By Elizabeth Weintraub
Period A
Latin America
1945 – Present
Chapter Preview:
Forces Shaping Modern Latin America
Latin America, the US, and the World
Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean
Focus on Argentina and Brazil
Important Vocabulary:
Import substitution – government policy of encouraging local
manufacturers to produce goods that would replace imports.
Agribusiness – a giant commercial farm owned by multinational
Liberation theology – movement in the Roman Catholic Church to
actively change the social conditions that contributed to poverty.
A Diverse Region
•Latin America stretches across an immense region from Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean through South
America. It includes 33 independent countries that range from tiny island nations like Grenada and Haiti to giant
•Conquest, immigration, and intermarriage made Latin America culturally diverse. Although Spanish is the chief
language of the region, Portuguese, French, English, Creole, and hundreds of Native American languages and African
dialects are also spoken.
Sources of Unrest
•Uprisings and revolutions shook much of Latin America for decades after WWII.
•A key feature of Latin America has been the uneven distribution of wealth.
•The upper classes were mostly European descents. The majority of the population, the urban and rural poor,
consisted of mestizos, Native Americans, and people of African descent.
•By the mid-1900s, two social classes were emerging as important forces. The middle class and urban working class
expands as cities grew and they were less tied to particular ethnic groups and the old aristocracy and peasantry. They
both had their own hopes for progress and prosperity.
•The population explosion contributed to poverty. The growth rates slowed down in some countries during the 1990s,
but economies were to hard to keep pace with population. In rural areas, mostly peasant farmers, population growth
put stress on the land. They were burdened by debt-slavery and were tied to the land unless they ran away to cities.
•Urbanization was a result of pressure on farmland. In shantytowns that ringed Latin American cities, people lived in
shacks without electricity, sewage, or other services, but they were more likely to attend school or have access to
health care than the rural poor because they were near urban centers.
Politics: Reform, Repression, or Revolution
•Many Latin American states had constitutions that modeled on those of France or the US. They protected the rights of
individuals yet real democracy was difficult to achieve in nations plagued by poverty and inequality.
•After WWII, various groups pressed for reforms. They included liberals, socialists, students, labor leaders, peasant
organizers, and Catholic priests and nuns. They all wanted to improve conditions for the poor so they called for schools,
housing, health care, and land reforms.
•Conservative forces resisted reforms that might undermine their power. Their groups included the military, the traditional
landed aristocracy, and the growing middle class.
•Conflict between conservatives and reformers contributed to the political instability in many nations.
•Military leaders held power in many Latin American Nations and they often served conservative interests, however some
supported economic and social reforms.
•In the 1960s and 1970s military governments seized power in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and elsewhere as social unrest
increased. Claiming the need to restore order, they imposed harsh regimes, such as outlawing political parties, censored
the press, and closed universities.
•Some military rulers tried to solve economic problems by sponsoring capitalism.
•During the 1960s and 1970s, guerrillas and urban terrorists battled repressive governments in many Latin American
countries. Rebel groups used bombings, kidnappings, and assassinations and the leaders of many of these groups
supported Karl Marx’s goals. They said that only a socialist revolution could end inequalities. Marxism won the support
among peasants, urban workers, and some intellectuals while others were motivated by nationalism.
•By the mid-1980s, inflation, debt, and growing protests led repressive leaders to step aside. Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and
other countries held multiparty elections to replace military governments with civilian governments.
• Elections alone could not ensure a truly democratic government. In Peru, President Alberto Fujimori suspended the
nation’s constitution to crush the antigovernment gurrillas and engineered his own reelection before fleeting the country. In
Venezuela, President Hugo Chavez centralized power in his own hands to advance his populist and nationalist “Bolivarian
•Heavy debt burdens and economic slowdowns threatened the success of Latin America’s elected rulers, putting the
stability of democratic governments in the region in doubt.
Economic Development
•Most Latin American nations experienced economic growth between 1900 and the 1960s, except during the Great
Depression in the 1930s. Their economies were influenced by global economic trends and dependence on industrial
nations. They faced growing competition from African and Asian nations seeking to export their crops and commodities.
•To reduce dependence on imported goods, many Latin American governments encouraged the development of local
industries. This is the policy of import substitution and it had mixed success. The middle class prospered but many of the
new industries were inefficient and needed government help. Though it did not expand enough to create new jobs for the
rapidly growing population. Governments eventually returned to promoting agricultural exports.
•Much of the best farming areas belonged to agribusinesses. Commercial agriculture increased the need to import food.
Some food production declined and as a result food had to be imported at a high cost.
•In the 1980s, Latin American Nations were shaken by economic storms, including high oil costs, rising interest rates, and
global recession. To ease the debt crisis, nations like Brazil and Mexico cut spending on social programs, raised high
prices, and opened their markets to foreign companies. Most governments got their debt payments under control.
•Since the 1990s, Latin American governments have strengthened regional free trade blocs, such as the Andean
Community and the Southern Common Market. By expanding markets, free trade organizations opened the way to
economic growth.
Changing Social Patterns
•Urbanization brought social upheaval. City life weakened the extended family of rural villages and replaced it with the
smaller nuclear family. The struggle to make a living caused some families to fall apart.
•To support their families, many women took jobs outside the home. They worked hard to increase their role in public life
and to win equality. By 1961, women had won the right to vote throughout the Americas. By the 1990s, Argentina,
Nicaragua, and Panama had women presidents and Benedita da Silva became the first black woman elected to the
Brazilian congress.
•Women’s status varied according to class and race. Generally women were responsible for home and child care but
upper-class women had access to education and professional careers and could hire servants to care for their homes and
children. Rural women of Indian or African descent faced prejudice and poverty.
•To help their families and communities, some women pushed for schools and health care. They also protested human
rights abuses by brutal military governments. Others protested against violence against women or challenged the
subordinate position of women within the family.
•The Catholic church has remained a powerful force throughout Latin America and was often tied to the conservative
ruling class. However, some Church leaders had always spoken up for the poor.
•During the 1960s and 1970s, many priests, nuns, and church workers crusaded for social justice and an end to poverty.
This movement became known as liberation theology.
Important Vocabulary:
Literacy rate – the percentage of a population that can
read and write.
Embargo – a ban on trade.
Communism in Cuba
•After the Spanish-American war, Cuba won independence from Spain, but was controlled by the US under the
Platt Amendment to the Cuban Constitution until 1935. During this time, the US practically supported Cuba.
In the 1950s, a young lawyer named Fidel Castro rallied forces opposed the corrupt Batista regime. He
was victorious in 1959. Cubans at first saw him as a hero but their perspective of him changed when he
turned Cuba into a communist country. Even though he imposed harsh authoritarian rule, he did improve
conditions for the poor. During the 1960s, Cuba provided basic health care for all, promoted equality for
women, and increased the nation’s literacy rate. Critics were jailed and hundreds of thousands fled to
the US.
•The Cuban Revolution alarmed the US, especially as Castro turned to the Soviet Union for aid. In 1961,
the US backed a plot by anti-Castro exiles to invade Cuba and overthrow Castro. The invasion force that
landed at the Bay of Pigs in Cuba was quickly crushed and the next year the US imposed an embargo on
•Castro allowed the Soviet Union to build a nuclear missile base in Cuba, just 90 miles from Florida, and
these Soviet nuclear threats outraged the US.
•On October 1962, President John Kennedy declared a naval blockade of Cuba and demanded that the
Soviets remove the weapons. After several days of the Cuban missile crisis, the Soviet leader backed
•The US continued to isolate Cuba and undermine Castro as he encouraged the revolution.
•When the Soviet Union collapsed in the early 1990s, Cuba lost its chief ally and trading partner so Cuba’s
economy was wrecked. He then encouraged tourism and welcomed foreign investment but vowed to
preserve communism.
•The US refused to negotiate with Castro.
The US and Latin America
•The US was the leading investor and trading partner for most nations in Latin America. At the same time, culture
drifted north and south. However, they did have different views of each other.
•During the Cold War, the US tried to prevent the spread of communism in Latin America. In the 1970s, after
socialist Salvador Allende was elected president of Chile, President Richard Nixon sent support to a military coup that
overthrew Allende.
•In 1989, the US invaded Panama and overthrew the government of General Manuel Noriega. He was then removed
from Panama, tried, convicted, and jailed for drug trafficking.
•Many Latin Americans opposed the US economic and military intervention, and resented its political, economic, and
cultural influence in Latin America.
•Despite disagreements, Latin American nations and the US did work together.
•In 1948, The Organization of American States (OAS) was formed to promote democracy, economic cooperation, and
human rights.
•Castro and other cold war tensions led President Kennedy to launch the Alliance for Progress in 1961. Under this, the
US offered billions in loans and investments, and in exchange, Latin American governments were to enact genuine
reforms. The goals were to promote education and land reform, reduce inequality and poverty, weaken dictatorships,
and help countries avoid revolutions. This alliance produced little progress but the US provided aid to Latin America
Regional and Global Issues
•By the end of the Cold War, many Latin American nations had reduced their dependence on the US, but the US still
remained their chief trading partner.
•Many Latin American nations increased trade and cultural links to European countries.
•In the 1990s, regional trading blocs gained importance in Latin America (and elsewhere around the world). They
created larger markets by lowering trade barriers among neighboring countries.
•In 1993, Mexico linked its economy to those of the US and Canada through NAFTA.
•Regional cooperation was essential to efforts to control the illegal drug trade. However, as drug use increased in
various parts of the world, criminal gangs, or drug cartels, began producing and exporting even-larger quantities of
cocaine and other drugs. By the 1970s, drug lords made huge profits and used them to bribe government officials and
hire assassins to kill judges, journalists, and others who spoke out against them.
•In the 1980s, there was demand for drugs in the US so the US declared a “war on drugs” to stop the flow of drugs.
The US pressed governments in Colombia, Peru, and other countries to destroy coca crops and move against the
•Concerns about the environment also raised some troubling issues for Latin America and the world.
•The most widely publicized issue was the rapid destruction of the Amazon rain forest, which occupies more than a
million square miles in the heart of Brazil. Environmentalists argued that deforestation had enormous costs. They
called the Amazon rain forest “the lungs of the world” because it plays a key role in absorbing poisonous carbon
dioxide from the air and releasing essential oxygen.
•Another environmental concern was rapid development, which meant disaster for many native peoples.
•After the 1970s, Latin American immigration to the US increased rapidly. Poverty, civil war, and repressive
governments led many people to flee their homelands. They sought freedom and economic opportunity.
•By the early 2000s, Latin Americans were the largest immigrant group in the US.
Important Vocabulary:
Ejido – peasant cooperative
Maquiladora – an assembly plant owned by a multinational
Contras – guerrillas who fought against the Sandinistas.
Continuity and Change in Mexico
•In the 1930s, Mexico endured a long, violent revolution. Mexican President Lazaro Cardenas had taken steps to fulfill the promises of the
Mexican revolution – especially land reforms. He distributed millions of acres of land to peasants, but most was given to ejidos. But over
the years, however, the land reform proved unsuccessful. The conditions worsened and many peasants migrated to towns and cities,
especially to the capital.
•Since the Mexican revolution, a single party – the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) – has dominated Mexican politics. It claimed to
represent all groups – from workers and peasants to business industrial interests and the military. The PRI held on to power by responding
to social ills with reform programs for education, welfare, and health.
•From time to time, the government faced rebel uprisings. In 1994, rebels demanded land reforms and rights for Native Americans.
Though the Chiapas rebels became international heroes, they failed to achieve their goals.
•The PRI had to make some election reforms under intense pressure. Because of corruption and drug scandals along with internal splits, it
lost its majority in the national legislature.
•In 2000, an opposition candidate, Vincente Fox, won election as Mexico’s president, ending the PRI’s long grip on power. He pushed to
end political corruption, reduce poverty, and spur economic growth. He also tried to protect the rights of Mexico’s indigenous people.
However, Mexicans remained poor.
•After WWII, Mexico pushed ahead with efforts to foster import substitution, reduce foreign influence, and expand agriculture.
•From the 1940s to the early 1980s, both manufacturing and agriculture made huge gains. Mexico’s economy became the second largest in
Latin America after that of Brazil. This growth turned Mexico from an agricultural society into a mostly urban, industrial society.
However, in the 1980s, global economic trends worked against Mexico.
•As the 1900s came to an end, Mexico remained a disturbing mix of prosperity and poverty. Maquiladoras flourished along Mexico’s
northern border. They provided many jobs for the Mexicans – most of them women.
•Despite economic growth, Mexicans remained poor. The economy could not produce enough jobs for the rapid population growth.
•In the 1930s, Mexico set out to reduce economic influence through import substitution. Yet the nation continued to rely on investment
capital from the US. In 1993, Mexico, the US, and Canada signed the NAFTA. Supporters claimed that the free-trade association would
boost prosperity by lowering the trade barriers, thus opening up a huge regional market. The NAFTA did bring some new business
investments to Mexico but at the same time it hurt Mexican manufacturers who could not compete with a flood of goods from the US.
•Issues such as illegal immigration and drug smuggling created tension between the US and Mexico.
War and Peace in Central America
•In Central America, unrest threatened the ruling elite of military, business, and landowning interests. Discontent grew in the cities
and among rural Indian communities that had long suffered form poverty and oppression. Fearing the spread of communism, the US
intervened repeatedly in the region.
•Along with Mexico and Cuba, Nicaragua was one of three Latin American countries to have a genuine revolution in the twentieth
•In the 1970s, various groups opposed to Anastasio Somoza joined forces and they called themselves Sandinistas after Augusto
Sandino, a revolutionary of the 1930s. Like Sandino, they were reform-minded nationalists. The Sandinistas included a large
number of women and leftist students.
•In 1979, the revolutionaries ousted Somoza and set out to reshape Nicaragua. Under the Sandinista president Daniel Ortega, they
introduced land reform and other socialist policies. Fearing that Nicaragua would become “another Cuba”, President Ronald Reagan
secretly backed the contras.
•A long civil war weakened the economy but did not unseat the Sandinistas. Both sides finally reached a compromise from with the
help of other Central American countries and in 1990, Violeta Chamorro, a moderate, won election as president. The Sandinistas
peacefully handed over power but kept control of the army.
•Over the next decade, rival political parties, including the Sandinistas, competed for power in Nicaragua. The economy stayed poor,
unemployment was still high, and he country had a heavy debt burden.
•In 1998, Hurricane Mitch added to the nation’s woes by devastating much of the country.
•Fearing growing communist influence and threats to American interests, the US helped oust Guatemala’s reformist government in
1954. The chief victims of the decades of civil wars were the Native American majority.
•Although a civilian government took power in the mid-1980s, the military remained a powerful force behind the scenes. In 1996,
the 30-year civil war finally ended when the government and guerrillas signed a peace agreement that recognized the rights of the
Guatemalan people.
•The ruling class of military officials and wealthy landowners was also challenged in El Salvador. Reformers and revolutionaries
found new support in the Catholic Church.
•During a vicious 12-year civil war, right-wing death squads slaughtered church workers, student and labor leaders, and anyone else
thought to sympathize with leftists.
•In 1980, Archbishop Romero fell victim to the fighting, gunned down as he celebrated mass in a chapel.
•Meanwhile, the US pressed the government to make some reforms but also provided weapons and other aid to help the military battle rebel
•Finally, in 1991, both sides agreed to a UN-brokered peace. However problems remained. The civil war had ravaged the economy.
Despite large-scale aid from the International Monetary Fund, El Salvador remained a developing nation with a fragile democracy.
Struggle in Haiti
•Like other Latin American countries, the Caribbean nation of Haiti has endured a history of dictatorial rule and rebellion. Since
independence in 1804, a small upper class controlled the economy and ruled the rural poor majority.
•From 1957 to 1971, Dr. François Duvalier ruled Haiti. He used his secret police, Tantons Macoutes, to crush opposition and terrorize the
people. His son was driven into exile in 1986, but a succession of military leaders then ruled the island nation.
•In 1990 and again in 2000, voters chose Jean-Bertrand Aristide as president. A former Catholic priest and supporter of liberation theology,
Aristide pledged to advance Haiti at least “from misery to dignified poverty.” He was ousted by the military during his first term and later
returned to office by threat of the US military action.
•Despite his pledge, Aristide was unable to make meaningful reforms and Haiti remained the poorest nation in the western Hemisphere.
•Haiti was just one example of the many Central American and Caribbean countries that faced a tangled set of political, social, and
economic problems. Natural disasters such as hurricanes or earthquakes further added to their ills. Official corruption was widespread, and
governments failed to address the root causes of poverty. As a result, social and political unrest remained.
Important Vocabulary:
Favelas – slums
Plebiscite – a vote in which people approve or reject a
Squatters – people who settle on land that they do not own.
Dictatorship and Democracy
•In the early 1900s, Argentina was the largest Spanish-speaking nation in the world and the richest nation in Latin
America. It had a fairly stable government dominated by the wealthy elite. The economy was fed by exports of
beef and wheat, mostly to Britain. Argentina attracted millions of immigrant, many whom worked in the factories
of Buenos Aires. For the next 50 years, Argentina was plagued by economic crises, social unrest, and military rule.
•In 1946, Juan Peron was elected president. He appealed to Argentine nationalism by limiting foreign-owned
businesses and promoting import substitutions. He won the loyalty of the working classes. He was helped by his
glamorous wife Eva Duarte Peron, who had risen from poverty to fame as an actress. She had clinics built and
gave money to the sick and unemployed. She helped women gain a right to vote, to secure more votes for her
•While Juan Peron wooed the urban poor, his authoritarian government stifled opposition. Many educated
people fled Argentina and his policies led to a huge debt and soaring inflation. In 1955, he was ousted by a
military coup and forced into exile.
•For two decades, the military was in and out of power, and supporters of Peron urged a return to his policies.
•In 1976, Peron was reelected and became president and he chose his new wife, Isabel, as vice president. When
he died, Isabel became the first woman head of state in the Western Hemisphere. Because Isabel faced terrorism
and crises, the military finally took over.
•To combat leftist guerrillas, the army waged a “dirty war,” terrorizing people that they claimed were enemies of
the state.
•In 1982, the military hoped to mask economic troubles by seizing the British-ruled Falkland Islands. Argentina had
long claimed these islands, which it called the Malvinas. In the brief war, the British retook the Falklands. Defeat
undermined the power of Argentina’s military, and it was forced to hold free elections.
•In 1983, elected officials restored democracy to Argentina. Despite economic setbacks and corruption
scandals, democratic rule survived.
•Argentina, like many Latin American nations, experienced economic swings. The economy grew in the 1900s,
aided by the country’s rich natural resources and well-educated workforce. Inflation eased and the government
imposed financial reforms required by the IMF to receive loans and aid.
•By 2000, Argentina faced a desperate new crisis. Recession hit, the nation’s debt mushroomed, and its currency
lost value. As the economy neared collapse, strikes and unrest spread and the government seeped unable to solve
the crisis. By 2003, the difficulties had eased somewhat but still Argentineans would feel the effects of the cash for
years to come.
Brazil’s People and Government
•Brazil occupies almost half of South America. Its varied landscapes include the Amazon River and the world’s
largest tropical rainforest. Northeastern Brazil, however, is arid plain. Brazil’s natural resources include timber, and
rich farmlands that yield cash crops such as coffee and sugar. Geographic conditions have contributed to uneven
settlement patterns.
•Unlike South American neighbors, Brazil was settled by people from Portugal, not Spain. Brazil is also very diverse.
In the 1900s, many Japanese and Germans settled in Brazil, adding to its cultural mix.
•Most Brazilians are Roman Catholic, but a growing number of people embrace evangelical Protestant faiths.
Others practiced Candomble, a form of worship that blends African and Christian beliefs.
•Rapid population growth and class divisions have contributed to the poverty in Brazil. Teeming, garbage-strewn
favelas ring the major cities, which boast luxurious high-rise apartment buildings and wealthy shopping areas.
•Like its neighbors, Brazil had its share of dictators and military rulers.
•Between 1930 and 1945, dictator Getulio Vargas allied himself with the working poor. He improved wages and
workers’ benefits, favored labor unions, and gave women the right to vote. He was eventually toppled by the
military but was allowed to run for election again.
•By 1964, economic problems and fear of communism led the military to take over again and secretly supported by
the US.
•In the mid-1980s, though, the military gradually eased their grip on power. In 1989, Brazilians were finally able to
vote directly for a president for the first time in 29 years. To determine if Brazil should remain a republic or return to
being a monarchy, a plebiscite was held in 1993.
Brazil’s “Economic Miracle”
•“Brazil is a country of the future and always will be.”
•In the early 1900s, the huge demand for Brazilian rubber suddenly fell off, causing economic hardships.
•In the 1930s, Brazil moved away from dependence on a single export by diversifying its economy. During and
after WWII, industry continued to expand.
•In the 1950s, President Juscelino Kubitschek promised “fifty years of progress in five.” He opened up the Amazon
forest region to settlers by carving out a new capital, Brasilia, hundreds of miles from the Atlantic coast.
•“Power in the world is a great nation that has territory, population, wealth, financial resources, technology,
material goods, minerals,” says one Brazilian leader. Brazil had almost all of these.
•Under the military, experts ran the economy, which for a time chalked up impressive growth.
•In the 1980s, Brazil, like other developing nations, faced a host of economic problems – from inflation to debt.
Population growth and migration strained the government’s ability to provide services as millions of people
flooded to Brazil’s major cites. Conditions for the poor worsened when the government cut spending in response
to the debt crisis.
•One of Brazil’s enduring problems was the unequal distribution of land.
•In the 1990s, President Fernando Henrique Cardosa pushed through reforms to spur economic growth and ease
inflation. In response to the Landless Movement, he distributed some land to peasants. He also privatized some
state-run industries.
•In 2002, voters elected Luiz Inacia Lula da Silva as president. He was Brazil’s first leftist president in more than 40
years. As Lula warned, solving Brazil’s problem could take more than one term.
Continue to Regents Review Questions
1) Which statement is best supported by the data in the graph?
1. The urban areas of Honduras and Panama require the largest supply of water in Central America.
2. Belize and Costa Rica are meeting the water needs of their urban population.
3. Urban water supplies are declining in many Central American countries.
4. Most Central American countries experienced a decrease in urban population between 1980 and 1988.
2) In many Latin American nations, reliance on
the production of a single cash crop has led
1. economic dependence on other nations
2. rapid repayment of foreign loans
3. a high per capita Gross National Product
4. development of a strong industrial economy
4) The main purpose of the Organization of American States
(OAS) is to
1. integrate the economies of Latin American nations
2. encourage United States military involvement in the region
3. destroy the power of Colombian drug lords
4. provide a way to resolve regional problems peacefully
3) In the 1980?s, the governments of both Brazil and
Malaysia supported the cutting of timber in their
rain forests as a means of
5) Which type of government has resulted from the
changing political trends in much of Latin America
during the 1990’s?
1. achieving economic prosperity
2. increasing the national debt
3. controlling rebellions of indigenous peoples
4. preventing exploitation by imperialist nations
1. monarchy
2. military juntas
3. democracy
4. fascism
Correct answers:
2 because some countries in Latin America have experienced water shortages in their cities as
the urban population continues to rise.
1 because the production of a single crop does not allow for the diversity that Latin American
nations need in order to be economically dependent of other nations, particularly when there
are poor harvests or widespread crop failures.
1 because deforestation is used to clear land for farming or habitation. This is done in response
to growing populations in such areas as Brazil and Malaysia.
4 because the OAS was formed in 1948 to help promote democracy, human rights, and
economic cooperation between nations of Latin America and the United States.
3 because many Latin America countries are slowly forming democratic governments, as aid to
communist groups has disappeared with the collapse of the Soviet Union.
For more Regents Review questions on Latin America, visit

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