Regional contrasts are great, with few unifying institutions. However, the Catholic church provides one unifying element and all of the continent speaks Spanish, except Brazil where Portuguese is spoken, and little Guyana where English is spoken.
Urbanization is increasing rapidly. In 1925, about one in three South Americans lived in cities and towns. In 1980, the figure was two in three. One result has been high unemployment and the growth of barrios around the cities. Barrios are shack towns marked by poverty, illiteracy and health problems.
Development in South America has been slow because of the distances and natural barriers that separate countries and make some almost inaccessible. In this vast land are many illiterate, poverty-stricken Indians and people of mixed blood who have a separate culture. One observer described the country as beggers sitting on golden footstools. The land has great untapped mineral wealth. Venezuela is rich in oil, Colombia has emeralds and diamonds, Ecuador is the greatest producer of bananas, Peru has vast fishery resources offshore, Chile has copper, Argentina is a producer of wheat and cattle, and Brazil is the world’s largest coffee producer and second largest producer of soybeans.
Each South American country has its own character shaped by the land, its history and its people. Dictatorship is the rule. The strong man with charisma sits in the driver’s seat, backed or soon to be ousted by the military. In Paraguay the dictator always carries his hat in his hand. Under his hat, he carries a gun. Few governments last very long.
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