Geography of Latin America, European Influence Essay
Like many of the other realms we learned about, the Latin American realm, made up of Middle America and South America, is not a realm that was safe from European invasion. Europeans played a big role in the history of the economic, political, and cultural geography of Latin America and left long-lasting evidence of their influence in the realm. Although colonization left the realm fragmented politically and economically the regions are showing signs of breaking the cycle of poverty and moving towards equality and urbanization.
A map of the realm before Europeans would look much different than it does now. On arrival the Spanish conquered the Inca of South America and continued down the western coast taking over land and exploiting the natives and their mineral deposits. Evidence of the wealth that the Spanish gained from their exploitation can be seen in the city of Lima, which soon became one of the richest cities in the world at the time. The arrival of Spanish to the north in Middle America went much like it did in the south.
The Aztecs were defeated and Amerindians were enslaved to deforest the realm for the benefit of the European colonizers. The deforestation started by the invaders began a devastating trend and today there is only about 10 percent of the indigenous vegetation left. Around the same time the Spanish were colonizing western South America and Middle America the Portuguese had arrived in what is now Brazil and began their move westward. As the arrival of Spanish colonizers left the Portuguese with a limited work force to exploit, immoral improvisation lead to a cultural impact that would change South America forever.
Millions of African slaves were brought to the realm to work for the Europeans. Almost half of all of the slaves brought to the Americas arrived on the Brazilian coast and today Brazil has South Americas largest African population. Slavery and natural destruction aren’t the only things that Europeans brought to the realm. Possibly the biggest impact of colonizers was their effect on the native population. Within years of arrival in South America an estimated 90 percent of Amazonians perished and disease in Middle America killed millions of Amerindians.
The Amerindians were moved off much of their land into towns laid out by colonizers and forced to learn Spanish and the Roman Catholic Religion. Although Spanish and Portuguese are dominant, the native culture still survives as the majority in some areas of the realm. With such serious impacts on the culture one may be concerned about the economic disparities that exist in South America but the realm has been shaping up since the independence of some major countries almost two centuries ago and economic improvement continues.
Today the Latin American realm is in transition and shows signs of pulling out of the cycle of poverty inherited from European colonization. Mexico has benefited from NAFTA and the Middle American Realm has successfully come together in CAFTA recently. The islands eastward have also developed CARICOM, leading to slow economic change in the Caribbean. Belize is transforming its economy through the production of commercial crops and seafood processing. By taking advantage of its pristine natural environment, Belize has been able to profit a lot from ecotourism.
Honduras, the third-poorest country in this realm, has also taken aim at ecotourism and will hopefully simulate the success of Belize because of the uncommon level of biodiversity natural to the country. Even the small-island developing economies are showing positive signs. Though many of the eastern islands have benefitted largely through tourism Trinidad and Tobago seem to have the most momentum with large reserves of natural gas. As the world’s leading exporter of ammonia and methanol and the largest liquefied natural gas supplier to the United States the future looks very bright for Trinidad and Tobago.
However, Industrial Development is certainly not restricted to the Central Americas. Brazil is considered one of the biggest emerging markets exporting oil, steel, and Embraer aircraft. Brazil has large oil reserves and is growing rapidly; as a result it is expected to be center stage for the beginning of the twentieth century and has been largely successful in its movement to eliminate poverty and maintain growth in the process. Peru, the fifth largest producer of gold in the world, has extensive mineral deposits as well as oil reserves and a thriving fishing industry because of its extreme coastal exposure.
Agriculture is also a contributor to the booming economy of Peru; some of their most profitable exports include asparagus, olives, and lettuce. In Argentina industrial development such as better transportation and more efficient agricultural machinery has led to highly profitable meat and grain production. Thanks to the riches accumulated Argentina, with 91 percent of its population urbanized, is one of the realms most urbanized countries and is even more urbanized than the U. S or Western Europe.
In addition to the economic transition that most of the realm is embarking on, political reform is also on the rise. Recently in Chile a new president was elected after two decades of the same ruling party. This new leader led the country with success and made Chile the richest economy in South America. Even in Bolivia, a country with a history of harsh Amerindian mistreatment, new leadership is nationalizing the countries resources and contributing to what is now being called the Amerindian reawakening.
Political reform and religious reform are the biggest contributors to the growing awareness of the mistreatment of Amerindians and the decimation that occurred on European arrival and the liberation theology movement of the 1950s is an example. With European colonization having such a huge impact on the realm it is nearly impossible to tell what may have happened if they never arrived. Almost a whole realm of people and culture were lost in years. Some of the native culture survives and lives on, in poverty, as a result of the system left behind by their oppressors.
But since the end of the colonial era much progress has been made. Most countries in the realm are on their way to if not already having a strong economy. Brazil and Chile are two examples of South American success already. As the other countries continue to climb economically the countries worse off are showing signs of a better future. The future may be bright for Mexico and Belize, and hopefully the political reform and movement towards economic equality continues in Bolivia as this realm is showing strong signs that it will overcome the major cultural and economic setbacks left over from colonial times.
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