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History Of Modern Latin America

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Up until the 18th century, the prevalent view regarding Latin America was one of riches and wealth.  However, from the 19th century on the region began to be perceived as “backwards” or underdeveloped; while the 21st century has also seen a shift in some of these views. Throughout theses centuries, observers and scholars have offered explanations for these situations. Write an essay in which you trace this historical evolution of perspectives on Latin American “underdevelopment” and the ways in which Latin Americans, themselves, have offered their own responses to “underdevelopment”. 


Latin America consists of the nineteen sovereign states and numerous dependencies and territories that cover the area stretching from the northern border of Mexico to the tip of South America. Some of the well known countries of this region are  Chile. Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and Peru wherein French, Spanish and Portuguese are the commonly spoken languages. The concept that this part of America is culturally and linguistically diverse can be traced back to early 1800s. Latin America had taken a prominent place in history for being one of the wealthiest and richest until the 18th century. Nevertheless, the emergence of the 19th century marked Latin America as being underdeveloped or ‘backward’. The 21st century brought about some changes in this viewpoint though. Throughout the centuries, scholars have put forward different rationalizations for these situations (Meade, 2016). The present essay traces the historical evolution of perspectives of Latin American underdevelopment. The paper highlights the ways in which Latin Americans have offered their own responses to this much-discussed underdevelopment. The essay analyses the dominant perspectives that have changed over time and the chief explanations offered in the modern times for the backwardness. The change in the theories of underdevelopment in the 21st century would also be mentioned. The contribution of the Latin Americans to the changes would be cited. Lastly, the manner in which the ideas of underdevelopment were accepted and rejected in the 19th century would be addressed.

The word ‘Latin America’ was first used for describing the group of 21 countries in the American continent where the language is spoken is Latin. The countries share elements of historical experience, culture and language. The group of countries have multiple similarities between themselves, in contrast to similarities with US and Canada. Latin America holds the legacy of the colonisation of the European powers in the 16th century. Tha arrival of the European settlers in this geographic area founded a thriving indigenous cultures. The inflow of wealth had made this location a thriving base for economic growth. The considerable proportion of immigration to this land was marked by security concerns, social developments and economic benefits (Charlip & Burns, 2016).


According to the authors, the Latin American underdevelopment is to be linked with the colonial structure of world capitalism. The colonial structure had penetrated every region in Latin America and had acted as a key force for transforming and forming the features of wealth and prosperity. Characteristics of backwardness and poverty emerged against this context which was not basically the remnants of the feudal pasts. In contrast, it was the direct result of capitalism. The development of underdevelopment would persist even in future until the people free themselves from strangles of world capitalism. The only method by which such freedom can be achieved is through revolution. A revolutionary process is to be initiated that can work as a strong effort to give rise to the continent-wide uprising against national bourgeoisie and imperialism.

Gwynne and Cristobal (2014) pointed out that the issue of underdevelopment in Latin America is much complex and in-depth analysis can only bring about a distinct conclusion to the matter. Comparing the economies of Latin America and mainland America one would find that there are noteworthy differences between the economic development between these two sections. Countless settlements can be found in Latin America, expanding across regions, which is illegal. Underdevelopment is more prominent in these locations, and progressive culture is far away from being witnessed. Until the decade after World War I, the minor level of development of the economies was thought to be inherent. The economy of Latin Americ moved mechanically at a pace that was set by the larger industrial countries of the Western world. Latin America continued to lag behind the privileged nations that had higher levels of the economy due to industrialisation and exchange of goods on an international basis. The traditional concept that Latin America would continue with its prosperity suffered a blow with the arrival of the 20th  century. The same time frame saw the manifestation of the need for liberation from the fluctuations of capital transactions and foreign trade. Policies changed in relation to the tariff, subsidies, import substitution and this supported diversification of economies.


The government was also slow in recognising that economic development was being hampered. The people of Latin America contributed to the underdevelopment since they were convinced that economic backwardness was expected, and a transient condition that could not be changed. There was an abscence of determination to put forward sustained collective efforts against underdevelopment. Thus, underdevelopment became closely connected with the reluctance to improve living conditions. Since that time, underdevelopment became a clichéd theme (Charlip & Burns, 2016).

Meade (2016) blamed colonisation in Latin America as the as the main reason for underdevelopment in the region. As French and English colonists came to live in Canada and US, the Spanish colonists came to Peru and Mexico with the aim of looking for wealthy resources that they could send back home to Spain. Researchers state that it is an iconic truth that countries that were resource-rich became the most economically poor ones. The wealth of Latin America, in terms of silver, gold, coffee and sugar were all exported to the colonist countries without much restrictions. Certain cutting-edge exploitation methods have been cited by researchers that contributed to raising money and money lending, that eventually made Spain and likewise countries richer.

Birdsall et al., (2014) in this regard highlighted that the economic heritages colonisation is known for are the impact of controlling, possessing and conquering the specified portions of America later known as Latin America. The colonies of 18th and 19th century were set up with the aim of expanding the European capitalist production after the Industrial Revolution. The colonial powers of Europe had the aim of incorporating territories that could be beneficial for providing raw materials and workforce at a low cost. The process of destructuring and remaking of social formations in the Latin American region thereby started as a result. The gaol was not to populate the areas of Latin America, but to ‘loot’ the resources natural resources and extract inexpensive labours. There was no plan of sparking international development. For ensuring that monopolistic privileges could be attained, the colonial powers focused on forcibly shaping the economical as well as social dynamics of the colonies. The condition led to trade relations in support of colonial powers.


Yates and Bakker (2014) stated that the indigenous people in colonise countries gave in to the force induced by colonists to support non-technologically intensive monocultures wherein they had to sell in their entire production of resources to the dominant countries in an unprofitable manner. The role of non-modernising oligarchies needs special mention since the local elites had little contribution to the political power needed for combating exploitation of colonists. The researchers further state that the contemporary and historic massive poverty in the regions of Latin America saw its emergence in the privation of access to housing and land. The working class were unable to consume the products and lands in a society that was scarred by economic inequality.

The locals of the region were victims of strict laws and measures that controlled their social power. Manufacture of local goods as prohibited and dependence on colonies were more prominent. The development of the colonial countries came at the expense of the colonised country’s underdevelopment. The production of goods was controlled by the demands of the colonists. The actual economy was therefore in the hands of the exploiters who established a relation between the colony and the colonial power. The historical process had the main impact that the colonies became economically disabled and subordinated to a great extent. In addition, the internal dynamics of the colonised land did not support savings, thereby draining the whole of the economy that could have been otherwise saved for future.

Williamson (2015) analysed the roots of underdevelopment in Latin America and pointed out the past and present conditions in this regard. According to the scholars, poverty, corruption and lack of business base are the main reasons for underdevelopment in Latin America that, of course, has witnessed changes over the course of time. Most of the nations in Latin America have had a vast agricultural and mineral wealth. However, the fact that it was accumulated in certain specific areas such as Colombia and Brazil, made it difficult for the government to spread the potential wealth across the populations. Conversely, some of the nations were known to have limited natural resources such as French Guiana and Haiti. These countries failed to develop their Gross Domestic Product as a result. In addition, corruption in the nations was extensive since the government had lack of accountability. There was limited tssransparency in how investments were done in these countries as the government officials did not disclose such valuable data for their own benefits. Further, countries such as Mexico and Brazil were the only ones to be having a chief manufacturing base creating skilled work. Employment opportunities were limited due to absence of work giving high wage. The remaining nations had economies based upon resource exportation and agriculture, none of which made the population wealthy (Burns, 1993).

Drug trade has been discussed by historians in this respect since this retarded the growth of multiple nations in Latin America. Along with corruption, violence accompanied the drug trade. A large section of the population of Latin America got involved in the drug business that was lucrative in the 20th century instead of other noble businesses. This had a detrimental impact on the economic growth of the nations to a large extent (Katz, 2013).

Hoxie and Iverson (2014) in their paper contributed to the discussion of how Latin America has considered fighting against underdevelopment. The paper brought into focus the points that can be mentioned when discussing the arguments put against the theory of underdevelopment in this region. Latin America is the result of cultural, spiritual and economic amalgam. It has acted as a driving force for bridging people. With time, the mixture of different cultures has enhanced the level of intellect among people as individuals from different cultures share their viewpoints and ideas. Leadership and authority among the nations ave witnessed a sharp increase in the emergence of the 21st century. The economic zeal and power are now in the hands of a government that has supported reforms in policies and legislations. At present leaders are more competent and driving the inflow of business investments through nationalisation of companies. Initiatives are also being taken for controlling cronyism and corruption. They are now showing increased interest  to work in collaboration with the US and follow their footsteps in the world of economy. Opponents, however, argue that the US views Latin America in a distinct paternalistic manner. Partnershis is far from what the US wants to establish with the countries, giving them a treatment that is responsible for low economic growth.


Foner (2013) opined that a significant transformation in Latin America is underway. Understanding the roots of culture in the region have enabled people to become passionate, industrious and creative in the recent past. Spiritual leaders are now focusing on taking part in political agendas that uplift social transformation. People have realised the importance of modernity and have joined hands to demonstrate suitable leadership and governance at all levels across the society. Some of the Latin American nations have kept the socialist revolution moving frontwards in the past few decades, and this has inspired other countries as well, as pointed out by historians. Today, countries such as Venezuela and Cuba are at the core of advancement. Historians are all set to defend the gains made by the countries by showing traces of modernism and independence which are crucial for economic development.

In conclusion, it can be stated that Latin American underdevelopment is not of the recent epoch. The issue is old, with a history dating back to several centuries. The phenomena of underdevelopment in this region took on the its distinct characteristic outlines at the time of leaders of the capitalist world initiating transformation into industrial nations. The prejudice and oppression present in the hierarchical societies of Latin America are the primary legacies of the former colonies. The underdevelopment of this region is a persistent tragedy in the world history, being part of the unsolved questions of the recent past.



Birdsall, N., Lustig, N., & Meyer, C. J. (2014). The strugglers: The new poor in Latin America?. World Development, 60, 132-146.

Burns, E. B. (1993). Latin America: conflict and creation: a historical reader. Prentice Hall.

Charlip, J. A., & Burns, E. B. (2016). Latin America: An Interpretive History. Pearson.

Foner, E. (2013). Give Me Liberty! An American History: Seagull Fourth Edition (Vol. 1). WW Norton & Company.

Gwynne, R. N., & Cristobal, K. A. Y. (2014). Latin America transformed: globalization and modernity. Routledge.

Hoxie, F. E., & Iverson, P. (Eds.). (2014). Indians in American history: An introduction. John Wiley & Sons.

Katz, M. B. (2013). Poverty and policy in American history. Elsevier.

Meade, T. A. (2016). History of Modern Latin America: 1800 to the Present. John Wiley & Sons.

Williamson, J. G. (2015). Latin American Inequality: Colonial Origins, Commodity Booms or a Missed Twentieth-Century Leveling?. Journal of Human Development and Capabilities, 16(3), 324-341.

Yates, J. S., & Bakker, K. (2014). Debating the ‘post-neoliberal turn’in Latin America. Progress in Human Geography, 38(1), 62-9


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