South America

World map showing South America
World map showing South America
A 3-D relief image of South America
A 3-D relief image of South America

South America is a continent situated in the western hemisphere and, mostly, the southern hemisphere, bordered on the west by the Pacific Ocean and on the north and east by the Atlantic Ocean; North America and the Caribbean Sea lie to the northwest.

As part of the Americas like North America, South America is named after Amerigo Vespucci, who was the first European to suggest that the Americas were not the East Indies, but a New World unknown to Europeans.

South America has an area of 17,840,000 km² (6,890,000 sq mi), or almost 3.5% of the Earth's surface. As of 2005, its population was estimated at more than 371,000,000. South America ranks fourth in area (after Asia, Africa, and North America) and fifth in population (after Asia, Africa, Europe, and North America).

Contents

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Geography

South America is generally considered a continent forming the southern portion of the American landmass, south and east of the Panama Canal transecting the Isthmus of Panama. Depending on the source, South and North America are sometimes considered a single continent or supercontinent, while constituent regions are infrequently considered subcontinents. Geologically, almost all of mainland South America sits on the South American Plate. Geopolitically, all of Panama – including the segment east of the Panama Canal in the isthmus – is often considered a part of North America alone and among the countries of Central America.

The continent became attached to North America only recently (geologically speaking) with the formation of the Isthmus of Panama some 3 million years ago (hypothesis) , which resulted in the Great American Interchange. The Andes, likewise a comparatively young and seismically restless mountain range, run down the western edge of the continent; the land to the east of the Andes is largely tropical rainforest, the vast Amazon River basin. The continent also contains drier regions such as Patagonia and the extremely arid Atacama Desert.

The South American continent also includes various islands, many of which belong to countries on the continent. Many of the islands of the Caribbean (or West Indies) – e.g., the Leeward and Lesser Antilles – sit atop the Caribbean Plate, a tectonic plate with a diffuse topography. The islands of Aruba, Barbados, Trinidad, and Tobago sit on the northerly South American continental shelf. The Netherlands Antilles and the federal dependencies of Venezuela lie along the northerly South American. Geopolitically, the island states and overseas territories of the Caribbean are generally grouped as a part or subregion of North America. [1] [2] [3] The South American nations that border the Caribbean Sea – including Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana – are also known as Caribbean South America.

South America is home to the world's highest waterfall, Angel Falls in Venezuela, the largest river (by volume), the Amazon River, the longest mountain range, the Andes, the driest desert, Atacama Desert, the largest rainforest, the Amazon Rainforest, the highest railroad, Ticlio Peru, the highest capital city, La Paz, Bolivia, the highest commercially navigable lake in the world, Lake Titicaca, and the world's southernmost town, Puerto Toro, Chile.

South America's major natural resources are gold, silver, copper, iron ore, tin, and oil. The many resources of South America have brought high income to its countries especially in times of war or of rapid economic growth by industrialized countries elsewhere. However, the concentration in producing one major export commodity often has hindered the development of diversified economies. The inevitable fluctuation in the price of commodities in the international markets has led historically to major highs and lows in the economies of South American states, often also causing extreme political instability. This is leading to efforts to diversify their production to drive them away from staying as economies dedicated to one major export.

South America is home to many interesting and unique species of animals including the llama, anaconda, piranha, jaguar, vicuna, and tapir. The Amazon rainforests possess high biodiversity, containing a major proportion of the Earth's species.

The largest country in South America by far, in both area and population, is Brazil, followed by Argentina. Regions in South America include the Andean States, the Guianas, the Southern Cone, and Brazil.

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History

Map of South America. (1750) Geograph: Robert de Vaugondy.
Map of South America. (1750) Geograph: Robert de Vaugondy.
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The rise of agriculture and domestication of animals

South America is thought to have been first inhabited by people crossing the Bering Land Bridge, which is now the Bering Strait. The first evidence for the existence of agricultural practices in South America dates back to circa 6500 BCE, when potatoes, chillies and beans began to be cultivated for food in the highlands of the Amazon Basin. Pottery evidence further suggests that manioc, which remains a staple foodstuff today, was being cultivated as early as 2000 BCE[1].

By 2000 BCE many agrarian village communities had been settled throughout the Andes and the surrounding regions. Fishing became a widespread practice along the coast which helped to establish fish as a primary source of food. Irrigation systems were also developed at this time, which aided in the rise of an agrarian society[2].

South American cultures began domesticating llamas, vicuñas, guanacos, and alpacas in the highlands of the Andes circa 3500 BCE. Besides their use as sources of meat, and wool, these animals were used for transportation of goods (maximum load for a llama is typically 40 Kg). [3].

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Pre-Columbian civilizations

The rise of agriculture and the subsequent appearance of permanent human settlements allowed for the multiple and overlapping beginnings of civilizations in South America. The Muisca were the main indigenous civilization in what is now modern Colombia. They established a confederation of many clans, or cacicazgos, that had a free trade network among themselves. They were goldsmiths and farmers.

The Chavín established a trade network and developed agriculture by 900 BC, according to some estimates and archaeological finds. Artifacts were found at a site called Chavín de Huantar in modern Peru at an elevation of 3,177 meters. Chavín civilization spanned 900 BC to 300 BC.

Other main cultures: Caral or Supe Valley Civilization (2500 Bc - 1500 BC, Central Peru), Valdivia (Ecuador), Moche (100 BC - 700 AC, at the northern coast of Peru), Tiuahuanaco or Tiwanaku (100 BC - 1200 BC, Bolivia), Paracas - Nazca (400 BC - 800 AC, Peru), Wari or Huari Empire (600 - 1200, Central and northern Peru), Chimu Empire (1300 - 1470, Peruvian northern coast), Chachapoyas, Aymaran kingdoms (1000 - 1450, Bolivia and southern Peru) and others

Holding their capital at the city of Cusco, the Inca civilization dominated the Andes region from 1438 to 1533. Known as Tawantinsuyu, or "the land of the four regions," in Quechua, the Inca culture was highly distinct and developed. Cities were built with precise, unmatched stonework, constructed over many levels of mountain terrain. Terrace farming was a useful form of agriculture. There is evidence of excellent metalwork in Inca civilization. Nevertheless, the Inca never discovered the wheel, and there is no evidence that they utilized written language as a form of communication.

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European colonization

Physical map of South America
Physical map of South America

In 1494, Portugal and Spain, the two great maritime powers of that time, on the expectation of new lands being discovered in the west, signed the Treaty of Tordesillas, by which they agreed that all the land outside Europe should be an exclusive duopoly between the two countries. The Treaty established an imaginary line along a north-south meridian 370 leagues west of Cape Verde Islands, roughly 46° 37' W. In terms of the treaty, all land to the west of the line (which is now known to comprehend most of the South American soil), would belong to Spain, and all land to the east, to Portugal. As accurate measurements of longitude were impossible at that time, the line was not strictly enforced, resulting in a Portuguese expansion of Brazil across the meridian.

Beginning in the 1530s, the people and natural resources of South America were repeatedly exploited by foreign conquistadors, first from Spain and later from Portugal. These competing colonial nations claimed the land and resources as their own and divided it into colonies.

European infectious diseases (smallpox, influenza, measles, and typhus) to which the native populations had no immune resistance, and systems of forced labor, such as the haciendas and mining industry's mita, decimated the native population under Spanish control. After this, African slaves, who had developed immunities to these diseases, were quickly brought in to replace them.

The Spaniards were committed to converting their native subjects to Christianity, and were quick to purge any native cultural practices that hindered this end. However, most initial attempts at this were only partially successful, as native groups simply blended Catholicism with traditional idolatry and their polytheistic beliefs. Furthermore, the Spaniards did impose their language to the degree they did their religion, although the Roman Catholic Church's evangelization in Quechua, Aymara and Guaraní actually contributed to the continuous use of these native languages albeit only in the oral form.

Eventually the natives and the Spaniards interbred, forming a mestizo class. Essentially all of the mestizos of the Andean region were offspring of Indian mothers and Spanish fathers. Mestizos and the Indian natives were often forced to pay extraordinary taxes to the Spanish government and were punished harshly for disobeying their laws. Many native artworks were considered pagan idols and destroyed by Spanish explorers. This included the many gold and silver sculptures and artifacts found in South America, which were melted down before their transport to Spain or Portugal.

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Independence

The Spanish colonies won their independence between 1804 and 1824 in the South American Wars of Independence. Simón Bolívar of Venezuela and José de San Martín of Argentina led the independence struggle. Bolívar led a great army southward while San Martín led an army across the Andes Mountains, meeting up with General Bernardo O'Higgins in Chile, and marched northward. The two armies finally met in Guayaquil, Ecuador, where they cornered the royal army of Spain and forced its surrender.

In Brazil, a Portuguese colony, Dom Pedro I (also Pedro IV of Portugal), son of the Portuguese king Dom João VI, proclaimed the country's independence in 1822 and became Brazil's first Emperor. This was peacefully accepted by the crown in Portugal. Although Bolivar attempted to keep the Spanish-speaking parts of the continent politically unified, they rapidly became independent of one another as well, and several further wars were fought, such as the War of the Triple Alliance and the War of the Pacific.

A few countries did not gain independence until the 20th century:

French Guiana remains part of France as of 2007, and hosts the European Space Agency's principal spaceport, the Centre Spatial Guyanais.

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Recent history

The continent, like many others, became a battlefield of the Cold War in the late 20th century. Some governments of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Uruguay were overthrown or displaced by U.S.-aligned military dictatorships in the 1960s and 1970s. To curtail opposition, their governments detained tens of thousands of political prisoners, many of whom were tortured and/or killed (on inter-state collaboration, see Operation Condor). Economically, they began a transition to neoliberal economic policies. They placed their own actions within the U.S. Cold War doctrine of "National Security" against internal subversion. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Peru suffered from internal conflicts (see Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement and Shining Path). Revolutionary movements and right-wing military dictatorships have been common, but starting in the 1980s a wave of democratization came through the continent, and democratic rule is widespread now. Nonetheless, allegations of corruption remain common, and several nations have developed crises which forced the resignation of their presidents, although in general normal civilian succession has continued.

International indebtedness became a notable problem, as most recently illustrated by Argentina's default in the early 21st century.

In the first decade of the 21st century, South American governments have drifted to the political left, with socialist leaders being elected in Chile, Bolivia, Brazil, Venezuela and leftist presidents in Argentina, Ecuador, Peru, and Uruguay. Despite the tendency to move to the left of the political spectrum, most of South America's governments are in practical terms societies embracing free-market capitalism.

With the founding of the South American Community of Nations, South America would intend to start down the road of economic integration, with plans for European Union-style political integration in the non-distant future.

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Economy

São Paulo, Brazil. The financial center of Latin America, and also the third biggest city in the world, after New York in second and Tokyo in first.
São Paulo, Brazil. The financial center of Latin America, and also the third biggest city in the world, after New York in second and Tokyo in first.

As of 2002, South America's unemployment rate was 10.8 %.

Due to histories of high inflation in nearly all South American countries, interest-rates and thus investment remain high and low, respectively. Interest rates are usually twice that of the United States. For example, interest-rates are about 22 % in Venezuela and 23 % in Suriname. The exception is Chile, which has been successfully implementing free market economic policies since the 1980s and increased its social spending since the return of democratic rule in the early 1990s. This has led to economic stability and interest rates in the low single digits.

The South American Community of Nations is a planned continent-wide free trade zone to unite two existing free-trade organizations—Mercosur and the Andean Community.

The economic gap between the rich and poor in most South American nations is considered to be larger than in most other continents.[citation needed] In Venezuela, Paraguay, Bolivia and many other South American countries, the richest 20 % may own over 60 % of the nation's wealth, while the poorest 20 % may own less than 5 %. This wide gap can be seen in many large South American cities where makeshift shacks and slums lie next to skyscrapers and upper-class luxury apartments.

GDP per capita (PPP) 2006

Rank in world Country GDP
per capita
48 Argentina 14,838
54 Chile 12,254
63 Uruguay 10,103
69 Brazil 8,826
80 Colombia 7,630
93 Peru 6,173
95 Suriname 5,883
96 Venezuela 5,777
105 Paraguay 4,799
106 Guyana 4,799
110 Ecuador 4,475
122 Bolivia 2,945

Source:List of countries by GDP (PPP) per capita

GDP (PPP) 2005

Rank in world Country GDP
9th Brazil 1,5 trillion of dollars
22nd Argentina 533,7 billions of dollars
29th Colombia 337,2 billion of dollars
43rd Chile 193,2 billion of dollars
50th Peru 167,2 billions of dollars
51st Venezuela 163,5 billions of dollars
70th Ecuador 57,0 billions of dollars
90th Uruguay 34,3 billions of dollars
96th Paraguay 28,3 billions of dollars
101st Bolivia 25,6 billions of dollars
157th Guyana 3,4 billions of dollars
162nd Suriname 2,8 billions of dollars

Source:List of countries by GDP (PPP)

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Culture

Roman Catholicism is the dominant religion. French Guiana also has a large number of Protestants. Guyana and Suriname are exceptions, with three major religions: Christianity in general, Hinduism, and Islam.

Other branches of Christianity like Protestantism have grown steadily in South America. Jewish communities are found across South America, the largest are Sao Paulo, Brazil and Buenos Aires, Argentina. There are significant numbers of Armenian, Greek and other Eastern Orthodox churches founded by immigrants from the Middle East. There are Jehovah's Witnesses scattered everywhere in South America.

Portuguese and Spanish are the primary languages of the continent. The majority of South Americans (51%) speak Portuguese. However, most South American countries are Spanish-speaking, and nearly all of the continent's Lusophones reside in Brazil. Among other languages used by many South Americans are:

In some countries the continent's upper classes and well-educated people study English and French. There are small Spanish speaking areas of Southernmost Brazil, due to the proximity of Uruguay. South Americans are culturally enriched by the historic connection with Europe, especially Spain and "pop culture" impact from North America. (the U.S.).

South American nations have a rich variety of music. Some of the most famous genres include samba from Brazil, tango from Argentina and Uruguay and cumbia from Colombia. Also well known is the non-commercial folk genre Nueva Canción movement which was founded in Argentina and Chile and quickly spread to the rest of the Latin America in various forms. The Peruvian coast is the creator of the fines guitar and cajon duos or trios in the most mestizo (mixed race) of South American rhythms such as the Zamacueca (from Lima), the Tondero (from Piura), the 18th century popular Creole Valse or Peruvian Valse and the soulful Arequipan Yaravi

In the late 20th century, Rock en español emerged by young hipsters influenced by British pop and American rock in Argentina and Chile. However, this music genre has grown to include Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela and Brazil which has a Portuguese-language pop rock industry.

Because of South America's great ethnic mix, South American cuisine takes on African, American Indian, Asian and European influences. Bahia, Brazil, is especially well-known for its West African-influenced cuisine. Argentines and Chileans regularly consume wine, while Argentina along with Paraguay, Uruguay and people in southern Chile and Brazil enjoy a sip of Mate a regional gourd cultivated for its drink. Pisco is a liquor distilled from grapevine produced in Peru and Chile, however, there is a recurring dispute between those countries regarding its origins.

Urarina shaman, 1988
Urarina shaman, 1988
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People

Ethnic groups and indigenous peoples of South America include:

Descendents of Indigenous peoples, such as the Quechua and Aymara, make up the majority of the population in Peru and Bolivia, and are a significant element in most other former Spanish colonies. Exceptions to this include Argentina and Uruguay. At least three of the Amerindian languages (Quechua in Peru and Bolivia, Aymara also in Bolivia, and Guarani in Paraguay) are recognized along with Spanish as national languages.

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Territories

The countries in this table are categorised according to the scheme for geographic regions and subregions used by the United Nations, and data included are per sources in cross-referenced articles. Where they differ, provisos are clearly indicated.

Name of territory,
with flag
Area
(km²)
Population
(1 July 2005 est.)
Population density
(per km²)
Capital
Argentina Argentina 2,766,890  39,537,943 14.3 Buenos Aires
Bolivia Bolivia 1,098,580   8,857,870 8.1 La Paz, Sucre[4]
Brazil Brazil 8,514,877 187,550,726 22.0 Brasília
Chile Chile[5]   756,950  15,980,912 21.1 Santiago
Colombia Colombia 1,138,910  42,954,279 37.7 Bogotá
Ecuador Ecuador   283,560  13,363,593 47.1 Quito
Falkland Islands Falkland Islands (UK)[6]    12,173       2,967 0.24 Stanley
French Guiana French Guiana (France)    91,000     195,506 2.1 Cayenne
Guyana Guyana   214,970     765,283 3.6 Georgetown
Paraguay Paraguay   406,750   6,347,884 15.6 Asunción
Peru Peru 1,285,220  27,925,628 21.7 Lima
South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands South Georgia and
South Sandwich Islands
(UK)[7]
    3,093           0a 0 Grytviken
Suriname Suriname   163,270     438,144 2.7 Paramaribo
Uruguay Uruguay   176,220   3,415,920 19.4 Montevideo
Venezuela Venezuela   912,050  25,375,281 27.8 Caracas
Name of territory,
with flag
Area
(km²)
Population
(1 July 2005 est.)
Population density
(per km²)
Capital
Central America[8]:
Panama Panama[9] 25,347 540,433 21.3 Panama City
Name of territory,
with flag
Area
(km²)
Population
(1 July 2005 est.)
Population density
(per km²)
Capital
Total 17,846,948 371,814,437 20.8

Notes:

  1. O'Brien, Patrick. (General Editor). Oxford Atlas of World History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005. pp. 25
  2. O'Brien, Patrick. (General Editor). Oxford Atlas of World History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005. pp. 25
  3. O'Brien, Patrick. (General Editor). Oxford Atlas of World History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005. pp. 25
  4. La Paz is the administrative capital of Bolivia; Sucre is the judicial seat.
  5. Includes Easter Island in the Pacific Ocean, a Chilean territory frequently reckoned in Oceania. Santiago is the administrative capital of Chile; Valparaíso is the site of legislative meetings.
  6. Claimed by Argentina.
  7. Also claimed by Argentina, the South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands in the South Atlantic Ocean are commonly associated with Antarctica (due to proximity) and have no permanent population, only hosting a periodic contingent of about 100 researchers and visitors.
  8. Continental region as per UN categorisations/map; depending on definitions, Aruba, Netherlands Antilles, Panama, and Trinidad and Tobago have territory in one or both of South and North America.
  9. Panama is generally considered a transcontinental country in Central America (UN region) and South America; population and area figures are for South American portion only, east of the Panama Canal.

Sources: GeoHive: The population of continents, regions and countries

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Usage

Among people in some English-speaking countries, there is a tendency to confuse the linguistic and geographic divisions of the Americas: thus, Mexico, some Central American and Caribbean territories, despite their location in North America, are mistakenly included in South America. The term Latin America is correctly used when referring to those territories whose official or national languages come from Latin (namely Portuguese, Spanish, and French). Conversely, Anglo-America is used to refer to areas whose major languages are Germanic (namely English) such as Guyana, Suriname, Belize, Jamaica, and much of the West Indies. Similarly, areas where English is prominent are considered part of the Anglosphere.

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Sources

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See also

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External links

Geography

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Continents of the world


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Geological supercontinents :  Gondwana · Laurasia · Pangaea · Pannotia · Rodinia · Columbia · Kenorland · Ur · Vaalbara

Mythical and theorised continents :  Atlantis · Lemuria · Mu · Terra Australis

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