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Encyclopedia > Latin American

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":

Living standards

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.

GNI per capita (PPP)
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 [1] (http://www.worldbank.org/data/quickreference/quickref.html). Data for Cuba is from the CIA World Factbook.

External links

  Results from FactBites:
LatinNews.com (1110 words)
International investors and global economic strategists are inclined to dismiss Latin America's decent economic growth over the past couple of years as a function of the commodity cycle.
There are at least another couple of reasons, peculiar to Latin America, which have helped to produce two consecutive years of 4%-plus growth.
Only in the broadest sense can any of these be seen through the lens of the 'judicial reform' that many have been urging on the region: their nature is eminently political and their resolution is more a precondition than a component of that 'judicial reform'.
  More results at FactBites »



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