Latin America

views updated May 29 2018

Latin America


Elizabeth Anne Kuznesof


Nara Milanich


Anna L. Peterson


Publications on the history of childhood in Latin America only date since the 1980s. In fact, most pertinent sources are about something else: the development of institutions such as education or social welfare, or the history of women. Ironically, this neglect of childhood as a historical subject exists while scholarly focus on the historical role of the family as a political, economic, and social force continues to be strong, especially for Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, and Chile.

Children and the Family

Since the colonial period (1492 to approximately 1826), children have constituted a large proportion of the population of Latin America, and continue to be vital to the work force. One possible explanation for this scholarly neglect is that colonial Spanish and Portuguese law codes determined that the care and nurturing of children were private functions, and fell into the corporate sphere of the family. As a result, children who appear in historical documents were seldom members of "legitimate" families; most often they were children of the popular classes. Thus scholars have normally discussed abandoned and orphaned children, children enlisted in military service, children thrust into institutionalized workshops as "apprentices," or caught up in the criminal justice system. Other topics include prescriptive ideas about children's upbringing, and discussions of laws relating to children. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, scholars, legislators, and politicians were also preoccupied by the levels of infant and child mortality, child labor, juvenile delinquency, and issues related to public education.

From a historical and legal perspective, the family in Latin America is represented consistently as the fundamental unit of society, and as a nuclear unit that is essentially patriarchal, based on a system of monogamous marriage, and focused on reproduction. This vision is retained from the sixteenth to the twentieth century in spite of the remarkable diversity in family and household forms that existed and exist in Latin America. The family as constructed through law can be seen as the codification of an elite world vision, concerned with the legality of family ties, the legal definition of marital and paternal power, the legitimacy of offspring, and the regulation of family wealth. The remarkable fact is that the majority of children born in Latin America since 1492 were not born in such families. Thus most children have been defined as in some sense marginal, and in need of social control by some institution.

In a rare edited volume focused on childhood in Latin America since the colonial period, Tobias Hecht argues that the lives and histories of children must be studied for an understanding of society at large. He observes that familiar aspects of Latin American history can be seen in a new light through an examination of the experiences of children and notions about childhood. For example, he suggests that boys aged eight through seventeen, including forty percent or more of transatlantic crews, had an important role in the Conquest. In addition, Europeans commonly viewed the condition of Indians as similar to that of children, who were "only potentially, but not actually, rational beings" (Hecht, p. 10). Thus Europeans argued that Indians were better off under the tutelage of Spain. Their "childishness" provided a rationale for the Conquest. Similarly, in the early twentieth century, intellectuals blamed poor parents for the "moral abandonment" of their children and for being "childish" or unworthy parents, a verdict sometimes leading to loss of custody.

Rights and Obligations

The very definition of childhood in Latin America evolved over time through a continuous dialogue concerning the duties and responsibilities of parents and children toward each other, and the responsibilities of the state toward children. In the colonial period the parent-child relationship was seen as an aspect of the corporate family, embedded in the patriarchal property rights of legally constituted families. At that time, focus was on the parental obligations from early childhood up to age seven, which was considered the age of reason. The first period, from birth to age three, was designated infancy and distinguished by the child being sustained by human milk, either from the mother or a wet nurse. Children were generally left with their mothers during infancy if their fathers died, because of the need for mother's milk. In the second phase, from ages four to seven, the child remained with the parent, with little being expected of her or him. Education in the sense of learning obedience, manners, and prayers was emphasized. From age four the child was taken to mass.

In this second period the father was responsible for providing sustenance, whether the child was of legitimate or illegitimate birth. He had the legal right of patria potestad, which included the obligations to feed, clothe, discipline, educate, select occupations, and sanction the marital plans of children. In return, children were to obey parents and work without wages. In order to have a legal heir, fathers had to acknowledge paternity; otherwise the single mother had to support her children alone, though mothers were denied the legal rights of patria potestad.

Fathers who felt little obligation to children existed at all levels. During the colonial period orphaned children were usually the responsibility of grandparents or their parents' siblings. Abandoned children, estimated at between 10 and 25 percent of births, were also cared for by families.

From age seven the child was seen as having reason and as morally responsible for his or her acts. The child was required to study, work, confess, and follow the rituals of Catholicism. Girls were expected to be modest. At age seven the little boy could go to primary school or work for a salary in somebody's house while he learned a skill or profession. The little girl at that age could begin to help with domestic tasks, learn to sew and do embroidery, and very rarely might be taught to read and write by a cleric or teacher. Until age ten, children could not be legally punished for crimes. Families assumed any penalties for crime. After age ten girls and boys had to sleep separately. According to colonial law, girls could be married at twelve and boys at fourteen.

After age seven a child's labor was believed to have value and judges emphasized the rights of an orphaned child from age seven to receive a salary and not to be exploited for free labor. However, there was no real discussion about what kind of work was appropriate for that age, or how many hours the child should work. In the eighteenth century the state began to exert influence as levels of child abandonment grew. In the nineteenth century mothers began to argue for child custody and patria potestad, usually with littlesuccess.

In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries we see the emergence of an ethic of protection of children, including adolescents, with an emphasis on their fragility and assumed innocence, as well as on the importance of education. Early nineteenth-century governments began to assist abandoned children through orphanages and poor houses, though many beneficent societies were associated with the Catholic Church or lay brotherhoods. In Mexico, families in hard times would sometimes "abandon" a child for some weeks or months at an orphanage, and then reclaim the child when the family had more resources. For older children, orphanages often functioned as workhouses where the children remained until they were sent out for foster care, often as servants.

The concept of adolescence and a specific notion of how children ages twelve through nineteen should be treated were linked to the dramatic economic and social developments in late-nineteenth-century Latin America. This development extended life expectancy and created expanded employment opportunities dependent on longer schooling. For example, the substantial sector of service occupations that developed in increasingly urbanized communities were an important source of new employment, particularly for children and women.

By the late nineteenth century, discourse based on Enlightenment views of education as a means to foster civic responsibility were displaced by a growing penal consciousness, intent on the prevention and punishment of crime. An ideology focused on children's protection was transformed into a preoccupation with order and social control. Nineteenth-century legislation very often targeted the social control of abandoned or orphaned children, since unruly vagrant youths were seen as potentially dangerous to society. In Brazil, the child began to be referred to as a minor, with the term carrying an implication of danger and a tendency toward crime. The Brazilian Criminal Code of 1830 determined that a child between seven and fourteen could be sent to jail if the judge determined that the child understood his or her crime. Otherwise the child was sent to a juvenile correction house to age seventeen. Similarly, the Criminal Code of 1890 emphasized responsibility as related to a consciousness of duty, right and wrong, and the ability to appreciate the consequences of acts. This kind of emphasis implicitly argued that schooling rather than age determined the level of a child's responsibility.


Until the first decades of the twentieth century, the definition of education was essentially identical with that of work. Much "education" took the form of apprenticeship or some kind of specific job. For adolescents in the lower classes this "education" was often provided through a kind of child-circulation, in which young people from poorer families were sent to serve in the homes or businesses of more elite families. By the early twentieth century, efforts were made to limit the types and hours of labor for children under fourteen, and to specifically reinforce formal education for children. The 1890 code in Brazil specified that children under nine years of age were mentally incapable of criminal behavior; those between nine and fourteen could be jailed if they understood their crime.

High child mortality in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries helped to return the discussion somewhat to questions of child protection, though the criminal potential of unruly children continued to preoccupy jurists. Legislators refocused on childhood as the key to the future. Intellectuals spoke of investing in children, and argued that society was protected through the protection of children.

Nevertheless, in Brazil and Chile, special juvenile justice systems were created in the 1920s to deal with "minors." Although legislators wished to rehabilitate delinquent children, they did not make education a priority because they saw education as a "dangerous weapon" (Hecht, p. 176). It was recognized that education was an antidote for criminality; a minimal education was desirable to make "minors" into useful workers. Legislators debated the challenge of how to create an educated population that would also be docile and hardworking. Because the laws focused on marginal children, legislators did not consider developing a national policy of quality education accessible to all. Children continued at the margins in terms of social policy, still seen as a threat to law and order.

Mandatory schooling for children ages seven to fourteen was instituted in most of Latin America in the first decades of the twentieth century, though once again the felt need for social control of an otherwise disruptive population was a major incentive. In addition, many lower-class families were unconvinced that education would improve the lives or economic choices of their children. While school attendance and literacy have improved in most countries, child labor continues to compete actively with schooling in the minds of many families and children. Families with minimal incomes often view the salaries of children as vital to family survival strategies. Observers in several Latin American countries argue that childhood as a stage of life is denied to a large proportion of their children; however, it might be more accurate to say that the childhood experienced by poor children is distinct from that of the elite.

See also: Brazil; Child Labor in Developing Countries; Sociology and Anthropology of Childhood.


Blum, Ann. 1998. "Public Welfare and Child Circulation, Mexico City, 1877 to 1925." Journal of Family History 23, no. 3: 240271.

Hawes, Joseph M., and N. Ray Hiner, eds. 1991. Children in Historical and Comparative Perspective: An International Handbook and Research Guide. New York: Greenwood Press.

Hecht, Tobias, ed. 2002. Minor Omissions: Children in Latin American History and Society. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.

Kuznesof, Elizabeth. 1991. "Sexual Politics, Race, and Bastard-Bearing in Nineteenth-Century Brazil: A Question of Culture or Power." Journal of Family History 16, no. 3: 241260.

Kuznesof, Elizabeth. 1997. "Who Were the Families of 'Natural' Children in 19th Century Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: A Comparison of Baptismal and Census Records." The History of the Family: An International Quarterly. 2, no. 2: 171182.

Kuznesof, Elizabeth. 1998. "The Puzzling Contradictions of Child Labor, Unemployment, and Education in Brazil." Journal of Family History 23, no. 3: 225239.

Mezner, Joan. 1994. "Orphans and the Transition to Free Labor in Northeast Brazil: The Case of Campina Grande, 18501888." Journal of Social History 27, no. 3: 499515.

Salinas Meza, Rene. 1991. "Orphans and Family Disintegration in Chile: The Mortality of Abandoned Children, 17501930." Journal of Family History 16, no. 3: 315329.

Elizabeth Anne Kuznesof


In his classic 1946 study The Masters and the Slaves, Gilberto Freyre traced the formation of the Brazilian social order through what he called a "domestic history" of the patriarchal plantation household he saw as the center of colonial society. For Freyre, children and childhood were central to this domestic history and, by extension, to the formation of Brazilian civilization and psyche. Consequently, he devoted considerable attention to such issues as child-rearing practices and coming-of-age rites, education, sexuality, and socialization.

Freyre's work became part of the Brazilian canon, but it did not set the agenda for future historical work. It was not till the late 1990s that historians took the first tentative steps toward addressing the history of childhood in Latin America, and most focused on the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The dearth of research on children and childhood in colonial America makes any attempt at a comprehensive overview of the topic a difficult, even hazardous, endeavor. Consequently, this entry will highlight several emerging themes in the historiography rather than provide an all-inclusive survey of the topic.

Colonial Latin American Childhoods

Given that children and childhood are themselves culturally and historically bound constructs, we might begin by asking who was a child in colonial Latin America and how was childhood defined and demarcated? In a society stratified by sex, class, and color, the answers to such questions depended fundamentally on a young person's gender, social position, race, and legal status as free or enslaved. For example, girls were deemed to reach physical and social maturity faster than boys and for a number of purposes were granted legal majority earlier; on the other hand, because they were regarded as inherently vulnerable to corruption, charitable assistance for girls was more widely available and frequently more extensive than for boys. Meanwhile, definitions and experiences of childhood were necessarily contingent on caste. A case in point is the expansive definition of legal minority that governed inheritance law and the exercise of parental authority. According to Spanish law codes, the age of majority was twenty-fiveand for certain legal purposes, unmarried children were beholden to paternal authority as long as their fathers were alive. Similarly, the late eighteenth-century Royal Pragmatic on marriage held that prospective brides and grooms identified as white or Spanish had to obtain paternal permission to marry until they turned twenty-five.

This protracted legal minority had relevance only among limited segments of colonial society: those from propertied families or those identified as Spanish. Very different life chronologies applied to the poor, the non-white, and the enslaved. Chantal Cramaussel's research on late-seventeenth-century baptismal registries from northern New Spain, for example, shows that captive Indian children over age ten were classified as adults. Renato Venâncio, in turn, has noted that eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Brazilian censuses recorded slave children over age three along with their occupations. It is difficult to say how such administrative designations translated into practice. What is clear is that perhaps the most widely observed milestone in the everyday lives of free colonial plebeians came at age six or seven. It was at this age that youngsters were deemed capable of performing useful labor and were often put to work.

This is not to say, however, that plebeians and slaves did not have a childhood. As in many societies historically, in colonial Latin America, childhood and labor were not defined as mutually exclusive. In fact, in some Amerindian cultures, the former was actually defined in terms of the latter: the Incas and peoples of central Mexico not only viewed children as productive members of family, community, and state but actually classified people into age groups according to the work they were capable of performing. Childhood for the poor and nonwhite was simply less clearly differentiated from adulthood in terms of the expectations and activities associated with it. This suggests that in colonial Iberoamerica, there were "childhoods" that varied across social groups rather than a single, universal childhood experience.

The characteristics of these different childhoods have only just begun to be explored, but a few observations are possible. The first, of course, is that labor was central to the experience of most children, the exception being the sons and daughters of a privileged minority. Long before the presence of young people in factories captured the attention of social critics in early-twentieth-century Mexico City or Buenos Aires, children in colonial Latin America performed valuable domestic, artisanal, and agricultural labors. The brief glimpses of their everyday lives afforded by sources like judicial and census records often find them busy herding animals, spinning, performing agricultural tasks, or laboring in the infamous bakeries of colonial cities. Insofar as minors were expected to contribute to the household economy from an early age, the colonial period provides antecedents for the experiences of children and the meanings of childhood among low-income sectors in Latin America today.

Child Circulation

Another significant aspect of childhood is the fact that many minors were reared outside of their natal households. The widespread abandonment of children to foundling homes is merely the most visible facet of this phenomenon. Many poor children resided as agregados (attached people) oras criados or conchabos (servants) in the homes of unrelated caretakers. Their presence was characterized by a broad constellation of arrangements, from informal fostering and adoption to apprenticeships and domestic service. The experiences of these minors contrast with those of elite children, who lived within a restricted private sphere of immediate kin. Living and laboring under the tutelage of unrelated caretakers also served as the sole means of education for many minors.

In some instances, parents voluntarily gave up children they could not or would not care for. Circulation reflects the burden that child rearing could entail for the impoverished majority of colonial society. It also reflects the stigma attached in some social groups to out-of-wedlock birth, even as illegitimacy was endemic across colonial society. In other instances, coercion was at work. In frontier societies such as southern Chile and northern New Spain, intractable wars with native peoples fueled a lively traffic in indigenous children. In southern Chile, and probably elsewhere, the sale of children as war booty eventually gave way to the routine abduction by local authorities of poor youngsters whose parents were deemed morally, ethnically, or economically unfit.

These myriad forms of child circulation reflect the value of minors as laborers in peasant economies, artisanal trades, and urban households. The economic role of child criados seems to have been particularly important in areas where slaves were either scarce or too expensive for modest households. But the presence of minors in non-natal households had significance beyond the value of their labor. Sometimes children became the heirs of their caretakers, suggesting the importance of these practices to the construction of kin relations. Children were also a form of currency within the patronage networks on which colonial society was based. María Mannarelli has shown how the circulation of abandoned children among households in seventeenth-century Lima bound individuals of all social levels and ethnic and racial groups. Moreover, the rearing of young criados may have acquired particular significance in societies in which many individuals served as the clients, dependents, and servants of others. What better way to guarantee the lifelong loyalty of a subordinate than to rear him or her from "tender youth"? This is precisely what households of all social ranks sought to do, grooming parentless, abandoned, orphaned, poor, and illegitimate youngsters as dependents, with an eye not only to their present labor but also to the prospect of long-term dependence.

Children and Imperial States

Particularly in the first centuries of the empire, the Iberian states' interest in their minor subjects was limited. Civil law was concerned with the rights of the young in their role as inheritors, but such issues obviously had little relevance to the lives of the majority of young people. Broader and potentially more interventionist preoccupations with children's health and labor, child-rearing practices and education, and the development of correctional institutions and protective legislation would come into full flower only in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It does appear, however, that Portuguese authorities were more activist both in their oversight of child welfare and in their use of children for certain state purposes than were the Spanish. For example, in Portugal and Brazil one crucial role of the probate judge, the juiz de órfãos, was, as the name suggests, to oversee the welfare of the community's orphans. No such official existed in Spain or Spanish America. The Portuguese crown also put into practice a system in which orphans were used to colonize its far-flung empire. Future research is necessary to confirm the impression of contrasting Spanish and Portuguese postures towards children, as well as to explain it.

Both crowns began to assume greater interest in child welfare in the late eighteenth century. Their newfound concern coincided with beliefs about the significance of population increase to the wealth of nations; an Enlightenment preoccupation with charity and education; and an identification of children and their welfare with modernity. A series of imperial dispositions improved the legal and social condition of orphaned and abandoned children, and that quintessential institution of Enlightenment modernization, the foundling home, spread throughout the region. While orphanages had been founded sporadically since at least the early seventeenth century, they multiplied rapidly in eighteenth-century colonial urban centers, becoming the most visible public initiatives directed at children in colonial and republican Latin America. They also enjoyed a striking endurance: many functioned into the twentieth century, and the one in Santiago, Chile, continues to operate at the beginning of the twenty-first century. Because of the documentation they generated, foundling homes and their wards are the single best-studied aspect of Latin American childhood.

The Symbolic Significance of Children and Childhood

Childhood had an important symbolic function in colonial society. Cultural encounter, domination, and amalgamation, as well as political authority, were expressed and understood through the lens of childhood. For example, European interpretations of native peoples were refracted through early modern notions of children and childhood. Both critics and defenders of Amerindians portrayed them as childlike and childish. Whether willful and irrational, as critics charged, or unsullied in their innocence, as defenders countered, native peoples required the guidance and protection of paternal overlords. Meanwhile, indigenous children became the objects par excellence of missionaries' efforts to Christianize and acculturate native peoples. While Amerindian adults were often dismissed as intransigent in their barbarism, their children were seen as pliant and receptive to the faith.

Children also became symbolically associated with processes of mestizaje, or racial mixture. The eighteenth-century pinturas de castas, pictorial representations of mestizaje, produced primarily in New Spain, portray two parents of different racial or ethnic identities together with the product of their union, the mixed-race (casta ) youngster. In such representations, children became the concrete embodiments of racial and cultural miscegenation. The association is evident in public discourses beyond the canvas as well. As Bianca Premo has pointed out, Bourbon commentators associated disorder and danger, delinquency and crime not just with the urban castas but with mixed-race youths specifically. But if the progeny of mixed unions personified danger, in other contexts they embodied the potential to consolidate the socio-racial order. Kathryn Burns documents how the founding fathers of sixteenth-century Spanish Cuzco paid particular attention to the acculturation of their mestiza (mixed Spanish and Indian) daughters. The rearing of young mestizas as Hispanicized wives, mothers, servants, and nuns was regarded as crucial to the reproduction of Spanish pedigrees and hegemony in the city. The experience of Cuzco's mestizas also reveals how the social roles and symbolic significance of mixed-race young peopleindeed, how childhood as social construction and social experience in generalwere deeply gendered.

Finally, political authority itself in Iberoamerica was understood through discursive analogies based on family relations. The king was a father who guided his subject-children, and patria potestad, the principle of paternal authority that was a hallmark of civil law, was an organizing principle of political order. Little wonder, then, that early-nineteenth-century independence struggles were expressed in parallel metaphors as a process of coming of age, in which the colonies reached maturity and sought to emancipate themselves from an outgrown political minority.

See also: Brazil.


Burns, Kathryn. 1999. Colonial Habits: Convents and the Spiritual Economy of Cuzco, Peru. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Cramaussel, Chantal. 1995. "Ilegítimos y abandonados en la frontera norte de la Nueva España: Parral y San Bartolomé en el siglo XVII." Colonial Latin American History Review 4: 405438.

Dean, Carolyn. 2002. "Sketches of Childhood: Children in Colonial Andean Art and Society." In Minor Omissions: Children in Latin American History and Society, ed. Tobias Hecht. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.

Del Priore, Mary. 1999. História das crianças no Brasil. São Paulo: Editora Contexto.

Freyre, Gilberto. 1956. The Mansions and the Shanties: A Study in the Development of Brazilian Civilization. New York: Knopf.

Hecht, Tobias, ed. 2002. Minor Omissions: Children in Latin American History and Society. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.

Kuznesof, Elizabeth Anne. 1998. "The Puzzling Contradictions of Child Labor, Unemployment, and Education in Brazil." Journalof Family History 23: 225239.

Lavrin, Asunción. 1994. "La niñez en México e Hispanoamérica: Rutas de exploración." In La familia en el mundo iberoamericano, ed. Pilar Gonzalbo Aizpuru and Cecilia Rabell. Mexico City: Universidad Autónoma de México.

Lipsett-Rivera, Sonya, ed. 1998. Special Issue on Children in the History of Latin America. Journal of Family History 23, no. 3.

Lipsett-Rivera, Sonya. 2002. "Model Children and Models for Children in Early Mexico." In Minor Omissions: Children in Latin American History and Society, ed. Tobias Hecht. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.

Mannarelli, María. 1993. Pecados públicos. La ilegitimidad en Lima, siglo XVII. Lima: Ediciones Flora Tristán.

Marcílio, Maria Luiza. 1998. História social da criança abandonada. Saƒo Paulo: Editora Hucitec.

Meznar, Joan. 1994. "Orphans and the Transition to Free Labor in Northeast Brazil: The Case of Campinas Grande, 18501888." Journal of Social History 27: 499515.

Milanich, Nara. 2002. "Historical Perspectives on Illegitimacy and Illegitimates in Latin America." In Minor Omissions: Children in Latin American History and Society, ed. Tobias Hecht. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.

Premo, Bianca. 2002. "Minor Offenses: Youth, Crime, and Law in Eighteenth-Century Lima." In Minor Omissions: Children in Latin American History and Society, ed. Tobias Hecht. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.

Twinam, Ann. 1999. Public Lives, Private Secrets: Gender, Honor, Sexuality, and Illegitimacy in Colonial Spanish America. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Venâncio Pinto, Renato. 1999. Famílias abandonadas. São Paulo: Papirus Editora.

Nara Milanich


Poverty, land hunger, and political repression have long characterized much of Central America. These social ills disproportionately affect the region's children, many of whom suffer from hunger, illiteracy, infectious disease, and inadequacies in housing, formal education, and health care. Children often work from an early age in order to supplement family incomes. Especially in El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala, poverty, social inequalities, and a closed political process have generated opposition movements and, in response, repression by government and economic elites. During the 1970s and 1980s, these conflicts erupted into full-scale civil war. Guerrilla armies and militant popular movements directly challenged authoritarian governments, and in post-1979 Nicaragua counterrevolutionaries tried to oust the Sandinista government.

Children suffer as disproportionately from political violence as they do from poverty. In 1995 the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) reported that more civilian children than soldiers are killed in contemporary wars and that half of all refugees in the world are children. This holds true for Central America, where millions of civilians were displaced from their homes during the 1980s, including 30 percent of El Salvador's population. In addition to death and displacement, the Central American Human Rights Commission (CODEHUCA) reports that war's direct effects on children include permanent injury, loss of parents and other relatives, destruction of home and land, and loss of family income. War also damages many children psychologically. Researchers have noted, for example, the prominent place of soldiers, airplanes, and corpses in the drawings of refugee children. In El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua, the psychological, economic, and cultural damage created by the political violence of the 1970s and 1980s continued even after the wars officially ended. Some researchers attribute the growth of juvenile violence and gangs in many parts of Central America in the 1990s to the social dislocation, economic hardship, and desensitization to violence resulting from the civil wars.

Children's victimization is not without political significance. Different parties in Central America have utilized images of suffering children to channel indignation toward the enemy that has hurt them. However, children are not only passive victims of political violence. In this region, as in other parts of the world, children as young as seven or eight have participated in both government and opposition armies. Despite governments denials, international observers repeatedly confirmed that boys under fifteen, often forcibly recruited, were serving in the Salvadoran and Guatemalan government armies.

Many boys and girls also participated in guerrilla movements as combatants and also, for younger children, as couriers or lookouts. However, most of these joined voluntarily. Especially in conflicted rural areas, joining the opposition often seemed preferable to the risks of civilian life. Guerrilla participation carried benefits, including not only protection and food but also social support structures, education, and respect. Further, many young people felt strong commitments to the political opposition, based on family, ethnic, or regional loyalties, ideological and religious beliefs, or personal experiences of violence.

While young guerrillas often received respect and affection from others in their movement, authoritarian governments usually called them delinquents, arbitrary opponents of law and order. The association of youth and political opposition created a climate, especially in Nicaragua and El Salvador, in which any youth was seen as potentially subversive and thus a legitimate target of government reprisal. Nicaraguans recalling the repressive period prior to President Anastasio Somoza's defeat in 1979, for example, often assert that "It was a crime to be young."

In sum, popular perceptions in Central America during the 1970s and 1980s understood children as primarily victims of the civil wars but also as active agents, either heroic combatants or dangerous subversives. This agency was rarely affirmed by humanitarian organizations or scholars, who generally condemn all political participation by children. Their critiques rest on an assumption that children can only be victims, never victimizers; only acted upon, never actors. While these assumptions undergird vital efforts to protect children, they also reinforce a culturally and historically limited vision of children's needs, interests, and capacities, even of the nature of childhood itself. Images and experiences of Central American children, in other words, challenge the mainstream Western view of childhood as a time of innocence, ignorance, and isolation from the moral and political conflicts of the adult world.

See also: Soldier Children: Global Human Rights Issues; War in the Twentieth Century.


CODEHUCA. n.d. Los niños de la década perdida: Investigación y análisis de violaciones de los derechos humanos de la niñez centroamericana (198092) (The children of the lost decade: Investigation and analysis of violations of human rights of Central American children [198092]). San José, Costa Rica: CODEHUCA.

Marín, Patricia. 1988. Infancia y guerra en El Salvador (Childhood and war in El Salvador). Guatemala City: UNICEF.

Peterson, Anna L., and Kay Almere Read. 2002. "Victims, Heroes, Enemies: Children in Central American Wars." In Minor Omissions: Children in Latin American History and Society, ed. Tobias Hecht. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 215231.

UNICEF. 1995. Annual Report. Paris: United Nations Children's Fund.

Anna L. Peterson

Latin America

views updated Jun 08 2018


Colonial Period

Jews were prohibited from entering Spanish America throughout the colonial period. Although a few Jews who could not be regarded as *New Christians managed to enter illegally, the history of Jews in Spanish colonial America is primarily that of the New Christians who were *Crypto-Jews. Several members of Columbus' crew were New Christians, but shortly after his voyage the Catholic sovereigns closed their American possessions to New Christians and their immediate descendants. The ban was regularly renewed, but there were times when the New Christians could enter Spanish America legally, especially after their general pardon by Philip iii in 1601. Despite the restrictions, New Christians managed to enter the New World on a fairly regular basis until the middle of the 17th century at least, and at times with the connivance of high authorities in Spain, who needed their enterprise for the development of the American possessions. A large number of New Christians and Crypto-Jews from Portugal migrated to the New World during the union of the crowns of Spain and Portugal (1580–1640). It is impossible to tell how many Crypto-Jews were among the New Christians. However, two facts are clear: first, not all the New Christians were inclined to the secret practice of Judaism, and second, it is natural to suppose that there were more Crypto-Jews than those arrested by the Inquisition. This assumption is reinforced by the use in these centuries of the word Portuguese as a synonym for Crypto-Jew. The Inquisitional documents provide the only extensive source of information about the Crypto-Jews' identity and activities. Initially, Episcopal Inquisitions, under the guidance of secular or regular clergy, flourished in Spanish America. New Spain witnessed an *auto da fé as early as 1528, when the alleged "Judaizers" or Crypto-Jews Hernando Alonso and Diego de Morales were sent to the stake. Branches of the Holy Office of the *Inquisition, in Spain, were introduced in 1570 in Lima, for the viceroyalty of Peru, and in 1571 in Mexico City, for the viceroyalty of New Spain. A third major Inquisition was later established in Cartagena (Colombia) in 1610 for the viceroyalty of New Granada. These Inquisitions held regular autos da fé until the end of the colonial period, but their activity against the Crypto-Jews took place chiefly in the period prior to 1660. In both New Spain and Peru they were especially active in two periods, during the 1580s and 1590s, and during the 1630s and 1640s. In New Spain the first period corresponds to the arrests and trials of most of the *Carvajal family, and the second to the Great Complicity, in which the most striking figure was Tomas Trevino de *Sobremonte. In similar trials held in 17th-century Peru, the most striking figures were Francisco *Maldonado de Silva, surgeon, philosopher, and apologist for Judaism and Manuel Bautista Perez, regarded as the richest man in the viceroyalty. It is impossible to ascertain the number of Crypto-Jews in Spanish America, but there is reason to believe that it exceeded the number of those arrested and tried. Although the claims circulating about large numbers of Crypto-Jews in Latin America are not supported by the evidence, there were many cases unveiled during the 20th century of native populations that observed certain Jewish traditions supposedly transmitted by Crypto-Jews who were hiding among them. At the same time it should be borne in mind that most Crypto-Jews brought to trial were reconciled with the Church, and despite the Inquisition's vaunted vigilance, were not heard from again, thus suggesting at least the possibility that they had made their peace with the Church. The Crypto-Jews had their own distinctive religion. Though they believed it to be the authentic Judaism, it was actually a wild blend of biblical Judaism, post-biblical reminiscences, and influences of the Catholic environment. Prominent in commerce, the trades, the professions, and government, the "New Christian Judaizers" contributed immeasurably also to the development of Latin America's culture. Luis de *Carvajal, the Younger, was among the earliest and most sensitive writers in Spanish in the Western Hemisphere and Antonio Jose da Silva "O Judeu," was one of the outstanding playwrights in Portuguese in the colonial period.

[Martin A. Cohen]

See also *America.

jews in the caribbeans

During the second half of the 17th century Spanish-Portuguese Jews settled in the new colonies that were founded along the Wild Coast (the Guianas) and in the Caribbean Islands. They came from Dutch Brazil, as well as from Amsterdam, London, Bordeaux, and Hamburg. They engaged in the plantation economy, producing sugar, cocoa, vanilla, and other staples, and took an active part in commerce, shipping trade, maritime insurance, and public services.

In the Protestant colonies of Holland, England, and Denmark the Jews were free to practice their own religion. Jews were officially expelled from the French Catholic colonies in 1685, but their presence was generally tolerated by the local authorities. They founded well-organized communities that preserved the Portuguese language and their customs and traditions, including synagogues with sand-covered floors.

The Spanish-Portuguese Jews in the Caribbeans maintained ethnic and family ties as the basis of economic and social networks and preserved with zeal their unique traditions. To overcome their small numbers and constant mobility between the islands, they developed chains of communication for the preservation of endogamic marriages, social assistance, and religious services.

Curaçao, the "Mother of the Jewish Communities in the New World," was a source of inspiration and assistance to other Sephardi communities in the Western Hemisphere. With its economic decline early in the 19th century, several Jews from Curaçao immigrated to the independent Latin American republics in the Circum Caribbean. They established small Jewish settlements along the coasts of Venezuela, Colombia, and Panama. They prospered economically, and were well integrated into the social and political elites of the Circum Caribbean, but gradually intermarried into the Catholic population.

[Margalit Bejarano (2nd ed.)]

Jewish Emancipation in Latin America

The movements for political and religious emancipation in Latin America slowly but markedly influenced Jewish settlement in that part of the world. The Inquisition, an institution brought from Europe to America, was abolished during the first years of the struggle for independence from Spain (1811 in New Granada and *Paraguay; 1813 in Mexico, Peru, Chile, Uruguay, and Argentina), but was restored in Mexico, Peru, Chile, and New Granada in 1815 upon the return of Ferdinand vii to the Spanish throne. It was finally suppressed throughout the continent a few years later when independence had been won.

The governments of Latin America were influenced by the liberal ideas of the French encyclopedists and the American and French Revolutions. The abolition of the Inquisition and the spread of liberalism permitted the settlement of Jews in Latin American countries. However, during the first half century after emancipation few Jews moved to Latin America. Those who did, mainly economically motivated West European Jews, did not enjoy full equality and suffered from the residue of Catholic intolerance. Unlike the United States and France after their revolutions, the newly independent Latin American countries were not compelled to adopt a particular policy toward the Jews because they had so few Jewish inhabitants during the early 19th century. The first liberal religious legislation rather pertained to the various Protestant churches in response to the presence of the British who were economically involved in South America.

Intermittent Jewish immigration eventually produced the need for organizing Jewish communities in several cities. No major political disabilities or religious restrictions hindered the Jews in the 1860s when they founded their first institutions in Latin America. Although there was never any legislation specifically emancipating the Jews, religious freedom for the Jews was taken as an extension of the freedom granted to Protestants. In general, as the Jewish communities of Latin America organized, the respective governments accorded recognition to Jewish religious institutions.

[Victor A. Mirelman]

Jewish Immigration to Latin American Countries

The overwhelming majority of the Jewish immigration to Latin America was established in countries whose population mainly originated in Europe. In the first decades of the 19th century, following independence from Spain and Portugal, only a small number of Jewish immigrants found its way to Latin America. Jews from Morocco immigrated to the northeastern coast of Brazil, and settled in Belem (State of Para). Following the rubber boom of the mid-19th century around the Amazon region they penetrated along the Amazon River reaching as far as Iquitos in Northern Peru. At the same time, Jews from the Caribbean islands, particularly from Curaçao and St. Thomas, settled in Venezuela, Colombia, Panama, and Costa Rica, where many of them eventually were assimilated. Another small wave of Jewish immigrants arrived from Central and Western Europe, particularly from Germany, France, and England, bringing Jewish businessmen, many of them without women, to Chile, Peru, Mexico, Argentina, and Brazil.

Organized immigration, however, started only following the *May Laws of 1881 in the Russian Empire that resulted in the deterioration of the situation of the Jews in the Pale of Settlement. The main destinations in Latin America were Argentina and Brazil: in 1900, 14,700 Jews lived in Argentina; 1,000 in Brazil; and 1,000 in other Latin American countries. Between 1901 and 1914 the numbers increased to 115,600 in Argentina; 9,000 in Brazil; and 3,000 in other countries; but immigration decreased radically during World War i. At the end of the war no more than 150,000 Jews were in Latin America. The Jewish population consisted roughly of 80% Central and East European immigrants and 20% Sephardim from the Mediterranean basin – North Africa, Syria, Turkey, and the Balkan states. The majority of the Jewish immigrants in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Peru, most of Central America, Mexico, and Cuba were Ashkenazim. Argentina had, in fact, received 90% of its 126,700 Jewish immigrants from Russia until 1920.

Between 1921 and 1930, around 100,000 Jews immigrated to the Latin American countries. From the rise of Nazism to the end of the Holocaust (1933–45), when the need of Jewish emigration from Europe was at its height, the explicit or concealed policy that regulated Jewish immigration was changed. Restrictions limiting the immigration of Jews were instituted using economic, political, racial, and religious selectivity to prevent "too many" Jews from joining Latin American Catholic society and from competing with local merchants, workers, professionals, and entrepreneurs. From 1940, Jewish immigration was severely curtailed and almost illegal. Nevertheless, in spite of restrictions and closed borders Jewish immigration continued, and according to conservative estimates in 1933–45 between 113,500 and 120,400 Jews immigrated to Latin America, legally, by circumventing the laws, or through the underground. People coming from the same country tended to settle in the same area in their new homeland. A considerable number of the 12,000 immigrants from Arab countries arriving in Brazil between 1957 and 1960 settled in *São Paulo where 5,000 Jews from Egypt had established themselves over the years. In Guatemala, Jews from Germany form the largest Jewish community which is situated in the capital, Guatemala City.

Most Latin American countries quickly became lands of emigration as well as immigration. During the first years after World War ii, thousands of immigrants established in Paraguay and *Bolivia continued on their way to Argentina and Chile, sometimes crossing borders illegally. Once their visas had been approved, numerous immigrants from Cuba and *Haiti streamed into the United States. Also many immigrants who went to *Ecuador, a country friendlier than most toward Jewish refugees, emigrated after living there for some time. Political upheavals and economic crises were the main factors of emigration after World War ii, as illustrated by the revolutions in Cuba (1959) and in Nicaragua (1979), the coup d'états headed by military forces in Brazil, Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay in the 1960s and 1970s as well as by the social and personal insecurity in Colombia and Venezuela in the 1990s and the first decade of the 21st century. Emigration was also motivated by the economic crises of the late 1990s and early 2000s that caused the impoverishment of large Jewish sectors, particularly in Argentina. Emigration from Latin America was directed to Europe, Israel, and the United States as well as to other Latin American countries with better economic prospects, such as Venezuela (prior to the rise of Chavez) and Mexico. It is very difficult to calculate the figures for these migratory movements. Accurate numbers are available only with respect to aliyah: 89,684 Jews immigrated to Israel from Latin America in the period between 1948 and 2004, but not all of them stayed there and a certain percentage re-emigrated to other countries or returned to their countries of origin.

Economic and Social Status

Until the 1880s, most of the Jewish immigrants to Latin America made their living as merchants. The Moroccan Jews, in the Amazon region, were peddlers who catered to the workers in the rubber industry. The Caribbean Jews and the immigrants from Europe were often representatives of large business firms, and integrated into the upper middle class. The largest community, however, developed in Argentina as a result of the country's liberal immigration policy from the 1880s and with the establishment of the Jewish Colonization Association (ica) agricultural settlements. Argentina became the favored destination of Jewish immigration to Latin America. For two decades agriculture was the main occupation of Argentinean Jews. At the same time Argentina's population of predominantly European origin (90%), and its relatively early industrialization compared with the rest of Latin America, also attracted Jewish population to urban settlement and allowed Jewish communities to prosper. Jewish immigrants of the late 19th and early 20th centuries who came with experience in trade and labor and who settled in undeveloped regions where the economy was based on the export of agricultural products or raw materials discovered a vast field of activity in the area of commercial brokerage and the production of consumer goods. The activity of the Jewish traders, who usually started as peddlers, brought about an increased demand for clothing and furniture. This demand was partially met by Jewish workers who began to produce these items locally. The two world wars and the industrialization of several countries stimulated the development of economic activities in which Jews happened to be involved and encouraged the opening of new areas. Thus many Jewish proletarians – who were numerous in Argentina and prominent in Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, Cuba, and other countries – improved their economic status, so that gradually most Jews moved into the middle class, and the number of blue collar employees became minimal.

The economic transformation of Latin American Jewry has been similar to that of other immigrant groups in their respective countries. Sephardi Jews, like other immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa, generally started as peddlers, and gradually moved into trade. Ashkenazi Jews were divided between commerce and industry. In the Southern Cone (Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, and Southern Brazil) the Jews became part of the growing middle classes that emerged with the industrialization process of the 1940s and 1950s, moving gradually also to the professions. In the countries with a large indigenous population Latin American Jewry was part of a relatively small middle class sandwiched between the upper class and the masses of landless agricultural laborers and factory workers. In some of these countries, the Jews became part of the "affluent society" which is characterized by the economic and social abyss between the impoverished masses and the wealthy few. This class polarization has caused violent political activity, creating security problems which have affected Jewish existence.

Another factor affecting the status of Latin American Jewry throughout the 19th and 20th centuries was the influence of the majority religion, Catholicism. This did not result in religious extremism in everyday life, nor did it curtail the freedom of religious observance of non-Catholics; but it invited the belief, in many countries, that Catholicism, or at least Christianity, is one of the fundamentals of local nationalism. In most Latin American countries the growth of nationalism was also related to basic economic and social problems. Nationalism has served to diminish the influence of cultural pluralism and immigrants who were loyal to other traditions were looked upon as aliens. Economic grievances in some Latin American countries (Cuba, Costa Rica, and Mexico, among others) have fostered the antisemitic outgrowths of nationalism. The activities of antisemitic groups have been greatly assisted by the Nazis during the 1930s and 1940s and by the Arabs since the 1950s. Many Latin American countries, especially Argentina and Paraguay which served as havens for Nazi criminals after World War ii, were for many decades important focuses for both leftist and rightist antisemitic activity. Yet prolonged violent antisemitism has not characterized any of the Latin American countries, not even those with extreme nationalist governments.

Patterns of Jewish Organization

The first Jewish organizations in Latin America were established in the 19th century and were intended to fulfill fundamental religious needs. For the most part, the organizations were modeled after the congregations in the countries of Western Europe from which their founders originated. Thus, the first communities in Venezuela, Panama, and Colombia bore the stamp of Dutch and Anglo-Jewish culture; the first organizations in Argentina, Peru, and Brazil followed the pattern of Jewish institutional life in France and Germany; and the small Jewish communities of the Amazon region in Brazil copied the model of Tetuan and Tangier. Although many descendants of the founders of these Jewish institutions had severed their Jewish affiliations as a result of intermarriage and conversion, some of these institutions still exist. The first immigrants from the Middle East and Eastern Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries founded their own religious, charitable, health, and cultural organizations. The Sephardim from the same community of origin tended to found comprehensive communal frameworks that supplied all their social and cultural needs. Each community had its synagogues, welfare institutions, religious schools, and a cemetery. The Jews from Syria, particularly from Aleppo, were considered the most traditional and strictly religious, while the Ladino-speaking Jews, from Turkey and the Balkan countries, were more influenced by trends of modernity and secularism.

The Ashkenazim, who immigrated prior to World War i and in the interwar period, brought with them from Eastern Europe organizational patterns of a secular-ideological nature and adapted them to the realities of their new homelands. The most prominent groups among them in the political and cultural field were the various Zionist parties, the *Bund, and the extreme left which crystallized during the 1920s into Jewish Communist and pro-Communist organizations. Each group maintained many cultural activities, published bulletins, and, during the 1920s and 1930s, began to develop educational institutions. This process of institutional proliferation was accompanied by the establishment of Yiddish daily and weekly newspapers, and the beginnings of local Yiddish literature.

The many Jewish immigrants in the proletarian class initiated attempts at organizing professional unions (especially in Argentina, and to a lesser extent in Brazil, Uruguay, and Cuba). Jewish immigrants in the lower levels of trade and labor formed cooperative economic and financial organizations which eventually became large banking institutions whose Jewish origins were sometimes reflected in their names and social activities. In the agricultural settlements of Argentina and Brazil the Jewish cooperative trade organizations even preceded the urban cooperative unions; and in Argentina the Jewish agricultural cooperative was a pioneer in the field of agrarian cooperatives for consumption and marketing in general throughout the country.

Another characteristic of the East European immigrants was their establishment of Landsmanshaftn – organizations of people who came from the same city or territory – which were formed relatively late (in Argentina not until World War i). After the Holocaust these organizations increased their activity, concentrating their efforts on perpetuating, particularly through literary projects, the memory of the destroyed European communities from which the members had come.

Whereas legislation of East European countries offered a legal basis for the creation of the Jewish communities and compelled the Jews to remain within their confines, no such necessity existed in Latin America where the Jewish community was established and maintained only by the volition of the organizers. The great ideological diversity among the Jews made their unity difficult. But the inclination of all groups, secular as well as religious, to observe Jewish burial rites brought into existence the burial societies which ultimately evolved into comprehensive congregations similar to those which flourished in Poland between the two world wars. Outstanding examples of the expansion of burial societies into large, multi-branched congregations are the *amia – the Ashkenazi Community of Buenos Aires, the Nidḥei Yisrael Kehile – the Ashkenazi community in Mexico, and to a lesser extent, the Comunidad Israelita de Montevideo of Uruguay.

The communal organization of the Sephardim was ethnic and religious. In large communities, such as Buenos Aires and Mexico City, Jews from Aleppo and Damascus maintained separate communal frameworks. Ladino-speaking Jews, from Turkey and the Balkan countries, amalgamated their institutions. In small communities, particularly in the provincial towns, all the Sephardim were gradually united. The main framework that united the Jews from the Middle East, the Balkan countries, and North Africa was the Zionist movement. Unlike the Ashkenazim, the Zionist ideology of the Sephardim was not secular, and was accepted as an integral part of their religious creed. They did not share the ideological divisions of the Zionist parties in Eastern Europe and they felt offended by the constant use of Yiddish in Zionist activities organized by the Ashkenazim. Most Latin American countries had Sephardi committees that organized the Zionist campaigns among their own communities. fesela – Federación Sefaradí Latinoamericana (Latin American Sephardi Federation), was founded in 1972 as an umbrella organization of Sephardi federations and their representative organ in the World Zionist Organization.

Even the rise of such secular institutions as social clubs, youth groups, and the Zionist Movement did not unite the Sephardim, the Jews of the Mediterranean basin, and the Ashkenazim. The exception is Mexico where the Centro Deportivo Israelita (Jewish Sport Center) is a kind of social, cultural, and sports center in which members of the different communities are associated. Jewish immigration from Central Europe during the 1930s added new organizations throughout the continent. Some newcomers joined existing communal organizations, but attended independently to their religious, social, and even welfare needs. In such countries as Chile, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, and Peru, they established separate congregations, and in others such as Guatemala, Ecuador, and Bolivia they founded the main congregations. In addition, the Central European immigrants founded the umbrella organization Centra which encompassed all of their groups in Latin America, and which afforded assistance to educational and youth organizations throughout the continent.

Another type of organization prevalent in the Jewish communities of Latin America are cultural, sports, and entertainment centers. The oldest is the *Sociedad Hebraica Argentina (1926) in Buenos Aires. First established by the youth born in Latin America, these organizations expressed their desire for Jewish and local cultural and linguistic integration and promoted from the very beginning activities in Spanish or Portuguese. They increased in number during the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s and offer entertainment, relaxation, and sports to the Jewish community as a whole. Some of them (in São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Caracas) adopted the name Hebraica, although at the beginning no organizational connection existed between them and the organization of the same name in Buenos Aires. Others, in Mexico and Santiago de Chile, assumed the names Centro Deportivo Israelita and Estadio Israelita respectively. Some of these clubs, such as the Hebraica in Sao Paulo and the Centro Deportivo in Mexico, became the largest and most influential social frameworks that unite all the Jewish sectors. Maccabi groups, generally less wealthy and more limited in scope, exist in such cities as Buenos Aires, Montevideo, and São Paulo. In the 1960s all these organizations incorporated in the Maccabi World Union and also established the Confederación Latinoamericana Macabi – clam, which, among other events, organizes the Juegos Macabeos Panamericanos (Panamerican Maccabi Games) that are recognized by the International Olympic Committee as one of the five regional games. The first Games were organized in Buenos Aires in 1964 with 500 sportsmen. Since then the Games were hosted by the Maccabi organizations in São Paulo (twice), Lima, Mexico City (twice), Caracas, Montevideo, and Santiago de Chile. The Games in 2007 will take place in Buenos Aires (third time) and 5,000 competitors are expected to participate.

Antisemitism, which has increased since the 1930s and has physically threatened Jewish communities, brought into existence throughout Latin America comprehensive organizations to represent the Jewish community vis-à-vis the authorities and to fight discrimination. They are generally organized on a federal basis and in several places, Brazil, for example, the local federations also fulfill communal functions. These umbrella organizations were created in the 1930s in response to the antisemitic attacks that characterized that decade. The most prominent, the *daia of Argentina, was established in 1935. The Latin American umbrella organizations are affiliated with the *World Jewish Congress and in 1964 they established the Congreso Judío Latinoamericano (Latin American Jewish Congress). During the early years of its development, Latin American Jewry enjoyed great assistance from world Jewish organizations. The *Jewish Colonization Association (ica), which established the agricultural settlements in Argentina and Brazil, also supported Jewish education in these countries and in Uruguay. In addition, it assisted immigration to Latin America and aided the new arrivals through the establishment of local branches. hias, hicem, and the American Jewish *Joint Distribution Committee (jdc) helped Jewish migration and settlement in Latin American countries and to a certain extent to organize Jewish communities, particularly in Cuba and Mexico. These organizations were particularly helpful in assisting the refugees from Nazi Germany who found shelter in Latin America during the Shoah, such as in the case of the small agricultural settlement in Sosua in the Dominican Republic or the transition migrants in Cuba. In 1930 the American *B'nai B'rith opened its first Latin American lodge in Argentina that was followed by the establishment of branches throughout Latin America. hias and the *American Jewish Committee, which is associated with local organizations, began to function in Latin America in 1945 and maintained for many years offices in Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, and Mexico. The American Conservative movement started its activities in Latin America in the 1960s, becoming gradually very influential. The first synagogue and the Rabbinic Seminary (1962) were founded by Rabbi Marshall Meyer in Buenos Aires and had an impact on the emergence of other synagogues that identify themselves with this trend in most of the Latin American countries. The impact of the Reform movement has been smaller, but has recently increased, with synagogues in Central and South America in Argentina (Buenos Aires), Brazil (São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte, and Porto Alegre), Panama, Costa Rica, Curação, St. Thomas, Mexico, and Puerto Rico.

For several decades Zionism was the most influential ideology among Latin American Jews. The Zionist movement was first created in Argentina in 1897, with the first immigrants in agricultural colonies and in the cities. It accompanied all the Jewish settlements throughout the continent, but during the 1930s and 1940s had to compete with anti-Zionist ideologies, such as the Bund and the Communists, which had a strong impact on the Jewish population from Eastern Europe, and against the indifference of other Jewish sectors. Zionists from Latin America participated in the Zionist Congresses, established federations and parties, founded committees that supported Keren Kayemet, Keren Hayesod, and other national campaigns, and were active in promoting educational work and youth movements, as well as political activities on behalf of the foundation of the State of Israel. Since 1948 this process has increased considerably so that in the 1960s differences between the Zionists and the Bund, which were prominent mainly in Argentina and Mexico, decreased considerably. Today the anti-Zionists in Latin America are a small minority: the Communists and extreme left wing Jewish students on one hand, and some ultra-Orthodox religious factions on the other. A recent study on the demographic and ideological positions among Argentinean Jews asserts that Israel is a central factor in Jewish identity for at least 85% of them.

The impact of Zionism is clearly seen also in the number of Latin Americans who have settled in Israel. In the 56 years between 1948 and 2004, 89,684 Jews from Latin American countries immigrated to Israel, according to the figures of Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics. This aliyah, which in the 1950s and part of the 1960s had very strong ideological and political roots, established ten kibbutzim and several moshavim, and helped complete many others. A comparison between the number of immigrants to Israel from each country and the total Jewish population in the present shows that Colombia and Uruguay contributed the highest proportion of their community members to the process of aliyah (70% and 41%, respectively) and after them are Argentina (28%) and Chile (25%). It is estimated that a few thousand among the olim from Latin America re-emigrated later to their countries of origin or to other countries in Europe and North America.

[Haim Avni /

Efraim Zadoff (2nd ed.)]


A revolution in the demographic study of Latin American Jewry has occurred since the 1970s, cutting back considerably the estimates that were accepted by scholars until then. Current and systematic estimates made by the Jewish Demography and Statistics Division of the Avraham Harman Institute of Contemporary Jewry of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem concluded that in 2005 there were 397,600 Jews all over Latin America. Some local research, such as the study completed in 2004 in Buenos Aires with the support of the jdc, confirms this figure. Since the 1970s there has been a clear tendency toward demographic regression, caused by many factors, such as lack of immigration, low birth rate, high percentage of aged people, mixed marriages, assimilation, and emigration to Israel, the United States, and other countries (see Table below). The most unpredictable of these factors is the migration that is mainly influenced by the economic and to a lesser extent by the political situation in the respective countries. The economic factor was particularly influential in motivating the emigration from Argentina, Uruguay, Mexico, and Venezuela, and the political factor in the cases of Cuba, Chile, Argentina, Colombia, and Uruguay.

CountryJewish Population
Costa Rica2,500
Dominican Republic100
El Salvador100
Netherlands Antilles200
Puerto Rico1,500
Virgin Islands300
Total Latin America398,200

Jewish Education

The Jewish communities in the Latin American countries generally became concerned with Jewish education only after the facilities for basic Jewish and social needs (burial, marriage, circumcision, public worship, kashrut, and social welfare for the needy, sick, and immigrants) had been provided. The first Jewish educational facilities for children were the traditional heder or kutab schools, modeled after those of the communities of origin on a supplementary basis. The attendance in these schools was very low, the teachers were generally the same persons who provided religious services, and their style of teaching was archaic. At the same time almost all the children attended public schools. The only exception to this situation were the agricultural colonies managed by the Jewish Colonization Association – ica in Argentina and southern Brazil. ica established day schools with general and Jewish studies that have operated in Argentina from 1896 and in Brazil from the first decades of the 20th century.

At the very beginning of the 1920s new trends came to the fore in Jewish education and modern schools were established. In Argentina and Uruguay modern secular Jewish schools were opened as a result of the profound influence of educational changes in the communities of origin. The schools assumed "imported" patterns and Jewish political ideologies, which characterized the mainstream of Jewish complementary schooling in these two communities in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. The children attended these schools three–four hours a day five days a week. At the end of the 1960s, the schools received more than a third of the children of primary school age.

In the other communities a different pattern evolved since the Jewish parents were not satisfied with the state schools. With the help of wealthy individuals and afterwards with the support of parents who had gradually improved their economic situation, modern Jewish day schools were established with general and Jewish studies. These schools competed not only with the state schools but also with other private schools. The first modern day school was established in Mexico in 1924, and probably the last day school was established in Quito, Ecuador, in 1973. In the 1970s all the Jewish schools in Latin America (including Argentina and Uruguay) became day schools. In addition there are also Sunday schools, which give special bat or bar mitzvah lessons on Sunday or another day of the week. Until the 1960s or 1970s almost all the schools, complementary and day, devoted around 20 hours a week to the study of Jewish subjects. The Jewish curricula included history, literature, Bible, Yiddish and/or Hebrew, geography of Ereẓ Israel, and in the case of religious schools (less than a third) prayers and religious literature.

In the beginning the teaching staffs were made up of immigrants. In the 1940s secondary pedagogic schools were established in Argentina (1940, 1943, and 1945), producing a new generation of local teachers who were also able to direct the schools. In Mexico a teachers' seminar for graduates from the existing Jewish schools was founded in 1946. Like other communities, when the generation of immigrant teachers disappeared, the schools in Mexico were obliged to import teachers and principals from Israel or Argentina. In recent decades many local teachers were sent to study in Israeli universities in the framework of special programs and returned to their communities as senior teaching staff and school principals.

The day school structure is problematic with regard to Jewish studies since their main aim is to offer general studies at a high level. This often causes neglect of Jewish studies. On the other hand, the day school assures continuity in enrollment and has solved the problem of dropout among children over the years after it had been a serious problem in the complementary schools. For example, in Argentina in the mid-1960s the complementary primary schools and kindergartens received around 40% of the children of that age. From the end of the 1970s this went up to 55–65%. In other communities where day schools were established from the very beginning, such as Mexico, Venezuela, Panama, and Costa Rica, school attendance was over 80%, including secondary school.

Since the 1990s there have been attempts to establish complementary schools and courses, especially in Argentina, with the aim of attracting children who for diverse reasons (economy, distance, ideology) do not attend Jewish day schools. These frameworks succeeded recently to attract some 2,500 teenagers.

Other important frameworks in Jewish education are the informal activities and organizations. There are organizations with a clear ideological shading, the most common being the Zionist youth movements – the tenuot no'ar of all the political camps, from Ha-Shomer ha-Ẓa'ir on the left to Betar on the right and including the religious Bnei Akiva, which since the 1940s has been present in all the Latin American communities. Over the last six decades there have also been religious youth organizations such as Ezra (Po'alei Agudat Israel) and youth organizations of the Conservative (Ramah) and Reform communities (Netzer, Chazit Hanoar). There was also a youth movement of the Communists and their followers, and there were attempts to establish a Yugnt Bund Gezelshaft, as well as social and cultural activities offered by community centers and the social and sports clubs. Most of these institutions organized summer camps with varying Jewish content.

Jewish Journalism

Yiddish, the language of the majority of the Jewish immigrants, was the first language of journalistic Jewish creativity in Latin America. Jewish newspapers, journals, and literary, social, and political publications existed in almost every community. The first known publications were printed in Buenos Aires in the 1890s, in Yiddish: Viderkol (edited by Michl Hacohen Sinai) and Der Yiddisher Fonograf and Di Folks Shtime. The first periodical publication in Spanish was El Sionista (edited by Jacobo Liachovitzky) in 1904. In the 1900s were published the Bundist Der Avangard (1908), the Zionist-Socialist Broit un Ehre (edited by León Jazanovich), and Yiddisher Colonist in Argentine oriented to the population in the agricultural colonies managed by ica.

The migratory wave which brought to Argentina's cities close to 100,000 Jews increased the demand for a daily Yiddish newspaper. Di Yiddishe Tzaitung (Monday to Friday) was founded in 1914 and was edited successively by Leon Maas, José Mendelson, and Matías Stoliar, and from 1918 the dailyDi Presse with a socialist orientation (seven days a week) was edited by Pinie Wald, Iaakov Botoshansky, and others. Both newspapers had subscribers from Chile, Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay, and even Brazil, and appeared until the 1970s. A third daily – Morgn Tzaitung – was published in Buenos Aires in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Other journals published in those years were the Rosario Rosarier Lebn and the Avellaneder Lebn on the outskirts of Buenos Aires.

Spanish newspapers started to appear in 1917 in Buenos Aires: Israel edited by Samuel de A. Levy with a social and communal orientation and the magazine Vida Nuestra edited by León Kibrick with a cultural agenda. Al-Gala ("Exile") was edited in the same year by Aharon Sethon, and is probably the only periodical Jewish publication in Arabic that appeared in Latin America.

Many new periodicals in Spanish appeared from the 1920s, covering a very wide spectrum of genres, international and local news: Mundo Israelita (1923) edited successively by León Kibrick, Salomón Resnick, León Dujovne, and Gregorio Faingersh; La Luz (1931) edited by David, Nissim, and David Elnecave. Both were still being published in the early 21st century. An attempt to publish a daily with general news was made with Amanecer (1956–57), but ended in failure.

The ideological field was fertile ground for publications in Yiddish as well as in Spanish: Unzer Tzait, icuf, Dos Arbeter Palestine, Di Yiddishe Velt, Fraie Shtime, Nueva Sión, Nueva Presencia, Renovación, La Voz de Israel, and others. Several cultural journals were published, such as Judaica edited by Salomón Resnick, Davar of the Sociedad Hebraica Argentina, Majshavot published by the Seminario Rabínico Latinoamericano with Religious Conservative orientation, and Comentario of the Instituto Judío Argentino de Cultura e Información, close to the American Jewish Committee.

The German-speaking sector founded in the early 1940s the Juedische Wochenschau, edited by Hardy Swarsensky, which in later years was transformed into a bilingual (German and Spanish) publication. German periodicals were published by Jewish refugees also in other countries, such as the Juedische Rudnschau in Havana.

The few publications that appeared in Argentina in Hebrew were a unique phenomenon in Latin America: Hechalutz in the 1920s, Darom edited by the Hebraist Organization from the early 1940s until the 1970s, Tzohar edited by teachers and students of the Teachers' Seminary in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and Rimon edited by teachers and students of Ha-Midrasha ha-Ivrit in the mid-1960s.

As in Argentina, Jewish journalism played an important role in Jewish life throughout Latin America. In Brazil several journals were published in Yiddish, like Yiddishe Folkstzaitung, Yiddishe Presse, and Dos yiddishe Vochenblat in Rio de Janeiro, Di Mentchhait (Porto Alegre), and Kol Israel (Belem do Para). In Uruguay there were Dos Yiddishe Lebn, Folksblat, Haint, Montevideer Shtime, Uruguayer Yiddish Vort, and many others, with a variety of ideological-political and communal orientations. In Mexico two journals supplied daily information to the Yiddish-speaking public, Di Shtime and Der Veg, which continued to be published until the 1970s and 1980s, respectively. Other Mexican publications were more politically oriented: Farn Folk, a bi-weekly of the United Zionist Organization published since 1934 and edited by Meir Berger; Forois, a monthly of the Bund party which began to be published in 1941; and Fraivelt, a monthly of the followers of the Communist Party published in 1943–52. In Cuba the Havaner Lebn appeared from 1932 to 1960, edited from 1935 by Sender Kaplan. Several other Yiddish publications include Oifgang (1929–34), Dos Yidishe Vort, and the Communist Kubaner Yiddish Vort in the 1940s.

The Yiddish journals published in Chile include Yiddishn Vochenblat in Chile edited by Noah Vital in the 1930s and Dos Yiddishe Vort with a section in Spanish that became its only language.

Jewish schools, particularly in Mexico City and in Buenos Aires, published bulletins and yearbooks that reflected their ideological trends and reported their activities and were sometimes used to raise funds.

Throughout Latin America, publications in Spanish or Portuguese coexisted with the main publications in Yiddish. By the 1960s, however, readers of Jewish languages were an insignificant minority. Chile was an exception, since from the very beginning the main language in Chilean Jewish journalism was Spanish. The first Jewish Chilean journal – Renacimiento – was published in Spanish from 1919, edited by Arturo David.

From the 1920s many journals were published in Chile, like Nuestro Ideal by Abraham Drapkin–Darom, La Patria Israelita by Boris Cojanov, Nosotros by Natalio Berman, Mundo Israelita by Robert Levy, Mundo Judío, organ of the Zionist Federation and edited by Marcos Levy, Alma Hebrea published in Temuco by Isaac de Mayo in the 1930s.

In Brazil, besides the informative publications in Portuguese of Jewish religious or social and sports institutions like A Hebraica of the Hebraica Community Center, Chabad News of Chabad, O Macabeu of the Circulo Esportivo Israelita Brasileiro Macabi, fisesp Comunicação of the Jewish Federation of the São Paulo State, or Morasha of the Sephardi Community of São Paulo, there were important cultural journals and magazines with a cultural content, some of them still being published with notable success. Resenha Judaica, published in São Paulo, was for 30 years (1970–2000) an important weekly journal with wide circulation, and after 2000 was continued by Semana, which became a magazine. Other important magazines are O Hebreu published monthly in São Paulo since 1984, the weekly Shalom, and the monthly Judaica. Also there is a bi-weekly journal published since 2000, Tribuna Judaica, with news about community life and Israel.

In Mexico the first important publication in Spanish was Tribuna Israelita founded in 1944 by Sergio Nudelstejer and becoming the organ of the Comité Central, the umbrella political organization of the Jewish institutions. Almost every community organization has its own bulletin and there are publications with wide scope such as Kesher edited by Rosalynda Cohen and Foro by Jacobo Contente. In Venezuela the journal Mundo Israelita was published for 30 years (1943–73) and was succeeded by Nuevo Mundo Israelita, which remained the central organ of the Caracas Jewish community. In Uruguay the Semanario Hebreo, edited by José Jerozolimsky (1927–2004), was founded in 1960, and it is still edited by Ana Jerozolimsky Beris.

Jewish journalism has been active also in the electronic media. Several radio stations have been running Jewish programs. One of the first programs, Hora Israelita, was founded in São Paulo in 1940 by Siegfried Gotthilf. After his death (1952) his son Francisco directed the program under the name of Programa Mosaico. In 1961 he moved the program to television and though he changed channels many times, this weekly program is still transmitted every Sunday, being the longest-running program on Brazilian television. Radio programs were broadcast in many cities of Latin America, such as Shalom Israel in São Paulo, La Voz de Sión in Montevideo, and La Hora Hebrea in Buenos Aires. Since 1992 there has been a Jewish radio station, fm Jai, in Buenos Aires directed by Miguel Steuerman. There are also Jewish tv programs like the weekly Le Haim and Shalom Brasil in São Paulo and the weekly program of the amia in Buenos Aires which, despite a few interruptions, has been transmitted since the 1960s. An attempt to establish a cable channel – Alef – failed.

From the mid-1990s Jewish institutions and journals started to use the Internet as a new channel of communications. Today almost every community and institution can be visited through its website, and Jewish journals, like Tribuna Israelita of Mexico, La Palabra Israelita of Santiago de Chile, and Nuevo Mundo Israelita of Caracas, are accessible through the Internet. Several organizations send daily, weekly, or monthly bulletins with news, information, and cultural material to their members. Among them are Micro Ejecutivo de Noticias de la daia and the Boletín oji of the Latin American Jewish Congress. There are also independent Jewish websites, such Morasha or Net Judaica in Brazil and Shalomonlinela comunidad judía en internet.

Ties with Israel

Latin American countries had often proved their sympathy and support for the Jewish renaissance both before and after the establishment of the State of Israel. The support given by Latin American politicians and intellectuals was explained by a combination of factors: their Judeo-Christian tradition which cherishes values connected with the land and the people of the Bible; their identification with the Jewish struggle for national independence, with Israel's attempt to integrate various ethnic groups, and cultivate neglected and desolate land; their objectivity in Middle East politics in which they had no direct interest; and the existence of active Jewish communities in Latin America and of influential descendants of the original Jewish immigrants (from Spain and Portugal) who still felt some kinship with the Jewish people. In spite of the fact that large segments of the population in Latin American countries originated in Arab-speaking countries and some Arabs became members of legislatures and governments, influential personalities mostly of the Latin American world rallied to the Zionist cause and supported the establishment of the State of Israel. The main reason for the moderation of the Arab elements was the predominance of Christian Lebanese, among them those who were not fervent supporters of the anti-Israel Arab nationalism. Pro-Zionist committees, in which prominent non-Jews in Bolivia, Chile, Cuba, Mexico, Colombia, and Costa Rica participated, came into existence in 1945. By the next year similar committees had sprung up in most Latin American countries. The list of sponsors included Alfonso Francisco Ramirez (then a member of the Mexican Supreme Court), José Figueres (the president of Costa Rica in 1948–49, 1953–58, and 1970–75), and José Galvez (then vice president of Peru). The *Jewish Agency promoted these beginnings of Latin American support. Benno Weiser (later Israel ambassador to various Latin American countries under the name of Benjamin Varon) and Moshe Tov (d. 1989, also later an Israel ambassador in Latin America), driving forces in the Latin American department of the Jewish Agency, won the political backing of these governments for the plan to partition Palestine in 1947–48. They were greatly assisted in these endeavors by the prestige of the famous Argentinean Jewish writer Alberto *Gerchunoff who actively intervened with political and spiritual leaders of Latin America on behalf of the Jewish interests in Palestine. The help extended by Latin American countries in the un debate about the partition of Palestine was of decisive importance. Of the 11 members of the un Special Committee on Palestine (1947) three were from Latin America: Arturo García Salazar of Peru, Jorge García Granados of Guatemala, and Enrique Rodríguez Fabregat of Uruguay. García Granados and Rodríguez Fabregat in particular gave unfailing support. Pedro Zuloaga, the alternate representative of the Venezuelan delegation in the second General Assembly of 1947, was most active in reconciling differences between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. on the Palestine question. The president of the un General Assembly Oswaldo Aranha, representative of Brazil, prevented the delaying tactics of all the anti-partition forces in the Assembly and put the plan for the partition of Palestine to a vote on Nov. 29, 1947. The Latin American countries cast approximately 40% of the total votes favoring the establishment of a Jewish state. Thirteen Latin American states voted for the plan and six states abstained; Cuba was the only Latin American country to vote against it.

In April 1948, during the second special session of the un General Assembly, the majority of Latin American countries prevented the passing of a resolution favoring the establishment of a un trusteeship in Palestine. The Latin Americans of the third assembly opposed the suggestion of the un Mediator, Count *Bernadotte, that a big part of the Negev be returned to the Arabs. In May 1949, 18 of 20 Latin American delegations in the un invited Israel to join the un as a full member (half of all the votes favoring this resolution). The only political obstacle between Israel and Latin America has been the problem of Jerusalem. Most Latin American countries have remained supporters of the internationalization of Jerusalem and after the *Six-Day War (June 1967) most of their delegations voted against the municipal reunification of the city. However, the other political problems raised by Israel's victory have made the problem of Jerusalem seem less acute to Latin American leaders. Nine of the 13 Latin American embassies established in Israel were situated in Jerusalem. In 1980, after the passage in the Knesset of the Jerusalem Law, all the embassies left the city aside from Costa Rica. Since then only the embassy of El Salvador returned to the city. Israel is represented by ambassadors in all the capitals of Latin America (non-resident ambassadors are accredited in a few capitals). In the annual un debates the majority of the Latin American delegations have rejected all proposals favoring the appointment of a un custodian of abandoned Arab property in Israel as a breach of the rights of sovereignty. During the 1960s, the left-wing Tri-Continental Conference of Solidarity of Peoples on Jan. 4, 1966, in Havana, in which Arab delegates played a very active part, indicated the turn towards an anti-Israel attitude of the Latin American left. The fact that Castro's Cuba did not sever diplomatic relations with Israel after the Six-Day War (1967) seemed to have neutralized this attitude, but a few years afterwards, in September 1973, Castro broke off diplomatic relations with Israel. Following the Six-Day War the Latin American countries united in the emergency session of the un General Assembly and put forward the so-called Latin American Resolution which thwarted Soviet-Arab moves to return the Middle East to its prewar status without a stable peace between Israel and the Arab states.

In the 1970s the attitudes in the Latin American governments changed, and at the beginning of 1974, observers pointed out that the Israeli cause in Latin America was at a low ebb, despite the fact that public opinion, as expressed by the leading press, continued to support Israel.

There were strong indications that several Latin American countries intended to intensify their ties with the Arab world. A "Syrian Week" took place in Mar del Plata, Argentina, in 1974. The Buenos Aires University's Institute on the Third World arranged with the Libyan Embassy to publish Perón's works in Arabic and Kaddafi's thoughts in Spanish. In 1975 the first Islamic Center in Latin America was inaugurated in Brazilia. The Panamerican Arab Congress met in 1974 in Buenos Aires and in 1975 in São Paulo. In Bolivia, a Federation of Bolivian-Arab Organizations began in 1974 to publish an anti-Jewish magazine. Arab and Latin American delegations exchanged visits.

The increase of Arab influence was noticeable during the votes on the Middle East taken at international organizations. In many forums, such as unesco, the International Women's Year Conference, the Conference of Non-Aligned States, and also in the sessions of committees of the un General Assembly, several Latin American representatives abstained or supported anti-Israeli or anti-Zionist resolutions. In numerous cases local public opinion, general and Jewish, strongly criticized the government's stand, but this did not change official policy. un Resolution 3379 (November 10, 1975) condemning Zionism as racism was supported by Mexico, Brazil, and Cuba while most other states (Paraguay, Peru, Venezuela, Bolivia, Argentina, Chile, Colombia, and Ecuador) abstained. Public opinion was one of the factors that changed the Latin American position when this resolution was revoked (December 1991). The issue arose again in the Session of the Commission on Human Rights in Durban, South Africa, in 2001, and this time many Latin American countries helped defuse the attacks against Israel and Zionism (Argentina among them). While relations between Israel and Latin America were affected in the 1970s and 1980s by the fluctuations of oil prices and the pressure of opec, the 1990s and 2000s were influenced by the perspectives of the peace process in the Middle East.

There are various cultural agreements between the Latin American countries and Israel implemented by the Instituto Cultural Israel-Iberoamérica that organizes intellectual and artistic exchanges between Israel and the Spanish and Portuguese-speaking world.

Commerce between Latin America and Israel was significantly upgraded between the 1960s and the early 2000s. Many bilateral agreements, the diversification of the goods that Latin American countries and Israel produce and consume, and the better mutual knowledge of the markets increased trade considerably. Imports from Latin America increased from about $3.4 million (1960) to $603 million (2004), and exports from $3.5 million to $1,366 million. Bilateral trade relations are encouraged by many public institutions like the Cámara de Comercio Israel-Iberoamérica (Chamber of Commerce) and the Cámara Brasil – Israel de Comercio e Industria (Brazil-Israel Chamber of Commerce and Industry). Israel is well known in Latin America also for its projects of international cooperation. Thus, technical aid and cooperation have become the basis of contacts between some Latin American countries and Israel. Israeli experts in agriculture, irrigation, cooperatives, rural development, science, education, public health, and technology have worked in Latin America. Thousands of Latin American students and technicians participated in courses in Israel in the last decades, and thousands of Israeli experts worked in technical aid projects in Latin-American countries from the 1960s, and several technical cooperation agreements have been signed with Latin American countries. Furthermore, special technical cooperation agreements were implemented in conjunction with regional and inter-American organizations like the Organization of American States (in which Israel has a position of observer) and the Banco Interamericano de Desarrollo (Inter American Development Bank).

[Shlom Erel /

Efraim Zadoff (2nd ed.)]

From the 1960s to the early years of the 1980s difficult periods under non-democratic regimes controlled by army officers affected most of the Latin American countries, in some countries for decades. Under these Junta governments there were flagrant violations of human rights that in many cases went hand in hand with hard-line antisemitism. This antisemitism was reflected in the discriminatory treatment that Jewish prisoners received in jail and in detention camps especially in Argentina. Since the 1980s all the Latin American countries, excluding Cuba, have returned to democracy. In the new political and social climate of democracy and political freedom, the Jews took part as individuals in political and cultural life without discrimination.

Nevertheless, the terrorist attacks in Buenos Aires against the Israeli embassy (1992) and the total destruction of the AMIA Ashkenazi community building (1994), the reaction of some sectors of the population, and the failure to apprehend the perpetrators had their effect on the Jewish public in Argentina and in many other Latin American communities: on the one hand, Jews were made to feel less secure and felt the need to take more responsibility for the protection of Jewish sites; on the other Jewish cohesion and solidarity were reinforced. The social situation created by the economic crises in some countries and the solidarity of community institutions offering their help to the needy strengthened Jewish society and its sense of mutual responsibility.

[Efraim Zadoff (2nd ed.)]


M.A. Cohen, The Jewish Experience in Latin America (1971); idem, in: aja, 20 (1968), 33–62; L. Garcia de Proodian, Los Judíos en América, sus actividades en los virreinatos de Nueva Castilla y Nueva Granadasiglo xvii. (1966); J. Laikin Elkin and A. Lya Sater, Latin American Jewish Studies: An Annotated Guide to the Literature (1990); S.B. Liebman, Faith and Flame: The History of the Jews of New Spain (1969); idem, New World Jewry, 14931825: Requiem for the Forgotten (1982). add. bibliography: H. Avni, Judíos en América: Cinco siglos de historia (1992); S. DellaPergola, World Jewish Population, in: American Jewish Year Book, 105 (2005); A. Jmelnizky and E. Erdei, La Población Judía de Buenos AiresEstudio sociodemográfico (2005); <>; Judaica Latinoamericana, vols 1–5 (1988–2005); J. Laikin Elkin, Jews of Latin America, (1997); D.B. Lockhart, Jewish Writers of Latin America. A Dictionary (1997); D. Sieskel, "Ketav Et Ẓiyyoni be-Aravit, be-Argentina" in: Kesher, 10 (1991), 80–85; E. Zadoff, "Jewish Education in Other Latin American Countries," in: H.S. Himmelfarb and S. DellaPergola, Jewish Education WorldwideCross-Cultural Perspectives (1984); E. Zadoff (ed.), Informe de la Comisión Israelí por los Desaparecidos Judíos en Argentina (2003), <>. See also bibliographies in articles on individual Latin American countries.

Latin America, Relations with

views updated May 23 2018


LATIN AMERICA, RELATIONS WITH. The United States and the Latin American nations have been linked geographically since colonial times, and in the late-eighteenth century, U.S. merchants began trading with Spain's New World colonies. During this period, Latin American revolutionaries increasingly looked to the United States as a political model, a successful example of a colony throwing off the yoke of the European power and establishing a republic. Despite strong pressures from some U.S. leaders such as Henry Clay, who supported the Latin American revolutions, many Americans looked southward with apprehension, fearful of upsetting the Spanish, from whom they wanted Florida. Nevertheless, with some U.S. support, almost all of the Latin American republics won their independence by the middle of the 1820s.

The first major U.S. pronouncement regarding the Western Hemisphere and Latin American nations came in 1823. British officials approached U.S. diplomats about issuing a joint declaration that would deliver a warning to European powers conspiring with the Spanish crown to reimpose Madrid's control over Latin American nations. Instead, Secretary of State John Quincy Adams pushed President James Monroe to issue a unilateral statement (see Monroe Doctrine). The two-part document argued that the Europeans could no longer colonize the New World or seek to reimpose their rule. It also stated that a European nation could not transfer an existing colony to another European nation. While the British navy was the real force preventing the Europeans from acting, the Monroe Doctrine became the cornerstone of U.S. actions in Latin America for more than a century.

Initially, efforts to cooperate against foreign incursions failed. The Latin American nations unsuccessfully sought U.S. assistance against foreign interventions, principally the Falklands/Malvinas crisis in Argentina in 1831 and the Baker's War in Mexico in 1838. Most of the exchanges that occurred were economic. While the British remained the dominant economic power in the region, U.S. merchants and bankers made significant inroads. Brazilian coffee, Cuban sugar, and Mexican mining materials flowed northward while U.S. finished and agricultural goods flowed southward. The two regions became increasingly interdependent.

Over time, tensions developed between the United States and the Latin American nations over U.S. territorial expansion. The primary target of U.S. intentions was Mexico. In 1835, Americans living in Texas overthrew Mexican control and established a republic. In 1846, following the U.S. annexation of Texas, a war erupted over boundary disputes (see Mexican-American War). The United States defeated Mexico. In the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo of 1848, the United States took more than one-third of Mexico's territory, including California, which provoked anger in Latin America and fears of territorial dismemberment.

The efforts of individual Americans in the 1850s further caused problems. Filibusters such as General Narciso López and William Walker tried to annex new lands including Cuba and Nicaragua. They ultimately met their deaths, but the perception of Americans as land-and power-hungry became the common stereotype among Latin Americans. Some positive relations developed during the 1860s. The United States finally recognized the republic of Haiti once Southern congressmen left during the U.S. Civil War. More important, Washington pressured Napoleon III to withdraw his troops from Mexico. Ultimately Benito Juárez's forces expelled the French and executed Emperor Ferdinand Maximilian in 1867.

In the aftermath of the U.S. Civil War, the focus returned in both regions to internal development. As U.S. industrial might grew, American entrepreneurs and bankers spread throughout Latin America looking for investment opportunities. These included men such as Minor Keith, who established the forerunner of the United Fruit Company in Central America, and W. R. Grace, involved in mining in Chile. With the assistance of compliant Latin American elites who provided optimal investment and labor conditions, U.S. businessmen became the most important foreigners in Latin America by the end of World War I.

As economic investment increased, so did U.S. government efforts to create a favorable business environment in Latin America. In October 1889, President Benjamin Harrison and Secretary of State James G. Blaine invited the Latin American republics to Washington, D.C., for a conference. Blaine presided over the meetings, which included discussion of reduced tariffs, the arbitration of disputes, and the construction of a Pan American railroad. Remembering past U.S. transgressions, Latin Americans suspiciously questioned American motives. The conference's only major accomplishment was the establishment of the Commercial Bureau of the American Republics (forerunner of the Pan American Union) to collect and distribute economic and technical information. Still, the Washington conference established a precedent that eventually implemented many of the ideas of Blaine and others regarding the hemisphere.

In the aftermath of the Washington conference, the United States began flexing its newfound strength, developed as a result of rapid industrialization and the building of a modern navy. In 1891, its navy had a showdown with Chile over a riot involving U.S. sailors on leave and then influenced the outcome of a rebellion in Brazil in 1893. Two years later, Washington forced London to negotiate with Venezuela a disputed boundary along the Orinoco River.

The most significant event of the 1890s was the U.S. intervention in Cuba. In 1895, the Cubans rose in revolt against the Spanish under the leadership of José Martí and General Máximo Gómez. The vicious fighting and sensationalistic reporting in the United States raised American concerns about the rebellion. In 1898, President William McKinley asked for a declaration of war following the publication of a private letter written by the Spanish minister in Washington, Enrique Dupuy de Lôme, that made derogatory comments about the U.S. president, and the sinking of the battleship Maine, which exploded in Havana harbor.

The war went well for the United States and produced victory in a short time (see Spanish-American War). The United States took possession of Puerto Rico and control of Cuba. Ultimately U.S. troops withdrew from Cuba in 1902, but only after imposing the Platt Amendment, which effectively gave the United States control over an independent Cuba. It prohibited the Cuban government from entering into treaties with foreign nations, provided for U.S. military bases, and conceded Washington the right to intervene in Cuban affairs to preserve stability.

The victory in the Spanish-American War cemented U.S. hegemony over the Caribbean. In the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt, the United States exercised what he called a "big stick." In 1903, he helped the Panamanians win independence from Colombia and won the United States the right to build and control the Panama Canal (completed in 1914). U.S. troops intervened in the Dominican Republic (1904) and Cuba (1906), following the issuing of the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine that granted the United States the right to intervene in periods of crisis to maintain order and stability and prevent European intervention. In the eyes of many Latin Americans, such paternalism made the United States as repressive as the Europeans.

The situation did not improve as Roosevelt's successors intervened in Latin America. President William Howard Taft (1909–1913) practiced "Dollar Diplomacy" and Woodrow Wilson (1913–1921) promised greater respect for democratic principles in relations with Latin America, but his rhetoric failed to match his actions. During Wilson's term, U.S. troops occupied the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Mexico, and Nicaragua. U.S. threats against other nations led many Latin Americans to denounce the United States for violating basic ideas of democracy, self-determination, and international law. Mexico's constitution of 1917 reflected a growing anti-Americanism by limiting U.S. ownership of lands and protecting the rights of its workers.

Despite Latin American disillusionment with the United States, World War I ensured more hemispheric interdependence. Great Britain, France, and Germany lost substantial ground during the conflict. More American entrepreneurs flooded into Latin America looking for investment opportunities, despite efforts by Latin American nationalists to stem the tide through industrialization and the development of internal markets. In addition, American culture, especially popular culture, became a fixture in Latin America. American movies and music increasingly became popular with Latin Americans. Similarly, Latin Americans increasingly influenced American culture.

The United States continued to play a significant role in Latin American politics in the 1920s. While U.S. troops remained in Haiti and Nicaragua, they were withdrawn from the Dominican Republic in 1924, but not before putting in place the machinery for the rise of the dictatorship of Rafael Leónidas Trujillo Molina (who ruled until 1961). In 1929, President Herbert Hoover finally began to withdraw troops from Nicaragua and Haiti. In the case of the former, the United States left in place a National Guard under the control of Anastasio Somoza García, who established a family dictatorship that ruled until 1979.

President Hoover set in motion the events that led to the rise of the Good Neighbor Policy proclaimed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933. In his inaugural address, he called for a Latin American policy based on the "good neighbor" that respects the rights of other nations and in turn receives the respect of those nations. Soon after, at the Seventh International Conference of American States meeting in Montevideo, Uruguay, Secretary of State Cordell Hull backed a resolution disavowing intervention in the internal affairs of other nations. The administration followed its words with deeds, refusing to directly intervene in Cuba in 1933, although the ultimate result was the establishment of the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista.

U.S. efforts to create better relations paid significant dividends during World War II. With the exception of Argentina, whose leaders harbored strong profascist sympathies, Latin American nations wholeheartedly supported the Allied war effort. Mexico and Brazil sent troops to fight, and the others provided valuable natural resources. At the end of the war, the majority of these countries helped create the United Nations in 1945.

With the death of Roosevelt and his replacement by Harry Truman, U.S. policy began to change. While Latin Americans clamored for economic assistance such as Washington was providing to Europe, U.S. policy-makers focused more on creating a solid defensive front against a perceived Soviet threat. At the Rio conference in August 1947, American and Latin American delegates created a regional security organization. The Rio Pact provided that an attack on any nation in the Western

Hemisphere by another state, including other regional states, would prompt action by all signatories.

A year later, the nations convened in Bogotá, Colombia, and created the Organization of American States (OAS). It established an administration for hemispheric consultation and the Advisory Defense Committee to coordinate military activities. Over U.S. objections, the Latin Americans voted for several articles that reflected a fear of a return to old ways. Articles 15 and 16 of the charter prohibited intervention—including economic and diplomatic coercion—into the affairs of other signatory nations.

Despite such pronouncements, the United States grew increasingly apprehensive about possible communist takeovers in Latin America, especially after the fall of China and Soviet explosion of the atomic bomb in 1949, and the Korean conflict that began in 1950. When President Dwight Eisenhower took over in 1953, the United States moved closer to Latin American dictators including Somoza, Trujillo, Batista, and Venezuela's Marcos Pérez Jiménez. Many U.S. officials believed that these dictators provided stability and a welcoming climate for U.S. investors.

The Eisenhower administration faced a dilemma in Guatemala, where nationalists had been in power since 1944. Fears of communist influence increased, especially after the government of Jacobo Arbenz nationalized properties held by the powerful United Fruit Company. The company had powerful friends in the White House including Secretary of State John Foster Dulles. Soon the administration instructed the Central Intelligence Agency to overthrow the Arbenz government. In June 1954, a mercenary air force and Guatemalan exile army successfully replaced Arbenz with a dictatorship dominated by Carlos Castillo Armas. The event created a great deal of hostility toward the United States throughout the region.

Two events caused the Eisenhower administration to intensify its focus on Latin America. Visiting Peru and Venezuela in 1958, Vice President Richard Nixon encountered angry crowds upset over U.S. support of dictators in their countries. (In Caracas, he barely escaped from one group.) In addition, in early 1959, Fidel Castro overthrew the Batista government in Cuba and established a socialist state aligned with the Soviet Union, the first in the Western Hemisphere. In the wake of these events more U.S. economic assistance began to flow into Latin America in an attempt to assuage the anger and resentment.

The administration of John F. Kennedy continued the change in orientation started by the Eisenhower administration. In 1961, Kennedy inaugurated the Alliance for Progress to pump billions of dollars in public and private investment into Latin America. Determined to attack poverty, illiteracy, and social injustice, the administration wanted to improve living conditions for the majority of Latin Americans and thereby undermine their anti-Americanism and support for Castro or other communist insurgents. Peace Corps assistance and massive military spending also flowed into the region.

With Kennedy's death, Lyndon B. Johnson continued some of Kennedy's programs in Latin America, although he shifted attention primarily to Vietnam and domestic programs. In 1965, Johnson ordered U.S. troops into the Dominican Republic to stabilize a situation in which U.S. policymakers believed that a Castro-style government was about to be established. OAS cooperation with the effort undermined its credibility (because the OAS was perceived as unquestioningly following the United States) and led to hostile denunciations in all quarters.

U.S.–Latin American relations continued to deteriorate under President Richard Nixon. He and his primary foreign policy adviser, Henry Kissinger, did not want to devote much time to Latin America. Nevertheless, the CIA helped overthrow the democratically elected government of Chilean president Salvadoran Allende, whose nationalist-socialist policies alarmed U.S. officials. Military conspirators led by General Augusto Pinochet murdered Allende and more than ten thousand others in a coup in September 1973. The action severely damaged U.S.–Latin American relations.

Nixon's successor, Gerald Ford, had little interest in the region, as attention remained focused on Southeast Asia and the Middle East. The OPEC crisis, and the role Venezuela and Mexico played in the oil shortage by taking advantage of the increase in prices, brought some attention to the region, but not a great deal. By this period, U.S.–Latin American relations had reached a very low point.

When Jimmy Carter took office in 1977, he promised a new U.S. foreign policy that would focus on human rights and reject cooperation with military dictatorships. Immediately Carter helped establish the position of assistant secretary of state for human rights. Washington began to put economic and diplomatic pressure on countries with records of human rights abuses, including Argentina, Nicaragua, and El Salvador.

Carter also focused on reorienting U.S. policy toward Latin America so as to create more favorable perceptions of the United States. This included negotiating the Panama Canal Treaty that returned sovereignty to Panama by 2000. Washington also tried to improve relations with Cuba. It eased travel restrictions and the two countries opened preliminary talks on normalization of relations.

By the second half of his administration, Carter found himself drifting back toward the policies of his predecessors. The efforts at reconciliation with Cuba deteriorated over Cuba's interventions in Africa. When Washington criticized Cuba's human rights record, Castro allowed a massive exodus of Cubans to the United States. In Nicaragua, after having criticized the Somoza dictatorship, the Carter administration tried unsuccessfully to prevent a Sandinista victory. It found itself in a similar situation in El Salvador. In its efforts on human rights, it backed off from criticizing the dictatorships and applied pressure inconsistently. By the time Carter left office, his policies were much like the old versions of U.S. responses.

Carter's successor, Ronald Reagan, never tried to change U.S. policy. He and his advisers, including Jeane Kirkpatrick, criticized Carter's human rights policy, calling it impractical. As a result, the United States closed ranks with such men as Pinochet and Manuel Noriega in Panama. It also began a massive effort to undermine revolutions in Nicaragua and El Salvador. In the former, financing of the right-wing Nicaraguan contra rebels became a major debate in the United States. While Reagan called them the equivalent of the American founding fathers, opponents criticized their tactics and ties to the Somoza dictatorship.

The Reagan administration's strong anticommunist crusade led to some experiments such as the Caribbean Basin Initiative to address economic problems, but most of its efforts focused on covert and military operations to prevent the spread of communism in the region. In 1983, the United States invaded Grenada to stop the construction of an airport that it feared would endanger strategic shipping lines. It continued to funnel money to the contras, even after a congressional prohibition, resulting in the Iran-Contra Affair.

As Reagan left office and George H. W. Bush took over in 1989, conditions in Latin America began to change. In Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Central America, the military governments began to surrender control to civilians. The Bush administration supported these initiatives as well as those designed to end years of state control of industries and utilities and to promote a free-market model. The high point of the Bush administration's efforts was the negotiation and signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1992. Bush also increasingly focused on the Latin American drug trade. In 1989, U.S. troops invaded Panama and removed Noriega for his role in facilitating the drug trade.

Bush left office before the final Senate approval of NAFTA. His successor, Bill Clinton, pushed the treaty through Congress despite dogged opposition from labor unions and environmentalists. The administration also pushed the open market model and dealt with a crisis in Haiti in 1994 when Washington forced out General Raoul Cédras and his allies and installed the legally elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

During the Clinton administration, most Americans shifted their attention from security issues to those of the drug trade, immigration, and the environment, including the signing of the Kyoto Protocols designed to reduce greenhouse gases. While problems erupted over Cuba regarding illegal immigration and the downing of a Cuban exile plane in 1994, leading to passage of the Helms-Burton Act (1996) that tightened U.S. trade and exchanges with the island, the Clinton administration devoted relatively little attention to the region.

At the turn of the twentieth century, it appeared that similar cycles would continue, with periodic outbursts of U.S. interest and conflict in Latin America followed by periods in which policymakers focus on other regions or on domestic issues.


Coerver, Don M., and Linda B. Hall, Tangled Destinies: Latin America and the United States. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1999.

Gilderhus, Mark T. The Second Century: U.S.–Latin American Relations since 1889. Wilmington, Del.: Scholarly Resources, 2000.

Kyrzanek, Michael J. U.S.–Latin American Relations. New York: Praeger, 1985.

Langley, Lester D. America and the Americas: The United States and the Western Hemisphere. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1989.

Longley, Kyle. In the Eagle's Shadow: The United States and Latin America. Wheeling, Ill.: Harlan-Davidson, 2002.

Lowenthal, Abraham F. Partners in Conflict: The United States and Latin America. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987.

Pastor, Robert A. Whirlpool: U.S. Foreign Policy toward Latin America and the Caribbean. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1992.

Pike, Frederick B. The United States and Latin America: Myths and Stereotypes of Civilization and Nature. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1992.

Poitras, Guy. The Ordeal of Hegemony: The United States and Latin America. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1990.

Schoultz, Lars. Beneath the United States: A History of U.S. Policy Toward Latin America. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1998.

Smith, Peter H. Talons of the Eagle: Dynamics of U.S.–Latin American Relations. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996. 2d edition, 2000.


See alsovol. 9:The Monroe Doctrine and the Roosevelt Corollary .

Latin America

views updated May 29 2018

Latin America

It is not possible to make accurate generalizations about an area as large and diverse as Latin America. There are many different kinds of Latin Americans. This overview provides some background on family life in the Hispanic world, drawing mainly on the research done in a few key countries such as Mexico and Colombia, and with special focus on how the struggle for economic survival affects that life. It has been reported that 40 percent of families in Latin America have insufficient income for essential needs, and that another 28 percent can be categorized as "working poor" (David 1987). In 1980, 41 percent of the population was under fourteen. Population growth in the Western Hemisphere, and Latin America in particular, has exceeded that of the Old World for some time (Stycos 1968). With this trend continuing, poverty is the way of life for most Hispanic children.

Drawing on census data, Elsa M. Chaney (1984) gives the following snapshot: In looking at twenty different countries, the most common minimum age for marriage for females is fourteen. Colombia and Mexico have declared eighteen for both sexes, but the others range from twelve to sixteen for females, and fourteen to sixteen for males. Other research indicates that the average age of marriage for women is about eighteen, and that these young brides will give birth to an average of more than five children in the course of their married lives (Balakrishnan 1976).

Chaney also points out that childrearing is still the highest social status available to women. Because of the costs involved, many of the poor cannot afford to marry, and legal divorce is usually difficult to attain. Thirty percent of households are headed by females (similar to the United States), and the typical household has 3.5 to 5.3 members.

Especially among the lower classes, consensual unions may significantly outnumber formal marriages. For instance, among poor blacks in Venezuela, 57 percent of couples are not married, in spite of the influence of Catholicism. These families tend to be matrifocal (mother-centered) and characterized by early motherhood, migration, and poverty (Pollak-Eltz 1975).

In fact, migration appears to be an important factor in understanding the Hispanic family. Males often migrate to the United States or other places in search of work in order to support their families (Weist 1983). This allows the family to live better, but puts strains on the relationship. Wives rarely have affairs because if their husbands found out, the men could beat or abandon them. Even though the mother is responsible for the children, the usually absent father is the final decision-maker. This pattern holds in Mexico where patriarchal notions make it difficult for women to support themselves (Chant 1993).

In other subcultures, such as the black Caribs of Guatemala (Gonzalez 1983), women change companions fairly frequently in search of economic support. They have also discovered that they can provide for themselves as well as their migrating menfolk can, and as a result are less likely to look up to males as leaders than they used to.

When the Spaniards came to the Americas, they worked hard to impose their family ideals on the indigenous populations. That ideal was a patriarchal, monogamous, nuclear family (Munoz 1983). Before this pressure, there had been significant variety among local peoples, including polygyny, cousin marriages, extended clans, and the more familiar patriarchal power and strict separation of tasks by gender (Boremanse 1983).

Ignorance often goes with poverty, and one example of this is in the area of health. Anesthesia is often avoided in childbirth, as many Mexicans believe that the mother must endure pain in order to be a real mother. This has nothing to do with the pros and cons of natural childbirth, but is related to the Biblical idea of women bringing forth children in sorrow. Some attribute miscarriages, and other problems, to susto, which means a terrible fright. Even when their health is in danger, some women will avoid birth control since their main purpose in life is to reproduce. Having children is proof of the husband's virility, and using birth control might tempt the wife to have affairs (Haffner 1992).

What, then, is the typical Latin American family like? Some research (Ingoldsby 1980) indicates that psychological intimacy is not as highly valued as it is in the United States. In comparing couples from the United States and Colombia, it was found that high satisfaction marriages in the United States were correlated with a high level of emotional expressiveness between spouses. This was not true for the Colombian couples. Their satisfaction was predicted by having a similar level of expressiveness, be it high, medium, or low. Also, Colombian women and men are equally likely to say what they feel and are at the same level as U.S. males, whereas females in the United States are significantly more expressive as a group than are their male counterparts.

This pattern appears similar to the one that prevailed in the preindustrial United States, where the marital focus was on agreement between spouses and task completion. As more women in Latin America enter the labor force, it may be that marriages will shift from traditional to more companionate, as has occurred in the United States, where the emphasis is on emotional sharing.

In looking at the literature on Hispanic families, two general types are described. The first, called familism, is the cultural ideal, and it describes a close, loving, and religious family. The second type is a result of machismo, which is an abuse of patriarchy due in large part to poverty.


Familism places the family ahead of individual interests and development. It includes many responsibilities and obligations to immediate family members and other kin, including godparents. Extended family often live in close proximity to each other, with many often sharing the same dwelling. It is common for adult children to supplement their parents' income. In many ways, the Hispanic family helps and supports its members to a degree far beyond that found in individualistically oriented Anglo families (Ingoldsby 1991b).

William M. Kephart and Davor Jedlicka (1991) claim that a large majority of Mexican-American young people comply with parental rules in the following areas: (1) dating and marriage within their ethnic and religious group; (2) having parental approval and some supervision of dating; and (3) complete abstinence from sexual intercourse before marriage. American-born Hispanics are less likely to insist on the tradition of chaperoning their daughters on their dates, and it is not known how well the children adhere to the no sex rule. Nevertheless, the research findings paint a very positive picture of Latin American family life that includes lower mental illness and divorce rates, greater personal happiness, and a secure feeling about aging.

Studies support this picture of Latin America being less individualistic than is the United States. In ranking the characteristics of an ideal person of the opposite sex, adolescents from the United States gave higher rankings to such traits as having money and being fun, popular, and sexy. Teens from Mexico and Guatemala were more collectivistic in citing many of the above traits to be unimportant and preferring someone who is honest, kind, and helpful and someone who likes children (Stiles et al. 1990; Gibbons et al. 1996).


Two principal characteristics appear in the study of machismo. The first is aggressiveness. Each macho must show that he is masculine, strong, and physically powerful. Differences, verbal or physical abuse, or challenges must be met with fists or other weapons. The true macho shouldn't be afraid of anything, and he should be capable of drinking great quantities of liquor without necessarily getting drunk.

The other major characteristic of machismo is hypersexuality. The impotent and homosexual are scoffed at—the culturally preferred goal is the conquest of women, and the more the better. To take advantage of a young woman sexually is cause for pride and prestige, not blame. In fact, some men will commit adultery just to prove to themselves that they can do it. Excepting the wife and a mistress, long-term affectionate relationships should not exist. Sexual conquest is to satisfy the male vanity. Indeed, others must know of one's potency, which leads to bragging and storytelling. A married man should have a mistress in addition to casual encounters. His relationship with his wife is that of an aloof lord-protector. The woman loves, but the man conquers—this lack of emotion is part of the superiority of the male (Ingoldsby 1991b).

Most women also believe in male superiority (Stycos 1955), and they want their men to be strong and to protect them. According to the dominant cultural stereotype, a man must protect his female relatives from other men because they should be virgins when they marry. Knowing that other men are like himself, the macho is very jealous and, as a result, allows his wife very few liberties.

In summary, machismo may be defined as: "[T]he cult of virility, the chief characteristics of which are exaggerated aggressiveness and intransigence in male-to-male interpersonal relationships and arrogance and sexual aggression in male-to-female relations" (Stevens 1973, p. 315).

Street Children

Young children living on their own in the streets is a widespread problem throughout Latin America. United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) estimates that more than forty million children are surviving on their own, without parental supervision. Lewis Aptekar (1990) claims that this is not as tragic and threatening as some claim that it is. His research indicates that the children are not so much abandoned as they are encouraged into early independence. This is a natural consequence of poor, matrifocal family life. Most scholars have seen it in a more negative light, however.

In one study by Paul Velasco (1992), in which 104 street boys in Guayaquil, Ecuador, were interviewed, the following profile emerged. The boys ranged in age from eight to eighteen, with thirteen as the most common age (31%, with twelve and fourteen year olds at about 15% each). The large majority, 62 percent, had been on the street for less than two years, and on average they had a third-grade education.

More than half of these boys had seen their parents within the last year. This supports most research, which indicates that these boys are not lost in the sense of not knowing where their home and family is. To survive, each boy has one or two jobs. Selling and begging are common, but shining shoes was the work most often mentioned (38.5%). Another 19 percent identified themselves as "artists," with about half of them acting like clowns for money and the others being comics or singers. Few admitted to being thieves, though they are feared by the community, especially for violence and stealing car parts. They typically stay within a certain part of town and sleep on the sidewalks, or even in the sewers, to avoid harassment by adults. That they form their own little communities is exemplified by the fact that four-fifths of them go by nicknames given to them by their comrades.

The Colombian term for runaway or abandoned children who live on their own and on the street is gamine. There are five thousand gamines in Bogota, the capital of Colombia, alone. They are mostly boys (there are girls as well, but they have received less attention by researchers and the media), and they live in small groups, controlling a territory where they sleep at night under cartons or sheets of plastic. They work hard each day to survive, by begging or stealing (Bikel 1979). In a country with no real social welfare program, this is a significant concern.

There are different types of gamines, and a boy may sometimes progress from one category to the next. The first is the pre-gamine—this boy still lives at home, but his mother works and is seldom there, so after school he spends his time on the street, occasionally staying away from home for two or three days at a time. The second is the neighborhood gamine—this boy lives in the street but has not left the general area of his home, and may visit his family from time to time. The third is the street gamine—the true gamine who has left his home and is learning to live by stealing. The fourth is the pre-delinquent—the older boy who, after about age fourteen, will become either a marginal unskilled worker (selling lottery tickets, for example) or part of organized crime—stealing with other boys, using and selling drugs, or both—a career he will carry with him into adulthood (de Nicolo, Irenarco, Castrellon, and Marino 1981).

But why do the boys leave their homes? Many possible explanations have been put forth: lack of love at home, child abuse, neglect of basic needs due to parental unemployment, too much free time and television, pornography, and escaping overwork by parents for the freedom of the streets. All of these ideas may contain some truth, but parental rejection appears to be the chief cause, and the family dynamic is based on the stress of economic poverty.

The predominant pattern resulting in a gamine appears to be as follows: A young man moves from the country to the city in search of a better life. He does not find it—the Colombian economy is structured so that unemployment is consistently and extremely high, creating widespread poverty. He does fall in love with a young woman and they get married. The husband cannot find work, becomes depressed, acts irresponsibly, and eventually leaves his wife and children. They can have sex, but they cannot eat (Ingoldsby 1991a).

Another man moves in with the children's mother. This stepfather (informally so, as divorce and remarriage are rare in Colombia) is not interested in the fruit of a previous union and pushes the boys away, generally when they are eight to twelve years old. Almost half (47%) of all street urchins have stepfathers. The child feels rejected and leaves for the street. The mother, for fear of her new husband, does not try to bring her sons back (Bikel 1979). To summarize, unemployment leads to poverty and desertion, which results in child abuse and neglect, which creates the gamines. Similar conditions can result in abandoned children in any culture of poverty, and not only in Latin America.

For girls who become runaways, the situation is a little different. Half of those who do are escaping sexual abuse by their stepfather. They generally leave when they are ten to twelve years of age. Tragically, the most likely survival path for girl gamines is prostitution. Girls are less likely to run away because the street life is more dangerous for them, and parents are less likely to turn them away, as they are generally more useful than boys are at performing domestic tasks.

Family Violence

Spouse and child abuse are characteristics of family life that received very little attention in the United States before 1970. Leading researchers in this area have concluded that family violence is more common in marriages in which the male is dominant and in societies that condone violence in general. Another predictor is the privacy of the conjugal family, which could predispose Western societies towards violence, though it is widespread throughout the world (Strauss 1977). In one study of ninety different societies, wife beating was found to occur at least occasionally in 84.5 percent of them (Levinson 1989).

Wife abuse is consistently mentioned as commonplace in traditional Hispanic families. In one study (Straus and Smith 1989), almost one-fourth of Latino couples experienced violence in their relationship—a rate over 50 percent higher than it was for Anglo couples. This may not be surprising when we realize that the characteristics of machismo are some of the same ones mentioned in studies of spouse abuse. One is alcohol. Varying estimates suggest that from 40 to 95 percent of all wife-beating situations are ones in which the husband has been drinking. Another is male dominance, or the man's right to force compliance to his wishes within his family. The last is low self-esteem, often related to financial problems. All of these characteristics that predict spouse abuse are aspects of being a macho male.


The culture of poverty and the rejection by men of children not their own provides the context and tragic results of machismo. In fact, it may be that it is poverty that is breaking down the personal dignity necessary for traditional familism and replacing it with the excesses of machismo. Some evidence, however, suggests movement toward what Western clinicians would describe as a more functional or healthy family.

A survey of seventy-one married women in Panama (Stinnett; Knaub; O'Neal; and Walters 1983) revealed fairly egalitarian beliefs concerning marriage. Large majorities believed that women (1) should have an education of equal quality as men; (2) should receive equal pay for equal work; (3) are just as intelligent as men; (4) are just as capable of making important decisions as are men; and (5) should express their opinions even if their husbands do not ask for them, and should voice their disagreements with their husbands.

At the same time, most agreed that the husband is the head of the family, that the wife must obey her husband, and that the woman's place is in the home (even though 77% of the sample worked outside the home). This indicates a separate but equal attitude compatible with the familism construct.

Finally, Hispanic families that rate themselves as strong and in which couples are highly satisfied with their marriages emphasize that psychological factors—love and companionship—take precedence. Data collected from nine Latin American countries using Stinnett's Family Strengths Inventory yielded results that were virtually identical to studies conducted in the United States (Casas et al. 1984).

The most important factors for maintaining a happy family life were:

  1. love and affection;
  2. family togetherness;
  3. understanding and acceptance;
  4. mutual respect and appreciation;
  5. communication and relationship skills;
  6. religion.

Wives emphasized love and affection more than husbands did, and husbands were more likely than wives to mention the importance of religion.

Evidence also shows that a growing number of Latin American families value love and affection in the husband-wife and parent-child relationships more than they do the traditional authoritysubmissiveness approach. All of this bodes well for familism, which not only avoids the abuses of patriarchy, but also makes it more likely that Latin American families will not suffer the disengagement, in which individualism is more important than family, common in the West.

See also:Argentina; Ethnic Variation/Ethnicity; Extended Families; Familism; Godparents; Hispanic-American Families; Mexico; Peru; Spain; Venezuela


aptekar, l. (1990). "how ethnic differences within a culture influence child rearing: the case of colombian street children." journal of comparative family studies 21(1):67–79.

balakrishnan, r. (1976). "determinants of female age at marriage in rural and semi-urban areas of four latin american countries." journal of comparative family studies 7(2):167–173.

bikel, o. (1979). world: bogota, one day, transcript of pbs television program. boston, ma: wgbh.

boremanse, d. (1983). "a comparative study of the family lives of the northern and southern lacandan mayas of chiapas (mexico)." journal of comparative family studies 14(2):183–202.

casas, c.; stinnett, n.; williams, r.; defrain, j.; and lee, p. (1984). "identifying family strengths in latin american families." family perspective 18(1):11–17.

chaney, e. (1984). "marital status and living arrangements." in women of the world: latin america and the caribbean, u.s. bureau of the census, 99–132.

chant, s. (1993). "family structure and female labor in queretaro, mexico." in next of kin, ed. l. tepperman and s. wilson. englewood cliffs, nj: prentice hall.

david, p. (1987). "children in despair: the latin american experience." journal of comparative family studies 18(2):327–337.

de nicolo, j.; irenarco, a.; castrellon, c.; and marino, g. (1981). musaranas. bogota, colombia: industria continental grafica.

gibbons, j.; richter, r.; wiley, d.; and stiles, d. (1996). "adolescents' opposite-sex ideal in four countries." the journal of social psychology 136:(4)531–537.

gonzalez, n. (1983). "changing sex roles among the garifuna (black carib) and their implications for thefamily." journal of comparative family studies 14(2):203–213.

haffner, l. (1992). "translation is not enough: interpreting in a medical setting." the western journal of medicine 157(3):255–259.

ingoldsby, b. (1991a). "street children and family life." family science review 4(2):73–77.

ingoldsby, b. (1991b). "the latin american family: familism vs. machismo." journal of comparative family studies 22:57–61.

ingoldsby, b. (1980). "emotional expressiveness and marital satisfaction: a cross-cultural analysis." journal of comparative family studies 11(4):501–515.

kephart, w., and jedlicka, d. (1991). the family, society, and the individual. 7th edition. new york: harper-collins.

levinson, d. (1989). "family violence in cross-cultural perspective." in vol. 1: frontiers of anthropology. newbury park, ca: sage publications.

munoz, j. (1983). "changes in the family structure of the pokaman of petapa, guatemala in the first half of the 16th century." journal of comparative family studies 14(2):215–227.

pollak-eltz, a. (1975). "household composition and mating patterns among lower-class venezuelans." international journal of sociology of the family 5(1):85–95.

stevens, e. (1973). "the prospects for a women's liberation movement in latin america." journal of marriage and the family 35:313–321.

stiles, d.; gibbons, j.; and schnellmann, j. (1990). "opposite-sex ideal in the u.s.a. and mexico as perceived by young adolescents." journal of cross-cultural psychology 21(2):180–199.

stinnett, n.; knaub, p.; o'neal, s.; and walters, j. (1983). "perceptions of panamanian women concerning the roles of women." journal of comparative family studies 14(2):273–282.

straus, m. (1977). "societal morphogenesis and intrafamily violence in cross-cultural perspective." annals of the new york academy of sciences 285:719–730.

straus, m., and smith, c. (1989). "violence in hispanic families in the united states: incidence rates and structural interpretations." in physical violence in american families: risk factors and adaptations to violence in 8,145 families, ed. m. straus and r. gelles. new york: transaction books.

stycos, j. (1955). family and fertility in puerto rico, astudy of the lower income group. new york: columbia university press.

stycos, j. (1968). human fertility in latin america: sociological perspectives. ithaca, ny: cornell university press.

velasco, p. (1992). unpublished study. guayaquil, ecuador.

wiest, r. (1983). "male migration, machismo, and conjugal roles: implications for fertility control in a mexican municipio." journal of comparative family studies 14(2)167–181.


Latin America

views updated May 21 2018


Although Latin American populations are still fairly young (8 percent were over age sixty in 2000), the countries are aging in a quietly rapid way that could soon overwhelm existing infrastructures. Even as they struggle to develop economically, Latin American populations are aging far faster than those in western Europe, Canada, or the United States, a consequence of past successes in fertility and mortality reductions. By 2030 an estimated 1 in 6.3 people in Latin America will be age sixty or above. In addition, future elderly populations there will include a larger proportion of "old old" (age eighty or above), females, and disabled people. The new reality will include an increased demand for adequate pensions and health services. In the short term, at least, the new reality will include large proportions of elders who are poorly educated, who are in the informal economic sector, and who lack adequate health service or pension coverage. The new reality should give cause for concern.

Demographic background

The Latin American population's median age is expected to rise from 23.2 years in 2000 to 33.4 years in 2030, according to recent United Nations medium-variant projections. This is a result of dramatic declines in both mortality and fertility, and, in the short term, of the high fertility and decline of childhood mortality of 19501965. In 1950 life expectancy at birth was only fifty-one years, and the infant mortality rate was about 125 per 1000. By 2000 comparable figures were seventy years' life expectancy and 40 per 1000 infant mortality. By 2030 life expectancy is predicted to rise to seventy-six years, and the infant mortality rate to fall to 20 per 1000. In 1950 the total fertility rate was almost six children per woman. In 2000 it was less than three, and by 2030 it is expected to be only 2.2.

The dramatic aging of Latin America's population is occurring much faster than in the United States or western Europe. Whereas it took approximately eighty-four years for Sweden's sixty-five-plus age group to grow from 7 percent to 14 percent of the population, it will probably take only twenty years for the same change to occur in Latin America.

At present Latin America's sixty-plus age group is growing at 3 percent per year, whereas the under-fifteen age group is growing at only 0.08 percent per year. The eighty years and over age group is growing fastest of all, at over 4 percent a year. This latter group is predominantly female. Whereas slightly more males than females are born, projections suggest that by 2025 two-thirds of the population older than age seventy-five will be female.

While life expectancy as a whole is rising, many people suffer from poor health in old age. The health of a population group is difficult to quantify. The best information at present is in terms of self-rated health, information supplied by survey respondents regarding their own general health. Many elderly Latin Americans rate their health as poor or fair, levels similar to African-American elders in the United States and much worse than white elders in the United States. Disability among elderly women, compared with elderly men in particular, is high in parts of Latin America. People who survived childhood diseases, and thus became part of the reduction in childhood mortality, carry their weakened condition into old age. Such people live, but do they live well? People everywhere are asking whether longer life means living longer in a healthy state or living longer in a disabled state. For Latin America in particular, the Pan American Health Organization is in the process of gathering information on health-related factors of the elderly population in a number of urban areas.

Generalizations are not meant to neglect the fact that the region's countries are highly diverse. Demographically one can see rather mature countries such as Argentina, in which 13.5 percent of the population was age sixty and over in 2000, and rather young countries such as nearby Bolivia, in which only 6.2 percent of the population was age sixty and over in 2000 (see Table 1).

The proportion of elderly is related not only to factors such as life expectancy at birth, infant mortality, and fertility but also to such social and economic factors as level of urbanization, per capita GNP, number of inhabitants per physician, school enrollment rates, literacy, economic activity, and pensions. When there are higher proportions of elders in the country, there tend to be higher levels of these social and economic factors as well. Let us take literacy, the ability to read and write, as an example.


Although people of younger ages tend to be better educatedand thus the future elderly population will be better educatedpresent elders grew up at a time when many were unable to attain even basic levels of literacy. This low education level among elders is more prevalent in some countries than in others, and more common for females than for males. Consider the proportions of persons sixty-five years and older in 1990 in several Latin American countries who were reported to be literate (see Table 2).

Figures such as these help to demonstrate the regional diversity of Latin America, the glaring inequality within many Latin American countries, and the lack of resources available to present-day elders, especially female elders, when they were young. Consider for example, the contrast between Argentina and Bolivia again, or the contrast between males and females within Bolivia.

Living arrangements

Since most elders in Latin America do not participate in an official pension program, old age does not have a clearly defined onset, as it does for many people in developed countries, where retirement age is often used to delineate age groups. But living arrangements, and changes in those arrangements, can be used to observe patterns in the lives of elders in Latin America. For instance, one's marital status (single married, widowed, etc.) may be a critical determinant of both family status and household arrangements in Latin America. Whereas married elders may live in an extended household, in a nuclear household with unmarried children (if there are unmarried children), or in an "empty nest," unmarried elders typically live with extended kin, with unmarried children (if there are unmarried children), or alone. The older a person becomes, the less likely it is that there is still an unmarried child at home.

Many elders in Latin America do in fact reside with extended kin, and such residence can be viewed as just one way the family cares for its elders. For instance, in 1994 an estimated 53 percent of people age sixty and older in Mexico resided with extended family members. Such coresidence may benefit younger people as well older ones, since the arrangement is often part of an exchange of both monetary and nonmonetary resources. Elders who do not themselves work outside the house for pay may relieve younger people of many of the household chores, such as child care, that would prevent them from working for pay. Aging parents are often part of a family whose members care for each other no matter what.

Many elders do not reside with extended kin, however, but with their nuclear family. In Latin America most elderly men are still married but many elderly women are not, mainly due to widowhood. In Chile in 1992, for example, 24 percent of married people sixty years and older lived only with their spouse, and 15 percent of unmarried people in the same age group lived alone. Thus, although unmarried elderly men were more likely to live alone than unmarried elderly women (21 percent vs. 13 percent), a lower proportion of elderly men overall lived alone because most were still married. The proportion of all elders living alone, 7 percent, is relatively low in international perspective. Most people in Latin America cannot rely on pensions. Living alone in Latin America may mean being totally destitute (although living with extended family as a last resort may have its costs as well).

Economic activity and retirement

Activity rates (the proportion of the population that is economically active) for Latin American countries are hard to come by, and even when they are found (e.g., as estimated by the Census Bureau's International Programs Center), the figures tend not to be comparable between countries or even between years in the same country. Still, a picture emerges of fairly high activity rates among males age sixty and over compared with countries such as the United States and Canada, where there are widespread pension programs. (Reported economic activity among older women is quite low.) There appears to be no widespread definition of when "old" means "too old to work," especially for people who draw no pension. For instance, in 1995 roughly a fourth of males age sixty-five and older in Argentina were reported as economically active. Over 40 percent of Colombia's males sixty and over were reported as economically active in 1996. When people retire, it is not usually because they have become eligible for a pension, although activity rates tend to be lower for people in urban areas and/or with more education.

Pension policy

When people retire, they maintain themselves economically in one or more of three ways: savings, dependence on an extended family, a pension. Few Latin American elders appear to have sufficient savings to sustain themselves in old age, and while many elders, especially unmarried ones, reside in extended family households, others reside alone. So what is the pension situation?

Most Latin American countries have had public pension schemes on the books since the 1940s (some as early as the 1920s or as late as the 1960s), but the schemes have often been specific to particular occupations in the formal economy and much of the population consequently has gone uncovered. Sometimes only public servants (including the military) seem to have adequate coverage. Benefit amounts have varied considerably, so that many people receiving a pension have received inadequate amounts. Finally, retirement age has tended to vary; some people have retired as early as age forty-eight (women) or fifty-three (men), while others have had to wait until age sixty-five.

Although pension policies differed, until recently most shared the characteristic of being pay-as-you-go systems, mainly for people in the formal economy. Such systems depend on the current labor force to finance the pensions of retired people. These systems can break down when demographic shifts in the population cause too many elders to be eligible for pensions for the current labor force to support. This problem is compounded when poor economic conditions further erode the pool of pension money available. During the 1980s analysts seemed to heed alarms about demographic aging amid harsh economic conditions in Latin America. The leader in this respect was Chile, with Peru, Argentina, Colombia, Mexico, Uruguay, Costa Rica, and, to some extent, Brazil following. In Chile's system, salaried workers make earnings-related contributions to an investment fund; self-employed workers and workers in the informal economy are not automatically included. In Peru and Colombia the proportion of the labor force contributing to pensions is about one-fourth. The proportion in Chile is higher, but the scheme's effect is not yet known because years of participation are required.

Major pension system reform schemes can be referred to as unitary, dual, or mixed systems. Under a unitary scheme, such as that in Chile and Mexico, people enrolled in the former social insurance scheme are placed into a new capitalization scheme. Dual systems, such as in Colombia and Peru, have both the older social insurance scheme and a newer capitalization scheme. People choose one of the schemes. The mixed schemes of Argentina, Uruguay, and Costa Rica have elements of both types of schemes. Such schemes may reflect older populations, higher income per capita, and a stronger commitment to the redistributive principles behind social insurance.

Susan De Vos Alberto Palloni

See also Canada; Population Aging.


Barrientos, A. "The Changing Face of Pensions in Latin America: Design and Prospects of Individual Capitalization Pension Plans." Social Policy & Administration 31 (1997): 336353.

De Vos, S., and Holden, K. "Measures Comparing the Living Arrangements of the Elderly." Population and Development Review 14 (1988): 688704.

Martin, L. G., and Kinsella, K. "Research on the Demography of Aging in Developing Countries." In Demography of Aging. Edited by Linda G. Martin and Samuel H. Preston. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 1994. Pages 356403.

Mesa-Lago, C. Health Care for the Poor in Latin America and the Caribbean. Washington, D.C.: Pan American Health Organization, 1992.

Mesa-Lago, C. Changing Social Security in Latin America: Toward Alleviating the Social Costs of Economic Reform. Boulder, Colo.: Lynne Rienner, 1994.

Latin America, relations with

views updated May 18 2018

Latin America, relations with. English activities in Latin America began in 1562–8 when Sir John Hawkins carried three cargoes of slaves from Africa to Spanish possessions in the New World. The third of these voyages precipitated a series of clashes with Spanish forces, sometimes authorized by London and sometimes not, as the English battled for trade and gold. Charles II's commercial treaty with Spain in 1667 finally placed English trade with the colonies on a better footing—although English merchants remained far from satisfied. The treaty of Utrecht (1713) officially opened the colonies to British slave traders, but further incidents led to the so-called ‘War of Jenkins's Ear’ in 1739. Spain's alliance with Napoleon tempted the British to try to seize Buenos Aires in 1806–7. They failed, but Napoleon's intervention in Spain in 1808 was followed by growing unrest in Spain's American colonies. The British tried to strike a balance between the colonists and those Spanish elements which were allied with them against Napoleon in the Peninsula. Later, as Spain's hold on its American colonies weakened, the British, eager to build up their trade and to ensure that the USA did not acquire too much influence and esteem, moved towards de facto and finally de jure recognition in the 1820s. The new states themselves recognized that the British navy was their best defence (rather than the Monroe doctrine) whenever there were suggestions that other European powers might be disposed to assist Spain to recover her colonies.

Britain retained her leading role in trade and investment in much of Latin America until the First World War. Meanwhile Canning in the early 1820s had assisted in the peaceful separation of Brazil from Portuguese colonial rule. Anglo-American rivalry persisted mostly in central America, partly because of British interest in the Mosquito Shore, and partly because both were interested in any project to build a trans-isthmian canal. Their relations were eased in part by the Clayton–Bulwer treaty of 1850 and further negotiations in 1856–60. Later in the century the British were forced to recognize that the balance of power was shifting decisively in favour of the USA. They were rudely reminded of this by US intervention in 1895 in a British frontier dispute with Venezuela. The Hay–Pauncefote treaty of 1901 yielded control of any canal to the USA. But later British retreats and concessions to the Americans did not prevent friction between London and Washington as, for instance, on policy towards Fidel Castro's Cuba in the 1960s. On the other hand, the USA, after some hesitation, supported the British in the war to recover the Falkland Islands after their seizure by Argentina in 1982. Sovereignty over the islands had been in dispute with Argentina since 1833.

C. J. Bartlett

Latin America

views updated Jun 08 2018

Latin America

Latin America, term commonly used to describe South America, Central America, Mexico, and the islands of the Caribbean. As such, it incorporates numerous Spanish-speaking countries, Portuguese-speaking Brazil, French-speaking Haiti and the French West Indies, and usually implies countries such as Suriname and Guyana, where Romance languages are not spoken. The term Latin America originated in France during the reign of Napoleon III in the 1860s, when the country was second only to England in terms of industrial and financial strength. The French political economist Michel Chevalier, in an effort to solidify the intellectual underpinnings of French overseas ambitions, first proposed a "Pan-Latin" foreign policy in the hopes of promoting solidarity between nations whose languages were of Latin origin and that shared the common cultural tradition of Roman Catholicism. Led by France, the Latin peoples could reassert their influence throughout the world in the face of threats from both the Slavic peoples of eastern Europe (led by Russia) and the Anglo-Saxon peoples of northern Europe (led by England). In the Western Hemisphere, Pan-Latinists distinguished between the Anglo north and the Latin south, which they gradually began to refer to as América latina. From the French l'Amérique latine, the term came into general use in other languages.


John L. Phelan, "Panlatinismo, la intervención francesa en México y el origen de la idea de latinoamerica," in Latino América aunuario/estudios latinoamericanos 2 (1969): 119-141.

Additional Bibliography

Galeano, Eduardo H. Las venas abiertas de America Latina. España: Catalogos, 2001.

González Casanova, Pablo. El Estado en America Latina Teoría y Practica México: Siglo XXI de México, 2000.

Mignolo, Walter. La idea de America Latina. México: Gedisa, 2007.

Rousso-Lenoir, Fabienne. America Latina. New York: Assouline, 2002.

                                              J. David Dressing

Latin America

views updated May 29 2018

Latin America Parts of the Western Hemisphere (excluding French-speaking Canada) where the official or chief language is a Romance language. Commonly it refers to the 18 Spanish-speaking republics and Brazil (Portuguese) and Haiti (French). Occasionally it includes those islands of the West Indies where Romance languages are the mother tongue.

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