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NORTHERN SOUTH AMERICA

Spanish influence remains strong in the four countries in this region that were once Spanish colonies (Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, and Venezuela). The others were colonized by Britain (Guyana), the Netherlands (Suriname), and France (French Guiana)—the last European colony. The people are a mix of native peoples, Europeans, and descendants of African slaves.

WHAT IS LATIN AMERICA?

South America is sometimes called Latin America because most South Americans speak the Latin-based languages Spanish and Portuguese. They learned these from Spanish and Portuguese invaders, who conquered and settled most of South America in the 16th century. Many strong ties of language, culture, and religion still link Latin America, Spain, and Portugal.

HOW DO PEOPLE MAKE A LIVING IN THE ANDES?

Most people in the Andes are farmers. Because fertile land is scarce, they cut terraces into the steep hillsides. Crops are chosen to suit either the hot, humid climate of the lower slopes or the cooler climate higher up. Animals such as the llama and alpaca are also kept for food and wool, which is used for clothing.

HAVE NATURAL RESOURCES HELPED NORTHERN SOUTH AMERICA?

This region has immense oil and mineral wealth: the oil reserves in Venezuela are the biggest outside the Middle East, and Colombia produces over half the world’s emeralds. But despite this wealth, public services have been neglected, and many people remain poor because the dangerous mining work is low-paid.

ARE ECUADOR’S MANGROVE SWAMPS IN DANGER?

The mangrove swamps of Ecuador’s Pacific coast teem with shrimp, and are a vital source of food, firewood, and timber for local people. Shrimp are Ecuador’s second-biggest export after oil, but while large shrimp farms have created much-needed jobs, they are slowly destroying the environment on which they depend.

WHAT IS HAPPENING TO SOUTH AMERICA’S RAINFORESTS?

About 30 percent of all the world’s plant and animal species live in the Amazon rainforest in Brazil, as do many native Indian tribes. Since 1970, vast swaths of forest have been cut down for timber, or to clear land for cattle pasture or new roads. Similar problems are also facing the forests of Colombia and Ecuador.

WHAT REMAINS OF THE INCA CIVILIZATION IN SOUTH AMERICA?

The Spanish destroyed the Inca Empire in the 1530s, but many buildings and some towns survived, such as the hilltop city of Machu Picchu. The Quechua Indians were the most powerful Incas, and groups of them still live on the high plains in the Andes.

WHAT ARE THE LOST WORLDS OF VENEZUELA?

More than 100 flat-topped sandstone hills called tepuis tower up to 3,300 ft (1,000 m) above Venezuela’s rainforests. They are called “lost worlds” because their remoteness has meant that some unique animals and plants have evolved there.

HOW DO THE OTAVALO INDIANS MAKE A LIVING?

Ecuador’s Otavalo Indians have adapted to modern life and are one of wealthiest groups of Indians in South America. They weave colorful ponchos, blankets, and rugs, which are in great demand in the US and Europe. The income this generates enables the Otavalo to continue their traditional way of life.

FACTFILE: NORTHERN SOUTH AMERICA

PERU

Capital city: Lima

Area: 496,223 sq miles (1,285,220 sq km)

Population: 26.5 million

Official languages: Spanish and Quechua

Major religion: Roman Catholic

Currency: New sol

ECUADOR

Capital city: Quito

Area: 109,483 sq miles (283,560 sq km)

Population: 13.1 million

Official language: Spanish

Major religion: Roman Catholic

Currency: US dollar

COLOMBIA

Capital city: Bogotá

Area: 439,733 sq miles (1,138,910 sq km)

Population: 43.5 million

Official language: Spanish

Major religion: Roman Catholic

Currency: Colombian peso

VENEZUELA

Capital city: Caracas

Area: 352,143 sq miles (912,050 sq km)

Population: 25.1 million

Official language: Spanish

Major religion: Roman Catholic

Currency: Bolívar

GUYANA

Capital city: Georgetown

Area: 83,000 sq miles (214,970 sq km)

Population: 765,000

Official language: English

Major religion: Christian

Currency: Guyana dollar

SURINAME

Capital city: Paramaribo

Area: 63,039 sq miles (163,270 sq km)

Population: 421,000

Official language: Dutch

Major religions: Hindu, Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Muslim

Currency: Suriname guilder or florin

FRENCH GUIANA

Capital city: Cayenne

Area: 33,025 sq miles (85,534 sq km)

Population: 172,605

Official language: French

Major religion: Roman Catholic

Currency: Euro

Copyright © 2007 Dorling Kindersley

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