Latin America is a region of startling physical contrasts which stretches 7,000 miles southward from the Mexican-U.S. border to the tip of Tierra del Fuego on Cape Horn. It is a region of diverse geography which has influenced the development of unique Latin American nations. There are two dominant characteristics of the landscape: large mountain ranges and vast river systems. The mountain ranges form the backbone of the landmass, with peaks of about 22,000 feet. Due to their relative impassibility, they have hindered trade and communications in Mexico and the nations in Latin America. These mountain ranges have separated nations from each other as well as individual regions with nations. The three river systems (the Río de la Plata, the Amazon, and the Orinoco) lie in rural areas, and have also impeded the development of transportation and settlements. Modern technology however has helped to bridge these geological barriers and help create individual nations and strong trade markets. In the west, the majority of the populations are located inland rather than on the coast. None of the major cities are ports, and there are few harbors available. This is in sharp contrast the eastern coast where the majority of the cities are ports.
There are five distinct climate regions in Latin America:
- High Mountains
- Tropical Jungles
- Temperate coastal plains
- Temperate highlands
The Temperate highlands and coastal plains tend to be the least populated. With the exception of the Maya, the majority of Latin American civilization has risen from the highlands of the Andes and Mexico. These variations in climate have resulted in the development of uneven population distributions. The Amazon region of Brazil, the desert of Patagonia in Argentina, and the wastelands in Mexico support few inhabitants. Meanwhile the Brazil's coast, the plain along the Río de la Plata estuary in Argentina, and the central plateau of Mexico contain the majority of the population of their respective countries. Rainfall also varies between the regions, with Mexico having no significant rivers while Brazil having the Amazon. However what water sources that are available have the potential for hydroelectric power.
Mexico and Venezuela are among the world's largest oil producers, while Mexico has large petroleum reserves. Colombia, Bolivia, and Ecuador also produce crude oil. Over the centuries exports have included copper, silver, gold, and tin, as well as large quantities of coffee. The plains of Brazil, Mexico, and Argentina are very fertile, being able to support cattle, sheep, and wheat. Brazil maintains enormous sugar plantations within it's coastal areas.
Latin America's resources have played a significant part in the development of Europe and North America. Spain used Latin America's gold and silver to fund it's wars and diplomacy in Europe, while the origins of the Industrial Revolution have been traced back to resources collected from Latin America. Meanwhile, the method of the collection of resources within Latin America itself had affected it's history. History will remember the colonization of Latin America by Spain and Portugal, and the exploitation of it's resources. This policy of stripping the conquered land of resources was followed by subsequent "visitors". Along with the exploitation of it's resources, it's own indigenous people have been forced to participate in the exploitation as labor. This practice continues till today when the decision to plant bananas in Guatemala (instead of corn and other local foods) was made to increase exports, but left many without a sufficient food supply. And the unchecked expansion of capitalism has resulted in ecological disasters for the region and depletion of available resources.
Why Study Latin American History?
This community created work aims to explain the economy, politics, and society of Latin America throughout history. It is the collection of events and occurrences which have helped to shape Latin American history.