Latin America consists of the countries of South America and some of North America (including Central America and some the islands of the Caribbean) whose inhabitants mostly speak Romance languages, although Native American languages are also spoken. Most frequently the term Latin America is restricted to countries whose inhabitants speak either Spanish or Portuguese, but the French-speaking areas of Haiti, French Guiana, and the French West Indies may also be included while French speaking Canada is not included.
Latin America is divided into 33 independent countries and 13 other political units. Brazil is by far the largest country in Latin America both in area and in population. It occupies more than 40 percent of the region's land area and has about a third of its people.
The United States, Anglophone Canada, Belize, Guyana, and several islands in the Caribbean, who have as their main language English and therefore do not belong to Latin America, may be grouped under the term Anglo-America. Suriname and the Dutch West Indies, which speak Dutch, also do not belong to Latin America.
There are many languages historically and currently spoken in Latin America: Aymara, Creole/Patois, Guarani, Tupi, Tupinamba, Mapudungun, Mayan, Nahuatl, Portuguese, Quechua, Spanish, Sranan, and many others. In Europe, Spain, Portugal, Italy and France are all considered Latin countries, which is where the term comes from. But in general terms roughly two thirds of Latin Americans speak Spanish and one third Portuguese.
Religion is highly diverse as well. The primary religion throughout Latin America is Roman Catholicism, however one might also be able to find Protestant, Pentecostal, Evangelical, Buddhist, Jewish, indigenous, and Candomblé (an Afro-Latin American religion) among the many.
The reason for these diversities is because a large percentage of the people in Latin America are of mixed blood, the result of racial intermingling among European settlers, African slaves, and American natives. This mixture of cultures and keeping of certain traditions and doing away with others has made Latin America the unique, yet very influenced culture that it has today. Culture mixes are not only about the languages and religions, but also about the dance and music of Latin America as well. A Latino is a person of Latin American heritage, or from a Latin American culture.
Etymological note: Treating the term literally, one might expect the term to apply to cultures and regions in the Americas deriving from cultures speaking Romance languages (those descended from Latin). However, French-speaking areas of the Americas, such as Quebec and Acadia in Canada, are not generally considered part of Latin America. Yet this was the original intention of the term. "Latin America" was first proposed during the French occupation of Mexico (1862-1867), when Napoleon III supported Archduke Maximilian's pretensions to be emperor of Mexico. The French hoped that an inclusive notion of "Latin" America would support their cause. Mexican citizens eventually expelled the French while retaining the term "Latino"; this is one of history's more charming ironies.
The alternative term Iberoamerica is sometimes used to refer to the nations that were formerly colonies of Spain and Portugal, as these two countries are located on the Iberian peninsula. The Organization of Ibero-American States (OEI) takes this defintion a step further, by including Spain and Portugal (often termed the Mother Countries of Latin America) among its member states, in addition to their Spanish and Portuguese speaking former colonies in America.
Countries of Latin America
Latin America, taking the term in its strict sense, is made up of the following countries:
Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, Venezuela
Other Latin American areas
The following non-independent territories can also be considered "Latin American":
Below is a table and two graphs showing, respectively, the GNI per capita (PPP) and the GDP (PPP) of each of the Latin American countries. This can be used as a rough gauge to the relative standards of living in the region. Data is from the year 2003.
|Country ||GNI (PPP) per capita ||GDP (PPP) |
|international dollars ||millions of international dollars |
|Argentina ||10,920 ||444,627 |
|Chile ||9,810 ||160,987 |
|Costa Rica ||9,040 ||38,006 |
|Mexico ||8,950 ||934,553 |
|Uruguay ||7,980 ||27,986 |
|Brazil ||7,480 ||1,371,655 |
|Colombia ||6,520 ||301,216 |
|Panama ||6,310 ||19,322 |
|Dominican Republic ||6,210 ||58,580 |
|Peru ||5,090 ||142,976 |
|El Salvador ||4,890 ||32,628 |
|Paraguay ||4,740 ||26,657 |
|Venezuela ||4,740 ||125,420 |
|Guatemala ||4,060 ||50,727 |
|Ecuador ||3,440 ||47,993 |
|Cuba ||2,800 ||31,590 |
|Honduras ||2,580 ||18,525 |
|Bolivia ||2,450 ||22,867 |
|Nicaragua ||2,400 ||13,827 |
|Haiti ||1,630 ||13,800 |
|Latin America ||7,227 ||3,883,942 |
*Data from table and graphics courtesy of World Bank web site  (http://www.worldbank.org/data/quickreference/quickref.html). Data for Cuba is from the CIA World Factbook.