- Latin America
—Latin American. —Latin-American, n., adj.the part of the American continents south of the United States in which Spanish, Portuguese, or French is officially spoken.
* * *Countries of South America and North America (including Central America and the islands of the Caribbean Sea) south of the U.S.; the term is often restricted to countries where either Spanish or Portuguese is spoken.The colonial era in Latin America began in the 15th–16th centuries when explorers such as Christopher Columbus and Amerigo Vespucci made voyages of discovery to the New World. The conquistadores who followed, including Hernán Cortés and Francisco Pizarro, brought Spanish rule to much of the region. In 1532 the first Portuguese settlement was made in Brazil. The Roman Catholic church soon established many missions in Latin America. Roman Catholicism is still the chief religion in most Latin American countries, though the number of Protestants and Evangelicals has grown. Spanish and Portuguese colonists arrived in increasing numbers; they enslaved the native Indian population, which was soon decimated by ill treatment and disease, and then imported African slaves to replace them. A series of movements for independence, led by José de San Martín, Simón Bolívar, and others, swept Latin America in the early 19th century. Federal republics were promulgated across the region, but many of the new countries collapsed into political chaos and were taken over by dictators or military juntas, a situation that persisted into the 20th century. In the 1990s a trend toward democratic rule reemerged; in socialist-run countries many state-owned industries were privatized, and efforts toward regional economic integration were accelerated.
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