South America


  South American political culture is the result of the colonization by Spain and Portugal (and in three small enclaves: Britain, Netherlands and France) on to a varied native culture. The peoples whom the Spanish invaders found had many types of political culture including well organized kingdoms and empires in the Andes and Mexico and village and clan based societies in much of the rest of the continent. Unfortunately the details of their history were lost when the European (mainly Spanish) invaders destroyed the books.

Nevertheless archaeology has shown that areas which today are almost deserted once supported organised cultures - parts of the Amazon rain forest viewed from satellites show village sites and extensive areas of cultivation in the past - possibly destroyed on the arrival of the Europeans and the diseases the natives were not resistant to.

The underlying native culture is said to be reasserting itself in those countries where their descendants are a large part of the population - mainly in the Andes and Central America. The old colonial political culture - rule by a European descended aristocracy - may be collapsing after the demise of a series of right wing military dictatorships in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Peru and Uruguay. Will it be replaced by western type democracy?

In many countries the informal economy and settlement of disputes appears to be superseding the formal financial, legal and political systems which have become choked by bureaucracy and are too expensive for most people to afford. In many of these countries decades of inflation has removed the trust in the official money, leading to a reliance by ordinary people on barter and by the rich on dollars. Thus economic statistics show that the unofficial economy (informal economy) is more important than the official recorded (and taxed) economy. This is especially true of the Andean states which grow the Coca leaves used to produce Cocaine.

In Brazil and the Guyanas (including Suriname) an important strand of culture is from the Africans brought there as slaves. Many escaped into the forests and built villages like the ones they had been snatched from. In many countries African religion is an important cultural strand.

These developments point to a culture rapidly evolving away from its official, European, origins (which also includes the important Arab strain embedded in Spanish language and culture).

The official culture tends to have an exaggerated respect for the nation state, perhaps a reaction to its essentially arbitrary origin and possibly ephemeral nature. How far do the ordinary poor people respect these states, whose most enthusiastic supporters are the military? Latin America may in the future evolve common institutions along the lines of the European Union. So far this evolution has hardly begun.

In 2006 a new development is the election in several countries of presidents with a Socialist policy of reducing the wealth gap between rich and poor, led by President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela (of native and black origin). Thus Bolivia (Evo Morales of native origin), Venezuela and Cuba seem to be forming a new grouping, in an attempt to reduce the influence of the United States (whose policy seems to prefer the old elites, and continued inequality). Brazil also is headed by a leftwing leader. As Venezuela controls a very large oil province this grouping has economic influence on the world and may open up the area to Chinese influence, as well as uniting the continent with oil and gas pipelines. In 2008 there was a change in party in Paraguay - the first since the dictatorship ended.

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 Argentina  Chile  Falklands  Paraguay  Trinidad
 Bolivia  Columbia  French Guiana  Peru  Uruguay
 Brazil  Ecuador  Guyana  Surinam  Venezuela

Last revised 17/04/12

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since 17/04/12

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