In 2013, people across Latin America celebrated the selection of Argentina's Jorge Bergoglio as pope. He became the first person from the Western Hemisphere to lead the Roman Catholic Church. The new pope took the name Francis, after Francis of Assisi, who had devoted his life to the poor. Pope Francis was well known for his own advocacy for the poor during his life in Argentina and continued to address the issue as pope:

Since the 1980s, evangelical Protestant groups have won many converts in Latin America. Evangelical sects stress the authority of the Bible and belief in salvation through Jesus. Many poor people were attracted to evangelical Christianity. In addition to the Catholic Church and Protestant groups, other world religions had an established place in Latin America.

Photo of the pope greeting a large crowd outdoors holding flags.

Thousands of Catholics crowd into St. Peter's Square in Rome to see and hear Pope Francis on Easter Day 2013. Pope Francis, who is from Argentina, is the first pope from the Americas.

Dictatorships and Civil War

Most Latin American countries had constitutions that set up representative governments. Building true democracy, however, was difficult to achieve in nations plagued by poverty and inequality. From the 1950s on, many groups pressed for reforms. They included liberals, socialists, urban workers, peasants, and Catholic priests and nuns. Although they differed over how to achieve their goals, all wanted to improve conditions for the poor.

Conservative forces, however, resisted reforms. Among those who resisted change were the military, the traditional landed elite, and the growing business middle class. Conflict between conservatives and reformers contributed to political instability in many nations.

Military Leaders Seize Power

In the 1960s and 1970s, as social unrest increased, military governments in Argentina, Brazil, and Chile seized power. They imposed harsh, autocratic regimes, outlawed political parties, censored the press, and closed universities. They also imprisoned and executed thousands. “Death squads” linked to military rule murdered many more.

Photo of men and women facing a wall, some with hands up, watched by a policeman with night stick.

This March 1982 photograph shows police detaining people who were protesting the dictatorship in Argentina. Many protesters were jailed, and thousands who disagreed with the government were killed.

Writers, such as Pablo Neruda of Chile and Gabriel García Márquez of Colombia, went into exile after speaking out against repressive governments or social inequality.


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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