Discovering South America: History, Politics, and Culture
South America is the fourth-largest continent on earth, and is home to more than 386 million people. The lavishly illustrated books in the DISCOVERING SOUTH AMERICA: HISTORY, POLITICS, AND CULTURE series survey the countries of this continent, and detail the geography, history, economy, and culture of each nation. Each of these 64-page books is written in an easy-to-understand style, and includes numerous color illustrations and maps. A chronology, glossary of terms, a guide to additional resources for more information, text-dependent questions and report ideas, and an index supplement the up-to-date information provided within the books.
Argentina, located in the southern part of South America, is the world's eighth-largest country. It is home to some of the world's tallest mountains, along with tumbling waterfalls, enormous grassland plains, and wide deserts. In the first half of the 20th century, Argentina was one of the most prosperous countries in the Southern Hemisphere. However, in recent decades Argentina's economy has been troubled by inflation and debt, and this has resulted in significant social and political unrest. When the government defaulted on its foreign debt in the summer of 2014, many experts feared that the Argentine economy would collapse again, as it did from 1998--2002. This would have a devastating impact on South Americas economic prospects for the future. There's a lot to discover about Argentina!
Named for South America's famed independence fighter Simï¿½n Bolï¿½var, landlocked Bolivia rests in the center of the continent. With its snowy mountain peaks, tropical rain forests, and grasslands, the nation holds vast mineral resources and great natural beauty. The Andes Mountain range dominates the western third of Bolivia, where most of its 10 million people live. More than 60 percent of Bolivia's citizens are Native Americans, who historically have been dominated by the white and mestizo minority. However, with the 2006 election of the country's first indigenous president, Evo Morales, and the passage of a new constitution in 2009, Native Americans have gained greater rights and freedoms. Despite this, Bolivia continues to face many challenges, and remains one of the least-developed and poorest countries in Latin America. There's a lot to discover about Bolivia!
Brazil is the largest country in South America, covering nearly half of the continent. With more than 200 million people, it is the fifth-most populous country in the world. The culture of Brazil is a fascinating blend of Native American, Portuguese, African, Japanese, and other influences.Over the past five decades, there have been many changes in Brazils society and economy. Schools and hospitals have become more available, highways have been built and industries developed, and modern conveniences have been introduced even in once-isolated areas. However, the country is also facing serious problems, including a wide disparity between its wealthiest and poorest citizens. There's a lot to discover about Brazil!
The world's longest country, the ribbon-like Republic of Chile extends for about 2,650 miles (4,265 km) along the Pacific coast of southwestern South America. A land of great beauty and contrasts, Chile features the snow-capped volcanic peaks of the Andes to the east, the extremely dry Atacama Desert to its north, and rainy, thick forests to the south. Most of the approximately 18 million Chileans live in the mild climate of the Central Valley, where farms produce abundant crops and industrial cities thrive. Mining is an important part of the country's economy, with Chile annually producing about one-third of the world's copper. The country is also known for exports of fresh fruit. Today, Chile is one of the most stable and democratic nations of South America. There's a lot to discover about Chile!
Colombia, which has coasts on both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, has been a strategically important region for more than 500 years. Today, the Republic of Colombia is the fourth-largest country in South America by area, and second-largest by population. At one time, Colombia's economy was highly dependent on agriculture, but today the country is fully modernized and has industrial centers in Bogotï¿½, Medellï¿½n, Cali, Barranquilla, and other major cities. Since the 1960s, Colombia has been troubled by a long-running conflict between government forces and various guerrilla groups such as the FARC and ELN, in which more than 220,000 people have died. Violence spiked in the 1990s, but has been more subdued in recent years. Peace talks between the government and FARC in 2013 have led to hope that the armed conflict may finally end. There's a lot to discover about Colombia!
Named for the equator, which passes through it, the Republic of Ecuador sits on the western coast of South America. One of the smallest countries of the continent, Ecuador nevertheless features a wide variety of terrain: high mountain peaks, tropical forests, grasslands, snow-capped volcanoes, and glacial lakes. Off the Pacific coast, about 600 miles (966 km) to the west, lie Ecuador's renowned Galï¿½pagos Islands, home to more than 5,000 species of plants and animals. About half of Ecuadors 15.2 million inhabitants live in the country's fertile, coastal lowlands, where crops like cocoa, bananas, rice, and cotton are grown for export. Ecuador is also known for exports of flowers. The other half of the population resides in the Andean highlands, particularly around the capital city of Quito. More than 70 percent of the population are mestizos, the descendants of Spanish colonists who intermarried with indigenous people. There's a lot to discover about Ecuador!
Located along the northeast coast of South America, Guyana is the only nation on the continent in which English, not Spanish, is the official language. Most of the country's 735,000 people, who are of East Indian, African, or mixed descent, live along the swampy coastal plain in the north. This tropical land was inhabited by the indigenous Arawak and Carb peoples before Dutch colonists established settlements and sugar plantations there in the early 1600s. The region received its name from the Amerindian word guiana, meaning "land of water." In the early 1800s the United Kingdom gained control of Guiana, and it remained a British colony until gaining independence in 1966. Although Guyana possesses fertile land and rich mineral deposits, it remains one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere. There's a lot to discover about Guyana!
A landlocked nation surrounded by its South American neighbors, the Republic of Paraguay has been isolated throughout much of its history. After achieving independence from Spain in 1811, the country suffered through decades of dictatorships and political strife before implementing a democratic system toward the end of the 20th century. Today, most of Paraguay's approximately 7 million citizens are descended from the Guaranï¿½ Amerindian tribe, and many people speak both Spanish and Guaranï¿½. The country experienced a constitutional crisis in 2012, when the elected president, Fernando Lugo, was controversially impeached and removed from office by his political opponents. However, a presidential election in 2013 resulted in a peaceful transfer of power. Paraguay remains one of the most isolated and least industrialized nations of South America. There's a lot to discover about Paraguay!
Nearly 500 years ago the representatives of two great, but very different, civilizations clashed in the Andes Mountains of modern-day Peru. The Incas who lived in the region had established a highly advanced civilization and built great cities and temples of stone. From Europe, Spanish soldiers led by the conquistador Francisco Pizarro came seeking the Incas' gold. In the five centuries since then, the blend of Spanish and Amerindian cultures has contributed greatly to the development of modern Peru. The Republic of Peru is a land of great variety. High mountains, dense jungles, and barren deserts are all found close together. The country is the third largest, by area, in South America. Though Peru has great natural wealth, its economic development has been slow and there remains a wide gap in income between the wealthiest and poorest citizens. There's a lot to discover about Peru!
The fourth-largest continent on earth, South America is a land of great extremes. The longest mountain range on the planet--the Andes--divides the continent from its northern coast on the sunny Caribbean to its southern tip at stormy Tierra del Fuego. Within its boundaries lies the world's highest active volcano (Chimborazo, in Ecuador), the world's highest waterfall (Angel Falls, in Venezuela), and the world's driest region (the Atacama Desert, of Chile). South America's chief river, the 3,900-mile-long (6,276-km-long) Amazon, and its more than 1,000 tributaries flow from the world's largest drainage basin, which is home to countless animal and plant species. More than 386 million people of many different cultures and races live in South America's 12 independent nations and three dependencies. Some are descendants of the land's native Indians, such as the Incas; others carry on the customs and traditions of their European ancestors, especially the Spanish and Portuguese who centuries ago colonized the region. Although wars, political instability, and violence in many South American countries have taken their toll on the economy, leaving millions in poverty, the abundant resources of the continent continue to be developed, producing food and other items sold throughout the world. There's a lot to discover about South America!
Named for the Surinen Indians who once lived within its borders, Suriname is located on the northeastern coast of South America. It is the continent's smallest independent nation. Dense tropical rain forests cover much of the country's sparsely populated, mountainous interior. Most of Surinames population--of East Indian, African, and mixed-race descent--live in the flat coastal region to the north. Settled in the mid-1600s by the English, the colony was later traded to the Dutch in exchange for a colony in North America called New Amsterdam (which eventually became New York City). With independence from the Netherlands in 1975, the nation became the Republic of Suriname. Today, a growing tourist industry and exports of sugar, bauxite, and other crops and minerals drive much of the nations economy. There's a lot to discover about Suriname!
Uruguay, a small country of about 3.3 million people, is located between Brazil and Argentina along South America's southeastern coast. Today, it is considered one of South America's most stable and prosperous countries. With its mild climate and vast pasturelands, Uruguay has sustained a strong agricultural economy based mostly on raising sheep and cattle. Most of Uruguay's citizens live in urban areas that have risen on the countrys narrow coastal plains, to the west along the Uruguay River, in the south bordering the Rio de la Plata, and in the east along the Atlantic seaboard. The country is considered one of the most liberal in South America, as in 2013 it became one of the few nations in the world that have legalized both same-sex marriage and use of the drug marijuana. There's a lot to discover about Uruguay!
In 1499, the Spanish navigator Alonso de Ojeda explored the coast of South America. When his ships entered a gulf, he found that Amerindians had built their homes on stilts along the swampy shore of what became known as Lake Maracaibo. This reminded the explorers of the city of Venice, in Europe, so they named the region Venezuela (Spanish for "Little Venice"). The socialist government of Hugo Chï¿½vez, who ruled from 1999 until his death in 2011, put in place new laws that it said would improve the lives of poorer Venezuelans. However, the laws have instead resulted in economic problems, including rising inflation rates. Venezuela is also troubled by high levels of crime and violence, as well as government corruption. As a result, in recent years the Venezuelan people have publicly demonstrated to demand changes. There's a lot to discover about Venezuela!
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