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South America,

The fourth-largest of the earth's seven continents (after Asia, Africa, and North America), occupying
about 17,819,100 sq km (6,880,000 sq mi), or about 12 per cent of the earth's land surface. It lies
across 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 about 7,400 km (4,600 mi) from the Caribbean Sea
on the north to Cape Horn on the south, and it spans some 4,830 km (3,000 mi) between its
easternmost point, Cabo de Săo
Roque on the Atlantic Ocean, and
Punta de Parińas on the Pacific

The continent comprises ten Latin

nations (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil,
Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay,
Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela),
Guyana (formerly a British
dependency), Suriname (formerly a
Dutch dependency), and 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 (both Chilean territories) and also the Galápagos Islands
(Ecuadorian). 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 also
claimed by Argentina. The coastline of South America is relatively regular except in the extreme south
and south-west, where it is indented by numerous fiords.
The Natural Environment

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, 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 (see
Patagonia). The major lowland is the vast Amazon Basin in the equatorial part of the continent; it is
drained by the Amazon, the world's second longest river. The smaller northern lowland counterpart to
the Amazon Basin is drained by the Orinoco River; 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 (6,959 m/22,831 ft) is at Aconcagua in western Argentina, which is the
highest peak in the western hemisphere.
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 north-east. 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 Palaeozoic 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 2.5 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 continue all up and down
the continent's western rim, as the Pacific plate forces its way beneath (subducts) the South American
one (see Plate Tectonics). 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.
Physiographic Regions
Rising abruptly from the north-western 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 is marked by two or three parallel axes of mountains, known as
cordilleras, or ranges. In western Bolivia large intermontane plateaux separate the ranges. Among the
two dozen peaks that exceed 5,182 m (17,000 ft) in elevation are a number of active volcanoes located
in south central Chile, southern Peru and Bolivia, and Ecuador.

The vast uplands of Guiana in the north-east and of Brazil in the east have rolling to knobby surfaces,
with broad tablelands and high mesas. The tablelands are higher and less extensive 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. Although soils here are
generally fertile, climatic constraints limit their agricultural usefulness.

The northernmost of the continent's major areas of lowland is the Orinoco Basin, which includes the
Llanos—a region of alluvial plains and low mesas—and a vast system of valleys that converge towards
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.
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 Săo Francisco River drains north-eastern 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 in
the Caribbean Sea, has also provided a traditional access route to the interior. Scores of short Andean
rivers have sustained agriculture for centuries in Peru, Chile, and north-western Argentina; notable
among these are the Guayas, Santa, and Bío-Bío. Considerable hydroelectric power potential exists in
the rivers of the Andes and in those of the Guiana and Brazilian highlands.

South America has few large lakes. Many of the major permanent lakes are relatively high up in the
Andes. Among the largest are Lakes Titicaca, Poopó, Buenos Aires, Argentino, and Nahuel Huapí.

South America is dominated by relatively warm climatic regimes. Spanning nearly the entire continent
along the equator is a great belt of humid tropical climate that gradually changes 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 north-eastern 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 the Andes constitute the only region with 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.

Temperate South America lies mostly south of the tropic of Capricorn and 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
northwards through Chile, resulting in a zone of Mediterranean-like climate, with mild, wet winters and
warm, dry summers. This zone grades into 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
towards the tropic of Capricorn, causing extensive damage to crops.

The vegetation zones of South America correspond closely with

the climatic zones. The areas of wet tropical climate have a
dense cover of rainforest, or selva. The largest forest area in the
world, it cloaks 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, principally on the Venezuelan coast, north-eastern
Brazil, and the Gran Chaco. Between these drier areas and the
rainforest are zones of tall grass (savannahs, or campos) and of
scrub and grass (campos cerrados). Semideciduous 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, vegetation grades northwards from forest through 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.
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 kinds of monkeys markedly different from those of the Old World, the bloodsucking bats, and many
unusual rodents. The region has only one kind of bear; no horses or related animals, except one
species of tapir; and no ruminants except the cameloid llamas (not known elsewhere). Also
characteristic of the continent are vicuńa, alpaca, 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, and under this heading may be classified also the greater part of other important families,
such as those of the hummingbirds (500 species), tanagers, and macaws, together with a great variety
of seabirds. The largest birds include the rhea, condor, and flamingo. Reptiles include boas and
anacondas; iguanas, caiman, 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 notable as the habitat of large turtles and other reptiles and birds that are unknown
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 are notable for the silver and mercury
production of the colonial era and the wealth of such industrial minerals as copper, tin, lead, and zinc.
Copper is worked at a half-dozen large deposits in northern and central Chile. 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 remarkably rich gold and diamond
strikes occurred in the colonial era and are still producing. Although South America remains 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 transport primarily
in Chile, Colombia, and Brazil. Another energy mineral, petroleum, is widely distributed, however. Most
of the continent's generous reserves of oil and natural gas lie in structural basins along the 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.
The People
South America has more than 300 million inhabitants. Although the continent makes up about 12 per
cent of the world's land area, it has less than 6 per cent of the world's population. The overall population
has been increasing rapidly, however, 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, adding to the
concentration of people on the
periphery of the continent, while
vast areas of the interior remain
sparsely populated. Although
the overall population density is
17 people per sq km (44 per sq
mi), the vast majority of the
population is concentrated in
urban clusters that fringe the outer margins of the continent. More than half the continent has a
population density of fewer than 2 people per sq km (5 people per sq mi).
Although South America's population has a diverse ethnic heritage, its principal elements are the
indigenous Native Americans and the descendants of Spaniards, Portuguese, and African blacks, as
well as people who combine two or more of these elements. The racial spectrum produced by mixing
the various groups is broad. Most evident in South America are the mestizos (people of Iberian-Native
American ancestry); the mulattos (Iberian-black people), are less numerous, and the Native American-
black group 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 labour and tenant farming in Argentina and Brazil, numbers of
Germans and Italians and fewer other Europeans established agricultural colonies. German colonists,
for example, were significant in settling south central Chile. Other new immigrants gravitated towards
the cities, where they contributed substantially to the work force 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 Surinam as indentured labour after the abolition of slavery.
Particularly since 1900, however, appreciable numbers of Japanese colonists have settled in south-
eastern Brazil. Colonies of Japanese and Okinawans also exist in Paraguay and Bolivia, and Japanese
have settled in parts of northern and north-eastern Brazil.

Although consciousness of colour and of ethnic origin does exist, racial antagonisms are not, as a rule,
as evident as elsewhere in the world. South Americans in general ascribe more importance to
differences involving economic and educational status and cultural attributes.
South America's population more than doubled between 1960 and 1990. A little more than half the
continent's people are in Brazil; more than one-fifth are in Colombia, Venezuela, and Ecuador; and the
remainder are divided about equally between two groups: Peru, Bolivia, and Chile; and Argentina,
Uruguay, and Paraguay. Average population growth rates approached 2.4 per cent 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 more
than 25 per 1,000 people and the death rate about 8 per 1,000. In many areas death rates have been
declining substantially for decades, whereas high birth rates only recently have shown a downward
tendency. The decline in birth rates will not appreciably reduce the large increment of population growth
during the remainder of the 20th century because of the large proportion of the population that will be of
reproductive age. In many countries about half the population is under 15 years of age. Only in
Argentina, Uruguay, and Chile is more than 60 per cent of the population 15 years of age or older.

Natural increment and migration from provincial areas have caused urban populations to grow by up to
4 per cent 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 per cent of the population lives in urban centres;
in the least urbanized—Bolivia, Ecuador, and Paraguay—less than 60 per cent of the population is
classified as urban.
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 are primarily in the central Andean highlands, and the
speakers of Aymara in the highlands of Bolivia and Peru. Guaraní is an official language of Paraguay,
along with Spanish.
South America is unusual among the continents for its religious homogeneity. Some 90 per cent of the
population is Roman Catholic. Most of the estimated 11 million Protestants are in Brazil and Chile; the
remainder are widely distributed, primarily in urban centres. The 750,000 Jews of South America also
tend to be urban dwellers and are widely distributed; about three-quarters are in Argentina and Brazil,
and more than 10 per cent are in Uruguay and Chile. The 550,000 Hindus, 400,000 Muslims, and
375,000 Buddhists are concentrated in Guyana and Suriname. The seeds of the Roman Catholic faith
were sown by the Spaniards and Portuguese from the start of the Spanish conquest. Protestantism is a
reflection of later European immigration and of missionary activity begun in the 19th century. North
American evangelical groups have been particularly active in the 20th century.
Patterns of Economic Development
Historically a colonial area, economically dependent on the export of agricultural and mineral
commodities, South America has experienced remarkable growth and diversification in most of its
economic sectors since the 1930s. After World War II 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,
where the quality of life, by any material measure, is generally much better than that in rural areas and,
in general, is noticeably better than the quality of life in smaller cities and towns.
The greater part of crop and livestock production in South America is for home consumption and
domestic markets. Nevertheless, the foreign exchange earnings of 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 accounts for about 12 per cent of the gross
domestic product (GDP) within the continent, employment in agriculture engages more than 30 per cent
of the labour force in Bolivia, Paraguay, Peru, and Ecuador, between 20 per cent and 30 per cent in
Colombia, Brazil, and Guyana, and less than 20 per cent 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 such staples as
root crops, beans, and maize is more dispersed. In many areas these crops are raised by subsistence
farmers under unfavourable climatic or soil conditions. Wheat and rice tend to be produced wherever
climatic or soil conditions are most suitable. The nonexport beef cattle industry is dispersed widely; the
raising of beef cattle for export is particularly important 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, notably in south-eastern Brazil and in west central Colombia. Cacao is important in eastern
Brazil and west central Ecuador. Bananas and sugar cane are produced throughout the Tropics, mostly
for domestic markets. Bananas are grown for export in Colombia and western Ecuador; areas with a
strong tradition of producing sugar for export are coastal Peru, Guyana, and Suriname. Cotton has been
produced for export for many decades in coastal Peru. Cotton and sugar cane are also raised (both for
export and domestic markets) in north-eastern and south-eastern Brazil. On the southern fringe of the
latter region soya beans have, since the 1970s, become an important export crop. Soya beans are less
important in Argentina, where fertile prairie soils have long supported a major world granary and
livestock-raising region. Argentine wheat, maize, linseed, beef, mutton, hides, and wool have been
important items of international trade for more than a half century. Uruguay also has a long-standing
export trade dominated by wool and hides.
Forestry and Fishing
Although the continent is 50 per cent forested and is surrounded by seas rich in marine life, the forestry
and fishing industries in most South American nations are small and oriented towards domestic markets.
Tropical hardwoods and softwoods are exported, however, and much of this comes from the Amazon
Basin, where large tracts of forests are being felled 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 been important

South America's most important commercial fisheries are the Pacific coastal waters. Large tonnages of
anchovies for fishmeal are caught off the Peruvian and Chilean coasts, and tuna are taken off the
Ecuadorian and Peruvian coasts. Crustaceans are an important catch in Chilean, Brazilian, and
Guianese waters.
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. Oil, copper, bauxite, and
iron ore are the principal commodities in value and volume, but mineral exports are greatly diversified.
South America is a major 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 oil, 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.
By the late 1970s manufacturing accounted for at least 25 per cent of South America's GDP, up from 20
per cent in 1956, when it first exceeded in importance both agriculture and commerce and finance. In
the mid-1990s, manufacturing returned to 20 per cent of GDP in most South American countries.

The processing of agricultural commodities remains the most widespread and important industry, even
in Argentina and Brazil, which are 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 oil refining, the making of iron and steel and cement, and the manufacture of such consumer
goods 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 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 such heavy industries as iron and steel,
motor-vehicle assembly, and shipbuilding. Manufacturing industries are sufficiently sophisticated in
some countries that 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 transport and distribution networks.
Oil and natural gas are the major sources of energy in South America. More primitive sources, such as
firewood and charcoal, however, are used widely, sometimes to make iron and steel or to refine sugar.
Dependence on oil and natural gas is of concern because only two South American nations are self-
sufficient in oil. Distributional needs are met with fairly extensive oil products 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
transport and industry in Chile, Argentina, Brazil, and Colombia, but has been long superseded in
importance as an energy source. Alcohol, derived from sugar cane, is a principal automotive fuel in
Brazil. Hydroelectric power has become a major 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 per cent 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 hydroelectric-generating capacity exceeds 40 per
cent of all generating capacity. Hydroelectric development ranges from small installations utilized by
provincial towns to the enormous facilities built in the middle and upper Paraná Basin and the upper and
lower reaches of the Săo Francisco River.
Although a great variety of forms of transport are in common use, from the most primitive to modern
aircraft, the road and railway 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. Railways and coastal and river ships remain relatively more important in Argentina, Brazil,
and Chile than elsewhere, but even here the bus, lorry, and car are the principal modes of travel and
freighting. Nonetheless, domestic and international air networks provide a more complete and
dependably operated component of the continental transport system than do the highway, rail, or
waterway network. This is largely the result of the historic lack of settlement of the continent's interior;
for instance, the railway systems, which had matured by 1930, were largely oriented to commodity
movement between immediate hinterlands and the port cities. National rail and highway networks are
dense only in south-eastern 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 less evolved. 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.
Most of South America's trade is intercontinental with the United States, Western Europe, and Japan
being major trading partners. Oil 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, the most
notable of which is the Latin American Free Trade Association (LAFTA). Commodities such as wheat,
cattle, wine, and bananas are major 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 oil, coffee, copper, bauxite, fish meal, and oilseed; trade in these and other
primary goods is essential for the continent's economic development.
After 1453, when the Turks completed the conquest of the Byzantine Empire and won control of the
eastern Mediterrana, the western nations, chiefly Portugal and Spain, were forced to seek a new route
to the Orient. 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, and reached 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
Araucanian; Arawak; Archaeology: The Americas; Carib; Chibcha; Peru: History; Pre-Columbian Art and
Architecture; Tiahuanacu; Tupi-Guarani.

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
(about 483 km/300 mi) 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 explored land.
Post-Columbian Explorers
The next European to reach the continent was the 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 north-eastern coast of the continent in the early years of the 16th century.
Noteworthy among these men were the Spanish mariners Vicente Yáńez Pinzón, Alonso de Ojeda, and
Pedro Alonso Nińo; the Spanish navigator and geographer Juan de la Cosa; and the Italian-born
navigator Amerigo Vespucci. Late in 1519 the Portuguese mariner Ferdinand Magellan, then seeking a
westward route to the East for the Spanish Crown, 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.
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 the Spanish conquistador
Francisco Pizarro. Pushing southward from Panama, he invaded the gold-rich empire of the Inca in
1531. Within five years, by skilful use of arms and treachery, Pizarro acquired control of the Incan
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 was begun in 1535 by the Spanish soldier Pedro de Mendoza. He
founded a settlement at Buenos Aires in 1536. Between 1536 and 1538 the 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 reached the
headwaters of the Amazon River. One of his companions, Francisco de Orellana, followed the river
down to its mouth, reaching the Atlantic Ocean in 1541. In the previous year the conquistador Pedro de
Valdivia began the systematic subjugation of the Araucanian, the native people of Chile. Valdivia
founded Santiago in 1541. Meanwhile (c. 1530) the Portuguese had begun to establish settlements
along the coast of the eastern bulge of South America. They eventually occupied all of what is now
16th to the 18th Century
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
Crown. 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, and this aggravated 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 people 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.
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 and by the French Revolution.

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 La
Plata viceroyalty (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 the Venezuelans Simón Bolívar and Francisco de Miranda and the
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 1817-1818 to liberate
Chile, San Martín was greatly aided by the Chilean revolutionary leader Bernardo O'Higgins. On
February 12, 1817, San Martín defeated a Spanish army at Chacabuco, and on the same day the
independence of Chile was declared. San Martín was offered the leadership of the new Chilean
government but refused in favour 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 honour 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.
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.
20th Century and US Policy
On occasion, during the second half of the 19th century and the early years of the 20th century, the US
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, US 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 US diplomacy. In 1933, after President Franklin D.
Roosevelt announced that the United States wished to be a “good neighbour” of the other American
countries, the US policy of friendship and cooperation became known as the “good-neighbour policy”. In
both world wars most South American nations cooperated fully with the United States. During World War
II military as well as economic cooperation developed.

In 1960 six South American nations and Mexico signed a treaty setting up a Latin American Free Trade
Area. In the following year President John F. Kennedy introduced a new approach to US economic aid
for Latin America. His Alliance for Progress programme 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 establishment of a Latin American Common Market, which would supersede the
Latin American Free Trade agreement. By 1971, ten years after the establishment of the alliance,
disappointment arose over problems resulting from unanticipated population growth, increased
unemployment, and 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 decade.

Prospects improved for most nations in South America in the 1990s. Average GDP increased by more
than 3 per cent throughout the first half of the decade, and the previously high levels of inflation began
to be brought under control. The creation in 1995 of the Mercosur customs union (whose initial members
were Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay) was intended to help the continent's economies to
become more self-sufficient. Perhaps the most encouraging feature, however, was South America's
rejection of military dictatorships in favour of democratic governments.

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.1

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