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The Ten Most Important Events in the History of Latin America

Events That Shaped Modern Latin America

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The Ten Most Important Events in the History of Latin America

Fidel Castro in 1959

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6. The War of the Pacific (1879-1884)

In 1879, Chile and Bolivia went to war after spending decades bickering over a border dispute. Peru, which had a military alliance with Bolivia, was drawn into the war as well. After a series of major battles at sea and on land, the Chileans were victorious. By 1881 the Chilean army had captured Lima and by 1884 Bolivia signed a truce. As a result of the war, Chile gained the disputed coastal province once and for all, leaving Bolivia landlocked, and also gained the province of Arica from Peru. The Peruvian and Bolivian nations were devastated, needing years to recover.

7. The Construction of the Panama Canal (1881-1893, 1904-1914)

The completion of the Panama Canal by Americans in 1914 marked the end of a remarkable and ambitious feat of engineering. The results have been felt ever since, as the canal has drastically changed worldwide shipping. Less known are the political consequences of the canal, including the secession of Panama from Colombia (with the encouragement of the United States) and the profound effect the canal has had on the internal reality of Panama ever since.

8 The Mexican Revolution (1911-1920)

A revolution of impoverished peasants against an entrenched wealthy class, the Mexican Revolution shook the world and forever altered the trajectory of Mexican politics. A bloody war, which included horrific battles, massacres and assassinations, the Mexican Revolution officially ended in 1920 when Alvaro Obregón became the last general standing after years of conflict, although the fighting continued for another decade. As a result of the revolution, land reform finally took place in Mexico, and the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party,) the political party that rose from the rebellion, stayed in power until the 1990's.

9. The Cuban Revolution (1953-1959)

When Fidel Castro, his brother Raúl and a ragged band of followers attacked the barracks at Moncada in 1953, they may not have known they were taking the first step to one of the most significant revolutions of all time. With the promise of economic equality for all, the rebellion grew until 1959, when Cuban President Fulgencio Batista fled the country and victorious rebels filled the streets of Havana. Castro established a communist regime, building close ties to the Soviet Union, and stubbornly defied every attempt the United States could think of to remove him from power. Ever since, Cuba has either been a festering sore of totalitarianism in an increasingly democratic world, or a beacon of hope for all anti-imperialists, depending on your point of view.

10. Operation Condor (1975-1983)

In the mid-1970's, the governments of the southern cone of South America - Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia and Uruguay - had several things in common. They were ruled by conservative regimes, either dictators or military juntas, and they had a growing problem with opposition forces and dissidents. They therefore established Operation Condor, a collaborative effort to round up and kill or otherwise silence their enemies. By the time it ended, thousands were dead or missing and the trust of South Americans in their leaders was forever shattered. Although new facts come out occasionally and some of the worst perpetrators have been brought to justice, there are still many questions about this sinister operation and those behind it.

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