Latin America and the Caribbean
Hal Brands wrote in 2010 "A decade ago, nearly all Latin America seemed to be converging toward democracy and free-market economics. Ten years later, misery, instability, corruption, and public insecurity remain rampant, giving rise to sharp public frustration and producing intense political and ideological ferment. The electoral results of this ferment are frequently described as a “lurch to the left.” Such characterizations are misleading. Latin America is not experiencing a uniform shift to the left; it is witnessing a competition between two very different political trends. The first trend is radical populism. Leaders like Hugo Chávez, Evo Morales, Rafael Correa, Nestor Kirchner and Cristina Fernandez, and Daniel Ortega angrily condemn the shortcomings of capitalism and democracy and frame politics as a struggle between the “people” and the “oligarchy.” They promote prolific social spending, centralize power in the presidency, and lash out at Washington."
Perhaps nowhere is the erosion of US credibility stronger than in Latin America. Latin America, in general, sees the US in two distinct and often contradictory lights. The US is a menace, oppressing the other nations of the hemisphere and preventing other nations from rising up to its level. A history of military interventions, support for dictatorships and abusive regimes, and a reputation as an overbearing power foster these perceptions. On the other hand, the US is the source of aid, a destination for education, and the guardian of peace.
Latin America and the Caribbean - that is, all of the Western Hemisphere apart from Canada and the United States - are comprised of a multitude of cultures, languages, heritages, and histories. These states are connected by more than physical proximity; increasing travel and trade ensure these countries remain connected culturally, socially, and economically. They are also connected by many shared values, and increasingly a commitment to democratic ideals. The majority of countries throughout the region seek to consolidate the democratic, security, and economic progress achieved in recent years.
The most prominent and permanent feature of Latin America is its immense size. Without an adequate comprehension of the extent of territory covered by the various republics, it is impossible to surmise their capacity in agriculture, industry, and population. Too often the mistake is made of picturing these countries as states, in the North American sense of the term. Brazil, as is quite generally known, is larger than the whole United States exclusive of Alaska. Chile, which appears so narrow, and therefore small, on the map, would hold two states of the size of California or four states of the size of Nebraska, and is actually larger than any country in Europe except Russia. The area of Latin America (over 8,000,000 square miles) is considerably more than twice that of Europe (3,754,282 square miles).
Latin America has undergone a remarkable change in the course of five centuries. The Latin America of school geographies was a vast primitive tract overrun by jaguars, boa constrictors, tapirs, llamas, monkeys, parrots, and condors, and sparsely inhabited by picturesque gauchos, stolid Indians, and indolent peons. That this Latin America has, of course, not entirely ceased to exist, goes without saying. But the primeval wilds of the Latin America of to-day are not the primeval wilds of school geographies. Their conquest has moved on much more rapidly during the 20th Century than during the preceding four centuries. Industrial needs, railroads, and highways have not merely been nibbling at them: they devoured them.
When the Iberians arrived in America they found either tribes or peoples of semi-civilised inhabitants. These natives differed from the Spanish and Portuguese invaders to such a degree that their conquest was a true creation of new societies on the ruins of ancient barbarian states. Spain and Portugal were overseas theocracies, jealously guarded from all alien trade. Unlike Saxon America, where the Dutch and English immigrants held themselves sternly apart from the Indians, pursuing them and forcing them westward, in South America conquerors and conquered intermingled. The half-castes became the masters by force of numbers, conceiving a thirst for power and a hatred of the proud and overbearing Spaniards and Portuguese.
Spain established four major colonial administrations, termed vice-royalties, each headed by a Viceroy (Virrey). In 1535 the Viceroyalty of New Spain [Virreinato de la Nueva Espańa] was established with its capital in Mexico City, to rule Spain's territories in Mexico, Central and North America, the Caribbean and the Philippines. Venezuela, in South America, was at times attached to the Viceroyalty of New Spain. In 1542 the Viceroyalty of Peru [Virreinato del Perú] was established with its capital in Lima, to govern all Spain's territory in South America. In 1717, the Viceroyalty of New Granada [Virreinato de la Nueva Grenada] was established with it's capital at Santa Fé de Bogotá, and in 1776, Viceroyalty of the River Plata [Virreinato del Rio de La Plata] was established with it's capital at Buenos Aires. The viceroyalties of Spanish America were subdivided into smaller units, Audiencias and Captaincies General, which in many cases later formed the basis for independent countries. An additional colonial administrtion in Havana, Cuba, was established as a Captaincy General. Spain claimed British Columbia and Alaska, but relinquished those claims in 1819 under the Adams-Onis Treaty.
A thirst for independence gradually possesses the Spanish and Portuguese colonies; they rebel not merely against the economic and fiscal tyranny which is crushing them, but also against the rigours of a political and moral tutelage that leaves them no political liberty. It is a great and terrible crisis. The movement of liberation fulfils itself in three phases: firstly, the colonies seek to obtain reforms of the metropolis, still anxious to remain loyal; then they consider the question of submitting themselves to European monarchs; and, finally, the republican idea appears, develops, and is victorious.
These states were dominated by military chieftains, by caudillos. From barbarism and periodic anarchy proceeded the Dictators. The history of these Republics is difficult to distinguish from that of their caudillos, those representative men who personify, at any given moment, the virtues and vices of their peoples. After the magnificent epic of Simon Bolivar, there commenced a troublous era of military anarchy. The ambition of the caudillos rent South America and multiplied her states. But the soul of germinating nationalities was steeped in the blood of battles, and in the heart of each people a national conscience was awakened. This was the troublous epoch of wars and revolutions. The South American lived a life of danger, like the Florentine of the Renaissance or the Frenchman of the Terror; but presently, in the shadow of military power, wealth was evolved and order established; property became more secure, and existence more tame and normal; it was the advent of industry, commercialism, and peace.
Despite the diversity of races intermingling in the southern continent, he is convinced that the constant and secular action of the Roman law, a common religion, and French ideals, has given these young republics a Latin conscience, intangible and sacred.
The beginning of the twentieth century witnessed something like a cosmopolitan attempt at a second conquest of Latin America. Foreign governments and individuals engaged in keen rivalry for the favors of the vast "backward" countries of Spanish and Portuguese America possessed of incalculable natural wealth and characterized by a genuinely extraordinary purchasing power. Official and unofficial overtures looking toward increased commercial and cultural relations are being made with courteous and flattering insistence.
Significant economic growth in the 21sr Century has allowed some of the countries in the region to invest in social and educational programs designed to alleviate poverty and reduce inequality. Both poverty and extreme poverty in the region fell by 3 percent from 2009 to 2010. Income inequality in Latin America and the Caribbean is exhibiting some signs of lowering, thanks inpart to targeted social investments. While improving in some countries, poverty remains an ongoing challenge, particularlyin Central America. In many countries, poverty is difficult to reduce because of restraints on social mobility due to race and social class.
Sustained economic growth and positive social developments have been nurtured by astrong regional commitment to democracy. In the first decade of the new century, there were numerous free and fair national elections resulting in peaceful transfers of power. Across the region, more than 60 percent of people surveyed prefer democratic governance to any other political system. Regional militaries have also made great strides improving professionalism, subordinating to civilian rule and respecting human rights. While many countries in Latin America and the Caribbean continue consolidating their democracies, some governments have hollowed out democratic institutions and eroded constitutional checks and balances — the key ingredients essential for a functioning democratic system.
Despite these positive economic, social, and political gains, several threats to security and stability in the region remain. Natural disasters wreak havoc and create humanitarian crises; social exclusion and poverty remain pervasive; and threats to democratic consolidation persist. Weak institutions, inadequate support for the rule of law and lack of independent judiciaries limits accountability for corrupt government officials, business leaders, and criminals.
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