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Medium   by Rough Guides

category Travel
ISBN: 1858289076
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INTRODUCTION Stretching from the shores of the Caribbean to the icy waters off Tierra del Fuego, South America is a vast and remarkable mosaic of climates, landscapes and peoples. Almost twice the size of Europe, the continent takes in an enormous geographic and cultural diversity, comprising enormous primeval rainforests, vibrant metropolises, stunning mountain ranges, vast desert plains and remote indigenous villages.

The thirteen countries that make up South America are fascinating in equal parts for their supranational commonalities and for their differences within individual borders.Geographic realities, earlysettlement patterns, French, Dutch, English and, especially Spanish and Portuguese colonization and their legacies of independent states, have moulded a continent where differences within countries can appear greater than between them. Brazil’s huge northern region, for example, has far more in common – language aside – with the neighbouring portions of the Amazon basin located within Peru or Colombia than it does, say, with Rio de Janeiro. Extreme social and economic disparities are striking, nowhere more so than in the cities where extreme wealth can exist side by side with extreme poverty, the once burgeoning middle classes being squeezed out of existence. South America shares a common history based on its original Amerindian population, European colonization, slavery and immig! ration. Indigenous peoples – whose ancestors migrated to South America thousands of years ago and went on to develop complex societies and rich cultures – are still presences in many parts of the continent, in particular in the central Andes, the Amazon basin and Paraguay.

At the beginning of the sixteenth century Spanish and Portuguese explorers established settlements in South America, and soon the continent was divided between European powers – mainly by Spain and Portugal, but with England, France and Holland also staking small territorial claims. To Europe, South America was a land of fabled wealth, but it was seen to lack a sufficient or suitable supply of labour. The colonizing powers soon turned to Africa, and by the mid-nineteenth century millions of enslaved Africans had been introduced to toil in South America’s mines and sugar plantations.

With the independence of the former Spanish and Portuguese colonies in the early nineteenth century followed by the gradual suppression of the slave trade and the emancipation of slaves, South America became a target of mass immigration. Irish and German farmers were placed on Argentina’s and Chile’s "Indian frontiers", Italian and Japanese were directed to Brazil’s expanding coffee plantations, while tin, copper and gold mines throughout the continent attracted Cornish miners. Meanwhile, skilled and unskilled workers from throughout Europe headed for burgeoning cities, playing vital roles in the development of South America’s transportation, power and banking networks and industrial capacity. Immigration even played a vital role in the Guianas – the continent’s last European colonies – with the importation by sugar plantations of tens of thousands of East Indian, Javanese and indentured labourers from other lands.

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