An Overview of South America

South America is located in the Southern Hemisphere between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. Following is an overview of South America.

South America is defined as all the land south of the Panama Canal. The stark figures on South America categorize it as a middle of the pack type of content. Covering roughly 6.9 million square miles, it is the fourth largest continent covering approximately 3.5 percent of the surface of our planet. From a population standpoint, South America is home to roughly 370 million people, which makes it the fifth most populated continent.

South America was named by Westerners after the Italian Merchant, Amerigo Vespucci, who was the first to suggest the landmass was not part of the East Indies. A flamboyant writer, Vespucci went by Americus Vespucci when writing. Although there is much controversy about his authenticity, the new landmass discovered by Europeans was given the feminine version of his pen name – America. Obviously, the name also applies to North America.

Geographically, South America has many new attributes in geologic terms. The bridge connecting South and North America is also only 3 million years old, a blink of the eye in the history of the planet. The Andes run down the western coast of the country and are a recent addition. The central area of the continent is referred to as the Amazon basin and is lightly populated.

The dominant countries in South America are Argentina and Brazil if one goes on size. Brazil is the largest. Argentina has historically been “wealthier”, but an economic crisis in the early 21st century severely hampered the country.

South America has many natural resources. Venezuela has significant oil reserves, while iron and copper are present throughout the continent. The Amazon basin is thought to be home to many resources, including undiscovered medicinal plants, but much of it remains undiscovered to this day.

The Amazon River is one of the two biggest in the world with the other being the Nile. The Amazon River moves the most water by far, nearly double the amount in the Nile, but is shorter than the Nile. It starts in the Andes and runs through much of the continent. The minerals and soil it brings from the mountains gives rise to the fertile lands in the center of the continent. Approximately 40 percent of all the water in South America drains into the river.

Economically, South America has never really got it correct. Corruption tends to be the rule of the day. All governments are democracies, but prosperous middle classes are hard to come by in any of the countries. Revenues from the massive natural resources tend to be controlled by small, rich percentages of the population in each country. The remainder of the population typically lives close to or below accepted poverty levels. This situation has historically given rise to economic and political instability.

Historically, South America was home to a number of great lost civilizations. The Incas, of course, are the best known. Their reign, however, was a relatively short 100 years from 1430 to 1530. This short time period coincided with the exploration and eventual domination of South America by Spain and Portugal.

Spain and Portugal first discovered South America in 1494. They brought numerous diseases from Europe, which wiped out large swaths of South Americans who had no natural defences. The Incas are believed to have fallen because of this situation.

Both colonial powers were interested in South America. Spain controlled much of the country under a treaty with Portugal, but Portugal controlled Brazil. Indeed, Portuguese is the language spoken by Brazilians to this day. Regardless, both countries were heavily influenced by the Roman Catholic Church and attempted to convert much of the continent to Catholicism.

Most of the countries in South America were able to gain independence during the 19th century. A few remained colonies of Spain, but eventually gained independence in the 20th century.

Overall, South America is a continent of contrasts. From the peaks of the Andes to the rain forest of the Amazon, South America is a place at odds with itself.




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