Kate Monk's Onomastikon

(Dictionary of Names)

Modern Southern and Central American Countries

During the last few hundred years, indigenous names and culture have been strongly influenced by European invaders, especially Spain and Portugal. English, French and Dutch colonies were also established on the East coast. Many native people now follow the Catholic religion of their conquerors and use similar names to those of Spain and Portugal with only surnames showing any trace of the original South American Indian names. Many placenames are taken from the European places of origin of their conquerors.


Capital: Mexico City

Aguascalientes, Baja California, Baja California Sur, Campeche, Chiapas, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Colima, Durango, Guanajuato, Guerrero, Hiadlgo, Jalisco, Michoacan, México, Morelos, Nayarit, Nueva Léon, Oaxaca, Puebla, Querétaro, Quitano-Roo, Sinaloa, Sonora, Tabasco, Tamaulipas, Tlaxcala, Veracruz, Yucatan, Zacatecas

Languiages: Spanish, Amerindian

The area now known as Mexico saw the development of many native civilizations including the Olmec, Maya, Toltec, Mixtec, Zapotoc and Aztec. In 1520, the last Aztec king, Monteczuma II was killed in battle against the invading Spaniards who took over the country under Cortes. It became the viceroyalty of New Spain in 1535 and colonial rule was strictly enforced with Spanish culture and the Roman Catholic religion imposed upon the native people.

The struggle for independence began around 1810 and Spanish rule ended in1821. Years of civil and foreign wars followed. Mexico lost Texas to the US in 1835 and New Mexico and California during the Mexican War of 1846-8. The dictator Antonio LÙ pez de Santa Anna was dominant until 1855 when he was overthrown by the liberal reformer Benito Ju«rez who also exiled the president, Miramon, in 1860. Miramon owed 79 million francs to a Swiss banker and in 1861 France planned to invade for a share of the proceeds. Miramon appealed to Empress Eug¾nie, wife of Napoleon III, for support against Ju«rez. She suggested that Maximilian, the brother of Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria should become king. The idea was supported by the conservative opponents of Ju«rez and in 1864 he accepted the crown, making Mexicio yet another part of the huge Hapsburg empire. He was never accepted by Ju«rez and was executed in 1867.

The country stabilised under the capitalist dictator, General Porfirio Diaz who became unpopular for his econmic policies and in 1910 he was overthrown by the liberal Madero who brought about land, labour and church reforms before he was assassinated in 1913. Conflict with the US followed, including the failed expedition to kill the revolutionary Francisco 'Pancho' Villa in 19167-17.

Further reforms followed the civil war of 1920 when the moderate Institutional Revolutionary Party came to power. It has been criticised by the trade unions and the church but easily won the 1985 elections and managed to win again in 1988 despite problems caused by the 1985 earthquake, drug trafficking and fraud allegations. President Salinas, who was also re-elected in 1991, worked closely with US President Bush to reduce the country's debts and promised reforms. Although Mexican foreign policy is largely concerned with US relations, it has also criticised US involvement in South America and is part of the Contradora Group which wants to remove all foreign advisors.


Capital: Belmopan

Languages: English Creole, Spanish, Mayan

This area was part of the Mayan civilization and was colonized in the C17th. As British Honduras, it became a British Colony in 1862 and was given internal self-government in 1954 with Britain remaining in control of defence, internal security and foreign affairs.

Until 1982, all general elections were won by the People's United Party under George Price who became Prime Minister when full internal self-government was established in 1964. In 2970, the capital was moved from Belize City to the new town of Belmopan.

Border disputes with Guatemala led to British troops being stationed in the country, known as Belize from 1973, and in 1980 the UN called for full independence which was granted in 1981 with Price as Prime Minister although Britain continued to help defend the border and train troops. From 1984-9, the United Democratic Party was in power but Price won the 1989 general elections. In 1991, Guatemala recognised Belize's independence and withdrew invasion threats.


Capital: Guatemala City

Languages: Spanish, Mayan

This area of the Mayan empire became a Spanish colony in 1524 and remained under Spanish rule until it became independent in 1821, briefly joining Mexico and separating again in 1823 when it became part of the United Provinces of Central America which it dominated and which broke up after it left in 1840. In 1838, a military rebellion under Jos¾ Rafael Carrera led to the establishment of a traditional of dictatorships which exploited the native Indian population and ignored human rights.

In 1944, the revolutionary strike led to the election of Juan Jos¾ Ar¾valo who with his successor J«cobo Arbenz, tried to reduce the power of the army and introduce some political freedom, also reforming health and education. In 1954, Arbenz nationalized the United Fruit Company's plantations which led to the US backed revolution of Colonel Carlos Castillo Armas who became president. He was assassinated 1963 but the army retained power until 1966 when there was a short period of constitutional government until the military regained power in 1970.

The 1982 elections were won by the governmental candidate but after allegations of vote-rigging a coup installed General RÍ os Montt as head of a three-man junta which he soon dissolved to take the presidency. He began to fight corruption but the anti-government guerrilla movement strongly opposed him. He was deposed by General MejÍ a Victores who declared an amnesty for the guerrillas and began to prepare a new constitution which was adopted in 1985. The resulting election was won by the Guatemalan Christian Democratic Party and Vinicio Cerezo became president, surviving a coup attempt in 1989. The army continued to oppress and kill civilians during the 1980s and in the 1991 elections, the Solidarity Action Movement under Jorge Serrano ElÍas, an ally of Montt, gained power. The long-running border dispute with Belize was settled later that year.


Capital: Tegucigalpa

Languages: Spanish, Amerindian

Christopher Columbus reached this part of the Mayan empire in 1502 and from 1526 it was a Spanish colony. It became independent from Spain in 1821 as part of the United Provinces of Central America and gained full independence in 1840. The country was dominated by the powerful cattle barons and the countryside was violent and lawless. Order was imposed by the liberal, Marco Aurelio Soto who gained power in 1876. There was no warfare during his presidency which lasted until 1883 and he introduced modern features such as the telegraph and encourage the building of roads.

From the early C20th, the economy became increasing dependent on banana exports and US companies established huge plantations with the country becoming the leading banana exporter by 1930. It became a dictatorship under the National Party (PN) from 1939-49 and a series of military coups followed until civilian rule was restored in 1980. The army still controlled security and could influence political appointments, with the commander in chief, General Gustavo Alvarez, retaining real power even after the Liberal Party of Honduras (PLH) under Dr Roberto Suazo, won the elections of 1981. It also determined foreign policy and agreed to the establishment of US bases in the country.

The close relationship with the US, which also helped Nicaraguan counter-revoultionaries (Contras) based in Honduras, was reviewed after Alvarez was deposed by a group of junior officers in 1984. Divisions over how to choose presidential candidates led to changes in electoral law and although the PN candidate gained most votes in the 1985 presidential elections, the winner was the PLH representative, Jos¾ Azcona.

The continued presence of the Contras in Honduras led to tension with Nicaragua and the Sandinista government filed a suit against Honduras in the International Court of Justice. It agreed to drop it on condition that the the Contra bases were dismantled and the fighters demoblized. In the presidential elections of 1989, the PN candidate, Rafael Callejas was victorious and during his government the border dispute with El Salvador which had lasted for a century, was ettled, with Honduras gaining two thirds of the territory in question.

El Salvador

Capital: San Salvador

Language: Spanish

This area was first inhabited by Indian groups who arrived from Mexico about 3000 BC. It was under the influence of the Mayan Empure (c100-1000) and the Pipil Indians were in control when the Spanish conquest took place in 1525. In 1821, it broke from Spanish rule and became part of the United Provinces of Central America. This split up in 1840 and a period of political instability, including violence, cruel regimes and assassinations. followed. It was not until 1871 that a relatively stable government was established but even this was largely controlled by the army.

After a coup in 1961 the conservative National ConciliationParty (PCN) won all the seats in the national assembly. The regime gained a reputation for violating human rights and was challenged in 1979 by the socialist guerilla movement, The Farabundo Mari Liberation Front (FMLN) and a civilian/military junta deposed the president.

In 1980, the murder of the pro-human rights archbishop of San Salvador, Oscar Romero and later three US nuns and a social worker, led US president Jimmy Carter withdrew economic and military aid. Later that year, Jos¾ Napoleon Duarte, who led a moderate coalition, returned from exile and became president. He called an election in 1982 but there was a great deal of violence and about 40 deaths during it. Duarte's party won and although a right-wing coalition prevented him from remaining as president, but after the 1984 elections, he defeated Robert d'Aubuisson, a rightist suspect for the killing of Archbishop Romero. Right-wing and guerrilla opposition continued and Duarte was forced to negotiate with the guerrillas after the kidnap of his daughter in 1984.

In 1989, Alfredo Cristiani, a member of ARENA, D'Aubisson's party was elected. Many human rights activists were arrested and many people 'disappeared'. It is thought that at least 100 000 people were killed between 1979-90 but the hard-line government retained power in the 1991 general election. Troops were trained in the USA and American military advisors were reportedly involved in El Salvador's internal fighting. A United Nations peace accord was signed by governement and FMLN representatives in December 1991.


Capital: Managua

Languages: Spanish, Amerindian

In 1522, the Spaniard, Gil Gonzalez de Avila, became the first European to reach Nicaragua and it was under Spanish rule until 1821 when it was united with Mexico, becoming fully independent in 1838. There was a series of invasions by neighbouring countries but from 1863-93, there was a period of peace under a Conservative government which led to foreign investment in railways and coffee plantations. In 1896-8 there was a movement to unite with El Salvador and Honduras but this did not last. One of its main advocates, the Liberal dictator, Santos Zelaya, was in power from 1903-9 and improved state education and encouraged the separation of church and state.

In 1912, the government invited the USA to set up military bases in Nicaragua. It was opposed by guerrilla under Sandino but did not withdraw until 1933 after training the national guards. The virtually dictatorial rule of the Somoza family began in when General Anastasio Somoza was elected president in 1936. After his assassination in 1956 his sons Luis, and subsequently Anastasio, took his place. In 1962, the left wing Sandinista National Liberation Front or FSLN (named after Sandino, who had been killed in 1934) was set up to overthrow them. This was achieved during the Nicaraguan Revolution of 1979 and a national reconstruction junta was set up under Daniel Ortega Savedra.

When Ronald Reagan became president of the USA, he ended the aid programme set up by Jimmy Carter because of the Sandinista government's alleged support for rebels in El Salvador and began a policy of supporting the Nicaraguan counter-revolutionaries, the Contras. The FSLN was confirmed in power in the constitutional assembly elections of 1984 and Reagan denounced it and pledged to remove it in 1985. In May 1986, the Contra leader, Eden Pastora, gave up fighting and left for Costa Rica but the USA continued to give the Contras military and financial aid. The Sandinista government made some concessions including legaliziing political parties and there were peace talks with the Contras but it lost the 1990 elections to the National Opposition Union under Violeta Barrios de Chamorro who had about $9 million of aid from the Bush administration in the USA. The Contras disbanded their army and the government promised to reduce the size of the army but there were violent protests over land rights, umemployment and inflation.

In 1991, Chamorro became the first Nicaraguan president to visit the USA for more than 50 years. Her country agreed to drop its claim to damages from the US awarded by the World Court for economic support from President Bush but this was suspended in June 1992 as there were worries over Sandinista influence in Chamorro's government and she was forced to dismiss 12 high-level police officers. During the 1990s, the country has been badly hit by earthquakes, with a particularly serious one in November 1998.

Costa Rica

Capital: San José

Language: Spanish

This area was originally occupied by Guaymi Indians. The first European visitor was Christopher Columbus in 1502 and it was colonized by Spain under whose control it remained until 1821. It was part of the Mexican Empire at first and then joined the United Provinces of Central America from 1824-38. After about ten years of dictatorships, Costa Rica declared itself to be an independent republic and managed to remain largely unaffected by the conflicts in neighbouring countries.

Rule by military leaders ended with that of Tomas Guardia (1870-92) and there was aperiod of peace and democracy. Rafael Calderon's regime of 1940-8 tried to meet demands for change by legislating for social security and a workers' code but he was exiled by a revolution and Jos¾ Figueres, leader of the antigovernment forces, became president. The new constitution of 1949 abolished the army in favour of the Civil Guard. Figueres also co-founded the National Liberation Party (PLN), brought in a social security system and nationalized the banks and was re-elected in 1953.

After a period of conservative rule, Daniel Oduber of the PLN became president and returned to liberal polices, legalizing communist and left-wing parties but the conservative Unity Coalition (CU) leader Rodrigo Carazo became president in 1978. The economy collapsed and Carazo was accused of involvement in arms trafficking between Cuba and El Salvador. The PLN regained power under Luis Alberto Monge, its co-founder, in the 1982 elections and a 100 day emergency programme was introduced. Despite pressure from the USA, Monge remained neutral and did condemn the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua but border clashes between the two countries led to a deterioration in relations and in 1985 Costa Rica agreed to set up an anti-guerrilla guard trained by the US.

A neutral candidate, Oscar Arias Sanchez, defeated the US-backed Rafael Angel CalderÙn in the 1986 elections and began a peace campaign which involved hosting summits and negotiating framework treaties and won him the 1987 Nobel Peace Prize although he lost the 1990 presidential election to CalderÙn.


Capital: Panama City

Languages: Spanish, Amerindian, English Creole

The first European visitor was Christopher Columbus in 1502 and in 1513 Balboa reached the Pacific coast via the Darien isthmus. The Spanish colonists founded settlements including Panama, 1519, but many were sacked by the English sea-captains Francis Drake in 1572-95 and Henry Morgan in 1668-71. A Scottish settlement, Fort St Andrews, was founded 1698-1701 but until 1821 Panama was part of the viceroyalties of Peru and New Granada. On gaining independence from Spain, it joined Gran Colombia in 1822 and gained full independence with US support in 1903. At the same time, America bought land and rights to build the Panama Canal which was completed in 1914 and formally opened in 1920. Panama was given US protection and an annuity and the protectorate status was ended by mutual agreement in 1939. The Panama Canal Treaty of 1977 gave control of the canal to Panama in 1990 and the Canal Zone, the strip of land surrounding it, passed to Panama in 1979.

During the 1980s, the economy deteriorated and the government introduced austerity measures which were met with opposition. After a close election result in 1984, Dr Nicol« s Ardito Barletta of the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) became president but he resigned in 1985 and it was speculated that he had been forced to by the National Guard leader. His successor was Eric Arturo del Valle but after 1983 effective power was held by army commander-in-chief General Manuel Noriega and after relations with the USA worsened, President Reagan suspended financial aid.

Noriega allowed the US to use Panama as a base for its campaign against Nicaragua and El Salvador. During the 1980s his regime was accused of corruption, election fraud, cocaine trading and political assassinations but the demonstrations were put down by riot police. He declared the 1989 election results invalid and Francisco Rodriguez became president with army backing. A coup against Noriega a month later was unsuccessful and in 1989 harassment of Americans in the Canal Zone led to President Bush ordering an invasion to arrest Noriega who hid in the Vatican embassy but eventually surrendered. He was taken to the USA and convicted of drug trafficking in 1992. Guillermo Endara, the new president of Panama, worked to reconcile Panama's own aims with pressures from the USA, surviving a coup by Noriega supporters in October 1991.


Capital: Caracas

Apure, Amacuro, Delta Amacuro, Amazonas, Anzoategui, Aragua, Barinas, Bolivar, Cojedes, Carabobo, Distrito Federal, Falcón, Guarico, Merida, Miranda, Nueva Esparta, Monagas, Potuguesa, Sucre, Tachira, Trujillo, Yaracuy, Zulia

Languages: Spanish, Amerindian

Christopher Columbus was the first European visitor in 1498 and a Spanish settlement was founded in 1520. The country remained under Spanish rule but SimÙ n Bolivar led a rebellion in 1811 and it eventually became independent in 1830. Under the first president, dictator General Jos¾ Antonio P«ez (1830-48), a dictatorship system was established and the country was in a constant state of upheaval as competing military leaders tried to take over until 1961 when a new constituion was adopted.

Three years later, RÙmulo Betancourt became the first president to serve his full term of office. He was succeeded by Dr Raól Leoni in 1964 and in 1969 Dr Rafael Caldera who helped to stabilise the ecomony and politics of Venezuela although human rights abuses continued. Stability improved further when Carlos Andr¾s Perez of the Democratic Action Party (AD) became president in 1974. The Social Christian Party (COPEI) under Dr Luis Herrera came to power in 1979 but economic problems increased and the bitterly fought 1984 general elections, contested by 20 parties, were won by the AD and Dr Jaime Lusinchi became president. His austerity policies were not popular and he tried to make a social pact with the trade unions and business, reaching an agreement with the banks to reschedule Venezuela's large public debt.

The drop in oil prices in the 1970s had led to an increase in foreign debt and Venezuela suspended repayments in 1988. The International Monetary Fund imposed loan terms of $4.3 billion and in February 1989 new president Carlos Andr¾s P¾rez brought in price rises and austerity measures to help pay for this. About 300 people were killed in the subsequent riots and a general strike was called in May. Elections were held in December but the main opposition groups refused to take part. Demonstrations continued into the 1990s and troops loyal to president P¾rez foiled a coup in February 1992. Public unrest forced him to promise constitutional reforms.


Capital: Bogotá

Antioquia, Arauca, Atlantico, Bolivar, Boyara, Cauca, Casanare, Caldas, Caqueta, Choco, Cordoba, Cudinamarea, Guaviare, Guajira, Guainia, Huila, Magdelena, Meta, Narino, Norte de Santander, Tolima, Vaupes, Valle del Cauca

Languages: Spanish, Amerindian

Until the Spaniards conquered this area in the C16th it was inhabited by the Chibcha Indians. In 1538, it was joined with Panama and most of Venezuela to form the colony of New Granada. This also included Ecuador from 1819 when it became an independent state, Gran Colombia, under the Venezuelan SimÙn Bolivar. The first president of Colombia, General Francisco de Paual Santander, imposed firm central control over the various regions and regional rebellions were put down by his successors. In 1886, President Rafael NóÔez imposed an authoritarian centralist constitution and there was no peaceful change of government until Enrique Oleya became president in 1930.

After the assassination of the left-wing mayor of Bogot« in 1948, the decade of civil war known as the 'Violencia' ensued, killing at least 250 000 people. In 1957 the Conservative and Liberal parties tried to end it by forming the National Front and alternating in government. They faced opposition from the National Popular Alliance (ANAPO) in 1970 but retained power. The Liberals kept to the power-sharing agreement even when they won majorities in both chambers of congress and held the presidency until 1982 when it went to the Conservative, Dr Belisario Betancur. He released political prisoners, granted an amnesty to left-wing guerrillas and mounted a harsh anti-drug campaign but in the presidential elections of 1986, the Liberal Virgilio Barco Vargas won by a record margin. He ended the National Front accord although this was against the constitution and declared a new campaign against the cocaine trade after Luis Carlos Galan, a leading presidential candidate for the 1990 elections, was assassinated. Leading members of the drug cartels were exiled and a retaliatory bombing campaign began. Security forces achieved another victory in 1989 with the killing in a shoot-out of drug lord Jos¾ Rodriguez Gacha.

The Liberal Party won the 1990 elections by just five seats over the April 19th movement (M19) and the new president, Cesar Gavrilia Trujillo, adopted a new constitution. It had a clause which allowed Colombians to be extradited for trial in other countries and resulted in the arrests of sevearl drug traffickers including Pablo Escobar of Medellin, although he was to escape in 1992.


Capital: Quito

Azuay, Bolivar, Canar, Carchi, Esmerelas, Imbabura, Loja, Los Rios, Manabi, Morona-Santiago, Napo, Pastaza, Pichincha, Tugurahua, Zamora-Chichipe

Languages: Spanish, Quechua, Amerindian

The tribes of the northern highlands formed the Kingdom of Quito around AD 1000 which fell to the Inca in the C15th. The area was invaded and colonized by Spain from 1532 and remained under Spanish rule until joining Gran Colombia in 1819. It was liberated by Antonio Jos¾ de Sucre in 1822 and gained full independence in 1830 with Venezuelan General Juan Jos¾ Flores governing with military support. He handed over power to the revolutionary Vicente Rocafuerta in 1834-9 and was forced into exile in 1845 being replaced by a Liberal oligarchy based in Guayaquil which nationalized the army and government.

From 1861-75, Ecuador was dominated by General Gabriel GarcÍa Moreno who promoted education and instituted a campaign of public works. A period of instability followed until Eloy Alfaro's military victory began a Liberal hegemony characterised by election fraud, military coups, and the absence of civil rights. After 1948, a more stable Liberal government ensued and in 1956 Dr Camilo Ponce was elected as the first Conservative president for 60 years. The Liberal, Dr Jos¾ Maria Velasco, who had been president from 1933-5 and 1944-7, was re-elected in 1960 but was deposed by a military junta in 1961. He returned in 1968 but a coup of 1970 returned the military to power until a new, deocratic constitution was adopted in 1978.

Economic decline, strikes and demonstrations led to a state of emergency in 1982 and there was no clear congressional majority in the 1984 elections. The Conservative LeÙn Febres Cordero became president on the strength of a promies of 'bread, roofs and jobs' and gained a majority in congress in 1985. In 1988 a moderate left-wing government with Rodrigo Borja Cevallos as president came to power. In 1992 he was replaced by the United Republican Party leader Sixto Duran Ballen as although the Social Christian Party had the most seats in congress it did not have an overall majority.



Amazonas, Ancash, Apurimac, Arequipa, Cajamarca, Cuzco, Huncavelica, Huaruca, Jurin, La Libertad, Lambeyeque, Lima, Loreto, Madre de Dios, Moquegua, Pasco, Piura, Tacna, Tumbes

Languages: Spanish, Quechua, Aymara

The Chimu culture which flourished from about AD 1200 was gradually replaced by the Inca empire which spread from the Andes. When the conquistador Pisarro arrived in 1533 civil war had weakened the empire and he was able to firmly establish Spanish rule by his assassination in 1541. Despite a native revolt led by Tupac Amaru in 1780 Peru remained under Spanish rule. It was the governmental headquarters for Spain's South American possessions and following successful rebellions in neighbouring countries was the last of them to gain independence in 1824.

There was an attempt at union with Bolivia in 1836-9, a naval war with Spain 1864-6 and Peru lost three provinces to Chile in the Pacific War over the nitrate fields of the Atacama Desert in 1879-83. Further boundary disputes were settled by arbitration with Bolivia 1902, Colombia 1927 and Ecuador 1942, and Chile returned Tacna province in 1929.

There was a series of right-wing dictatorships in power from the mid 1920s to the return of free elections in 1945. The largest party in Congress was the oldest political organization, the American Popular Revolutionary Alliance (APRA), founded to fight imperialism in the whole of South America but only established in Peru but was continually thwarted by smaller conservative groups who wished to protect their business interests. In 1948, it was banned temporarily when General Manuel Odria's military junta seized power. He was president from 1950-56 and the military held power until 1963 when Fernando Belaónde Terry, joint candidate for Popular Action (AP) and the Christian Democrats (PDC) became president and APRA took the greatest number of Deputies seats.

In 1968, economic problems and industrial unrest led to his deposition by a bloodless coup led by Genearal Velasco Alvarado who introduced land reform but did not give any back to the Indian peasant groups. The Maoist guerrillas of Sendero Luminoso 'Shining Path' became active in the Indian region of southern Peru. Another bloodless coup brought General Morales Bermódes to power in 1975 and Belaóndeas re-elected in the elections which he called in 1980. He instituted reforms but by the 1985 elections Peru was facing an economic and social crisis and lost to the young Social Democrat, Alan Garcia Perez who began to cleanse the old guard in army and police, many of whom decided to retire.

Peru fell behind in debt repayments to the International Development Bank and credit was suspended, leading to huge inflations rates. P¾rez, who supported the Sandinista government in Nicaragua, criticized US policies in Latin America. His party lost popularity and his expected successor, the novelist Mario Vargas Llosa, leader of the centre-right Democratic Front coalition, (the constitution prevented P¾rez running again) lost in an election run-off to Alberto Fujimori, son of Japanese immigrants and leader of the new party Change 90. He instituted a severe economic adjustment programme and as opposition mounted, survived an assassination attempt and allied himself with the army. He was criticized internationally for suspending the assembly and sacking many top judges, ostensibly in a crackdown against rebels and drug traffickers and the US suspended humanitarian aid. After a challenge by his deputy, Maximo San Roman, who called him a dictator, Fujimori promised to return to democratic rule and remains in power despite renewed terrorist activity by Shining Path, whose leader, Abimael Guzman Reynoso, was imprisoned for life in October 1992.


Capital: Brasilia

Acre, Alagoas, Amapa, Amazonas, Bahia, Ceara, Distrito Federal, Espirito Santo, Goias, Maranhao, Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do Sul, Minas Gerais, Para, Paraiba, Parana, Pernambuco, Piaui, Riode Janeirro, Rio Grande do Norte, Rio Grande do Sul, Rondonia, Roraima, Sao Paulo, Sergipe

Languages: Portuguese, German, Japanese, Italian, Amerindian

The Portuguese explorer Pedro Alvares Cabral landed in 1500 and a colony, named after a legendary island in the Atlantic, was founded. At first, the main export was a red dye wood but the introduction of sugar cane led to a plantation economy in the coastal area with a third of Brazil's population of 2 million in 1800 being made up of black African slaves.

When Portugal was invaded by Napaoleon in 1808, John VI transferred his capital city from Lisbon to Rio de Janeiro. After his return home in 1821, his son Crown Prince Pedro remained as regent but declared Brazil independent with himself as Emperor in 1822. His son Pedro II persuaded many Portuguese to settle in the country and the central area developed fast, mostly as a result of slavery which was abolished in 1888. In 1889, Marshal Manuel Deodoro de Fonseca founded the First or Old Republic, a loose federation of states with Sao Paulo and Minas Gerais dominant, and adopted a new constitution in 1891. Around 3 million more European immigrants arrived, settling mainly on the coast.

Social unrest in the 1920s and the world economic crisis led to revolts by young army officers and a revolution of 1930 brought the benevolent dictator, Dr Getó lio Vargas, to power. He improved industry, state education, health and social services but made to resign by the army in 1945 and replaced as president by General Eurico Caspar Dutra. Vargas elected president in 1951 but was again removed by the military and committed suicide in 1954. His successor, Dr Juscelino Kubitschek's combined policies of nationalism and economic development led to economic expansion and building of a new capital city, Brasilia. Economic growth continued under a series of military dictatorships in the 1960s and 70s including Dr Janio Quandros 1961, Jo±o Goulart 1961-4, General Castelo Branco 1964-7, Marshal da Costa e Silva, 1967-9, General Ernesto Geisel and General Baptista de Figueiredo 1978-85.

The latter lifted the ban on opposition parties in 1979 and in 1985 TancredoNeves became the first elected president for 21 years but died a few months later and was replaced by Vice President Jos¾ Sarney. The constitution was amended to allow direct presidential elections and in 1989 the National Reconstruction Party (PRN) leader, FernandoCollor, narrowly defeated the Workers' Party leader Luis In«cio da Silva. The PRN won the 1990 general election but dissatisfaction with its policies was reflected in the large number of abstentions and in September 1992, Collor was removed by the national congress in favour of Vice President Itamar Franco.


Capital: La Paz

Beni, La Paz, Chuquisaia, Oruro, Pando, Potosi, Santa Cruz, Tarija

Languages: Spanish, Quechua, Aymara

This area of the Inca civilization was conquered by Spain in 1538 and remained under its rule until 1825 when it was liberated by the Venezuelan, SimÙ n Bolivar, after whom it is named. In 1829, Andr¾s Santa Cruz seized power and in 1936 joined a confederation with Peru which was put down by Chile in 1839. Bolivia was run by caudillos (military leaders) for most of the C19th and the Indians lost almost all the land they had still owned. In the War of the Pacific of 1881, Bolivia lost its coastal province and outlet to the sea and further territory went to Brazil at the turn of the century. During the 1930s the disastrous Chaco War over the border with Paraguay took place.

In the elections of 1951, Dr Victor Paz Estenssoro of the National Revolutionary Movement (MNR) returned from exile but did not gain an absolute majority and the army took over. Paz was returned by a popular uprising and began social reform. He lsot power in the 1956 election but returned in 1960 only to be overthrown by Vice President General Ren¾ Barrientos' military junta in 1964. Barrientos became president in 1966 but there was left wing opposition and the guerrilla uprising of Dr Ernesto 'Che' Guevara in 1967 needed US help to put it down.

Barrientos died in a plane crash in 1969 and his successor, the vice president, was replaced by General Alfredo Ovando. He was ousted by General Juan Torres who was overthrown by Colonel Hugo Banzer Su«rez in 1971. He announced a return to constitutional government but after a coup attempt 1974, he postponed the elections and banned trade unions and political activities. He agreed to elections in 1978 but they were declared invalid after fraud allegations and there were another two military coups that year.

In the 1979 elections, Dr Siles and Dr Paz had almost equal numbers of votes and an interim government was set up. The 1980 elections did not produce a clear winner either and another coup brought General Luis GarcÍa to power. He resigned the next year after allegation of drug trafficking and his successor General Celso Torrelio promised a return to democracy and appointed a mainly civilian cabinet. He resigned in 1982 and a hardline military junta led by General Guido Vildoso took over. Deterioration in the economy caused the junta to askcongress to elect a president and Dr Siles Zuazao became the leader of a coalition cabinet. Economic aid from the USA and Europe which had stopped in 1980, was resumed but the economy did not improve and the government's austerity measures were unpopular. Siles, who had been temporarily abducted by army officers, resigned in 1985 and after no-one gained an absolute majority in the elections, Dr Victor Paz Estenssoro was chosen by congress. His austerity measures reduced inflation. Although the MNR had slightly more votes than the Nationalist Democratic Action Party in the 1989 congressional elections, there was no clear majority and after an indecisive presidential election, Jaime Paz Zamora of the Movement of the Revolutionary Left negotiated a power-sharing agreement with former dictator Su«rez and was elected president. He promised to continue fiscal and monetary discipline and a free market but the new radical party, the Solidarity Civil Union, began to gain popular support.


Capital: Asunción

Alto Paraguay, Alto Paraná, Amambay, Boqueron, Caazapa, Caniadeyu, Chaco, Guaria, Itapua, Misiones, Presidente Hayes, San Pedro, Neembucu, Nueva Asunción

Languages: Spanish, Guarani

The Guarani Indians developed a settled agricultural civilization in this region. The Spaniard Sebastian Cabot was the first European arrival in 1526 and colonists founded the city of AsunciÙ n in 1537. From about 1600 most of the country was administered by Jesuit missionaries who were expelled in 1767. Paraguay became a subordinate province of the Spanish viceroyalty of Peru and was part of the Bueronos Aires viceroyalty after 1776.

It declared its independence in 1811 and the first president JGR Francia ruled as a despot from 1816-40. He was followed by his nephew, C A LÙl;pez, and in 1862 by his son, F S LÙ pez, who involved Paraguay in a war with Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay in which he was killed in 1870. Most of the male population was killed and numerous revolutions made recovery slow. The Chaco zone dispute with Bolivia developed into war in 1932-5 and it took arbitration by the USA and five other South American republics to achieve a peace settlement in 1938.

General MorÍnigo was president from 1940 and in 1948 was succeeded by General Alfredo Stroessner whose regime was strongly criticised by US president Jimmy Carter for human rights violations. He won eight consecutive terms of office by sharing profits with the army and business community and preventing opposition groups from combining against him but was overthrown in February 1989 by General Andr¾s RodrÍguez who was elected president in May with the Colorado Party also being successful in the general elections. In 1989-90, economic growth and political democracy improved and the assembly voted to write a new constitution.


Capital: Montevideo

Language: Spanish

Spanish settlers arrived in 1624 and Portuguese in 1680 and in the C18th the whole area came under Spanish rule which was overthrown by Jos¾ Artigas in 1814. He was driven out by Brazil in 1820 and fought over by Brazil and Argentina in 1825-8. Uruguay declared itself independent in 1825 but this was not recognized by its neighbours until 1853.

The 1836 civil war produced the two main political parties, the liberal Colorado (Reds) and conservative Blanco (Whites) named after flags carried in it. General Vinancio Flores of Colorado assumed power in 1865 and it remained in charge despite civil war and revolutionary action. In 1896, Colorado made a deal with Blanco which gave the latter control of six of the eighteen departments and the subsequent political stability encouraged foreign investment in agriculture and the development of the infrastructure. Peace and prosperity increased under Jos¾ Battle (1903-7 and 1911-15) and Uruguay gained a good international reputation, and became the first welfare state in Latin America.

There was collective leadership by the 'collegiate government' from 1951-66 until a new constitution was adopted and Blanco candidate Jorge Pacheco Areco became president. A rise in inflation, labour unrest and urban guerrilla activity by the Marxist group the Tupamaros, led by Raul Sendic, weakened his position and he was replaced by Colorado's Juan Maria Bordaberry Arocena in 1972. He crushed the Tupamaros, who had been named after the C18th revolutionary Tupac Amaru who claimed descent from the last Inca chief, and banned all left-wing groups. In 1976, his repressive regime was ended by the army when he refused to move towards constitutional government and Dr Aparicio M¾ndez Manfredini was made president.

There were promises to return to democracy but repression continued but when the economy deteriorated, the army was encouraged to return to constitutional government and appointed retired General Gregorio Alvarez Armellino as interim president. The army and main political parties could not agree on the form of constitution and strikes and demonstrations increased, reaching a crisis was reached in 1984. The 'Programme for National Accord' was signed. The slightly modified 1966 constitution restored and a general election held in 1985. Colorado won a narrow majority and its leader, Dr Julio Maria Sanguinetti, became president. By 1986 the army had relinquished power and the government of national accord included representatives of all the main parties. Blanco's Luis Lacalle Herrera was elected president in 1989 and concentrated on resolving the economic problems.


Capital: Santiago

Aconcagua, Aisen, Antofagasta, Arauco, Atacama, Bernardo O'Higgins, Bio-Bio, Cautin, Chiloé, Colchagua, Concepción, Coquimbo, Curico, Linares, Llanquihue, Malleco, Maule, Nuble, Osorro, Santiago, Talca, Tarapaca, Valdivia, Valparaiso

Languages: Spanish, Amerindian

The original occupants of this area were the Aracanian Indians who were invaded by the Inca Empire in the C15th. The first European to arrive was Ferdinand Magellan in 1520 and a Spanish colony was founded at Santiago by Pedro de Valdivia in 1541. Spanish settlers established an agricultural society but Indian rebellions continued until the late C19th. Chile became independent in 1818 and gained large amounts of new territory after the war with Peru and Bolivia in 1879.

During the C20th, left-wing and right-wing struggles have been frequent. Eduardo Frei's Christian Democrats 1964-70 were succeeded by a left-wing coalition under Dr Salvador Allende, the first democratically elected Marxist ruler. He promised social justice through constitutional processes and began a programme of nationalization. This included copper mines owned by the US which considered Allende to be pro-communist and encouraged opposition to him. He was killed in 1973 when General Augusto Pinochet overthrew the government. During his presidency, all political parties were banned and opponents were imprisoned, tortured or 'disappeared' and continued although a 'transition to democracy' was announced in 1980.

Pinochet tried to gain favour by a public works campaign but unrest increased and an anti-government bombing campaign began in 1984, resulting in a 90-day state of emergency followed by a 90-day state of siege. State terror, bombings and opposition by the Catholic Church continued and in 1988 Pinochet's proposal to remain in power for another eight years was rejected by a plebiscite. A second plebiscite in August 1989 approved constitutional changes leading to the return of legalized opposition parties and the moderate Christian Democratic Party candidate, Patricio Aylwin, became president in 1990. A government commission was set up to investigate the hundreds of political executions, murders and disappearances and Pinochet was banned from returning to active politics although he remained head of the armed forces. Negotiations for a free trade agreement with the USA in began in 1992. Late in 1998, General Pinochet who had moved to Britain, became the centre of international debate over whether he should be extradited to face charges relating to his period of government.


Capital: Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires, Catamarca, Chaco, Chubut, Cordoba, Entre Ríos, Formosa, Jujuy, La Pampa, La Rioja, Mendoza, Misiones, Neuquen, Salta, Santiago del Estero, Santa Cruz, Santa Fé, San Luis, San Juan, Tucuman, Tierra del Fuego

Languages: Spanish, Italian, Amerindian

The first Europeans arrived in the early C16th and founded Buenos Aires which had to be abandoned after Indian attacks and was re-established in 1580. In 1776, Argentina became a Spanish viceroyalty. The uprising of 1810 led to full independence in 1816 but the country was left in chaos. The dictatorship of Juan Manuel Rosas from 1827-52 controlled Buenos Aires and the interior and later regimes committed themselves to 'laissez-faire economic policies'.

In 1943, a military coup led to the rise to power of Lt-Gen Juan Domingo PerÙ n. His Peronista party was based on extreme nationalism and economic improvement and he was strengthened by the immense popularity of his wife, MarÍa Eva Duarte de PerÙn, known as 'Evita'. He was overthrown after her death in 1952 and civilian rule was restored in 1955 but the military returned to power after a coup in 1966. The leader of Peronist party Frente Justicialista de LiberaciÙn, Hector C«mpora, became president in 1973 but resigned after three months to make way for the return of PerÙn. At his death in 1974, he was succeeded by his third wife, MarÍa Estela (Isabel) MartÍnez de PerÙn but she was ousted by a military coup in 1976 and a three-person junta, led by Lt-Gen Jorge Videla, was installed.

It amended the constitution and banned political and trade union activity and began a fierce campaign against left-wing elements which was known as the 'dirty war' and led to the deaths of between 6000 and 15 000 people. Videla retired in 1978 and was succeeded by General Roberto Viola who promised to return to democracy. He died in 1981 and was succeeded by General Leopoldo Gualtieri. In 1982, to gain popular support and distract attention from economic problems, he invaded the Falkland Islands (Las Malvinas in Argentina) which were held by Britain although its claim to sovereignty had been disputed for some time. The UK re-occupied the islands after a short war and the failure of the invasion led to Gualtieri's replacement by General Reynaldo Bignone in a bloodless coup. Officers blamed for the defeat, including Gualtieri, were imprisoned and an amnesty was granted to those convicted of political crimes in the previous ten years.

Trade union and political activity became legal again and the 1983 elections were won by AlfonsÍn who reformed the armed forces, put the military juntas which had ruled since 1976 on trial and set up a committee to investigate the 'dirty war'. The 1989 presidential election was won by Carlos Menem and AlfonsÍ handed over power five months before his term ended to give Menem a chance to deal with the extremely high inflation that was causing social unrest. Menem and the Justicialist Party survived a financial scandal to win mid-term elections and inflation began to come down. A new currency, the peso, was introduced in January 1992 to replace the austral, now almost worthless.

Guyana (British Guiana)

Capital: Georgetown

Languages: English Creole, Hindi, Amerindian

This area was inhabited by Arawak, Carib and Warrau Indians when the first Europeans arrived in the late C16th. It was a Dutch colony from 1621 until it was seized by Britain in 1796. Under the Treaty of London in 1814, the three Dutch colonies of Essequibo, Demerara and Berbice were ceded to the UK and were united to form British Guiana in 1831 although a Dutch-style constitution was retained until 1891. The Dutch town Starbroek was re-named Georgetown and became the capital.

When the slave trade was abolished in 1807 and slavery in 1834, many platation owners were ruined. Immigration from India brought around 340 000 people to the country until it was stopped after pressure by the Indian government in 1917. Colonial government continued free elections allowed by a constitution introduced in 1953 were won by the People's Progressive Party, supported mainly by people of Indian descent under Dr Cheggi Jagan. The UK government claimed that the PPP threatened to become a communist dictatorship and suspended the constitution, putting in an interim government. The constitution was revised and more elections were held in 1957, the year that the People's National Congress party, a breakaway group from the PPP supported largely by people of African descent, was formed. The PPP was again victorious and Jagan became chief minister and prime minister when internal self-government was granted in 1961.

In 1963 proportional representation was brought in and the PPP, which did not gain an overall majority in the 1964 elections, formed a coalition with the PNC whose leader, Forbes Burnham, became prime minister. This held power until full independence was achieved in 1966. The PNC won the elections of 1968 and 1973 and Guyana became a republic within the Commonwealth in 1970. A new constitution of 1980 made the president head of state and government and although there were opposition complaints of fraud in the 1981 elections, Burnham became executive president. Economic decline, austerity measures and poor relations with Western powers, especially the USA, whose invasion of Grenada he condemned marked his last years and he died in 1985. He was succeeded by his prime minister Desmond Hoyte but the PPP had a decisive victory in the 1992 elections and Jagan returned as the new prime minister.

French Guiana (Guyane Fran¸ aise)

Capital: Cayenne

Languages: Cayenne, Inini, French, French Creole

This area was settled by France from 1604 and became a French possession in 1817. Penal colonies such as Devil's Island were established from 1852 onwards and convict shipments continued until 1945. It became French overseas d¾ partement in 1946 and a French administrative region in 1974.

Surinam (Dutch Guiana)

Capital: Paramaribo

Commewijne, Coronie, Marowijne, Nickerie, Pará, Saramacca, Suriname

Languages: Dutch Surinamese (Sranan Tongo), English, Hindi, Javanese

A British colony was founded here in 1650 but it became a Dutch possession in 1667. Although the slave trade was abolished in 1814, large numbers of Africans were illegally brought in to work the coffee, sugar and cotton plantations and when the Dutch colonies abolished slavery in 1863 many migrant workers arrived from India (around 34 000 from 1873-1916). In 1922, the Netherlands Constitution Act made it an integrated territory of the kingdom of the Netherlands and political tension increased with relations suspended entirely during WWII. In 1954 the country was made an equal member of the Netherlands as Dutch Guiana and was given internal self-government.

Full independence came in 1975 with Dr Johan Ferrier as president and Surinam National Party (NPS) leader, Henck Arron, as prime minister. In 1980, Arron's government was overthrown by a military coup but Ferrier refused to recognise the new regime and appointed Dr Henk Chin A Sen, of the Nationalist Republican Party, a head of a civilian administration. Dr Chin A Sen replaced Ferrier in another coup five months later and announced a draft constitution which was to reduce military influence on the government which led the army under Lt Col Desi Bouterse to dismiss him, setting up the Revolutionary People's Front. Years of instability including a period of martial law, six coup attempts by various army groups and the killing of opposition leaders led to the withdrawal of aid from the Netherlands and the US and Bouterse began to rely on Libya and Cuba instead.

In 1985, the partnership between trade unions, the army and business collapsed and Bouterse lifted the ban on political activity, turning to the traditional political parties, the NPS, the left-wing Indian Progressive Reform Party (VHP), and the Indonesian Party for National Unity and Solidarity (KTPI). Leaders of these three main parties were invited to take seats on the Supreme Council and Wym Udenhout became prime minister. In November 1987, the elections were won by the three-party Front for Democracy and Development (FDD) with Ramsewak Shankar as the elected president of the national assembly. A new constitution was approved in 1989 but Shankar was removed in a violent coup with which Bouterse denied involvement. In 1991, Johan Kraag was elected as a caretaker president and in the national elections of May 1991 the New Front for Democracy won 29 of the 51 seats in the national assembly with Ronald Venetiaan being elected president in September. There had been guerrilla activity but in August 1992 an agreement to end hostilities was signed by the two main groups, the Surinamese Liberation Army and the Tucayana Amazonas.

This collection of names was compiled by Kate Monk and is ©1997, Kate Monk.

Copies may be made for personal use only.

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