21.4 Latin American Nations Move Toward Democracy

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.

Photo of a room with a series of flags hung near a chandelier, with a circular desk where people are seated in discussion.

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.


  • Analyze how Latin America has grappled with poverty.
  • Describe the struggles of Latin American nations to build democratic governments.
  • Explain the struggle between repression and freedom in Argentina.

Key Terms

  • import substitution
  • agribusiness
  • liberation theology
  • indigenous
  • Sandinista
  • contra
  • Organization of American States (OAS)
  • Juan Perón
  • Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo
  • Oscar Romero

Poverty Challenges Latin America

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.

Promoting Industry and Agriculture

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.

End ofPage 866

Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments