This region was home to many indigenous peoples and advanced civilizations, including the notable Aztecs, Inca and Maya, before the arrival of Europeans in the late 15th and early 16th centuries. Most of Latin America was colonized by European emigrants, primarily by the Spanish and the Portuguese, and, to a lesser extent, by the French. In the early 19th century most of the countries in the region attained their independence, although a few small colonies remain.
Latin American history extends back many centuries, possibly as long as 30,000 years. Precise dating is difficult because there are few text sources. However, highly-developed civilizations flourished at various times and places, such as the Andean Inca and Central American Maya and the Aztecs.
Christopher Columbus "discovered" the Americas in 1492. Subsequently, the major sea powers in Europe sent expeditions to the New World to build trade networks and colonies and to convert the native peoples to Christianity. Concentrating on the central and southern parts of the Americas allotted to them by the Treaty of Tordesillas, the Spanish and Portuguese built large colonial empires in California, Mexico, and Brazil.
The independence of Latin American countries rendered many of the older colonial power structures obsolete and helped create a new, self-consciously "Latin American" ruling class and intelligentsia. It should be noted, however, that even post independence, the dominant culture remained exclusively European, Catholic and "Western", with little input from remaining indigenous peoples until recent times.
In many cases this restructuring of economic and political realities resulted in a sizable gap between rich and poor, with landed elites controlling the vast majority of land and resources. In Brazil in 1910, for instance, 85% of lands belonged to 1% of the population. Gold mining and fruit growing, in particular, were monopolized by these wealthy landowners. These 'Great Owners' totally controlled the local activity and furthermore were the principal employers and the main source of revenue. This led to a society of peasant workers with little connection to larger political realities who remained in thrall to farming and mining magnates.
After the efforts of Gran Colombia, the Central-American Republic and of the United States of South America the confusing nature of the borders provoked a number of interstate conflicts, whereas the interior of the countries was often plagued by the fights between federalists and centralists who finally asserted themselves only by action and military repression of the opponents. There remained a difficult to define national space, a nation resembling a state, since these states even were identified only by their European (Spanish or Portuguese) roots and their official population sharing the same language and origins.
The regimes were either presidential, a little liberal and rather democratic; or Parliamentary that is to say more liberal, less democratic and more oligarchic. In both cases, the opinion of the average-man was devalued.
The political life, except with the Caudillos, was occupied by the conservatives and the liberals, who in both cases did not have a social policy. And the popular insurrections, when they were expressed, were often influential and repressed: 100,000 died simultaneously during a Colombian revolt around 1890.
Economically, the Latin America was certainly dependent on Europe (mainly England) and the United States; independence left a place for an increased dependence especially in the nineteenth century which saw an increase in the dependence on the investment provided.
Estancias and Haciendas:large-scale farms in which exploitation was rampant.
Fazendas: breeding plantations of coffee/sugar
Ejido: collective ownership, guaranteeing certain rights to each one of the members of the community.
Propriety: the good of only one person.
In Colombia, the concession of the Panama Canal was repurchased in 1903, but the Colombian elites opposed this American seizure. A Panamanian insurrection then occurred, armed with military material marked with the "U.S." sign, independence was imposed, and Panama became an ally of the United States.
In Mexico, Porfirio Díaz promised that he would withdraw from power in 1908. Francisco Madero, a moderate liberal whose aim was to modernize the country calmly in order to avoid a socialist revolution, launches an election campaign to defend the liberal ideas in 1910. But Díaz organizes a seventh faked election, which prompted the Mexican Revolution. Riots are organized and some key leaders appear: Pancho Villa in the north, Emiliano Zapata in the west, and a more moderate Francisco I. Madero in Mexico City. The United States finally releases Porfirio Díaz in 1911, who will resign on May 27, and flee, leaving the scene to Madero who will become President on November 6 1911. Madero undertakes a democratization process, but little is made in relation of the agrarian claims while Zapata continues the revolution. In February 18 1913 Adolfo de la Huerta, a conservative general organizes a coup d'état with the support of the United States: Madero is killed on the 22th. Other revolutionary chiefs: Pancho Villa, Zapata, and Venustiano Carranza reject this "usurper" who is soon released by the United States, dissatisfied with his dictatorial behavior. Allies Zapata and Villa take Mexico City in March 1914, but in this working city they are not on their ground and withdraw to their respective bastions. This allows Carranza, after the escape of Huerta in July 1914, to carry out a battle for victory. He then organizes the repression of the rebel armies of Villa and Zapata, in particular by general Álvaro Obregón who gains decisive victories in 1915, takes Mexico City and becomes a de facto president in October 1915. The Mexican constitution of 1917 is proclaimed, but little enforced.
Under the orders of Carranza and with the American military support, Obregón continues his military pressure on the rebels. Zapata is finally assassinated in April 10 1919. Carranza, the president, is assassinated in May 15 1920, leaving the place to Obregón, who becomes an elected president. Finally in 1923, it is Pancho Villa who is assassinated.
Mexico finally becomes pacified by the accession of that liberal president, but agrarian aspirations of the work force remain unsatisfied.
Since 1860, Cuba had focused on the cultivation of sugar, of which 82% was now feeding into the American market. Cuba was described however as being the brothel of the U.S., where one finds all sorts of pleasures provided he is rich. The U.S. intervened many times to suppress popular uprisings, and to maintain Cuban governments favorable to its own interests. The latter country had a socially advanced constitution whose execution was, however, deeply corrupt, and a large part of the goods and exploits of sugar were at the hands of American companies. Since 1933, Fulgencio Batista was the key autocrat of Cuba. His authoritarian coup in 1952 did not end with an ignoble dictatorship, but it did not change much; corruption endured, and the American presence grew. Certain revolutionaries, such as Fidel Castro, organized a revolution to reestablish a democratic state and free itself from the American influence.
Having left Mexico on a yacht christened Granma December 2, 1956, the 82 sailors are finally reduced to 13, and lead a guerilla coup of the mountain, of which the principal conflict was a work of propaganda, for example via Radio Rebelde. More and more powerful against an unmotivated Cuban army, the guerillas conquered Cuba between October 1958 and January 1, 1959.
But Castro, who first states his position as a non-socialist, finally engages his country in agrarian reforms and nationalizations in May 1959 and especially December 1960 which push John Kennedy to intervene, an event better known as the Bay of Pigs Invasion, April 16, 1961. But instead of taking Cuba back to the American modus operandi, this radicalizes its position, and Cuba proclaims its character definitively socialist, makes friends with the USSR, and arms itself, leading to the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962.