Ch. 4 Latin America (fig. 1) Learning Objectives

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Chapter 4: Latin America

  • Rountree, et. al. as modified by
  • Joe Naumann, UMSL

Ch. 4 Latin America (fig. 4.1)

Learning Objectives

  • First chance to integrate foundation concepts with a relatively unfamiliar region, and compare regions
  • Understand Latin America’s culture, and how colonization has affected it
  • Know about the Andes and the Amazon
  • Understand these concepts and models:
  • -Agrarian Reform
  • -Dependency Theory
  • -Dollarization
  • -Growth poles
  • -Altiplano
  • -El Nino
  • -Maquiladora
  • -Mercosur


  • Latin America has 17 countries
    • Colonized by Spain & Portugal (Iberian countries)
    • Large, diverse populations
      • 490 million people total
      • Indian and African presence
      • 75% of the people live in cities
      • Several megacities (more than 10 million people)
    • Industrialization & development grew since 1960s
      • Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) proposes to integrate economies of Latin America, North America and the Caribbean (except Cuba)
      • Natural resource extraction remains important

Common Treatment of the Area

  • Middle America
    • From Mexico south through Panama
      • The Caribbean coastal area has much in common with the islands, culturally and economically
    • The islands of the Caribbean
  • South America
    • The remainder of what Rowntree refers to as Latin America.
  • Latin America, for many authors, encompasses both Middle America and South America
  • South American Location
  • Mostly east of North America
  • Does not extend as far south toward the pole as North America extends north toward the pole. Has climatic implications
  • NO

Neotropical Diversity

  • Much of the region lies in the tropics, but not all
    • Neotropics: tropical ecosystems of the Western Hemisphere
      • Large species diversity, inspired Darwin
  • Environmental Issues Facing Latin America
      • Relatively large land area and low population density has minimized environmental degradation
      • Latin America has the opportunity to avoid mistakes that other regions have made
      • Brazil and Costa Rica have conservation movements
    • The Destruction of Tropical Rainforests
      • Deforestation is the most common environmental problem in Latin America

Rainforests may help create the humidity needed for tropical precipitation.

  • Major oxygen producer – can we risk losing it?

Environmental Geography

  • Destruction of Tropical Rainforests (
    • Affected regions: Atlantic coastal forests of Brazil and Pacific forests of Central America
    • Causes: agriculture, settlement, and ranching
      • Grassification: conversion of tropical forest to pasture
    • Concerns: loss of biological diversity
      • Tropical rainforests: 6% of Earth’s landmass but 50% of species
  • Urban Environmental Challenges: Valley of Mexico
      • -Air pollution, smog
      • -Water resources: quality & quantity
      • -Sinking land: occurring as Mexico City draws down aquifer
      • -Modern urban challenges: squatter settlements
      • But Curitaba is a “Green City”

Environmental Issues in Latin America (Fig. 4.3)

Western Mountains & Eastern Shields

  • The Andes
    • Relatively young, 5,000 miles long; 30 peaks over 20K feet
    • Contain valuable metals and minerals
    • Altiplano: treeless, elevated plain in Peru and Bolivia
  • The Uplands of Mexico and Central America
    • Most major cities and population found here
    • Rich volcanic soils
  • The Shields
    • Large upland plateaus of exposed crystalline rock
      • Brazilian shield is the largest, covering most of Brazil
      • Has natural resources and settlement

Physical Geography of Latin America (Fig. 4.7)

Some Key Physical Areas

  • Sierra Madre Oriental & Occidental
  • Llanos
  • Guiana Highlands
  • Brazilian Highlands
  • Altiplano
  • Andes
  • Mountains
  • Greater Antilles
  • Lesser Antilles
  • Amazon
  • Central
  • Plateau of
  • Mexico
  • Mato Grosso
  • Pampa
  • Patagonia

Middle America: Hazardous

  • One of the most hazardous areas in the world to live.
    • West Coast subduction zone
      • Active volcanoes
      • Earthquake prone
      • Tsunamis – coastal flooding
    • Caribbean Hurricane Prone
      • Wind damage
      • Flooding damage



Click on the sign to see the video

Environmental Geography

  • River Basins and Lowlands
    • Amazon Basin
      • Largest river system in world by volume; second in length
      • Draws from nine countries
    • Plata Basin
      • Region’s second largest river watershed; economically productive
  • Climate
      • Little temperature variation in many areas
      • Larger regional variations in precipitation
    • El Nino
      • Warm Pacific current that usually arrives along coastal Ecuador and Peru in December
        • Regional weather upsets (drought, torrential rain, flooding)
  • Major Influences:
  • Southeast Trade Winds, the Andes Mountains, & the Peru Current

Climate Map of Latin America (Fig. 4.11)

Altitudinal Zonation & Climate

  • Windward side will be wet and leeward side will be dry
  • Windward
  • Leeward


  • Vertical Climate Zones and Agriculture

Altitudinal Zonation in Action

  • 12,000’
  • 3,600 m
  • Sea
  • Level
  • 6,000’
  • 2000’
  • 2,000 m
  • 600 m
  • Sea
  • Level
  • (Hot Land)
  • Bananas, Cocoa, Sugar, Rice
  • (Temperate Land)
  • Coffee, Rice, Corn, Sugar
  • (Cold Land)
  • Corn, Wheat, Potato
  • (Frost Land)
  • Tierra Caliente
  • Tierra Templada
  • Tierra Fria
  • Tierra Nevada
  • Tierra Helada

Snow at the Equator – temperature drops 3.5ºF per 1000 ft. elevation

Dominance of Cities

  • The Pattern
    • Interior lowlands of South America sparsely populated
      • Brazilia: an attempt to draw more development to the interior of Brazil – a growth pole
    • Higher population in Central America and Mexico interior plateaus
    • Dramatic population growth in 1960s and ’70s
  • The Latin American City
    • Urbanization began in 1950s; today 75% urbanized
    • Urban primacy: a country has a primate city 3 to 4 times larger than any other city in the country
    • Urban form
    • Reflects colonial origins and contemporary growth
    • Latin American City Model
      • Squatter settlements: makeshift housing on land not legally owned or rented by urban migrants, usually in unoccupied open spaces in or near a rapidly growing city

Population Map of Latin America (Fig. 4.12)

Latin American City Model (Fig. 4.13)

  • Disamenity: a zone of established slums much like the peripheral squatter settlements
  • In Situ Accretion: a transition zone from the inner ring of affluence to the outer ring of poverty – modest housing interspersed with unkempt areas.
  • Periferico: circumferential, outer highway

Population and Settlement (cont.)

  • The Latin American City (cont.)
    • Rural-to-Urban Migration
      • Since the 1950s, peasants began to migrate to urban areas
        • Mechanization of agriculture, population pressure, consolidation of lands
  • Patterns of Rural Settlement
      • 130 million people (25%) live in rural areas
    • Rural Landholdings
      • Large estates used the best lands, relied on mixture of hired, tributary, and slave labor
      • Latifundia: Long-observed pattern of maintaining large estates
        • Feudal system transferred from Spain to the “New World”
      • Minifundia: pattern associated with peasants farming small plots for their own subsistence
      • Agrarian reform: a popular but controversial strategy to redistribute land to peasant farmers

Pop. & Settlement

  • Patterns of Rural Settlement (cont.)
    • Agricultural Frontiers
      • Brazilian Amazon settlement is controversial
        • Short-term benefits
        • Long-term disaster
      • Provided peasants with land (???), tapped unused resources, shored up political boundaries
  • Population Growth and Movements
      • Rapid growth throughout most of the century followed by slower growth
        • Family planning: counter-cultural & counter-religious
        • Declining Total Fertility Rates (TFRs) since 1980s
    • European Migration
      • Migration encouraged to till soils and “whiten” the mestizo population (of mixed European and Indian ancestry)
        • Many Europeans immigrated between 1870s and 1930s

Pop. & Settlement

  • Population Growth and Movements (cont.)
    • Asian Migration
      • Many Chinese and Japanese between 1870s and 1930s
        • Former president of Peru a Japanese descendent
      • New wave of immigrants from South Korea
    • Latino Migration and Hemispheric Change
      • Economic opportunities spurred migrations within Latin America, or from Mexico to the U.S.
      • Political turmoil, civil wars caused migration

Effects of Central America’s Mountains

  • Country
  • Population
  • Physiologic density
  • Guatemala
  • 12.3 million
  • 696.6 per sq. mi.
  • Honduras
  • 6.2 million
  • 539.1
  • El Salvador
  • 6.1 million
  • 1155.2
  • Nicaragua
  • 4.8 million
  • 157.2
  • Costa Rica
  • 3.5 million
  • 316.8
  • Panama
  • 2.8 million
  • 331.1
  • Belize
  • 240,000
  • 451.2

Principal Latin American Migration Flows (Fig. 4.14)

Repopulating a Continent

  • The Decline of Native Populations
    • There were many complex civilizations in Latin American before Europeans arrived
      • 1500: population of 47 million; 1650: 5 million
      • Causes:
        • disease,
        • warfare,
        • forced labor,
        • collapse of food production system

Out of the Loop

  • Indian Survival
    • Largest populations of Indians today: Mexico, Guatemala, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia
    • Indians trying to secure recognized territory in their countries
      • Comarca: loosely defined territory similar to a province or homeland, where Indians have political and resource control


  • SOURCE AREAS from which radiated ideas, innovations, and ideologies that changed the world beyond.
  • MA Hearths
  • Aztecs
  • Mayans

Inca Culture Hearth

Machu Pichu – terraced mountain top Inca city

Terraces at Machu Pichu


  • Bridge building and mountain roads
  • Irrigation
  • Surgery through the skull
  • Highly organized social/economic structure
  • Effective management of conquered peoples

Cultural Patterns

  • Patterns of Ethnicity and Culture
      • Racial caste system – Spanish legacy: blanco (European), mestizo (mixed ancestry), indio (Indian), negro (African)
      • Colonial structure – transplanted feudalism
        • Peninsulares –
        • Creoles –
        • Mestizo –
        • European/African mix
        • Native Americans (Indians) & Africans
      • Independence equality of Peninsulares & Creoles
      • Blancos dominated social, political, & economic systems for more than a century

Patterns of Culture

    • Languages
      • About 2/3 Spanish, 1/3 Portuguese speakers
      • Indigenous languages in central Andes, Mexico, Guatemala
    • Blended Religions
      • 90% Roman Catholic (nominally)
        • El Salvador, Uruguay have sizeable Protestant populations
      • Syncretic religions:
        • Voodoo
        • Catholicism and African religions, with Brazil’s carnival as an example

Catholic Influence

  • Traditionally provided education & health care
  • Established many of the social mores
  • Higher clergy often came from the aristocracy and supported the status quo
  • Social role of the Church has grown in some places becoming an advocate for the poor and disenfranchised
    • Bishop Romero in Nicaragua (assassinated)
  • Has opposed most birth control methods in countries with high birth rates and great poverty
  • Many may be Catholic “in name only”


  • Male oriented society – definitely a double standard
  • Traditionally, marriages were arranged – a greater disadvantage for women – upper class men were expected to be unfaithful
  • Admiration for the strong, forceful male
    • Dictators were often admired as much as they were feared
    • Military often a vehicle for advancement and control
    • Compromise seen as a sign of weakness
  • Male resistance to birth control -- # of male children often considered a measure of one’s manhood

Language Map of Latin America (Fig. 4.19)

Colombian Exchange

  • Amerindians Contributed:
    • Corn (maize), sweet potato, several kinds of beans, the tomato, several kinds of squash, cacao, & tobacco (Potato – from Peru)
    • Gonorrhea & rheumatoid arthritis
  • Europeans Contributed:
    • Wheat, oats, rye, & other European crops, horse, cow, sheep, pigs, chicken
    • Syphilis, small pox, chicken pox, measles, mumps, typhoid fever, influenza, etc. – African slaves also brought tropical diseases for which Amerindians had no immunity or resistance

European Settlement

  • Initially drawn to areas of Incan rule and wealth (Spanish) – “God, Glory, & Gold”
    • At first kept the Inca as a puppet ruler
    • Quickly turned to serfdom
  • Hacienda was the New World “Manor”
    • Land seen as the symbol of and source of wealth
    • Land Alienation transfer of Amerindian lands to European ownership
    • Amerindians became the “serfs”

Redrawing the Map

    • Cycles of antagonism and cooperation
      • Organization of American States (OAS)
      • MERCOSUR (Southern Cone Common Market)
  • Iberian Conquest and Territorial Division
      • Treaty of Tordesillas divided South America between Spain and Portugal
    • Revolution and Independence
      • Creoles led revolutions, resulting in the creation of new countries
    • Persistent Border Conflicts

Shifting Political Boundaries (Fig. 4.21)

Geopolitical Framework

  • Iberian Conquest and Territorial Division
    • The Trend Toward Democracy
      • Long independence, but political stability has been a problem
      • Democratic elections since 1980s
      • Most of the countries are free-market democracies
  • Regional Organizations
      • Supranatural organizations: governing bodies that include several states
      • Subnational organizations: groups that represent areas of people within the state

Regional Organizations

    • Trade Blocks
      • To foster internal markets and reduce trade barriers
        • Latin American Free Trade Association (LAFTA), Central American Common Market (CACM), Andean Group, NAFTA, Mercosur
    • Insurgencies and Drug Traffickers
      • Guerrilla groups have controlled large portions of their countries through violence and intimidation
        • FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia); ELN (National Liberation Army)
        • Colombia has highest murder rate in the world
      • Drug cartels: powerful and wealthy organized crime syndicates
  • Rebel-held areas of Colombia
  • Notice the relationship between coca growing areas and insurgency. The drugs supply the money to support the movement.

Long-standing Conditions

  • Poverty – widening gap between rich & poor
  • Military governments & dictators until recently
  • Rule by the “aristocracy”
  • Rather rigid social structure – Amerindians usually left out of the “loop.”
  • In agriculture, trapped in an international economic order they cannot change
    • One crop economies
    • Products which aren’t necessities
    • A cartel like OPEC won’t work

Important Recent Developments

  • Mexico’s “one-party democracy” seems to have ended – Presidente Fox of PAN
  • Democratically elected governments in all countries except Cuba –
    • even in Cuba communism is changing due to the loss of Soviet/Russian financial assistance
    • When Castro retires (or probably when he dies) there may be greater change – i.e., the Pope’s visit would have been unheard of 20 years ago
    • One can even see the possibility of the resumption of U.S. diplomatic relations on the horizon

A Glimpse of Mexico

  • Click on the map to see the video

Dependent Economic Growth

      • Most Latin American countries are “middle income”
        • Extreme poverty in the region, however
  • Development Strategies
      • Import substitution: policies that foster domestic industry by imposing inflated tariffs on all imported goods
    • Industrialization
    • Maquiladoras and Foreign Investment
      • Maquiladoras: Mexican assembly plants lining U.S. border
      • Other Latin American countries attracting foreign companies
    • The Informal Sector
      • Provision of goods & services without government regulation
      • Self-employment: construction, manufacturing, vending, etc.
  • Tijuana
  • Nogales
  • Ciudad
  • Juarez
  • Matamoros
  • Reynosa
  • Monterrey
  • Chihuahua
  • Initiated in the 1960s
  • Assembly plants in Mexico that pioneered the migration of industries in the 1970s
  • Today
    • >4,000 maquiladoras
    • >1 million employees
  • Modern industrial plants
  • Assemble imported, duty-free components/raw materials
  • Export the finished products
  • Mostly foreign-owned (U.S., Japan)
  • 80% of goods reexported to U.S.
  • Tariffs limited to value added during assembly
  • Maquiladora products
  • Electronic equipment
  • Electric appliances
  • Auto parts
  • Clothing
  • Furniture
    • Mexico gains jobs & Mexican workers have more money to spend on both Mexican and U.S.-made products.
    • Foreign owners benefit from cheaper labor costs.
    • Regional development
    • Development of an international growth corridor between Monterrey and Dallas - Fort Worth
  • Effective 1 January 1994
  • Established a trade agreement between Mexico, Canada and the US, which:
    • Reduced and regulated trade tariffs, barriers, and quotas between members
    • Standardized finance & service exchanges
    • May expand membership
  • How has Mexico benefited from NAFTA? Will Chile join it?
  • Foremost, it promises a higher standard of living – more people with higher incomes may also buy more U.S. products.
  • NAFTA creates more jobs for Mexicans as US companies begin to invest more heavily in the Mexican market.
  • Mexican exporters increase their sales to the US and Canada.
  • Is that the entire story?
  • Assemblers
  • Skilled Labor
  • $1.55
  • $17.38
  • $2.87
  • $20.21
  • $0
  • $5
  • $10
  • $15
  • $20
  • $25
  • Mexico
  • U.S.
  • History shows that over time, wages will increase in Mexico, closing the gap somewhat

Economic and Social Development (cont.)

  • Primary Exports
      • Latin America specialized in commodities into the 1950s
        • Bananas, coffee, cacao, grains, tin, rubber, petroleum, etc.
    • Agricultural Production
      • Since 1960s, agriculture has become more diversified and mechanized
      • Machinery, hybrid crops, chemical fertilizers, pesticides, make agriculture very productive
    • Mining and Forestry
      • Products: silver, zinc, copper, iron ore, bauxite, gold, oil, gas
      • Mexico, Venezuela, Ecuador export oil
      • Mining becoming mechanized, laying off workers
      • Logging
        • Exportation of wood pulp provide short-term cash infusion
        • Plantation forests of introduced species replace diverse native forests

Economic and Social Development (cont.)

  • Latin America in the Global Economy
      • Dependency theory
        • Dependency theory holds that expansion of European capitalism created Latin American condition of underdevelopment
          • Creates prosperous cores and dependent, poor peripheries
        • Increased economic integration within Latin America and dominance of U.S. market
    • Neoliberalism as Globalization
      • Neoliberal policies: stress privatization, export production, and few restrictions on imports
        • Benefits include increased trade and more favorable terms for debt repayment; most political leaders are embracing it
          • Some signs of discontent with neoliberalism and support for reduction of poverty and inequality

Latin America in the Global Economy

    • Dollarization
      • Dollarization: process in which a country adopts (in whole or in part) the U.S. dollar as its official currency
        • Full dollarization – U.S. dollar becomes only currency
          • Until 2000, Panama was the only fully dollarized Latin American country
          • Ecuador also became fully dollarized in 2000
          • El Salvador considering
        • Limited dollarization more common strategy
          • U.S. dollars circulate with country’s national currency
      • Tends to reduce inflation, eliminate fears of currency devaluation, and reduce costs of trade

Developing countries seek a bigger and better “piece of the pie”

  • Banana plantations are declining in importance in Costa Rica, whereas there are growing numbers of workers in high-tech fields and tertiary and quaternary activities.

Social Development

      • Marked improvements since 1960
        • Declining child mortality rate, along with higher rates for life expectancy and educational attainment
          • Most countries had child mortality cuts of 50% or more
          • Important role for non-govt. organizations (NGOs)
          • Humanitarian organizations, churches, community activists
        • Still, regional social differences within countries
    • Race and Inequality
      • Relative tolerance, but Amerindians and blacks over-represented among the poor
        • Hard to ignore ethnicity and race when explaining contrasts in income and availability of services

Mapping Poverty and Prosperity (Fig. 4.29)

Status of Women

      • Many women work outside the home (30%-40%)
        • Lower than rate in U.S. but comparable to many European countries
      • Legally, women can vote, own property, and sign for loans, but less likely than men to do so
        • Reflective of patriarchal tendencies
      • Low illiteracy rates
        • Highest rates in Central America
      • Trend toward smaller families
        • Related to education and workforce participation

Monroe Doctrine & U.S. Intervention

  • Panama – aided it’s revolt for independence
  • Guatemala
  • Nicaragua– helped create Somoza dictatorship
  • Haiti
  • Dominican Republic
  • Mexico (took ½ Mexico’s territory) – 1912 invasion to capture Pancho Villa (failed)
  • Spanish American War – took Puerto Rico & kept right to intervene in Cuba until 1935

U.S. Intervention Since 1960

  • Cuba – Bay of Pigs, Cuban missile crisis, economic embargo – relations now improving
  • Troops to Dominican Republic (????)
  • Illegal Iran-Contra involvement in Nicaraguan civil war
  • Troops to Grenada
  • Invasion of Panama to capture its president Noriega – brought to U.S. tried for drug charges and imprisoned in U.S.
  • Intervention in Haiti to restore president

Perceptions Differ

  • The U.S. likes to be perceived as a friendly neighbor & upholder of principles of human dignity. – Not easily accomplished when one is a big power seeking its best interests
  • Middle & South American perspective
    • “Gringo” isn’t a complimentary term
    • U.S. often called “the colossus of the north.”
    • U.S. often supported dictators if they were avowedly “anti-communist.” – disastrous in Cuba & Nicaragua
    • U.S as an economically imperialistic country


  • Latin America is the first region fully colonized by Europe
  • Demographic recovery slow after early population decline
  • Latin America is rich in natural resources
    • But will resources be exploited for short-term gain or sustainability?
  • Active informal economy, rapid development
  • End of Chapter 4: Latin America

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