History of the region from the pre-Columbian period and including colonization by the Spanish and Portuguese beginning in the 15th century, the 19th-century wars of independence, and developments to the end of World War II.Latin America is generally understood to consist of the entire continent of South America in addition to Mexico, Central America, and the islands of the Caribbean whose inhabitants speak a Romance language. The peoples of this large area shared the experience of conquest and colonization by the Spaniards and Portuguese from the late 15th through the 18th centuries as well as movements of independence from Spain and Portugal in the early 19th century. Even since independence, many of the various nations have experienced similar trends, and they have some awareness of a common heritage. However, there are also enormous differences between them. Not only do the people live in a large number of independent units, but the geography and climate of their countries vary immensely, and their social and cultural characteristics differ according to the different constitution of the inhabitants before the Iberian conquest and the different timing and nature of European occupation.
Since the Spanish and Portuguese element looms so large in the history region, it is sometimes proposed that Iberoamerica would be a better term than of the Latin America. Latin seems to suggest an equal importance of the French and Italian contributions, which is far from being the case. Nevertheless, usage has fastened on Latin America, and it is retained here.
The independence of Latin America
After three centuries of colonial rule, independence came rather suddenly to most of Spanish and Portuguese America. Between 1808 and 1826 all of Latin America except the Spanish colonies of Cuba and Puerto Rico slipped out of the hands of the Iberian powers who had ruled the region since the conquest. The rapidity and timing of that dramatic change were the result of a combination of long-building tensions in colonial rule and a series of external events.
The reforms imposed by the Spanish Bourbons in the 18th century provoked great instability in the relations between the rulers and their colonial subjects in the Americas. Many Creoles (those of Spanish parentage but who were born in America) felt Bourbon policy to be an unfair attack on their wealth, po...
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...ts was slow to appear in Latin America. Brazil was the most successful, selling automobiles and automotive parts mainly to other developing countries but at times even to the industrialized world. A slightly less satisfactory alternative was the setting up of plants to assemble imported parts into consumer goods that were immediately exported, thus taking advantage of Latin America's low labour costs. Such plants proliferated along Mexico's northern border (where they were known as maquiladoras) but sprang up also in Central America and around the Caribbean. In other instances Latin Americans tried to develop new ("nontraditional") primary commodity exports. Colombian cut flowers were a highly successful example of the latter, promoted from the late 1960s through special incentives such as tax rebates; Colombia became the world's second leading flower exporter. It also assumed a leading role in the illicit narcotics trade. It enjoyed a brief boom of marijuana exports in the 1970s and in the following decade became the world's leading supplier of cocaine, which was processed in clandestine Colombian laboratories from coca leaf paste mostly originating in Bolivia and Peru.
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