Latin American Introduction

The three Latin American modules in this section graph the many political changes that have occurred in the Caribbean, Central America and South America during the 20th Century, and does so by focusing on the most significant and historically noteworthy events.

All of these countries (with the exception of the "colonies") were at least nominally parliamentary in structure. Nonetheless, political systems varied widely ranging from the genuinely multi-party to the extremely authoritarian.

Multi-party system refers here to any country where regular elections took place, where political parties competed, and where orderly transfers of power took place at least occasionally. However, multi-party does not necessarily imply political stability. Many of these regimes experienced acts of terrorism, violence, and corruption. In Latin America, as elsewhere in the Western world, women were not eligible to vote until well into the 20th Century.

European countries and the United States administered territories in Latin America during this period in a variety of ways. Some were traditional colonies while others enjoyed "dominion" or commonwealth status in the British Empire. Others were formally incorporated into their Mother Country. These colonies and territories are shaded beige, and in the Central American and Caribbean modules the flag of their colonizer is directly beside them for reference. In the South America module, after World War II, the colonies of Guyana and Suriname became independent. French Guiana and several small islands off the northern coast of the continent remain even today part of European states.

Authoritarian regimes are those in which the constitution had been suspended or subverted. The range of experience was wide and does not lend itself to definitive categories. Though the distinctions made here may appear somewhat arbitrary, we note the following for the Central American and Caribbean modules:

  • One-party states
  • Military regimes ("juntas")
  • Dictatorships

For the South American Module, we note the following categories:

  • Traditional oligarchies, effectively one-party states
  • Military regimes ("juntas")
  • Personal dictators ruling with the support of the military
  • Dictators with a populist agenda

A category unique to the Central America module is that of U.S. occupation. Countries which are occupied by the United States are shaded white and a pop-up balloon is provided for further information.

A final category in the Latin America Modules describes "frequent regime changes". States which undergo two or more regime changes during the time period represented by each frame are represented by this category indicated in grey but defined more closely by a coded insert or a balloon icon.

Each of the above described varieties of regimes is represented on the following maps by a different color. A legend is provided in each frame for clarification, along with pop-up balloons which can be viewed by navigating over the countries with balloon icons.

All three of the modules contain two sections. The first section maps the political history of Latin America by dividing the 20th Century in seven distinct frames. The first frame depicts political conditions at the turn of the 19th Century; the second graphs the political trends that occurred after the First World War; the third maps out the period between the Great Depression and World War II; and the fourth and fifth frames depict Latin American politics during two phases of the Cold War. The final frame maps the political landscape in the year 2000. The second section allows the viewer to compare and contrast Latin American political systems from the beginning and end of the 20th Century.

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