black. The latter reached the continent enslaved by Europeans.

We refer to one of the most diverse regions geographically, biologically and culturally. It is composed of 21 countries : Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Puerto Rico (state associated with the States United), Dominican Republic, Uruguay and Venezuela.

These nations are spread over an area of ​​more than twenty million square kilometers , almost 13.5% of the planet’s surface.

In principle, its history begins more than 4,000 years ago, with the first pre-Columbian cultures that emerged in Mesoamerica or in the Inca region, and extends over more than three thousand years until its traumatic encounter with Spanish settlers.

At that time, in the fifteenth century, a long and bloody war of conquest began , which decimated the indigenous population of the continent. It also opened the doors for the emergence of a new culture, which is often called melting pot , for its high levels of mixing, with the incorporation of Africans into the colonies, especially in the Caribbean region.

The independence of most Latin American countries was between the nineteenth and twentieth century , the result of European crises that led to the moment for the independence wars. There were also several regional integration projects, which gave more or less results.

Over time, the region has been consolidating itself as one of the sites of greatest economic and cultural interest in the West, despite its enormous discrepancies, inequalities and its curious sense of identity in the midst of the diverse.

  1. Uses of the term «Latin America»

latin america latin map countries
Latin America is composed of 21 countries.

It is, in principle, a geographical, cultural and ethnic region. However, even so it is always complex to define it in precise terms, given the enormous racial, cultural, linguistic and historical diversity of the region.

On the other hand, it can be understood as the union of several subregions , such as the Caribbean and the Antilles, the Andes, the Río de la Plata, the Gran Chaco, the Amazon, Central America and the former Mesoamerican region.

For this reason, different terms are often used to name it, such as Latin America (only those nations where Spanish is spoken) or Latin America (to include in the category before Brazil). In fact, the term Latin America itself comes from the French Amérique latine , to oppose this region to Anglo-Saxon America , the result of English colonization.

Despite having its detractors, the term Latin America has the advantage of also including French colonies that have had little historical contact with the rest of the nations. Therefore, “Latin America and the Caribbean” is often used to refer to the geographical region below the United States, including French, English or Dutch-speaking nations.

  1. Population of Latin America

latin america america latin population city rio de janeiro panoramic night
82% of the Latin American population lives in cities like Rio de Janeiro.

In Latin America, about 617,685 million people live in a predominantly young and predominantly urban population. In fact, 82% of the population resides in cities .

Especially in the large metropolitan regions of cities such as Mexico City (around 20 million inhabitants), Sao Paolo (around 19 million inhabitants), Buenos Aires (around 12 million inhabitants) or Rio de Janeiro (around 10 million inhabitants), to name just the main ones.

The Latin American population is ethnically diverse, with a predominance of four large groups:

  • Native Americans and descendants of native peoples.
  • White Creoles descendants of Europeans.
  • African-American descendants of the slaves of the colony.
  • A very diverse range of mestizos , since it was a region with intense syncretism.

In addition, Latin America has subsequently received migrants from Europe, Asia and the Middle East , being one of the largest recipients of migratory flows in the world.

  1. Latin American Economy

The Latin American region is disparate in its economic performance and in its economic policies, which is why it has been an unstable region since early times. It is possible to differentiate three Latin American economic groups, which are:

  • Countries with free market economies , which follow the models of the United States and Europe, for example: Peru, Chile, Mexico and Colombia, founding countries of the Pacific League, along with Panama or Costa Rica.
  • Countries with mixed economies and protectionist models, focused on the social market economy, such as Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay.
  • Countries with closed or semi- closed economies , generally following the Marxist economic model , such as Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua.

The economies in Latin America are often dependent on the export of goods and services, usually of the raw material . There are agricultural , livestock and mining countries, being the perfect example of the latter Venezuela, the only purely oil country in the region.

The most economically developed countries according to their GDP per capita are Chile (US $ 19,474), Argentina (US $ 18,709) and Panama (US $ 16,993). On the other hand, the highest rates of human development (HDI) are recorded in Chile (0.843), Argentina (0.825), Uruguay (0.804), Costa Rica (0.793) and Panama (0.789).

  1. Health in Latin America

This is another area in which Latin America is extremely unequal, although in broad strokes it can be said that there are problems in accessibility, segmentation and social protection , generally derived from poverty.

For example, according to ECLAC figures, in countries such as Ecuador and Guatemala, the wealthy classes absorb 30% of public health spending, relegating the poor to just over 12%. On the other hand, in countries such as Chile, Costa Rica and Uruguay, 30% of public health spending is aimed at protecting the less favored.

In most countries the budget deficit is the main impediment in public health care .

  1. Poverty in Latin America

The poverty is one of the great problems of Latin America . In all the countries that compose it, there are important poverty indicators, the most serious cases being Honduras (65.7%), Mexico (60.6%) and Argentina (30.3%).

Other particular cases, such as Venezuela, are the result of debate and controversy, as there are no credible official figures. However, poverty in recent years has reached levels of humanitarian emergency, as child mortality rises , the recurrence of eradicated diseases and generating an exodus of around four million people in less than four years.

On the other hand, in the rest of the Latin American continent, according to historical estimates of the World Bank, the middle class registered a sustained and significant growth of around 50% , reaching almost 30% of the total population of the region.

The same applies to urban violence and crime, which reaches astronomical figures in some countries such as Honduras, El Salvador, Venezuela, Guatemala and Brazil, while in other countries it is associated rather with historical-political processes, such as the case of Colombian paramilitarism.

In other words, both poverty and violence have unequal indexes depending on the country.

  1. Latin American languages

latin america latin america languages ​​languages ​​Quechua peru
Millions of people speak Quechua in Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina and Ecuador.

In Latin America, Romance languages from Europe during the colony predominate , which are Spanish (66%), Portuguese (33%) and French (1%) . However, there are also a significant number of Aboriginal languages ​​alive, such as:

  • Quechua , with 9 to 14 million speakers between Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina and Ecuador.
  • The Guaraní , with 7 to 12 million speakers between Argentina, Paraguay and Bolivia.
  • Aymara , with 2 to 3 million speakers between Argentina, Chile, Bolivia and Peru.
  • Nahuatl , with 1.3 to 1.5 million speakers in Mexico.
  • The Mayan , with 0.9 to 1.2 million speakers between Guatemala, El Salvador and Mexico.
  1. Latin American religion

In this region, the majority religion is Catholic Christianity , inherited from the Spanish and Portuguese colony, and with an important participation in the history of the continent since the arrival of European colonizers. However, there is a growing representation of other Protestant Christian sects, especially in countries with the highest proportion of poverty.

In some countries of indigenous ethnic majority, religious rites and practices of pre-Columbian times are preserved , especially in Bolivia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico and Peru. For example, the celebration of the day of the dead and the rites of the Pachamama.

In contrast, in the Caribbean region, Africanity left its cultural mark, conserving the Yoruba religion or other enslaved African peoples, known as Santeria, Candomblé, Macumba or Voodoo. These rites have less formal acceptance in most countries, although they are part of the cultural background of countries such as Cuba, Brazil, Haiti, Dominican Republic or Venezuela.

  1. Tourism in Latin America

latin america latin america tourism tulum mexicoThe cultural and natural attractions of Mexico attract millions of tourists.

The striking Latin American culture is an important tourist attraction, despite the fact that living conditions do not always accompany the incentive. Mexico has been the most visited country for international tourism in Latin America for several years, and is among the 10 most attractive countries in the world for tourism, receiving more than 30 million annual visitors.

Tourism is an important source of income in the region . Nations such as Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Dominican Republic or Colombia invest significant resources to promote it, receiving annually between 4 and 6 million tourists in their territories.

  1. Latin American art

The art in Latin America is as complex and diverse as its culture . The constant inquiry of these countries in their identity and history has often paid off in various areas:

  • Literature : The region has several Nobel prizes among poets and narrators such as Gabriela Mistral, Miguel Ángel Asturias, Pablo Neruda, Octavio Paz, Mario Vargas Llosa and Gabriel García Márquez.
  • Painting : Includes world-renowned names such as Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, Armando Reverón, Wilfredo Lam, Fernando Botero, Remedios Varo, Xul Solar, Julio Le Parc or Carlos Cruz-Diez.
  • Music : It has alternated between European classicism and the incorporation of American rhythms, using popular influence.

Latin American art is so vast that it would require an article in itself, but muralism, cinema (especially in Brazil, Argentina, Mexico and Cuba), architecture and theater also stand out among its talents .

Latin American culture has gone through different times of flowering and abundance . Its complex history of conflicts, wars and contradictions has engendered one of the most unique cultures of the West.

  1. Science and technology in Latin America

The Latin American scientific and technological field is not negligible, although its development models were for years dependent on the importation of knowledge from Europe and especially from the United States. Astronomy is an area of ​​great development, especially in Chile, and in other observation centers in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela and Mexico.

In fact, a plasma engine was developed in Costa Rica since 2005, which allowed new space missions , since this country is, together with the United States, the only one in which a plasma discharge in the laboratory could be done.

Brazil usually takes the lead in technological investment . It was the first Latin American country to orbit its own satellites in 1985, then followed by Argentina in 1990, and then several South American countries. Between 2007 and 2008 Brazil experienced the greatest scientific growth in the world , surpassing Russia and the Netherlands and ranking 13th globally.

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