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Latin America

From Mexico southwards through Central and South America, together with Cuba, Haiti and other Caribbean island states, Latin America offers a fascinating mixture of natural environment and culture.   

The predominant cultures have been heavily influenced by European colonisation and settlement. This is primarily seen in language, as the vast majority speak Spanish or Portuguese. But English, French are also heard, and even Welsh in parts of Argentina.

While European languages dominate, ethnically a large proportion of Latin Americans have ancestry both from Europe and from the many indigenous tribal peoples, and the culture is enriched by both.

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Colonial architecture in a Guatemalan town

The heritage of the indigenous peoples includes mighty empires such as the Inca (Peru and its neighbours), Aztec (Mexico) and Maya (Guatemala and Honduras) whose mighty monuments still amaze visitors.

Yet many indigenous peoples always lived in scattered and remote communities, and some still do, trying hard (and with increasing difficulty) to repel the influence of the outside world. The plundering of natural resources such as the Amazon rain forest, and the destruction of the habitat of animals and the indigenous tribes, remains a major problem across the region.

Following centuries of colonial rule, dictatorship has been the most common form of government across the continent. Some of these regimes have been more or less benevolent, but many have been violently oppressive, and corrupt.  Economic development and human rights were long restricted. Only in recent decades has democracy taken hold in many countries.

Latin American states have also had to deal with the huge influence – cultural, economic and occasionally military – of their powerful neighbour, the United Sates.

In economic terms, Brazil - among the world's larger countries geographically, and one of the largest democracies - has now truly made its mark as a fast-growing member to the G20. Argentina ('land of silver'), the second largest country, while not far behind Brazil, suffered economic crises in the last two decades from which it is still recovering. 

Parts of northern and eastern Argentina, together with other central countries including Paraguay and Uruguay, have huge agriculture and livestock industries.  Other countries such as Peru are still too reliant on certain industries such as minerals (and hence exposed to fluctuations in global market prices) to truly be said to have a broad and stable economy.

Chile, for so long synonymous with the horrors of the Pinochet dictatorship, is working to transform its global image and become part of a Latin America at the heart of the modern world.  Meanwhile, other countries - from Colombia to Guatemala, Nicaragua and El Salvador - continue to work to persuade the wider world that their stereotypes of drugs, dangers, dictatorships and disasters no longer hold true.

In total, Latin America covers an area of just over 7.9 million square miles, and has a population of nearly 590 million. Within its scope lies the vast Amazon rainforest whose preservation is a now-global cause. To the west rise the Andes mountains where cities lie in the clouds and many indigenous peoples live at subsistence levels.     

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To the north, the tragedy of Haiti and paradox of Cuba belie what should be tropical island paradise settings in these blue Caribbean waters. From Haiti to Chile and Guatemala, from hurricane to earthquake, actual or threatened natural disaster is a constant factor in the lives of millions of Latin America's people. 

Much of WorldShare's work in Latin America is in long-standing partnership with local Christians who have dedicated their lives to bringing practical help and the love of Christ to victims of poverty, disaster, discrimination and conflict.

Beyond all this, to the far south, Patagonia and wild Tierra del Fuego bring the southern tip of Latin America to within a few hundred miles of the Antarctic Circle.