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History of Latin America: The Colonial to Contemporary Period Essay

The history of Latin America can only be understood in its relations with other countries and continents. Europe and Anglo-America play a huge role in shaping the history of Latin America from pre-colonial times to the contemporary period. The expansionist policies of colonizing countries clearly meddled with the history of Latin America. This is seen in the longstanding presence of dominant countries in the continent. The effects of these forces can be seen in the economy, politics, culture and history of Latin America.

Interestingly, defining Latin America by presenting its history is a monumental task. For one, Latin America is not a homogenous continent. “It is an immense world region striving to establish its place in the new global order… it is home to some 500 million people who well represent the rich racial and cultural diversity of the human family” (Vanden and Prevost 1). Rather than present Latin American history in the traditional historical framework—dates, geography, political successions—which is linear in nature, this essay resonates Eduardo Galeano’s depiction of Latin American history.

This presentation is based on a number of facets of history that are suitable images of what Latin American peoples had collectively undergone. This essay seeks to present the history of Latin America from the colonial to contemporary period. Given the vast scope of the region’s history, specific thematic spheres are focal discussion points in this essay. The discussion will focus in terms of: slavery, foreign domination, agriculture structure, foreign debt, living standards and neo-liberalism. Lastly, the conclusion presents a synthesized view of Latin America’s history.

Slavery One phenomenon collectively experienced by Latin America is slavery. The main reason for the interest of colonizers in Latin America is economic in nature. Slavery is a means of production whereby the mass production of goods from the colonizing countries would have free labor. Intensifying the capital would translate to a corresponding increase of productivity for the colonizer. Slavery took place almost immediately after the invasion of Latin American countries.

It is tied to the new law and order promulgated by the ones in the bastion of power. Modem day transatlantic slave trade dated from 1519 to 1867; by 1530 the Spanish crown had authorized the spread of slavery to Puerto Rico, Cuba, and Jamaica” (Vanden and Prevost 33). The colonizers of Europe and the US had the “realization that new laborers, artisans, and those with other skills could add to the growing nations” (8). This means that slavery crept through the entire continent, every colonizer followed suit—fearing of lagging behind the economies of colonizers that are founded on slave labor—since then others have already adopted the practice of slavery.

In the movie Burn, the island of Queimada is ravaged with unscrupulous practices of production. Slaves were used in the sugar plantations and manufacturing plants so that the profits are maximized (Burn 1969). Although, there are different forms of slavery within Latin America and in some countries, slavery as a tool for economic production even failed. The case of Brazil and the Carribean showed that resistance to slavery can be successful. “In northern Brazil and the Caribbean, native slavery failed, and the native peoples would not otherwise provide the abundant labor needed” (Vanden and Prevost 32).

Foreign Domination Pre-colonial Latin America is isolated in nature: the economies there were “small local spheres that are isolated from events outside the valley, village or small town. ” (146) Civilizations such as the Mayan, Mohican, etc. contributed to the breakdown of isolationism, although the collapse is only in economic terms and is limited only to the region. Less centralized societies existed before the foreign presence in the region and had been self-sustaining for centuries. “Latin American integration into the world economy only began when the Europeans arrived” (146).

During the period of foreign domination, the breakdown of autonomy of the different facets of society became a massive and all-encompassing policy. Politics, culture, economics, social order, law and governance are all key positions held by foreign powers. The relationship between the empire and colonies is similar to the relationship of the slaves to their masters. Core-periphery relationship enabled the rich empires to continually develop at the expense of the peripheries. The decisions on resources, politics and over-all direction of the Latin America are done on foreign soil.

Galeano points out that the expansionist policy of foreign colonizers had a push and a pull factor. The push factor is the desire of colonizers for glory. The first of the conquerors that came to Latin America are the Europeans notably the Spanish. Initially, the desire for glory drove explorers to different expeditions of other lands. The pull factor is the allure of the expeditionary forces to the vast riches of the region. “After the reports of the riches of the empire to the south had reached the Spanish settlement in Panama, considerable interest in conquest developed.

Eventually, the Spanish came back with its conquistadores” (Galeano 27). The rest, as we now know from hindsight, is history. Agriculture Production Agricultural production in the Latin America became the fuel for development of the imperial global market. “At the same time, directly or indirectly but decisively, it spurred the growth of Dutch, French, English and United States industry. The demand for sugar produced the plantation, an enterprise motivated by… profit and placed at the service of the international market that Europe is organizing. (Galeano 72). Agriculture production policies of the imperial powers deliberately shifted from small-scale farming into monocrop economies. “As national economies developed, regions and often whole nations became dedicated to monoculture—dedication to one crop or commodity. ” (Vanden and Prevost 151). Colombia and El Salvador focused on selling coffee on the international market, Mexico and Venezuela were dependent on the petroleum commodity, Bolivia centered on tin. Coffee and bananas became the biggest agricultural products of Central America.

From being self-sufficient agricultures, where people “nourished themselves on a balanced diet consisting of beans, corn, and squash,” (Vanden and Prevost 19), the shift into agro-industries is triggered by the principle of comparative advantage on the international market. Latin America at this point became a good source of raw materials and food for the imperialist states. The priority of agriculture in peripheries is always the self-serving interest of the US and Europe. While Brazil prospered due to its exports of sugarcane monoculture, the nation’s children ironically starved.

Abundance and prosperity came hand in hand with chronic malnutrition and misery for most of the population” (Galeano 75). Foreign Debt At present Jamaica owes over $4. 5 billion to the IMF, the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) among other international lending agencies yet the significant development that these loans have guaranteed have yet to manifest. The amounts of foreign exchange together with the structural adjustment policies have had a negative impact in the life of everybody.

In another part of the movie, we can see the history of a chicken plant which had a good business selling high-quality chicken to the internal Jamaica market; but this business has been demoralize by U. S. ; while there are a lot of restriction on foods and goods imported into the U. S. there are regularly no restrictions on foods and goods exported to foreign developing country. (Life and Debt 2001). Jamaica is not alone in its debt crisis. After the shift from colonialism to the independence of Latin America, the new world order shifted its principles from liberalism to a neo-liberal, neo-colonial system.

Virtually all of Latin America is on the throes of economic dependence on international financial institutions, namely the IMF and World Bank. The loans do not come without strings attached to it. Structural adjustment programs and stringent conditionalities essentially limit the capability of Latin America to compete at the global market. For instance, produce from Third World countries such as that in Latin America are penalized with tariffs and quotas as they enter First World markets, while finished products of the US and Europe find their ‘niche’ market in the Third World. The free play of supply and demand does not exist on the international market, the reality is a dictatorship of one group over the other” (Galeano 259).

Conclusion: Global Economic Hegemony The alienation of the peoples of Latin America, their sufferings and collective aspirations juxtaposed with the injustices experienced within its history are the prime reasons for the regions revolutionary and bloody history. From slavery, to feudalism, to mercantilism, to capitalism, the world order had changed via neo-liberalism, neo-colonialism and globalization.

Sadly, none of these modes of production had effectively benefitted Latin America. These different economic historical periods are only different forms of the same thing—inequalities, poverty, human rights abuses and a melange of problems that hound Latin America today. Since the colonial period, the grips of powerful nation states had never loosened on Latin America. It is a good source of raw materials, with cheap labor and also a good market for finished products.

The international economic structures enabled “economic policy recommendations that are dominated by orthodox capitalist economic thinking” (Vanden and Prevost 165). Inequalities continue to exist and are even presented in smokescreens such as Free Trade, which is not free after all. The Global North competing in the international market against the Global South is a very one-sided economic structure that benefits the North at the expense of the South.

The contemporary global economic hegemony is essential for the US and Europe, it is essential for their survival. Globalization shrank the world into a smaller entity but the international economy is still run by colonial powers. 21st century domination of the world does not come in barbaric way, the methods of coercion and domination are subtle yet they are as cruel and deadly as before. What had happened for the past centuries is an enslavement of Latin America and a raping of humanity by colonizers.


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