Sunday, 12 January 2014

South America

South America, fourth largest of the Earth's seven continents (after Asia, Africa, and North America), occupying 17,820,900 sq km (6,880,700 sq mi), or 12 percent of the Earth's land surface. It lies astride the equator and tropic of Capricorn and is joined by the Isthmus of Panama, on the north, to Central and North America. The continent extends 7,400 km (4,600 mi) from the Caribbean Sea on the north to Cape Horn on the south, and its maximum width, between Ponta do Seixas, on Brazil's Atlantic coast, and Punta Pariñas, on Peru's Pacific coast, is 5,160 km (3,210 mi).
South America has a 2008 estimated population of 384 million, or 6 percent of the world's people. The continent comprises 12 nations. Ten of the countries are Latin: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela. Two of the nations are former dependencies: Guyana, of the United Kingdom, and Suriname, of The Netherlands. South America also includes French Guiana, an overseas department of France. Located at great distances from the continent in the Pacific Ocean are several territories of South American republics: the Juan Fernández Islands and Easter Island (Chile) and the Galápagos Islands (Ecuador). Nearer the coast, in the Atlantic Ocean, is the Fernando de Noronha Archipelago, which is a Brazilian territory, and, farther south, the British dependency of the Falkland Islands, which is claimed by Argentina as the Islas Malvinas. The coastline of South America is relatively regular except in the extreme south and southwest, where it is indented by numerous fjords.
South America consists of four upland provinces, extending inland from the coasts, and, between them, three lowland provinces. The northern and western fringes are dominated by the Andes Mountains, the second highest mountain range in the world. Most of the eastern coast is fringed by the broader—and generally less elevated—highland areas of the Guiana and Brazilian massifs and the Patagonian Plateau. The main lowland is the vast Amazon Basin in the equatorial part of the continent; it is drained by the Amazon River, the world's second longest river. The Orinoco River drains a lowland in the north; to the south lies the Paraguay-Paraná basin. The lowest point in South America (40 m/ 131 ft below sea level) is on Península Valdés in eastern Argentina, and the greatest elevation (6,960 m/22,834 ft) is atop Aconcagua in western Argentina, the highest peak in the Western Hemisphere.
A Geological History
The oldest and most stable structural element of the continent is the shield area of the Brazilian and Guiana highlands of the east and northeast. It comprises a Precambrian (before 570 million years ago) complex of igneous and metamorphic rocks. In most places the shield is overlaid by sedimentary rocks, mostly of Paleozoic age (570 million to 225 million years ago), although some areas of younger basalts occur, notably in southern Brazil. Fossils found in the Brazilian Highlands offer evidence of continental drift, indicating that in the Permian period the continent was linked to Gondwanaland, a great landmass incorporating Africa and Asia.
The complex that underlies the Patagonian Plateau is largely mantled by sediments deposited in the Mesozoic Era (225 million to 65 million years ago) and Tertiary Period (65 million to 1.6 million years ago) and by basalts of recent formation.
Material eroded from the old shield areas contributed to the thick deposits of sediments in the surrounding seas. These sedimentary formations were uplifted repeatedly in the Mesozoic Era to form the coast ranges of Chile and southern Peru and the higher and more extensive Andes. This mountain-building process, which continued through the Tertiary Period, was accompanied by intrusions of magma (molten rock) and by the formation of volcanoes. Volcanic and seismic activity continues all up and down the continent's western rim. The glaciers of the southernmost Andes are remnants of the great ages of glaciation of the Quaternary Period (beginning 2.5 million years ago). The erosion of the highlands continues to contribute sediments to surrounding lowlands.
B Natural Regions
Rising abruptly from the northwestern and western coasts of the continent are the Andes. They consist of a single chain in Venezuela, in the north, and through much of Chile and Argentina, in the south, but the central part of the mountain system consists of two or three parallel axes of mountains, known as cordilleras, or ranges. In southwestern Bolivia and southern Peru, a region of large intermontane plateaus called the Altiplano separates the ranges. In Peru and Argentina the ranges are separated by relatively narrow but deep valleys. Among the two dozen peaks that exceed an elevation of 17,000 ft (equivalent to 5,182 m) are a number of active volcanoes located in south central Chile, southern Peru and Bolivia, and Ecuador.
The vast uplands of Guiana, in the northeast, and of Brazil, in the east, have rolling to hilly surfaces, with broad plateaus and high mesas. The plateaus are higher and less broad in the highlands of Guiana. In the Brazilian Highlands, the greatest relief occurs in mountains that lie along the eastern coast, in many places rising abruptly from the sea. In general, the rocks of these uplands have weathered into infertile, reddish soils. Fertile soils derived from basaltic rocks are found in many valleys, however. To the south is the less elevated and relatively flat Patagonian Plateau (see Patagonia). Although soils here are generally fertile, climatic constraints limit their agricultural usefulness.
The northernmost of the continent's principal lowland areas is the Orinoco Basin, which includes the Llanos—a region of alluvial plains and low mesas—and a vast system of valleys that converge toward the Amazon between the Caquetá and Madeira rivers. The Amazon Basin itself is a region of slightly rolling terrain. Farther south are the shallow valleys and flat plains of the Gran Chaco and the Pampas, both of which merge with the swampy floodplains of the Paraguay and Paraná rivers.
C Drainage and Water Resources
The greater part of South America is drained to the Atlantic Ocean by three river systems: the Amazon, Orinoco, and Paraguay-Paraná. Each of these large rivers also provides access to the interior. The smaller São Francisco River drains northeastern Brazil. Numerous lesser rivers drain the Caribbean and Pacific flanks of the Andes. The most important of these is the Magdalena River and its tributary, the Cauca River. This system, which drains north through Andean valleys in western Colombia to empty into the Caribbean Sea, has also provided a traditional access route to the interior. Scores of short Andean streams have sustained agriculture for centuries in Ecuador, Peru, Chile, and northwestern Argentina. Considerable hydroelectric power potential exists in the streams of the Andes and in those of the Guiana and Brazilian Highlands. The Mantaro Valley hydroelectric scheme in the Andes of Peru provides most of Lima's electricity.
South America has few large lakes. Many of the large permanent lakes are situated at relatively high elevations in the Andes. Among the largest are Lake Titicaca and Lake Poopó in Bolivia; Buenos Aires, Argentino, and Nahuel Huapí lakes in Argentina; and Lake Valencia in Venezuela.
D Climate
South America is dominated by relatively warm climatic regimes. Spanning nearly the entire continent along the equator is a belt of humid tropical climate that grades to the north and south into broad zones where the length of the rainy season and the amount of rainfall diminish. These zones have wet summers and dry winters and are subject to prolonged droughts. Droughts are a particularly serious problem in northeastern Brazil and along the northern coast of Venezuela and Colombia. The areas of rainy tropical and tropical wet-dry climate extend along the Pacific coast of Colombia and Ecuador but are marked by a sharp southern transition into the arid climate of coastal Peru and northern Chile. In the northern half of South America only the Andes region has a cool climate. Temperatures decrease with increasing elevation, so that the tropical climate of the lowlands and lower slopes changes to subtropical and temperate climates at intermediate elevations, and finally to cold alpine climate at the mountain crests.
South of the tropic of Capricorn, South America has cool to cold winters and cool to warm summers. Southern Chile receives heavy precipitation, because of the cyclonic storms that move off the Pacific Ocean from the west. The storm frequency, greatest in winter, diminishes northward through Chile, resulting in a zone of Mediterranean-like climate, with mild, wet winters and warm, dry summers. This zone is bordered by desert, which extends along the coast as far north as Ecuador. Included in this region is the Atacama Desert, one of the driest places in the world. Subhumid and arid conditions prevail to the east of the southern Andes. In the Pampas and southern Brazilian Highlands, however, summers tend to be humid, and in the winter cyclonic storms may penetrate, bringing rain and chilly weather. Snow occasionally falls over the highlands, and frosts may spread north toward the tropic of Capricorn, causing extensive damage to crops.
E Vegetation
The vegetation zones of South America correspond closely with the climatic zones. The areas of wet tropical climate have a dense cover of rain forest, or selva. The largest forest area in the world, this rain forest covers much of equatorial South America, including the Brazilian coast and the lower slopes of the Andes, and contains tropical hardwoods, palms, tree ferns, bamboos, and lianas. Open forests and brushlands are found in the areas of winter drought chiefly on the Venezuelan coast, in northeastern Brazil, and on the Gran Chaco. Between these drier areas and the rain forest are zones of tall grass (savannas, or campos) and of scrub and grass (campos cerrados). Mixed (containing both deciduous and evergreen trees) and deciduous forests occur in southern Brazil and along the slopes of the Andes. In Brazil the forest grades, to the south, into areas of rolling prairie interrupted by wooded hills. The Gran Chaco is characterized by grassy plains and open thorn scrub forest. The flat Pampas of east central Argentina is the largest midlatitude grassland of South America. To the south a zone of scrub steppe (monte) marks the transition to the low brush and bunch grass that cover the drier and cooler Patagonia region. Along the Pacific coast, the vegetation grades northward from forest to open woodland, to shrubs and grass in central Chile, and eventually to the scrub and desert vegetation that prevails into northern Peru and up to the mountain flanks.
F Animals
South America, Central America, the lowlands of Mexico, and the West Indies may be classified as a single zoogeographic region usually called the Neotropical Region. Fauna is characterized by variety and a singular lack of affinity with the fauna of other continents, including North America north of the Mexican Plateau. Found throughout are families of mammals absolutely confined to the region, including two unique species of monkey, bloodsucking bats, and many unusual rodents. The region has only one kind of bear, the spectacled bear; no horses or related animals, aside from one species of tapir; and no ruminants, except lamoids (members of the camel family), which include alpacas, llamas, and vicuñas. Also characteristic of the continent are jaguar, peccary, giant anteater, and coati. Birds display still greater isolation and singularity. About 23 families and about 600 genera of exclusively Neotropical birds occur, as well as the greater part of other important families, such as those of the hummingbirds (500 species), tanagers, and macaws, together with a great variety of sea fowl. The largest birds include the rhea, condor, and flamingo. Reptiles include boas and anacondas; iguanas, caimans, and crocodiles are found in many areas. Freshwater fish are varied and abundant. Regional exclusiveness also characterizes insects and other invertebrates. On the whole, South American fauna is more local and distinct than that of any continent other than Australia; probably more than four-fifths of its species are restricted to its zoogeographic boundaries. The Galápagos Islands are the habitat of reptiles and birds that are unknown elsewhere, including the Galápagos giant tortoise, Darwin's finches, and the Galápagos penguin.
G Mineral Resources
South America has diverse mineral resources, many of which have not been extensively exploited. Mineral deposits are widely distributed, but certain areas of the continent are particularly renowned for their wealth. In the Andes placer gold has been worked in various areas since before the colonial era. The mountains between central Peru and southern Bolivia produced silver and mercury in the colonial era, and industrial minerals such as copper, tin, lead, and zinc today. Copper is worked at large deposits in northern and central Chile and in central and southern Peru. A highly mineralized area containing bauxite, iron ore, and gold lies between Ciudad Bolívar and northern Suriname, near the northern margin of the Guiana Highlands. In east central Brazil rich gold and diamond strikes occurred in the colonial era, some of these mines are still producing. Although South America is a major producer of rare metals, the large reserves of high-grade iron ore and smaller reserves of bauxite are more important to the emerging industrial power of the continent.
South America is lacking in large coal reserves. Coal is found in scattered and relatively small deposits in the Andes and in southern Brazil. Coal has been an important fuel for industry and transportation primarily in Chile, Colombia, and Brazil. Petroleum, however, is widely distributed. Most of the continent's reserves of petroleum and natural gas lie in structural basins located mostly along the eastern margins of and in the Andes, from Venezuela to Tierra del Fuego. The largest known fields are in the Lake Maracaibo area of Venezuela. Other deposits occur in northern Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, south of the Andes in eastern and central Venezuela, and just east of the mountains in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, and Chile.
South America's overall population has been increasing rapidly, especially in the developing tropical countries, and urban populations have increased greatly in all parts of the continent. Immigration to South America has been minimal since 1930. Internal migration has been of great significance, however, increasing the concentration of people living on the continent's periphery, while vast areas of the interior remain sparsely populated. The overall population density is 22 persons per sq km (57 per sq mi), but more than half the continent has a population density of fewer than 2 persons per sq km (5 per sq mi).
A Ethnology
Although South America's population has a diverse ethnic heritage, its principal elements are the Native Americans and the descendants of Spaniards, Portuguese, and African blacks. The racial spectrum produced by mixing the various groups is broad. Most evident in South America are the mestizos, people of Iberian and Native American ancestry; people of mixed Iberian and black ancestry are less numerous, and the number of people of mixed Native American and black ancestry is smaller yet. The Native Americans are most numerous in the highlands of the central Andean republics. People of Spanish descent are relatively more numerous in Argentina and Uruguay than elsewhere. In Brazil, the Portuguese are the predominant Iberian element, and the black and mulatto groups are more numerous than in any other South American country. In the Guianas and coastal Colombia and Ecuador, the number of blacks is also large.
The steady but relatively modest flow of Iberians into South America during the colonial era and in the century and a half since independence was augmented between the late 19th century and 1930 by the entry of several million Italians, chiefly into Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay. Smaller numbers of Germans, Poles, and other European nationals also arrived. Although many of the new European immigrants were engaged in rural labor and tenant farming in Argentina and Brazil, many Germans and Italians and fewer other Europeans established agricultural colonies. German colonists, for example, settled in south central Chile. Other new immigrants gravitated toward the cities, where they contributed substantially to the workforce and entrepreneurial sectors. Several non-European groups, such as Syrians and Lebanese, settled in large numbers also. The greatest numbers of Asian immigrants during the late 19th century came from India, Indonesia, and China; most of these entered British Guiana and Dutch Guiana as indentured laborers after the abolition of slavery. Particularly since 1900, however, appreciable numbers of Japanese have settled in southeastern Brazil. Japanese settlements also exist in Paraguay, Bolivia, and northern and northeastern Brazil.
B Demography
South America's population more than doubled between 1960 and 2000. About one-half of the continent's people live in Brazil. Six other countries claim nearly 45 percent of the remaining population: Colombia (11.5 percent), Argentina (10.7 percent), Peru (7.8 percent), Venezuela (6.8 percent), Chile (4.4 percent), and Ecuador (3.7 percent). Average population growth rates approached 2.4 percent per year between 1965 and 1990, although Argentina and Uruguay have grown more slowly, as, to a lesser extent, have Chile and Bolivia. The growth in population is due largely to natural increase, the birth rate being 18 per 1,000 people and the death rate 6 per 1,000 in 2005. In many areas death rates have been declining substantially for decades, whereas high birth rates only recently have shown a downward tendency. The estimated number of people under the age of 15 in 2006 was 27 percent, while the median age was 28.1 years in 2008.
Natural increase and migration from provincial areas have caused urban populations to grow by up to 4 percent a year. In Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay, the rate of urban growth has slowed, but in the tropical countries, cities are growing with great rapidity. In the most urbanized of the larger countries—Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, and Venezuela—at least 80 percent of the population lives in urban centers; in the least urbanized—Bolivia, Ecuador, and Paraguay—less than 65 percent of the population is classified as urban.
C Languages
Spanish is the official language of 9 of the 13 political entities on the continent. Portuguese is the official language of Brazil; English, of Guyana; Dutch, of Suriname; and French, of French Guiana. Among the scores of Native American languages, Quechua, Aymara, and Guaraní are spoken by the largest numbers of people. The speakers of Quechua (7.6 million in 1998) are primarily in the central Andean highlands, and the speakers of Aymara (2.1 million in 1998) in the highlands of Bolivia, Chile, and Peru. Guaraní is an official language of Paraguay, along with Spanish.
D Religion
South America is unusual among the continents for its religious homogeneity. About 90 percent of the population is Roman Catholic. Most of the Protestants are in Brazil and Chile; the remainder are widely distributed, primarily in urban centers. The Jews of South America also tend to be urban dwellers and are widely distributed; about three-fourths are in Argentina and Brazil, and more than 10 percent are in Uruguay and Chile. Hindus, Muslims, and Buddhists are concentrated in Guyana and Suriname. The Roman Catholic faith was brought to the continent by the Spaniards and Portuguese during the Spanish conquest. Protestantism is a reflection of later European immigration and of missionary activity begun in the 19th century. North American evangelical groups were particularly active in the 20th century.
Historically a colonial area, economically dependent on the export of agricultural and mineral commodities, South America has experienced growth and diversification in most of its economic sectors since the 1930s. After World War II (1939-1945) national policies of import substitution (the local manufacture of formerly imported goods) reshaped industry. The benefits of this rapid economic development have not spread evenly but have accrued more to the leading cities and their environs.
The development of free trade has also been of major importance to South America. This effort began in the late 1960s with the Andean Community and has been evolving ever since. In the early 1990s the creation of the Southern Cone Common Market (commonly known as Mercosur, from the Spanish “Mercado Comun del Sur”) greatly improved South America's trade and economic prospects. In 2004 the Andean Community and Mercosur joined forces to create the South American Community of Nations, increasing the potential for economic cooperation among member states.
A Agriculture
Most crop and livestock production in South America is for home consumption and domestic markets. Nevertheless, revenues from agricultural exports are very important in many South American countries. The processing, internal marketing, and exporting of agricultural products account for a substantial part of commercial and manufacturing activity. Although agriculture, together with hunting, fishing, and forestry, accounted for about 12 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) within the continent in the 1990s, it accounted for more than 30 percent of the labor force in Bolivia, Paraguay, Peru, and Ecuador, between 20 percent and 30 percent in Colombia, Brazil, and Guyana, and less than 20 percent in Suriname, Chile, Uruguay, Venezuela, Argentina, and French Guiana.
The most intensive forms of commercial agriculture are concentrated near cities. Perishables, such as vegetables, fruits, and dairy items, are the principal products here. The production of staples such as root crops, beans, and corn is more dispersed. In many areas these crops are raised by subsistence farmers under unfavorable climatic or soil conditions. Wheat and rice tend to be produced wherever conditions are most suitable. The nonexport beef-cattle industry is dispersed widely; the raising of beef cattle for export is of particular importance in Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Colombia. Export-oriented agriculture is pursued in the tropical areas and midlatitudes, where arable land and access to ports are optimal. Among the tropical crops, coffee is the most important. It is produced in the highlands, chiefly in southeastern Brazil and in west central Colombia. Cacao is important in eastern Brazil and west central Ecuador. Bananas and sugarcane are produced throughout the tropics, mostly for domestic markets. Bananas are grown for export in Colombia and western Ecuador; sugar is produced for export in coastal Peru, Guyana, and Suriname. Cotton has been produced for export for many decades in coastal Peru. Cotton and sugarcane are also raised (both for export and domestic markets) in northeastern and southeastern Brazil. In southeastern Brazil soybeans have, since the 1970s, become an important export crop. Soybeans are less important in Argentina, where fertile prairie soils have long supported grain and livestock industries of worldwide importance. Argentine wheat, corn, linseed, beef, mutton, hides, and wool are important items of international trade. Uruguay has a long-standing export trade dominated by wool and hides.
B Forestry and Fishing
Although the continent is 50 percent forested and is surrounded by seas rich in marine life, the forestry and fishing industries in most South American nations are small and oriented toward domestic markets. Some tropical hardwoods and softwoods are exported, however, much of the wood coming from the Amazon Basin, where large tracts of forest are being cleared for conversion into range and cropland. Also exported is pine lumber from southern Brazil and south central Chile, together with some pulpwood. Significant areas of commercial forest have been planted in Chile and Brazil. The widespread planting of eucalyptus trees for firewood, for timbering, and for use in rough construction has historically been important.
South America's most important commercial fisheries are the Pacific coastal waters. Large amounts of anchovies for fish meal are caught off the Peruvian and Chilean coasts, although overfishing has depleted recent harvests. Tuna are taken off the Ecuadorian and Peruvian coasts. Crustaceans are an important catch in Chilean, Brazilian, and Guianese waters.
C Mining
Most mining for export is on a large scale. The long history of foreign corporate control of South American mining operations is waning because of national political pressures. Petroleum, copper, bauxite, and iron ore are the principal commodities in value and volume, but mineral exports are greatly diversified. South America is an important world producer of lead, zinc, manganese, and tin. Although all South American countries have some mineral production, Venezuela's oil and gas account for more than half the total value of the continent's output. Mineral production is of great importance to several national economies. Venezuela's exports are dominated by crude and refined petroleum, and derivatives, while the dependence on mineral exports is somewhat less in Suriname, Bolivia, and Chile. Peru and, in recent years, Ecuador, have relied heavily on the sale of minerals. Such exports generate government revenue, but mining contributes little to continental GDP and employment. Nevertheless, mineral commodities are important to the continent's growing industrial diversification.
D Manufacturing
By the late 1970s manufacturing accounted for at least 25 percent of South America's GDP, up from 20 percent in 1956, when it first exceeded in importance both agriculture and commerce and finance. In the late 1990s, the industrial sector accounted for more than 30 percent of the GDP in Argentina, Venezuela, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Peru, and Ecuador.
The processing of agricultural commodities remains the most widespread and important industry, even in Argentina and Brazil, the most industrialized countries. The concentration and refining of minerals is also important but tends to be located near the mineral deposits. Other industries, however—such as petroleum refining, the making of iron and steel and cement, and the manufacture of consumer goods such as textiles, beverages, motor vehicles, electrical and mechanical equipment, and plastics—are concentrated in and near the largest cities.
Industrial development in South American countries has, in the past, taken place with government protection. Although many industries still operate as licensees or subsidiaries of foreign corporations, national governments have, since the 1930s, become directly involved in heavy industries such as iron and steel, motor-vehicle assembly, and shipbuilding. In some countries machine tools, aircraft, and military vehicles are built for export. Industrial development on the continent, however, continues to face several problems: the small size of the national markets, inadequate technology, and weak transportation and distribution networks. Since 1992 the governments of several countries, including Venezuela, Argentina, Chile, and Brazil, have begun selling off nationalized industries for the immediate financial benefits and in the hope of achieving higher efficiency at a lower cost. Such privatization, which has included the transportation and communications industries, has usually resulted in higher unemployment and significant rises in the prices of goods and services.
E Energy
Petroleum and natural gas are the principal sources of energy in South America. More primitive sources, such as firewood and charcoal, however, are used widely in industry, sometimes in making iron and steel or in refining sugar. Dependence on petroleum and natural gas is of concern because only Colombia and Venezuela are self-sufficient in petroleum. Distributional needs are met with fairly extensive petroleum and gas pipeline systems in Argentina, Venezuela, and Colombia and lesser systems elsewhere. Nevertheless, most pipeline systems in South America transport crude oil and gas to export terminals, rather than to internal markets. Coal, available in relatively small reserves, was important to the early development of rail and water transportation and industry in Chile, Argentina, Brazil, and Colombia, but has long been superseded in importance as an energy source. Alcohol derived from sugarcane is an important automotive fuel in Brazil. Hydroelectric power has become a viable alternative to thermal-electric power only since the 1950s. The development of hydroelectric power began in Brazil, Chile, and Colombia; installed hydroelectric capacities now constitute more than 60 percent of electricity-producing capacity in Paraguay, Brazil, Uruguay, Colombia, and Bolivia. Hydroelectric power is also important in Peru, Chile, Ecuador, Suriname, and Argentina, where installed hydroelectricity-generating capacity accounts for more than 40 percent of all generating capacity. Hydroelectric development ranges from small installations used by provincial towns to the enormous facilities built in the middle and upper Paraná Basin and the upper and lower reaches of the São Francisco River.
F Transportation
Although a great variety of forms of transportation are in common use, the road and railroad networks are of primary importance because of the bulk and value of their freight and the number of passengers carried. Motor-vehicle traffic dominates in most parts of the continent. Railroads and coastal and river ships remain relatively more important in Argentina, Brazil, and Chile than elsewhere, but even in these countries the bus, truck, and automobile are the principal modes of transporting goods and passengers. Air transport has developed rapidly since the end of World War II, and an important network exists in South America. Railroads suffered from underdevelopment in the early 20th century, mainly because of the historic lack of settlement of the continent's interior; for instance, the railroad systems, which had matured by 1930, were largely used for commodity movement between immediate hinterlands and the port cities. National rail and highway networks are dense only in southeastern Brazil and in the Pampas of Argentina and, to a lesser extent, in the populous areas of Uruguay, Chile, Colombia, and Ecuador. The construction of roads has been most important since the 1950s. Venezuela and coastal Peru have a good system of surfaced roads; in Paraguay and Bolivia the road networks are not as good. The Andean countries have been extending roads into the interior for decades, and Brazil has spanned parts of the Amazon Basin with roads. The national road systems, like the airway systems, have begun to accelerate economic integration of distant interiors with the long-established industrial and commercial core areas of the various countries. In the mid-1990s many South American countries looked to private investors to improve their nations' road networks.
G Trade
Most of South America's trade is intercontinental, with the United States, Western Europe, and Japan the major trading partners. Petroleum and its derivatives are the principal components of foreign trade. Brazil and Venezuela dominate the continent's export trade, and Brazil accounts for much of the imports. Intracontinental trade has been fostered since the 1960s by regional trade associations, beginning with the formation of the Latin American Free Trade Association (LAFTA) (now known as the Latin American Integration Association). Commodities such as wheat, cattle, wine, and bananas are principal items of intracontinental trade, and manufactured goods are of growing importance.
Nevertheless, the continent's external trade in agricultural and mining commodities remains more important than the internal trade of these commodities. South America contributes significantly to world trade in petroleum, coffee, copper, bauxite, fish meal, and oilseed; trade in these and other primary goods is essential to the underwriting of the continent's economic development.
Since the late 1960s several attempts have been made to form trading blocks or associations that would protect South American markets from outside competition while forming larger internal markets for South American goods. In 1969 the Andean Community (Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela) was formed with those goals in mind. By 1977, however, Chile had withdrawn from the union and most of the countries had reverted to exporting their most successful products, without regard for trade agreements and in open competition with one another. Since then several new regional groupings have emerged: the Group of Three (Colombia, Mexico, and Venezuela); the Southern Cone Common Market (known by its Spanish acronym, Mercosur); and the Association of Caribbean States (ACS), which includes Colombia, Suriname, and Venezuela. Trade groups such as these set preferential tariffs on certain goods to stimulate the flow of goods, services, and capital.
Following the establishment of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between Canada, Mexico, and the United States in 1994, several South American countries—principally Argentina, Chile, and Colombia—began pushing for an extended trade grouping. Brazil also advocated for a free-trade agreement incorporating all of South America. Such an agreement was finally reached in 2004 when the Andean Community joined with Mercosur to form the South American Community of Nations. The creation of this trade group—consisting of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela—was seen as a major step toward the forging of a hemisphere-wide free-trade agreement, tentatively known as the Free Trade Area of the Americas. Negotiating an agreement of such broad scope will be difficult, however, given that membership often demands strict fiscal controls over inflation and other sensitive political and economic issues.
After 1453, when the Turks completed the conquest of the Byzantine Empire and won control of the eastern Mediterranean, the western nations, chiefly Portugal and Spain, were forced to seek a new route to Asia. The Portuguese, who had made a number of pioneering voyages southward in the Atlantic Ocean, sought the new route by probing the coast of Africa, reaching the Cape of Good Hope in 1486. In 1492 Christopher Columbus attempted to reach India by sailing due west across the Atlantic Ocean; but he landed in the present-day West Indies, opening up a new world to European commerce and civilization. For information concerning the pre-Columbian cultures of South America, see Native Americans of Middle and South America: History; Araucanian; Arawak; Carib; Chibcha; Guaraní; Inca; Pre-Columbian Art and Architecture; Quechua;Tiwanaku; Tupí-Guaraní.
After Columbus returned to Europe, Spain and Portugal became involved in controversy concerning land rights in the New World. The dispute was settled in 1493 by Pope Alexander VI, who allotted to Portugal all new territory east of a line in the Atlantic Ocean running due north and south 100 leagues west of the Azores and to Spain, all territory to the west of the line (see Demarcation, Line of). The demarcation line was later modified, with the result that Portugal obtained suzerainty over the eastern bulge of South America. This region subsequently became Brazil.
On August 1, 1498, during his third voyage, Columbus sailed to a point off the mouth of the Orinoco River and sighted the South American mainland. After cruising along the coast for several days he began to comprehend the continental character of the region.
A Post-Columbian Explorers
The next European to reach the continent was Portuguese navigator Pedro Álvares Cabral. In April 1500 a fleet under his command anchored off the coast of present-day Brazil, which he claimed for Portugal. The Portuguese, who had meanwhile found their way to India by sailing around Africa, paid little attention for three decades to the territory found by Cabral. During this period the Spanish steadily intensified explorational and colonizing activities in the New World, devoting most of their effort during the first 20 years to the West Indies and Central America. Various explorers, chiefly navigators in the service of Spain, visited the northeastern coast of the continent in the early years of the 16th century. Noteworthy among these men were Spanish mariners Vicente Yáñez Pinzón, Alonso de Ojeda, and Pedro Alonso Niño; Spanish navigator and geographer Juan de la Cosa; and Italian-born navigator Amerigo Vespucci. Late in 1519 Portuguese mariner Ferdinand Magellan, then seeking a westward route to the East for the Spanish monarchy, explored the estuary of the Río de la Plata. He resumed his search in the next year, cruising southward. On November 28, 1520, having completed the passage of the strait that now bears his name, he simultaneously accomplished his mission and realized the dream of countless navigators.
B Exploration of the Interior
The systematic exploration and conquest of the South American interior were begun, paradoxically, by Germans. In 1529 Bartholomäus Welser received a huge grant of territory in South America from Charles V, Holy Roman emperor and king of Spain, who was in debt to him. Welser immediately dispatched an expedition to the territory, which included present-day Venezuela. About 17 years later Welser's grant was revoked, partly because of extreme brutality inflicted by the German colonists on the Native Americans.
The first European to penetrate the continental interior successfully was Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro. Pushing southward from Panama, he invaded the gold-rich empire of the Inca in 1531. Within five years, by skillful use of arms and treachery, Pizarro acquired control of the Inca Empire, which included all of present-day Peru, Chile, and Bolivia. One of Pizarro's chief associates was Diego de Almagro, who conquered what is now northern Chile. The conquest and colonization of the region bordering the Río de la Plata were begun in 1535 by Spanish soldier Pedro de Mendoza. He founded a settlement at Buenos Aires in 1536. Between 1536 and 1538 Spanish soldier Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada subjugated the Chibcha and founded the Audiencia of New Granada (present-day Colombia). In 1539 Gonzalo Pizarro, brother of Francisco, crossed the Andes and arrived at the upper reaches of the Amazon River. One of his companions, Francisco de Orellana, followed the river down to its mouth, reaching the Atlantic Ocean in 1542. In the previous year conquistador Pedro de Valdivia began the systematic subjugation of the Araucanian, the native people of Chile. Valdivia founded Santiago in 1541. Meanwhile (about 1530) the Portuguese had begun to establish settlements along the coast of the eastern bulge of South America.
Sugar estates were soon established on the eastern coast of Brazil, leading to the importation of millions of African slaves. Exploration westwards extended to the Amazon, and in the 17th century exploring parties (bandeiras) extended Portuguese control west and southward from São Paulo. An important gold strike in 1693 rapidly intensified settlement in what is now Minas Gerais State in Brazil, attracting major immigration from Portugal and promoting the rapid growth of the new port of Rio de Janeiro.
C 16th to 18th Centuries
By 1600 numerous Spanish settlements had been firmly established in South America. The Viceroyalty of Peru (created in 1542) and the various audiencias, or territorial divisions, into which the remainder of Spanish South America was then divided had every prospect of developing into powerful and wealthy colonies. Besides immensely productive mineral deposits, especially the silver mines of Peru, other natural resources, including timber and cultivable lands, were abundant in the Spanish-held areas. Farming and livestock raising had become flourishing industries, and an increasing number of black and Native American slaves were available to well-to-do settlers. In search of riches, land, or adventure, or impelled by Christian zeal to spread the gospel among the heathen natives, tens of thousands of immigrants had poured into both the Spanish and Portuguese dominions on the continent during the first half of the 16th century. The Spanish and Portuguese governments received extensive help from the church in their efforts to consolidate their respective colonial empires. Roman Catholicism was the sole recognized religion in the colonies, but ecclesiastical policy was determined and controlled by the monarchy. In return for the service of Christianizing, educating, and pacifying the Native Americans, the church and the various Catholic religious orders active here were granted many privileges and enormous tracts of territory.
At the close of the 17th century Spain and Portugal dominated all South America except Guiana, which had been seized by and divided among Great Britain, France, and The Netherlands. Disastrous wars in the course of the century had seriously weakened the naval strength of the Iberian powers, however, and their coastal settlements in the New World, as well as their merchant shipping, were subjected to frequent attacks by English, Dutch, and French raiders. One result of the consequent drain on the royal Spanish and Portuguese treasuries was the imposition of oppressive taxation on the colonies. The royal governments, which had monopolized the trade of the colonies from the beginning, also imposed increasingly stringent restraints on the colonial economies, aggravating the difficulties and discontent of the colonists. During the 18th century, popular unrest in the Spanish colonies flared into revolt on a number of occasions, notably in Paraguay from 1721 to 1735, in Peru from 1780 to 1782, and in New Granada in 1781.
Social inequalities constituted another cause for discontent among both the Spanish and Portuguese colonists. The so-called Peninsulars were born in the mother country and sent to the colonies to hold high offices. They usually were of noble birth, disdainful of other social groups, and desirous only of amassing wealth in the colonies and then returning to Europe. The social group immediately below the Peninsulars was composed of Creoles, native-born persons of European parentage. Although the Creoles were entitled by law to the same political prerogatives as the Peninsulars, in practice these rights were withheld from them, and for the most part the Creoles were excluded from high civil and ecclesiastical positions. Because of their hatred of the Peninsulars, the Creoles generally aligned themselves with the mestizos and mulattoes.
D Wars of Independence
After almost three centuries of economic exploitation and political injustice, the South American colonies were swept by a powerful revolutionary movement. The movement, which was led by the Creoles and which was basically liberal in character, was stimulated by the successful revolt of the British colonies in North America (1775-1783) and by the French Revolution (1789-1799).
In general the struggle for political freedom in Spanish South America may be divided into two phases. During the first phase, extending from 1810 to 1816, independence was achieved only in part of the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata (in what are now Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay); during the second phase, from 1816 to 1825, the colonials won complete freedom from Spain. Among the outstanding leaders of the fight for independence were Venezuelans Simón Bolívar and Francisco de Miranda and Argentinian José de San Martín.
On May 25, 1810, the Creoles of Buenos Aires deposed the Spanish viceroy and established a provisional governing body for the provinces of La Plata. Although this body was established in the name of Ferdinand, direct Spanish authority was not again restored. On August 14, 1811, the Paraguayans, who had rejected the help of Buenos Aires, proclaimed their independence from Spain and, in 1813, from the provisional government as well. San Martín began to organize in 1814 a patriot army in western Argentina, with the intention of liberating Chile and then moving by sea against Peru, the chief Spanish stronghold on the continent. In his successful campaign of 1817 to 1818 to liberate Chile, San Martín was greatly aided by Chilean revolutionary leader Bernardo O'Higgins. On February 12, 1817, San Martín defeated a Spanish army at Chacabuco. One year later, on the same date, revolutionary leader Bernardo O'Higgins declared the independence of Chile. San Martín was offered the leadership of the new Chilean government but refused in favor of O'Higgins. With the defeat of a Spanish army at Maipú on April 5, 1818, Chilean independence was assured. San Martín then began to prepare for the attack on Peru.
The next great victory of the Wars of Independence was won in Colombia. At the head of an army of patriots and of soldiers of fortune recruited in England, Bolívar defeated the Royalists on August 7, 1819, at the Battle of Boyacá. While the fighting still continued, a congress meeting at Angostura (now Ciudad Bolívar, Venezuela) was organizing the State of Greater Colombia, to comprise the former Audiencia of New Granada, present-day Panama, and, on their liberation, Venezuela and Quito (Ecuador). Bolívar later became president and military dictator. Although Venezuelan independence had been proclaimed on July 7, 1811, the colony had been taken by the Royalists. Bolívar defeated the Royalists at Carabobo on June 24, 1821, ensuring the independence of Venezuela. Under Antonio José de Sucre, one of Bolívar's lieutenants, a patriot army triumphed over the Royalist forces at Pichincha on May 24, 1822, and liberated Ecuador.
Meanwhile, on September 7, 1820, San Martín had landed an army of 6,000 men on the Peruvian coast. He entered Lima, the capital, on July 9, 1821. The independence of Peru was proclaimed on the following July 28, but Royalist forces remained in possession of the greater part of the country. Accordingly, following the Battle of Pichincha, Bolívar and Sucre began to prepare a military expedition in support of the beleaguered patriots in Peru. A spearhead contingent of this expedition was defeated in 1823, but Bolívar and Sucre were victorious on August 6, 1824, at Junín, and on December 9 Sucre won the decisive Battle of Ayacucho. Although the last Royalist forces were not expelled from Peru until January 1826, the Battle of Ayacucho was the final major engagement in the winning of freedom from Spain. Upper Peru was proclaimed independent on January 5, 1825, and on August 25 of that year was named Bolivia in honor of its liberator.
Brazil had achieved independence from Portugal on October 12, 1822, but retained a monarchical form of government until 1889, when a republic was established.
E Problems in the 19th Century
At the end of the Wars of Independence the sovereign Spanish states in South America were Great Colombia, Peru, Chile, the United Provinces of the Río de la Plata (later Argentina), Paraguay, and Bolivia. Between 1830 and 1832 Great Colombia evolved into the sovereign states of Venezuela, Ecuador, and New Granada. Until 1903 New Granada, which later became Colombia, included Panama. Uruguay, after periods of Portuguese and Brazilian control, became a sovereign state in 1828.
In spite of close cooperation during the revolutionary period, the Spanish colonies did not follow Bolívar's ideal of confederating in a Spanish South American union because of regional jealousies, geographic vastness, inadequate communications, personal ambition and political inexperience of various leaders, and want of democratic traditions. The two last-named conditions also contributed greatly to political instability in the newly formed republics. Wealth and political power were still concentrated in the hands of the church and relatively few families. Conservative and liberal political groups opposed each other as bitterly as had the Creoles and Peninsulars of the colonial period. Revolutions were frequent, and some of the countries were under military dictatorships for long periods. As a consequence, social and economic development in South America was retarded during the 19th century. After 1900 advancement was more rapid, notably in Argentina, Brazil, and Chile, the so-called ABC Powers.
Boundary problems often caused bitter disputes among the separate nations, sometimes leading to war. The war between Paraguay and the combined forces of Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay, between 1864 and 1870, was one of the fiercest ever waged in the Western Hemisphere. The War of the Pacific, another important South American war, was fought from 1879 to 1883 between Chile and the combined forces of Bolivia and Peru (see Tacna-Arica Dispute). The Chaco War between Paraguay and Bolivia from 1932 to 1935 climaxed a long-standing dispute between the two countries.
The Monroe Doctrine, promulgated by the United States in 1823, played an important role during the 19th century in preventing European intervention in northern South America.
F 20th Century and U.S. Policy
On occasion, during the second half of the 19th century and the early years of the 20th century, the U.S. government itself actively intervened in Latin American affairs. Based on the theory that the United States, as the most powerful nation of the Western Hemisphere, possessed a “manifest right” to regulate the destinies of the turbulent southern republics, U.S. policy during this period aroused considerable antagonism in South and Central America. Various opprobrious epithets, including “dollar diplomacy” and “big-stick policy,” were applied to that phase of U.S. diplomacy. In 1933, after President Franklin D. Roosevelt announced that the United States wished to be a “good neighbor” of the other American countries, the U.S. policy of friendship and cooperation became known as the “good-neighbor policy.” In both world wars most South American nations cooperated fully with the United States. During World War II (1939-1945), military as well as economic cooperation developed.
In 1960 six South American nations and Mexico signed a treaty setting up the Latin American Free Trade Association (LAFTA, later renamed the Latin American Integration Association). The following year President John F. Kennedy introduced a new approach to U.S. economic aid for Latin America. His Alliance for Progress program was aimed at encouraging economic and social reforms in the American republics. In April 1967 member nations of the alliance met in Punta del Este, Uruguay, to measure progress and reaffirm their commitment to the alliance. The most significant item agreed on was the goal of establishing a Latin American Common Market, which would supersede LAFTA.
By the 1970s it was clear that these efforts were being stymied by problems ranging from unanticipated population growth, to increased unemployment, to continued inequitable distribution of income and land. In the early 1980s these problems were complicated for most South American nations by a general, international economic recession. A mounting burden of foreign debt continued to sap the economic vitality of the region for the remainder of the 1980s.
Several internal economic measures characterized South America during the 1980s. The privatization of major nationalized industries proceeded rapidly in Venezuela, Brazil, Chile, and Argentina, resulting in a rise in unemployment. Another key problem was the rapid rise of external debt during the decade. Many countries were forced to spend up to 30 percent of their net income to pay the interest of their foreign debt. Some, such as Peru, refused to pay, or demanded rescheduling of payments. Others, such as Brazil, were able to pay off their debt by “swapping” natural resources. Another problem that resulted from poor economic management and the international recession of the 1980s was the rampant inflation that has plagued several countries. The solution included harsh fiscal austerity measures imposed by international donor agencies such as the World Bank (the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development). Although they eased the inflationary crisis, these measures also generated unemployment and a higher cost of living, resulting in increased numbers of poor people.
The 1990s brought new and more positive trends to the continent. Military, dictatorial regimes were replaced by democratically elected governments, although there remained concern over human rights violations. With external debt crisis behind them, some countries' privatization programs have helped to improve industrial efficiency and other countries have initiated major infrastructural expansions in their underdeveloped interiors.
Improving trade among South American nations remains an important regional issue. The trade group Mercosur was formed in 1991 to increase such economic cooperation. Mercosur consists of four member countries (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay) and four associate members (Bolivia, Chile, Peru, and Venezuela). After years of negotiations an even larger trade alliance, the South American Community of Nations, was created in 2004. This organization added Ecuador and Colombia to the eight countries already affiliated with Mercosur.
G Future Challenges
One persistent South American problem that may increase in significance in the 21st century is the marginalized poor, often Native American, citizens who believe they have not benefited from the nation state and who have no faith in the so-called democracy of political parties. Urban-based neighborhood groups are also emerging as a new force on the political scene. Continued urban growth still produces megalopolitan problems, most notably air pollution, water shortages, and infrastructural decline.
For accounts of the political histories of the various South American nations, see the articles on the individual countries. See also Organization of American States; Pan-American Conferences; Pan-American Union.

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