Latin American History

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How did foreign influence and investment impact Latin America?

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Foreign influence and investment has had major influences on Latin America. Colonialism has affected the region by bringing Spanish language and culture to indigenous groups. European diseases also wiped out millions of natives living in the region. Latin America has been exploited for its raw materials and agricultural products since its colonial days. In many cases, this has led to the existence of a very small group of wealthy people and a small middle class. While it has improved over the last few decades, poverty and a general lack of opportunity is a concern in many areas.

Investment has both helped and hurt the region. Demand for crops such as coffee and sugar has hurt the Brazilian rainforest even though environmentalists have tried to organize efforts to save it. Other nations have often used investment as an excuse to meddle in the affairs of Latin America. The United States has intervened in Central America extensively to assure that American business interests are assured. In the late 1800s, Germany became involved in Venezuela when it was going to default on some railroad debts. The United States intervened but still sent its own troops to ensure that Venezuela paid its debts. The United States also participated in the Mexican Revolution prior to WWI, and it backed rightist groups in Guatemala in the name of protecting the interests of United Fruit. While the region has benefited from outside investment, meddling by Western powers has largely proven hurtful to the region, and many governmental leaders are resentful of Western leaders.

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This was both a blessing and a curse for the countries of Latin America.

Take, for example, Mexico.  During the reign of Porfirio Diaz (1870s to 1910), Mexico was able to build its infrastructure to a remarkable degree through foreign investment.  It was able to build railroads and ports and improve its mines, for example.

But this blessing was a curse as well.  Because the foreign countries had so much money invested in Mexico, they meddled in its affairs, doing things like helping to overthrow presidents that they did not like. (Like Francisco Madero.)

This basic theme has been repeated in other countries of the area.

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Latin America has been dominated over the past few centuries by foreign influences, starting with its colonization by Spain and Portugal, and in the last century by the American Empire.  The small number of Spanish descendants who inherited the land even after independence (The 1%) acted as plantation and landlords over the larger population of poor people.  They did business with large American companies such as United Fruit.

When populist revolts in countries like Nicaragua, Honduras, Bolivia and Chile threatened the landholders, American companies and mining interests, assassinations were engineered to remove those governments in favor of leaders more business friendly to the United States -- as long as they were anti-communist, human rights was largely ignored.

While in countries like Bolivia and Venezuela had their oil and natural gas resources developed by foreign investment, most of the benefits associated with that investment did not make it to the general population.  Bolivia under Evo Morales is one notable exception.

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