Chapter 3: Latin America and the Caribbean Physical Diversity

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Chapter 3:
Latin America and the Caribbean

Physical Diversity

  • Three structural landforms

  • Eastern Highlands

  • Central Brazil

  • Southern Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana

  • Southern Argentina

  • Central Lowlands—South America

  • Western Alpine Zone

  • Southern Chile

  • Argentina

  • Into Central America and Mexico

Weather and Climate

  • Varied as its landforms

  • Flat-topped mountains

  • Volcanoes

  • Notable are its extensive areas of tropic climates

  • Savannas and rainforests

Weather and Climate

  • Tropical Rainforest

  • Tropical Savanna

  • Temperate Savanna

  • Humid Subtropical

  • Mediterranean

  • Marine West Coast

  • Highland Tundra

  • Steppe

  • Desert

  • Figure 3-6

Latin American Climates

The Colonial Period

  • Spanish conquest

  • 1493 Pope issued decree granting half of non-Christian world to Spain and half to Portugal

  • Ratified and signed by Spain and Portugal as the Treaty of Tordesillas

  • Figure 3-8

Impact of Colonialism

  • Spanish Conquest by Conquistadores —Gold, God, and glory

  • Native Indian civilizations

  • All sustained by agriculture

  • Politically and socially advanced

  • Urban

  • Types

  • Aztec—Most urbanized

  • Tenochtitlan—One of the largest cities on Earth (Mexico)
  • Maya—Most ancient

  • Guatemala and Mexico
  • Chibcha

  • Agricultural villages in Columbia
  • Inca

  • Noted for infrastructure development
  • High mountains of Southern Peru and Bolivia
  • Excelled at authoritarian social and political order

European New World Settlement

  • Spanish

  • Caribbean islands

  • Mexico

  • British and French

  • Caribbean island

  • Parts of South America

  • Portugal—South America

  • Economic relationships

  • Encomienda—New World version of European manorial system

  • Mercantilism—Exploitative, exclusive trade between colony and mother country

  • Raw materials from colony to mother country

  • Finished goods to colony at exorbitant prices


  • Social stratification

  • Portuguese and Spaniards

  • Mestizos-European-Indian mix

  • Mulattos-white-black mix

  • Zambos-Black-Indian mix

  • Indians

  • Blacks

Distinctness of Catholicism in Latin America

  • Formal

  • Small European upper-class

  • Urban centers

  • Emphasis on piety, faith, and Sacraments

  • Emphasis on devotional societies, charities, and social clubs

  • Nominal (“in name only”)

  • Rural peasant population and urban poor

  • Anticlericalism

  • Folk

  • Mixture of European Catholicism and non-Catholic faith and beliefs

  • American Indian

  • Pre-Columbian animalistic and medieval catholic customs

  • Centered in mountains and valleys

  • Spiritism

  • Caribbean-based

  • Black and mulattos

  • Aspects of Voodoo and Santería

Era of Independence

  • Lingering effects of colonialism

  • Continued social stratification

  • Peninsulares—Europeans born in the Iberian peninsula

  • Criollos—Those born in American colonies

  • Fundamental inequities in landholding

  • Latifundos—large estates

  • Three forms

  • Plantations

  • Haciendas

  • Estancias

  • Centrality of marketplaces


  • Predominantly an urban society now

  • 75% urbanized

  • Rural to urban migration

  • Self-perpetuating cycle of growth

  • Large metropoli (megacities)

  • Mexico City 23M

  • Sao Paolo 20M

  • Buenos Aires 14M

  • Rio de Janiero 12M

  • Shantytowns/squatter settlements

Social and Religious Change

  • Totalitarian regimes

  • Typically associated with military power

  • Juntas

  • Oligarchs

  • Began to fade after World War II

  • Urbanization

  • Industrialization

  • Democratic political institutions developed

  • Threats to institutional Catholic Church

  • Secularism

  • Protestant fundamentalism

  • Liberation theology


  • Great agricultural potential

  • Great mineral wealth

  • Economies regressed during 1980’s

  • Huge international debt

  • Large disparity between rich and poor

  • Most countries produce a limited number of commodities and are subject to market volatility

  • Bananas, coffee, oil, sugar, minerals, etc.

Economic Change

  • Need for development of capital

  • Neocolonialism—Depending on external sources for investment to grow economies

  • Debt crises

  • Vestiges of expansive borrowing

  • Brazil, Argentina, and Mexico all have had crises in recent years.

  • Privatization

  • Emphasis on multinational economic unions

  • Free Trade Across the Americas (FTAA)

  • North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)

The Latin American Debt Crisis

  • Excessive borrowing from international banks and their representatives, including the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank

  • Neither borrower nor lender paid attention to ability to repay.

  • Debt levels in 2006 in the hundreds of millions of dollars

  • Brazil—$194 million

  • Argentina—$122 million

  • Mexico—$160 million

Reactions to the Debt Crisis

  • Baker Plan (James Baker, US Secretary of State)

  • Bridge loans to cover interest on the debt

  • Assumption that debt to cover debt is acceptable

  • Bought time for lenders and borrowers

  • Brady Plan (Nicholas Brady, US Treasury Secretary)

  • Strategies acknowledging that debtors may be unable to repay debts without severely impacting their development

  • Proposal to forgive a significant part of debt

  • IMF and World Bank guarantees for remaining debt.

  • Requirements of debtor countries to enact changes in economic practices

  • Changes sometimes had social and political ramifications.

Regional Economic and Trade Groups

Latin America Economic Trends

Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean

  • Mexico

  • Central America

  • The Caribbean

The Nations, Cities, and Major Highways of Middle America

Mexico: Great Development Potential

  • 72% of all land in Middle America

  • 57% of population of that area

  • A land of revolutions

  • Strangled by the mercantile system

  • Stunted by class stratification

  • Lapsed into political chaos and despotism in 1800s

  • Santa Anna—Flamboyant demagogue

  • Benito Juarez—Liberal that followed Santa Anna in 1855

  • Dictatorship under Porfirio Díaz

  • Revolution between 1910 and 1917

  • Since 1917, relatively politically stable

Mexico: National Unity

  • Political stability brought beginnings of economic and social development.

  • Three approaches to strengthen national allegiance

  • Establish public education as a national priority.

  • Glorifying Mexico’s “Indianness”

  • Encouragement of political activism by lower-class masses

  • Political parties

  • Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) is dominant—Almost one-party state until 1990s.

  • Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) is leftist coalition.

  • National Action Party (PAN) is a pro-business alliance; its leader was elected president in 2000—first non-PRI president.

Promising Development Strategies

  • Tourism

  • Major source in Mexico, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, the Bahamas, the Dominican Republic, and parts of the Lesser Antilles

  • Less effective where there were beaches, Indian ruins, non-proximity to the US, or where political instability exists

  • Trade

  • Multinational economic unions

Principal Mineral-Producing Areas of Middle America

The Nations, Cities, and Major Highways of Middle America


  • Means “milling or producing”

  • US factories

  • Less stringent regulation than in US

  • Located on border towns on US border

  • Nuevo Laredo, Mexico

  • Ciudad Juarez, Mexico

Many Mexicos: Seven Distinct Regions

Mexico Regions

  • Border Cities

  • Maquiladoras

  • American influence and corruption

  • American money and culture

  • Not typical of the rest of Mexico

  • Northeastern Mexico

  • Industry (Monterey and Tampico)

  • Ranching and Farming

Mexico Regions

  • Gulf Coast

  • Petrochemicals

  • Tropical Agriculture

  • Sugar, coffee, bananas, papayas, etc.

  • Yucatan Peninsula

  • Historically poor, now prospering

  • Irrigated Citrus

  • Tourism

  • Mayan Ruins, Cancun beaches

Mexico Regions

  • South

  • Acapulco and Oaxaca
  • Outside of these areas
  • Scattered Indian villages
  • Isolated
  • Rugged terrain
  • Poor

Mexico Regions

  • Core

  • Chain of volcanoes and highlands

  • Mexico City

  • 22 million people

  • One of worlds most populated cities

  • One of worlds most polluted cities

  • Air pollution
  • Traffic
  • Overpopulation
  • Squatters

Mexico Regions

  • West

  • Guadalahara

  • Semiarid region

  • Home of Mexico’s cowboy culture

Central America

  • Troubled region of six small countries

  • Serious economic and political challenges

  • Limited mineral wealth

  • Physical isolation

  • Poor transportation networks

  • Small markets for manufactured goods

  • Little changes since colonial era

  • Torn apart in 1990s by various guerilla movements, death squads, and US military intervention.

Central America

  • Six Small Countries

  • Guatemala

  • El Salvador

  • Honduras

  • Nicaragua

  • Costa Rica

  • Panama

Regions of Middle America

Historical Land Use

  • Settled in two different directions.

  • Dating back to 1500s

  • First commercial crop introduced was coffee.

  • 1850s—Family-operated coffee farms (fincas) dominated central plateau.


  • Crop that has most strongly influenced the development of Central America

  • Spaniards introduced it to the region.

  • Hispaniola in 1516

  • Central America shortly thereafter

  • Early 19th century

  • Refrigerated ships made possible commercial cultivation

  • 1890s—First shipments to Boston and New Orleans

  • Standard and United Fruit companies came to exercise large influence in many countries.

Economic Development

  • Agriculture very prominent

  • Coffee

  • Bananas

  • Irrigated cotton

  • Chilled beef

  • Cool-weather vegetables

  • Broccoli

  • Potatoes

  • Onions

  • Ornamental plants and cut flowers

  • Commercial fishing


  • The largest, the poorest, and the most politically troubled

  • Sugar, coffee, and cattle widely produced

  • Political troubles

  • ½ pop Indians, ½ pop Europeans

  • Little integration between groups

  • 36 year civil war ended in 1996
  • Death or disappearance of >200K
  • Civil unrest still around

El Salvador

  • Most densely populated

  • Migration

  • To shantytowns outside San Salvador

  • To neighboring countries

  • No agricultural frontier

  • Emphasis on industrialization

  • Relatively skilled and industrious labor force

  • Hope to be Hong Kong of Central America

  • No minerals of significance

  • Power mostly imported

  • 1992—End of deadly 12-year civil war


  • 5 times as large as El Salvador

  • Population of only 7 million; sparsely settled

  • Limited manufacturing

  • Some maquilladoras 3-40

  • Agriculture is almost sole occupation

  • Coffee, bananas


  • Largely undeveloped

  • Largely agricultural

  • No large banana plantations

Costa Rica

  • Differs from other Central American countries

  • Has developed a socioeconomic middle class

  • Spirit of national unity

  • 96% literacy

  • Well-developed infrastructure

  • Democratic government

  • Considerable regional specialization

  • Coffee, Bananas, Cut flowers, Cattle ranching

  • Large areas of National Parks have been preserved in Tropical Rainforest

  • Eco Tourism


  • Owes existence and economic vitality to US

  • Panama Canal

  • Returned to Panama control in 2000

  • Economy based on canal and trade

  • Retail, shipping, banking

  • English and Spanish spoken

  • Crossroads of the world

  • Many cultures and people from all over the world

  • US$ used widely

  • Divides country into two parts

  • East

  • Little developed rain forest

  • West

  • Numerous banana plantations along Caribbean coast

  • Beef cattle, rice, staple food crops in interior

The Caribbean

  • Greater Antilles

  • Big Islands

  • Cuba, Hispaniola, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico

  • Lesser Antilles

  • Smaller islands

  • The Bahamas, Virgin Islands, etc.

  • Continental Rim

  • Belize, Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana

  • Problems

  • Small size

  • Colonial Legacy (Table 3-4)

The Caribbean Culture Realm


  • Largest Island

  • Over half of the level land in Caribean

  • Ignored by Spaniards throughout the colonial era

  • US protectorate at beginning of 20th century

  • Tourism exploded

  • Yellow fever eradicated

  • Sugarcane became the “grass of Cuba”.

  • Havana—Mecca of gambling and nightclubs

The Cuban Revolution

  • 1959—Castro overthrows the Batista government.

  • Promises major reforms

  • Lessen Cuban dependence on foreign nations

  • Switched allegiances and dependencies on Soviet assistance
  • Breakup of USSR brought new economic challenges
  • Diversify Cuban agriculture

  • Succeeded in removing Hispanic historical prejudice against farming

  • Breakup of Berlin Wall and USSR has effects

  • 2006—Castro yields to his brother Raul.

  • Economy is terrible

  • Cuban Peso is worthless

Puerto Rico

  • US commonwealth

  • Pays no income taxes

  • No full statehood

  • Don’t vote in federal elections

  • Divided by those that want statehood and those want to remain coomonwealth

  • Three-pronged development plan

  • Industrialization

  • Agricultural improvement

  • Expansion of tourism

Hispaniola: DR and Haiti

  • Haiti

  • African and French elements

  • Almost entirely black

  • Extreme poverty Poorest nation in Western Hemisphere

  • Decay is everywhere.

  • Erratic water and power supplies in Port-au-Prince

  • Criminality and lawlessness rule

  • Recent earthquake set Haiti back further

  • Dominican Republic

  • Hispanic culutre

  • Subsistence agriculture, large ranches, and mechanized farms

  • Improving infrastructure

  • Tourism is booming.

Belize and Jamaica

  • Belize*

  • Considered Caribbean due to ethnic makeup rather than location

  • Independence from Britain in 1981, but strongly influenced by English culture.

  • Population less than 300,000

  • Tropical hardwoods and other forest products traditional base

  • Sugar and citrus have become significant exports.

  • Previously known as British Honduras

  • Jamaica

  • British influences from 1655 when captured from Spanish

  • Severe social turmoil

  • Rich in bauxite—aluminum ore

  • Unemployment chronically high

  • Crime increasing

  • Shantytowns of Kingston

  • Rastafarian marijuana dealers

Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana

  • Little known, culturally Caribbean nations

  • Settled during 16th and 17th centuries by Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, English, and French colonists

  • Guyana and French Guiana—Governed by Britain

  • Suriname—Dutch possession

  • Sugarcane

  • Importation of slaves

  • Indentured laborers from Indian subcontinent in 19th century

French Guiana, Suriname, and Guyana

  • Settled by Dutch, English, Portuguese, and Spanish

  • All three nations have fewer people than Jamaica

  • Diamonds, bauxite, and sugar

  • French Guiana is part of France and serves as the European Space Port

  • Sugarcane

  • Importation of slaves

  • Indentured laborers from Indian subcontinent in 19th century (Guyana)

South America

  • Andean Regions

  • Southern South America

  • Brazil

Countries, Selected Cities, and Major Highways of South America

Major Physiographic Regions of South America

Principal Mineral-Producing Areas of South America

Population Distribution of South America

Dominant Ethnic Groups in South America

Andean South America

  • Land of social and political fragmentation

  • Dominated by high mountainous core

  • Humid lowlands of Amazon and Orinoco river basins

  • Narrow coastal lowland

  • Countries

  • Venezuela

  • Columbia

  • Ecuador

  • Peru

  • Bolivia


  • Rich and diverse resource base—notably oil

  • Four regions

  • Andean Highlands

  • Most of Venezuelan population resides here.

  • Urban centers

  • Maracaibo Lowlands

  • Guiana Highlands

  • Under development

  • Vast iron ore and bauxite reserves

  • Llanos

  • Troubled area

  • Rough terrain

  • Breeding ground for political dictatorships

Venezuelan Economy

  • Petroleum-producing country

  • Helped country to fund social infrastructure

  • Profits threatened lately by increasing political instability

  • Iron ores and bauxite reserves

  • Urban centers

  • 87% of 26 million population resides in cities.

  • Caracas—3.6 million

  • Maracaibo

  • Valencia

  • Maracay

  • Barquisimeto

Columbia: Notorious Drug Trafficking

  • Organized crime syndicates

  • Medellin

  • Cali

  • Control major cities

  • Large expanses of rural hinterlands

  • Hired private armies

  • Guerilla bands

  • Homeless street children

  • Have engaged in many lawless activities

  • Kidnappings

  • Assassination attempts

  • Bribery of government officials

Columbia: Urban Modern Economy

  • Population is <70% urban

  • Bogota major urban center in South America

  • Cosmopolitan/7.6 million population

  • Agriculture and industrial economies


  • Deep social and economic divisions

  • Tension between rural and urban groups

  • European and Indian non-intergration

  • Notoriously unstable political environment

  • Ignored in favor of Peru during colonial era by Spain

  • Export economy

  • Bananas (Leading exporter)

  • Petroleum

  • Fish products

Ecuadorian Demographics

  • 13 million—Evenly divided

  • Rural

  • Andean Indian farmers

  • Some are still illiterate.

  • Locally focused

  • Urbanites

  • Spanish

  • Mestizos

  • More nationalistic

  • Mostly literate

  • Aspire to white-collar employment


  • Pacific Coast

  • Cold water upwelling

  • Rich fishing area
  • Sea Birds
  • Guano (mined and exported)
  • Minerals

  • Coal, oil, copper, in Andes

  • Culture- Spanish, Indian, Japanese cultures

  • Former President Alberto Fujimori

  • Current president Alejandro Toledo (1st Amerindian president of Peru)


  • Great development potential

  • One of least developed nations in Latin America

  • Minerals

  • Lead, Tin, Zinc

  • Agriculture

  • Sugar, rice, cotton

  • Coca (Cocaine) most valuable export

Southern South America

  • Known collectively as the Southern Cone.

  • Relatively prosperous

  • Well-defined middle class

  • High literacy rates

  • Nation-state well-defined/ingrained

  • Culturally unified

  • Countries

  • Chile

  • Argentina

  • Uruguay

  • Paraguay


  • Long, Narrow (10X longer than wide)

  • Economy

  • Agriculture, aquaculture

  • Grapes, apples, pears, peaches, plums, citrus

  • Markets to N. Hemisphere because seasons are opposite

  • Climate almost mirror image of N. Hemisphere from Baja to Alaska

  • Heart is the Central Valley

  • Mediterranean climate

  • Cohesive society

  • Atacama Desert

  • Very little rainfall

  • Sparsely populated

  • Minerals

  • Nitrates,Copper, Iron ore


  • Second largest territory in Latin America.

  • One of the richest agricultural bases in the world.

  • Colonial roots

  • Europeans arrived 16th century.

  • Spanish focused on gold and silver mines in arid NW.

  • Agricultural communities formed along rivers.

  • Expansion of Buenos Aires and the Pampa in 18th century.

  • Independence 1816

  • Major debt crises in early 21st century.

  • Defaulted on international debts for three days

Argentinean Economy

  • Buenos Aires and Pampa form heartland.

  • 13.3 million—Buenos Aires (primate city)

  • Manufacturing and service industries

  • Other regions

  • Pampas

  • Fertile subtropical plain

  • Home to large cattle ranches and gauchos

  • Some petroleum and metals in East Andes

  • Patagonia

  • Sparsely populated

  • Sheep raising

  • Irrigated alfalfa fields, cattle ranches, vineyards, and fruit orchards


  • One of Latin Americas smallest nations

  • One of Latin Americas richest

  • Unified Culture

  • Agricultural economy

  • 90% land used for grazing sheep and beef


  • Poor

  • Landlocked

  • Western 2/3

  • Harsh climate

  • Flooding then drought

  • Infertile soils

  • No minerals

  • Leading economic industries

  • Money laundering, drug trafficking, smuggling goods to neighboring countries

Brazil: Latin America’s Potential Economic Giant

  • Largest of all Latin American nations

  • Fifth largest country in the world

  • Geology

  • Diverse

  • Rich and extensive ore deposits

  • Gold and diamonds, iron ore, bauxite, and ferroalloys

  • Steel production

  • Largest in South America

  • One of the largest in the world

  • Greatest debt burden of any Latin American nation

  • High inflation

  • Political corruption

  • Stagnant standard of living for middle and lower classes

Brazil’s Regions

  • Traditional and modern

  • West sparsely populated

  • East densely settled

  • Six regions

  • São Paulo

São Paulo, Brazil

  • Economics

  • Most modern and productive region

  • Per capita income is far above the national average.

  • Two-thirds of total national industrial output

  • 55% of national manufacturing

  • Leading financial center

  • Leads the nation in agricultural production

  • Megacity

  • 19 million population

  • Rural to urban migration

  • Poor, illiterate, and unskilled

  • Lack access to infrastructure

  • Air pollution

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