Latin America is a mysterious and somewhat enigmatic region of the globe. Latin America is home to beautiful landscapes, abundant natural resources, Capitalism, Socialism, Communism, Exploitation, Catholicism, Colonialism and more. Latin America is undoubtedly one of the most interesting regions on this planet we call Earth. The question that is being asked in this research study is whether or not Latin America is a part of the Western World. The answer to this question is somewhat difficult to summarize, in that, this region can and has been a victim to wild changes, and these changes result in complete re-courses in regional policies.
The defining characteristic of Latin America has been Western influence over the region. From the time of Spanish and Portuguese colonizers, to American influence beginning in the late 19th Century and continued (somewhat at least) until today. It can be said that Latin America has been influenced by the West. With this statement being taken into consideration, is Latin America part of the “Western World” or is it something entirely different? Does it matter if Latin America is part of the Western World or not?
Since this research can be broad (and thus it may be difficult to retain sight of the main research questions), special attention is going to be paid to: religion, economics and historical conceptions that Westerners had/have about Latin America. This research is going to begin with a brief history of Latin America with the beginning point being when the first Europeans came to the continent; to the point that they left. The next portion of this paper will be on Latin America’s post-colonial history to the end of the 20th century. The third part will be on Latin America in the modern era in regards to trends in its foreign policy behavior. The last and most important aspect of this paper is going to deal with the theoretical, in that, we will examine in greater depths the civilization that Latin America currently seems to be a part of. The essential questions that will be asked throughout this research are: ‘where does Latin America fit in world civilizations’ and ‘what impact does this categorization of Latin America have on world politics going forward?’ The theory being presented in this paper is that Latin America is part of the Western World, and although Huntington claims that it has its own culture, this paper disagrees with his claim (Huntington 26). The primary reason for this belief stems from shared history, shared language (Spanish being a widely spoken language in Europe and the United States), and a shared religion.
Before diving into the history of Latin America, it is worth noting exactly what it means to be Latin. The term Latin took on a different meaning in the 19th Century when it began to be applied to those who spoke a Romantic language. It was also a way to differentiate the World Powers at the time from those who spoke a Romantic language from the other Super Power at the time that was known for speaking English, Great Britain (Giladi 56-57). This theory gained traction and this is largely due from the French, and those who spoke Spanish throughout the world.
The Latin American World itself is identified as every nation south of Mexico and including Mexico (Ryan 487). Latin America is also comprised of what are four commonly accepted sub-regions, and those four sub-regions are: first, North America, primarily Mexico, second, the Caribbean, third, Central America, and the fourth and final sub-region are the nations of South America. It should also be noted that within the sub-regions, Latin America is divided between two large constituent groups, and those groups are: one, the nations that had been controlled by Spain that mostly speak Spanish today, and the second group are the Portuguese speaking people in Latin America (Ryan 491).
Latin America was first discovered in the 15th Century by Europeans, most notably by Christopher Columbus. Although the population number is unknown for the New World when Christopher Columbus arrived, it is believed that there were some ten million people living in Latin America when he arrived (Adelman 146-150). Over the course of the next one hundred years after Columbus’ arrival, most of the New World had been conquered, and this was mostly done by Spain and Portugal (Adelman 150-151). It did not take long before Jesuit priests and other Catholic institutions began to arrive in the New World in order to build schools, churches, and hospitals. On a side note, it should be mentioned that there was a divide between the good-willed individuals who lived on the Iberian Peninsula who meant to do good for the peoples of the New World, and the Spanish and Portuguese governments. It should be noted that at first Spain and Portugal largely saw the New World as a continent to be exploited for its natural resources, their opinions began to change overtime to the point that they saw their colonies in the New World as part of their own nations (Lange 1423).
The belief that the New World was an actual part of Spain and Portugal began to be believed around the 18th and 19th centuries. There are a few reasons for why this occurred, and among those reasons are: Spain and Portugal both saw their power in Europe diminish between the 1500’s and the beginning of the 18th Century, the New World began to look and resemble the Iberian Peninsula and this is largely due to the fact that the New World had been evangelized by Catholic Missionaries for hundreds of years and there had also been significant immigration from the Iberian Peninsula to the New World, and the New World had experienced building projects that resulted in schools, hospitals, and churches along with cities being established.
By the mid-19th Century, Spain and Portugal had lost almost all of their colonials in the New World. The difference that occurred between Spain and Portugal was that Spain lost its colonies in the New World, whereas a prince from Portugal decided to immigrant to Brazil, and he created the Brazilian Empire which would endure until the late 19th Century (Barman 78). The Brazilian Empire was looked at by the Portuguese Emperor for a time as being part of the overall Portuguese Empire. This is due to the fact that a prince of Portugal left in order to establish the Brazilian Empire.
This is the beginning of the theory that is tackled in this paper, and that is the civilizational view that Latin America falls into. In the 19th Century, the previously conquered Spanish colonies had gained their independence, and in doing so, there was a mix of responses from a variety of the nations in Latin America in regards to their approach of choosing between going on a “new path” and those who had decided to move in the directions of Europe. Brazil on the other hand operated entirely differently, in that, the Emperor of Brazil saw the Empire of Brazil as a continuation of Portugal’s Empire (Barman 80). From the time of Columbus’ arrival, to the point that the nations of Latin America became independent, it can be seen that there was a movement in Latin America towards Europeanism. Evidence of this can be seem from the large number of immigrants that move to the New World, the emergence of Catholicism as the dominate religion in the region, and by the fact that the dominate languages that were spoken in the Latin America were Spanish and Portuguese (Schwaller 246).
In conclusion to this portion of the paper, the New World was met with Europeanism, Catholicism, and invariably, entry way into the modern world. With that being said, the nations of Latin America, although not monolithic, were aimed at being similar to Europe by the late 19th Century/first half of the 20th Century (Schwaller 246). There are many reasons for why that was, but among those would be the fact that those who had power, and the leaders of the intellectual elites that were living in the New World at the time of independence, were in fact descendants of Europeans (Gott 272-273).
The next portion of this paper is going to deal with Latin America from the post-colonial era, and up until the end of the 20th Century. During this time period for Latin America; two major events occurred that have had a profound effect on the Region. The first was the emergence of the United States as the Hegemon in the Western Hemisphere, and the second was industrialization.
To begin with the first issue, although Spain and Portugal (more specifically Spain) had begun to be pushed out of the New World in the 19th Century, by the mid-19th Century, and really cemented with the Spanish-American War, the United States had ascended to the position of regional power (later a global super power), to the point that the United States was able to influence the nations south of its borders for the first time (Offner 55). It should be noted that although the United States had made claims before that dealt with Latin America, such as the Monroe Doctrine that asserted that the peoples of the New World should be free from European domination. The extent to which the United States was able to effect policy in Latin America did not begin to fully happen until the beginning of the 20th Century. It should also be noted that the United States had wars with Latin American countries (Loomis 467).
The United States’ ability to covertly (or at least through minimal force) effect Latin America really started after the Spanish-American War. After the War was over, the Western Hemisphere was largely devoid of all European powers, which also coincided with the arrival of America as a Great Power on the International Stage. The arrival of the United States had an impact on Latin America in two profound ways. The first was that the United States was able to effect Latin America for economic reasons (the early 1900’s till the 1940’s), and then political (for Cold War reasons), thus meaning that a foreign power had the ability to alter policies in Latin America, but not have to be responsible for that country the same way that Spain or Portugal had to because they were literally colonies.
The second major event that took place in Latin America in the 20th Century was Industrialization. Now again, Latin America is not a monolithic entity, meaning that there are some nations in Latin America that were largely industrialized by 1920, and there are also nations in Latin America that are still not entirely industrialized in the year 2015 (Salvucci 945-946). Now, all of the effects of industrialization are not going to be discussed in this paper, with that being said, there are a few major effects that will be looked at. The first has to do with Latin America for the first time being introduced to the concept of a middle class, and the second has to deal with income inequality.
The middle class was a concept that largely escaped the psyche of Latin America for most of its history until the 20th Century. During the 20th Century, the world oversaw a growth in the middle class in a way that it had never seen before. This growth was the result of one thing, industrialization. Industrialization allowed non-aristocrats the ability to accumulate large sums of money for themselves. In addition, industrialization also created an entire class of people that were able to have very decent lives and high levels of income by simply being a hard-working employee (Salvucci 945-946). The middle class was an essential element to most of the nations in Europe and the United States, but the same was not true for Latin America.
This leads to the next point, income inequality. Where it is true that industrialization brought a great many people out of poverty and into the middle class, it also resulted in a segment of the population feeling like they were left out of the riches that their nations were producing. This inequality resulted from increased GPD which resulted in a movement in these nations to dabble in Socialist policies and governmental instability which practically every nation in Latin America experienced during the 20th Century (Rodríguez 570). Up until this point, Latin America was in many ways similar to Europe, and even Argentines themselves declared that Buenos Aires was the Paris of Latin America (Rodríguez 580). Where the West and Latin America began to steer away from one another was in their response to Industrialization, and the policies that followed. For most of the nations in the Western World, their response to industrialization and income inequality was that of legislation that was aimed at preventing trusts from being created. Latin America had a different approach though.
After the Bolsheviks took control of Russia, there was a global movement to turn every nation into a communist nation. This movement resulted in two things for Latin America, one, it setback Latin America from industrializing by decades, and the second was that it distanced Latin America from the rest of the Western World. By the 1930’s, the Western World had universally rejected the idea of Communism, whereas Latin America saw itself embracing it, and during the heat of the Cold War, several nations located within Latin America flirted with Communism which distanced them even further from their western brethren (Rodríguez 570-575).
This takes us to the turn of the Century. By the late 1990’s, the global threat of Communism was gone, and the End of History had been declared (Fukuyama 20). Since the year 2000, Latin America has encountered two different, yet related occurrences that have had major impacts. The first is the rise of China’s influence in Latin America, and the other is the rebirth of Socialist parties and policies in Latin America.
China’s growth in Latin America has been rather rapid, but its effect has been great (Jilberto 487). Part of China’s growth in the region has actually been advocated by a major power there, that being Brazil (Jilberto 487). Brazil, (along with many other nations in Latin America) has not only made trade agreements with China, it has even advocated for China’s presence in the region. For several Latin America nations, China is not only a major trading partner; it has become the most important trading partner. Accordingly, some nations in Latin America claim that China is their largest exporter (Elson 44). China’s movement into the region also marks the first time that a non-western government has had influence over the region. The rise of China in the region has been met primarily with positive feelings, although there is a feeling among some policy-makers in Latin America that China is not necessarily the best nation to move in there.
Since China has begun to rise in influence in Latin America, the role of Western powers has begun to diminish. Accordingly, European nations and other Western nations have seen their share of trade with Latin America diminish over the past twenty years. Additionally, certain Latin American nations have also seen their trade increase with other non-western nations (Jilberto 490-492). The rise of non-western powers’ influence in Latin America in a very real way brings into question Latin America’s place in the Western World, if for no other reason than the fact that Latin America may more and more see themselves as something entirely different than Western.
The second big trend occurring is a movement called the Pink Tide. This tide, although not necessarily a revolution, is a movement in Latin America that is bringing nations there more towards socialist policies, or policies that are perceived to be part of a third way between Capitalism and Socialism (Fernandes 8-9). There are a few different reasons for why countries in Latin America would go towards this movement, but the one that will be briefly mentioned here is that Latin America is faced with a choice. That choice comes down to the issue of modernization and equality. As is the case with many developing nations, their leaders and by proxy their people, are faced with an extensential question, either there can be better emphasis placed on ensuring that the rights of everyone are respected and that wealth is, to the best of their ability, equally distributed, or the other course of action is that their sole focus can be paid upon economic and socio-economic gains that hopefully in the future pay out dividends (Rodríguez 570-575). It has been the story for most of Latin America’s past that the leaders there decide to institute a policy that better insures that people have greater access to the wealth that is being created.
The reason why China’s growth and the rise of the Pink Tide are being brought up is that they each show the divide that Latin America is faced with. As previously mentioned, Latin America is moving closer and closer towards China and other non-western powers, and as a result of this, the peoples of Latin American are less likely to see themselves in terms of continuing Western culture if for no other reason that there is not a point in being a part of the West.
Now that we have examined Latin America (to some degree at least), let us move onto the most important part of this paper, and that is the theoretical. To say that Latin America thinks and behaves the same as all of the pieces that comprise the region would not only be short-sided, it would also be disengunine. As it has been mentioned, Latin America is a region of some twenty different nations, and over 588 million people (CIA World Factbook). With that being said, there are general trends that apply to the region of Latin America, and those similarities that prove true for most are: one, shared religion, two, similarity in ethnic identity, and the third reason would be that they have shared history and a similar culture. With these points being taken into consideration, it is suggested that Latin America is in fact a part of the larger Western World.
Latin America is comprised of mostly Catholics, but there are a growing number of Protestants throughout the region, between the two branches of Christianity though, the number of Christians or Catholics in Latin America is believed to be 90% (CIA World Factbook). As it can be seen, to say that Latin America does not share a common religion would be an understatement. Accordingly, Latin Americans place a high-value on their religious beliefs. Although the number of Protestants and non-religious people have increased in Latin America over the past forty years, the overall dominate religion in Latin America is Catholicism.
Catholicism’s uniting effect on Latin America in connecting it to Europe and the West is not only a strong factor, it may be one of the strongest. Although Catholicism is not an exclusively Western religion (it was after all started in the Middle East) it was and has been mostly associated with Western Europe. It will only be in this century that the majority of Catholics will not live in Europe (Levine 125). All of this is being brought up because it shows that when it comes to religious beliefs, Latin America is closer to that of the Western World than it is to any other region, and to go one step further, whereas most other regions of the world are partially known for their religion, Latin America is known for sharing Christianity with the West.
The second primary reason that can used to indicate that Latin America is in fact part of the larger Western World comes down to the issue of ethnic identity. Now, this issue can be a little tricky, in that not all Latin American countries have the same indigenous groups, and the racial breakdown of the different Latin American countries is not the same. With that being taken into consideration, it can generalized that majority of Latin American countries are a mix of indigenous groups and European immigrates (Gott 275).
Latin America’s and Europe’s histories, although different, are not completely unrelated to one another. It should be said that whereas the history of Latin America cannot be told without including Europe’s role in the region, Europe’s history can be told (to a degree at least) with little mention of Latin America, at least the story of Europe that does not include Spain and Portugal’s role. With all of this being mentioned, there are general similarities between Europe and Latin America’s history and culture, and the two are more related than it may appear. As it stands today, most of what is considered to be aspects of Latin American culture are in fact a result of European conquest. The different empires and associations that controlled the vast territories of Latin America have long been replaced by institutions and associations that if not directly founded by Europeans, it at least sprang from the ideals and notions of Western democracy. Additionally, if one were to compare the history of Spain from the 19th Century till modern day, the similarities between it and the Spanish-speaking region of Latin America would be pronounced (Tan). Spain’s history is that of strong leaders, a politically active Catholic Church, anti-democratic and a tendency to flirt with Socialism (Tan). Most Spanish-speaking countries of Latin America sound exactly like this. For its part, Portugal and Brazil’s relationship is even more recent than Spain’s. As it can be seen, Latin America and Europe are similar to one another in regards to history because it has been fundamentally impacted by Europe.
The final point of similarities between Latin America and Europe that will be mentioned in this paper has to deal with culture. Again, Latin America’s culture is most similar to European culture because it is a descendant of Europe. Granted, Latin America’s culture is not identical to Northern Europe, but it is rather similar to the culture that exists within the Iberian Peninsula, the primary difference of course being that Latin Americans have added their own unique flavor to it, and some Latin American countries have more influence than others from indigenous groups.
In summary, Latin America is a very interesting place for several different reasons, but its place in world culture is among the most interesting pieces to this region. It is home to a mix of different ethnic groups, different forms of democracy, and beautiful terrain that is filled with natural resources. Latin America is also something of an enigma though when it comes to classifications, in that, it is seen as a descendant of Europe, but its current trajectory though indicates that it is moving further and further away from Europe. There are several different reasons for why this may be occurring, but among those reasons would be the simple fact that the current World Order is moving further and further away from Western domination. Besides the United States, most of the Western World does not have the same clout that it did even fifty years ago, even though Western notions of democracy, human rights and free-trade have been widely accepted by most nations throughout the world.
It is the belief of this paper that Latin America is a part of the Western, but there are three factors that may change this statement. The first is Latin America’s deepening relationship with non-Western nations, including but not limited to their continually growing relationship with China. The second factor is the wave of Socialists/light-Socialists movements that have sprung up throughout the region this century. Although Socialism is not necessarily anti-Western in nature, it does to a degree alienate it from a large swathe of Western nations due to the fact that most of the Western World has rejected Socialism, or they only incorporated elements of Socialism into their national policies. The third and the potentially most important aspect in regards to Latin America’s moving away from the Western World has to deal with the fact that the Western World itself is in decline. What is being suggested here is that the Western World is not only what it used to be in regards to international power that it can exhibit, but also the ideology. Long gone are the days of Western domination of thought and ideology, rather, a few select notions or beliefs that the West introduced to the world have been adopted by most nations of the world, but the core of Western ideological domination has been replaced in the West by relative national theology; meaning that the those inside of the Western World do not see the worth of their own ideology.
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