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Different Time Periods in the History of Latin America


Much has changed in Latin America over the years: this is true of any region on earth. In Latin America, however, change was a funny thing: it tended to strike quickly between long periods of relative tranquility. The different eras between times of drastic change have all contributed to the History of Latin America.
  1. The Pre-Colombian Era
  2. Discovery and Conquest
  3. The Colonial Era
  4. The Age of Piracy
  1. Independence from Spain
  2. The Nineteenth Century
  3. The Twentieth Century
  4. The Modern Era

The Pre-Colombian Era

Latin America had a long and fascinating history even before 1492. Great cultures such as the Aztecs, Inca and Maya ruled thousands of square miles and millions of people. They planted, built, warred and looked to the heavens. Although much of their history was lost, what remains is crucial for understanding this complicated region today.

Discovery and Conquest

Columbus set sail into history in 1492. By 1533, the mightiest New World Civilizations, the Aztecs in Mexico and the Inca in Peru, had been brought to their knees by a combination of European weapons, diseases, luck and ruthlessness. Isolated pockets of resistance remained for centuries, but in the big picture, Spain and Portugal owned the New World.

The Colonial Era

Bracketed as it is by the excitement of the Conquest and the Wars of Independence, it's easy to lost sight of the Colonial era itself. Don't forget, though, that from the first permanent settlement (Santo Domingo, 1496) to the time Spain lost it's final colonies (Puerto Rico and Cuba, 1898) was just over 400 years! This remarkably long period was a crucial time for the development of modern Latin America.

The Age of Piracy

As European powers drew vast wealth from their colonies, opportunistic men and women took to piracy as a way of life. These pirates, privateers, buccaneers, corsairs and thieves had a huge impact on international commerce...and an even bigger impact on modern culture.

Independence from Spain

In the early Nineteenth Century, Spain was conquered by Napoleon. Taking their inspiration from the American Revolution, Creole patriots from Mexico to Argentina saw their chance. Led by charismatic statesmen such as Simón Bolívar and José de San Martín, the breakaway republics fought for and gained their independence.

The Nineteenth Century

By 1824, most of the countries of present-day Latin America had gained their independence. Their first years as republics were marked by severe growing pains, as the people of the region learned to govern themselves. It was a time of experimentation: Argentina and Paraguay were ruled for a time by maniacal dictators, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador and Panama were one nation for a while, and Mexico even brought in an unfortunate Austrian nobleman to serve as Emperor. There were many wars, both civil and foreign, as the young nations struggled for stability and prosperity.

The Twentieth Century

If the nineteenth century in Latin America was dominated by independence movements, the twentieth century was known for revolutions. Successful revolutions took place in Mexico, Nicaragua and Cuba, and less successful ones took place nearly everywhere else. Foreign powers, led by the United States, meddled in Latin America more than ever, trying to halt the spread of communism. The twentieth century was also a time of modernization for Latin America, both economically and socially.

The Modern Era

Latin America is currently as fascinating as it has ever been. Leftist presidents in South America are implementing radical change...when and where the people allow them to. Cuba continues to irritate the United States, just as it has done since the Eisenhower Administration. Mexico, Argentina and Brazil are on the cusp of being world economic powers...just as they always have been. History is being made every day in this part of the world.

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