Latin America comprises Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, and South America. It includes 33 independent nations, ranging from small islands, such as Grenada, to giant Brazil. It is a diverse region in which each country has its own history and traditions. Despite differences, Latin American nations faced political, economic, and social challenges similar to those of other developing nations—rapid population growth, poverty, illiteracy, political instability, and authoritarian governments.
Flags of the member nations decorate the hall of the Organization of American States headquarters in Washington, D.C. Representatives discuss how to improve the lives of their citizens.
From the 1950s to the 1980s, economic development failed to change deep-rooted inequalities in many Latin American countries. Due to inequality and growing populations, most countries saw little improvement in living standards.
In Latin America, as in other developing regions, nations often relied heavily on a single cash crop or commodity. If harvests failed or if world demand for that commodity fell, their economies were hard hit.
To reduce dependence on imported goods, many Latin American governments in the 1950s and 1960s adopted a policy of import substitution, or manufacturing goods locally to replace expensive imported goods. Results were mixed. Many new industries did not produce efficiently and needed government or foreign capital to survive.
In time, Latin American governments moved from import substitution to promoting exports. They developed a variety of cash crops and encouraged mining and other industries that produced goods for export. Some worked with multinational corporations willing to invest in new projects.