Latin America is a vast region in the Americas where the main languages spoken include Portuguese, Spanish and some French. The region covers a geographical area of approximately 21,069,501 square kilometers. Latin America’s total population was estimated at over 586 million people in 2009 and it’s combined GDP at $ 4. 26 trillion. The expected economic growth rate is more or less 4% for the year 2010. Latin America includes countries like Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Ecuador, and Venezuela among so many other countries.
At the eve of independence, Latin America had a lot in common including common colonial domination and shared characteristics in terms of controlled access to global trade and concentrated land ownership. The region still shares a lot including history, culture, language and challenges. The 19th century was characterized by mass migration brought about by the world’s first wave of migration from the Old to the new world. The Latin American population surged as a direct result of these mass migrations thus increasing the unskilled labor supply in the economy.
Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay received the largest number of immigrants in the 19th century. Case in point is Argentina where by the turn of the 20th century every one in three inhabitants was a foreigner while Uruguay doubled its population. (Arroyo, 2007) The challenges of race and ethnicity are a direct result of the mass migrations of yore. Latin American countries have grappled with racial discrimination of their minorities. One’s race or ethnical background is used today as a determinant of who gets opportunities and therefore wealth and health in Latin America.
In countries like Brazil, Chile, Mexico and Guatemala indigenous men earn 35-65% less than white men. (Ferranti, Ferreira, Perry & Walton, 2003) Another momentous phenomenon was the unprecedented trade that was experienced mainly as a result of decreasing costs in transport and technological innovation. During the same period there was an increase in the terms of trade. This was a major boost to the agricultural sector since Latin America is a key producer of primary products. This trend favored two factors of production namely land and labor. Land is considered a very valuable commodity in Latin America.
This was the case in the 19th century and it is still the held perception today that ownership of land indicates an individual’s class. The ruling class is referred to as the “landed elite”. There were many wars between the Latin American countries as they fought to control more land. These conflicts were also experienced internally as people struggled to accumulate this vital factor of production. Owning land was therefore a matter of life and death since it suggested wealth and uplifted ones social status which guaranteed the rich participation in the political system through voting. (Arroyo, 2007)
It is impossible to separate the issue of inequality even as we discuss the influence of the global system and the history of Latin America. This is because inequality has been a major challenge that has managed to intertwine itself in every milestone event in the making of Latin America. Ferranti, et al (2003) reported that Latin America was extremely unequal in terms of incomes, access to health, education, water and electricity. The report also established that there were wide disparities in opportunities and wealth. These have only served to undercut efforts aimed at reduction of poverty and the development agenda.
As the global market exerted more and more pressure on Latin Americas production system, the distribution of income and resources became increasingly lopsided leaving a lasting challenge on the ruling elite. Much has been said about the problem of inequality in Latin America but it is safe to state that the injustices are historical in nature. Successive governments have only served to perpetuate the problem of inequality and its resulting features instead of dealing with the problem. The levels of inequality have continued to rise, several years after independence.
For instance, 48% of the total income of Latin America and the Caribbean was earned by the richest one- tenth of the population whereas the poorest one tenth earned a meager 1. 6%. It gets worse; the levels of inequality in Argentina, Venezuela and Uruguay have significantly risen. This fact shows that. (Ferranti et al, 2003) The favorable terms of trade experienced right after independence resulted in land annexation and in most Latin American countries. The distribution of other vital resources was heavily skewed in favor of the rich landowners who went on to ride roughshod over the masses.
This resulted in inequalities within the population as the gap between the “haves” and the “have- not’s” widened. Inequality is still a major problem in Latin America today since little has been done to address the concerns of those who feel marginalized. There have been several periods of colonization in Latin America and each of them has resulted to anti- colonial movements. The colonial period came to an end in the mid 19th century with the wars of independence. Another era immediately followed and this was known as neocolonialism.
In this case Latin America was still subject to British economic controls. Britain was later replaced by the United States to whom the Latin American economies were overly dependent. This continued foreign interference led to anti- colonial sentiments which escalated into anti imperialistic movements across the region. (Young, 2001) Anti-imperialist sentiments are still manifested today as can be seen in the kinds of leaders who have assumed power in the recent past. These include Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, Jose Mujica of Uruguay, Lula da Silva of Brazil and Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua among many others.
These leaders have taken every available opportunity to apportion blame instead of facing their countries challenges with the same zeal. In conclusion, the world economic system and its dynamics have played a major role in shaping the history of the Latin American region. This has been illustrated in the events that have occurred in the area, the challenges that have arisen and the collective response of the respective countries. What is needed is to enact comprehensive institutional reforms that will also serve to address the issues facing this region.
Maybe then Latin America will arise from its deep slumber and claim its rightful place in the world. References Arroyo L. A, (2007) Inequality in a Small Open Economy; Latin America in the 19th Century Seventh Conference of the European Historical Economics Society Ferranti, D. , Ferreira H. G, Perry G. , & Walton, D. (2003), Inequality in Latin America & the Caribbean: Breaking with History http://go. worldbank. org/TFJHCL2B30 Young, R. J. C. Post colonialism: A Historical Introduction. Oxford and Malden, Mass. : Blackwell, 2001.
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