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--  Argentina (12/08)
People

Nationality: Noun and adjective--Argentine(s).
Population (July 2007 est.): 40.3 million.
Annual population growth rate (2001): 1.05%.
Ethnic groups: European 97%, mostly of Spanish and Italian descent; Mestizo, Amerindian, or other nonwhite groups 3%.
Religions: Roman Catholic 70%, Protestant 9%, Muslim 1.5%, Jewish 0.8%, other 2.5%.
Language: Spanish.
Education: Compulsory until age 18. Adult literacy (2001)--97%.
Health: Infant mortality rate--16.16/1,000. Life expectancy (2000 est.)--75.48 yrs.
Work force: Industry and commerce--35.8%; agriculture--9.5%; services--54.7%.

Argentines are a fusion of diverse national and ethnic groups, with descendants of Italian and Spanish immigrants predominant. Waves of immigrants from many European countries arrived in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Syrian, Lebanese, and other Middle Eastern immigrants number about 500,000 to 600,000, mainly in urban areas. Argentina's population is overwhelmingly Catholic, but it also has the largest Jewish population in Latin America, estimated at between 280,000 and 300,000. In recent years, there has been a substantial influx of immigrants from neighboring countries, particularly Paraguay, Bolivia, and Peru. The indigenous population, estimated at 700,000, is concentrated in the provinces of the north, northwest, and south. The Argentine population has one of Latin America's lowest growth rates. Eighty percent of the population resides in cities or towns of more than 2,000, and over one-third lives in the greater Buenos Aires area.


--  Belize (10/05)
People
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Belizean(s).
Population (2004 est.): 282,600.
Annual growth rate (2004 est.): 6.0%.
Ethnic groups: Creole, Garifuna, Mestizo, Mayan.
Religions: Roman Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, other Protestant, Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist.
Languages: English (official), Creole, Spanish, Garifuna, Mayan.
Education: Years compulsory--9. (2000 est.): Attendance--60%. Literacy--76.5%.
Health: (2003): Infant mortality rate--14.8/1,000. Life expectancy--67.4 years.
Work force (April 2004, 108,491): Services--61.4%. Agriculture, hunting, forestry, and fishing--20.4%. Industry and commerce--18.2%.

Belize is the most sparsely populated nation in Central America. It is larger than El Salvador and compares in size to the State of Massachusetts. Slightly more than half of the population lives in rural areas. About one-fourth live in Belize City, the principal port, commercial center, and former capital.

Most Belizeans are of multiracial descent. About 48.7% of the population is of mixed Mayan and European descent (Mestizo); 24.9% are of African and Afro-European (Creole) ancestry; about 10.6% are Mayan; and about 6.1% are Afro-Amerindian (Garifuna). The remainder, about 9.7%, includes European, East Indian, Chinese, Middle Eastern, and North American groups.

English, the official language, is spoken by virtually all except the refugees who arrived during the past decade. Spanish is the native tongue of about 50% of the people and is spoken as a second language by another 20%. The various Mayan groups still speak their indigenous languages, and an English Creole dialect similar to the Creole dialects of the English-speaking Caribbean Islands is spoken by most. The rate of functional literacy is 76%. About 50% of the population is Roman Catholic; the Anglican Church and other Protestant Christian groups account for most of the remaining 50%. Mennonite settlers number about 8,500.

--  Bolivia (03/06)
People
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Bolivian(s).
Population (2004): 8,973,281 (estimated); (2005) 9,219,149 (projected).
Annual population growth rate: 2.74%.
Ethnic groups: 62% indigenous (primarily Aymara, Quechua, Guarani), 38% European and mixed.
Religions: Predominantly Roman Catholic; minority Protestant.
Languages: Spanish (official); Quechua, Aymara, Guarani.
Education: Years compulsory--ages 7-14. Literacy--85.5%.
Health (2000): Infant mortality rate--57.5.
Work force (2.9 million): Nonagricultural employment--1.26 million; services, including government--70%; industry and commerce--30%.

Bolivia's ethnic distribution is estimated to be 56%-70% indigenous people, and 30%-42% European and mixed. The largest of the approximately three-dozen indigenous groups are the Quechua (2.5 million), Aymara (2 million), Chiquitano (180,000), and Guarani (125,000). There are small German, former Yugoslav, Asian, Middle Eastern, and other minorities, many of whose members descend from families that have lived in Bolivia for several generations.

Bolivia is one of the least-developed countries in South America. Almost two-thirds of its people, many of whom are subsistence farmers, live in poverty. Population density ranges from less than one person per square kilometer in the southeastern plains to about 10 per square kilometer (25 per sq. mi.) in the central highlands. The annual population growth rate is about 2.7% (2005).

La Paz is at the highest elevation of the world's capital cities--3,600 meters (11,800 ft.) above sea level. The adjacent city of El Alto, at 4,200 meters above sea level, is one of the fastest-growing in the hemisphere. Santa Cruz, the commercial and industrial hub of the eastern lowlands, also is experiencing rapid population and economic growth.

The great majority of Bolivians are Roman Catholic (the official religion), although Protestant denominations are expanding strongly. Many indigenous communities interweave pre-Columbian and Christian symbols in their religious practices. About half of the people speak Spanish as their first language. Approximately 90% of the children attend primary school but often for a year or less. The literacy rate is low in many rural areas.

The cultural development of what is present-day Bolivia is divided into three distinct periods: pre-Columbian, colonial, and republican. Important archaeological ruins, gold and silver ornaments, stone monuments, ceramics, and weavings remain from several important pre-Columbian cultures. Major ruins include Tiwanaku, Samaipata, Incallajta, and Iskanwaya. The country abounds in other sites that are difficult to reach and have seen little archaeological exploration.

The Spanish brought their own tradition of religious art which, in the hands of local indigenous and mestizo builders and artisans, developed into a rich and distinctive style of architecture, painting, and sculpture known as "Mestizo Baroque." The colonial period produced not only the paintings of Perez de Holguin, Flores, Bitti, and others but also the works of skilled but unknown stonecutters, woodcarvers, goldsmiths, and silversmiths. An important body of native baroque religious music of the colonial period was recovered in recent years and has been performed internationally to wide acclaim since 1994.

Bolivian artists of stature in the 20th century include, among others, Guzman de Rojas, Arturo Borda, Maria Luisa Pacheco, and Marina Nunez del Prado. Bolivia has rich folklore. Its regional folk music is distinctive and varied. The "devil dances" at the annual carnival of Oruro are one of the great folkloric events of South America, as is the lesser known carnival at Tarabuco

--  Brazil (04/06)

PEOPLE AND HISTORY
With its estimated 186 million inhabitants, Brazil has the largest population in Latin America and ranks fifth in the world. The majority of people live in the south-central area, which includes the industrial cities of Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Belo Horizonte. Urban growth has been rapid; by 2005, 81% of the total population was living in urban areas. This growth has aided economic development but also has created serious social, security, environmental, and political problems for major cities.

Six major groups make up the Brazilian population: the Portuguese, who colonized Brazil in the 16th century; Africans brought to Brazil as slaves; various other European, Middle Eastern, and Asian immigrant groups who have settled in Brazil since the mid-19th century; and indigenous peoples of Tupi and Guarani language stock. Intermarriage between the Portuguese and indigenous people or slaves was common. Although the major European ethnic stock of Brazil was originally Portuguese, subsequent waves of immigration have contributed to a diverse ethnic and cultural heritage.

From 1875 until 1960, about 5 million Europeans immigrated to Brazil, settling mainly in the four southern states of Sao Paulo, Parana, Santa Catarina, and Rio Grande do Sul. Immigrants have come mainly from Italy, Germany, Spain, Japan, Poland, and the Middle East. The largest Japanese community outside Japan is in Sao Paulo. Despite class distinctions, national identity is strong, and racial friction is a relatively new phenomenon. Indigenous full-blooded Indians, located mainly in the northern and western border regions and in the upper Amazon Basin, constitute less than 1% of the population. Their numbers are declining as contact with the outside world and commercial expansion into the interior increase. Brazilian Government programs to establish reservations and to provide other forms of assistance have existed for years but are controversial and often ineffective.

Brazil is the only Portuguese-speaking nation in the Americas. About three quarters of all Brazilians belong to the Roman Catholic Church; most others are Protestant or follow practices derived from African religions.

Pedro Alvares Cabral claimed Brazil for Portugal in 1500. The colony was ruled from Lisbon until 1808, when Dom Joao VI and the rest of the Portuguese royal family fled from Napoleon's army, and established its seat of government in Rio de Janeiro. Dom Joao VI returned to Portugal in 1821. His son declared Brazil's independence on September 7, 1822, and became emperor with the title of Dom Pedro I. His son, Dom Pedro II, ruled from 1831 to 1889, when a federal republic was established in a coup led by Deodoro da Fonseca, Marshal of the Army. Slavery had been abolished a year earlier by the Regent Princess Isabel while Dom Pedro II was in Europe.

From 1889 to 1930, the government was a constitutional republic, with the presidency alternating between the dominant states of Sao Paulo and Minas Gerais. This period ended with a military coup that placed Getulio Vargas, a civilian, in the presidency; Vargas remained as dictator until 1945. Between 1945 and 1961, Jose Linhares, Gaspar Dutra, Vargas himself, Café Filho, Carlos Luz, Nereu Ramos, Juscelino Kubitschek, and Janio Quadros were elected presidents. When Quadros resigned in 1961, Vice President Joao Goulart succeeded him.

Goulart's years in office were marked by high inflation, economic stagnation, and the increasing influence of radical political elements. The armed forces, alarmed by these developments, staged a coup on March 31, 1964. The coup leaders chose as president Humberto Castello Branco, followed by Arthur da Costa e Silva (1967-69), Emilio Garrastazu Medici (1969-74), and Ernesto Geisel (1974-79), all of whom were senior army officers. Geisel began a democratic opening that was continued by his successor, Gen. Joao Baptista de Oliveira Figueiredo (1979-85). Figueiredo not only permitted the return of politicians exiled or banned from political activity during the 1960s and 1970s, but also allowed them to run for state and federal offices in 1982.

At the same time, an electoral college consisting of all members of congress and six delegates chosen from each state continued to choose the president. In January 1985, the electoral college voted Tancredo Neves from the opposition Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB) into office as President. However, Neves became ill in March and died a month later. His Vice President, former Senator Jose Sarney, became President upon Neves' death. Brazil completed its transition to a popularly elected government in 1989, when Fernando Collor de Mello won 53% of the vote in the first direct presidential election in 29 years. In 1992, a major corruption scandal led to his impeachment and ultimate resignation. Vice President Itamar Franco took his place and governed for the remainder of Collor's term culminating in the October 3, 1994 presidential elections, when Fernando Henrique Cardoso was elected President with 54% of the vote. Cardoso took office January 1, 1995, and pursued a program of ambitious economic reform. He was re-elected in October 1998 for a second four-year term. Luiz Inacio da Silva, commonly known as Lula, was elected president in 2002, after his fourth campaign for the office.

President Lula, a former union leader, is Brazil's first working-class president. Since taking office he has taken a prudent fiscal path, warning that social reforms would take years and that Brazil had no alternative but to maintain tight fiscal austerity policies. Economic growth in 2004 and the first half of 2005 was strong with increases in employment and real wages. Growth slowed somewhat in the second half of 2005, but is expected to accelerate in 2006.

--  Chile (07/06)
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Chilean(s).
Population (2003): 15.1 million.
Annual population growth rate: 1.2%.
Ethnic groups: Spanish-Native-American (mestizo), European, Native-American.
Religions: Roman Catholic 69.9%; Protestant 15%.
Language: Spanish.
Education: Years compulsory--12. Attendance--3 million. Adult literacy rate--95.8%.
Health: Infant mortality rate--8.9/1,000. Life expectancy--79 yrs.
Work force (6.0 million); employed 5.5 million: Community, social and individual services--26%; industry--14.4%; commerce--17.6%; agriculture, forestry, and fishing--13.9%; construction--7.1%; financial services--7.5%; transportation and communication--8.0%; electricity, gas and water--0.5%; mining--1.2%.

About 85% of Chile's population lives in urban areas, with 40% living in greater Santiago. Most have Spanish ancestry. A small, yet influential number of Irish and English immigrants came to Chile during the colonial period. German immigration began in 1848 and lasted for 90 years; the southern provinces of Valdivia, Llanquihue, and Osorno show a strong German influence. Other significant immigrant groups are Italian, Croatian, Basque, and Palestinian. About 800,000 Native Americans, mostly of the Mapuche tribe, reside in the south-central area. The Aymara and Diaguita groups can be found mainly in Chile’s northern desert valleys.

--  Colombia (02/06)
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Colombian(s).
Population (2005 projected): 46 million.
Annual population growth: 1.8%.
Religion: Roman Catholic 90%.
Language: Spanish.
Education: Years compulsory--9. Attendance--80% of children enter school. Only 5 years of primary school are offered in many rural areas. Literacy--93% in urban areas, 67% in rural areas.
Health: Infant mortality rate--25/1,000. Life expectancy (2000-05 period)--men 69 yrs., women 75 yrs.
Ethnic groups: Mestizo (58%), white (20%), mulatto (14%), black (4%), mixed black-Amerindian (3%), and Amerindian (1%)

Colombia is the third-most populous country in Latin America, after Brazil and Mexico. Thirty cities have a population of 100,000 or more. The nine eastern lowlands departments, constituting about 54% of Colombia's area, have less than 3% of the population and a density of less than one person per square kilometer (two persons per sq. mi.). Ethnic diversity in Colombia is a result of the intermingling of indigenous peoples, Europeans, and Africans. Today, only about 1% of the people can be identified as fully indigenous on the basis of language and customs.

--  Costa Rica (06/06)
People
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Costa Rican(s).
Population (July 2005 est.): 4.02 million.
Annual growth rate (2005 est.): 1.48%.
Ethnic groups: European and some mestizo 94%, African origin 3%, Chinese 1%, indigenous 1%, other 1%.
Religion: Roman Catholic 76.3%, Protestant approx. 15.7%, others 4.8%, none 3.2%.
Languages: Spanish, with a southwestern Caribbean Creole dialect of English spoken around the Limon area.
Education: Years compulsory--9. Attendance--99% grades 1-6, 71% grades 7-9. Literacy--96%.
Health: Infant mortality rate--9.95/1,000. Life expectancy--men 74.26 yrs., women 79.55 yrs.
Work force (2004 est., 1.81 million): Services--71.3%; agriculture--14.6%; industry--14%.

Unlike many of their Central American neighbors, present-day Costa Ricans are largely of European rather than mestizo descent; Spain was the primary country of origin. However, an estimated 10% to 15% of the population is Nicaraguan, of fairly recent arrival and primarily of mestizo origin. Descendants of 19th-century Jamaican immigrant workers constitute an English-speaking minority and--at 3% of the population--number about 119,000. Few of the native Indians survived European contact; the indigenous population today numbers about 29,000 or less than 1% of the population.

--  Cuba (12/05)
Population: 11 million; 70% urban, 30% rural.
Ethnic groups: 51% mulatto, 37% white, 11% black, 1% Chinese (according to Cuban census data).
Language: Spanish. Literacy--97%.
Work force (4.5 million): Government and services--30%; industry--22%; agriculture--24%; commerce--11%; construction--11%; transportation and communications--6%.

Cuba is a multiracial society with a population of mainly Spanish and African origins. The largest organized religion is the Roman Catholic Church, but evangelical protestant denominations continue to grow rapidly. Afro-Cuban religions, a blend of native African religions and Roman Catholicism, are widely practiced in Cuba. Officially, Cuba has been an atheist state for most of the Castro era. In 1962, the government of Fidel Castro seized and shut down more than 400 Catholic schools, charging that they spread dangerous beliefs among the people. In 1991, however, the Communist Party lifted its prohibition against religious believers seeking membership, and a year later the constitution was amended to characterize the state as secular instead of atheist.

While the Cuban constitution recognizes the right of citizens to freedom of religion, the government de facto restricts that freedom. Twenty-two denominations, including Presbyterians, Episcopalians, and Methodists, are members of the Cuban Council of Churches (CCC). Most CCC members are officially recognized by the State, though several, including the Evangelical Lutheran Church, are not registered and are recognized only through their membership in the CCC. Another 31 officially recognized denominations, including Jehovah's Witnesses and the small Jewish community, do not belong to the CCC. The government does not favor any one particular religion or church; however, the government appears to be most tolerant of those churches that maintain close relations to the State through the CCC. Unregistered religious groups experience various degrees of official interference, harassment, and repression. The Ministry of Interior engages in active efforts to control and monitor the country's religious institutions, including through surveillance, infiltration and harassment of religious professionals and practitioners. The most independent religious organizations--including the Catholic Church, the largest independent institution in Cuba today--continue to operate under significant restrictions and pressure imposed on them by the Cuban regime. The Cuban Government continues to refuse to allow the church to have independent printing press capabilities; full access to the media; to train enough priests for its needs or allow adequate numbers of foreign priests to work in the country; or to establish socially useful institutions, including schools and universities, hospitals and clinics, and nursing homes. All registered denominations must report to the Ministry of Interior's Office of Religious Affairs.

The visit of Pope John Paul II in January 1998 was seen as an important, positive event for bringing a message of hope and the need for respect of human rights. Unfortunately, these improvements did not continue once the Pope left the island. While some visas were issued for additional priests to enter Cuba around the time of the visit, the regime has again sharply restricted issuance of visas. Moreover, despite explicit regime guarantees and repeated follow-up requests, the regime has refused to permit the Catholic Church to establish Internet connections or an intranet among dioceses on the Island. In a pastoral letter entitled "There is No Country Without Virtue" ("No Hay Patria Sin Virtud"), the Cuban Conference of Catholic Bishops in February 2003 openly criticized the government's strict control over the activities of the Catholic Church, especially state restrictions on religious education and Church access to mass media, as well as the increasingly amoral and irreligious character of Cuban society under Communist rule.

Other Cuban religious groups--including evangelical Christians, whose numbers continue to grow rapidly--also have benefited from the relative relaxation of official restrictions on religious organizations and activities. Although particularly hard hit by emigration, Cuba's small Jewish community continues to hold services in Havana and has members in Santiago, Camaguey, and other parts of the island. See also the Department's report on international religious freedom for further information.
 

 

--  Dominican Republic (06/06)
People

Nationality: Noun and adjective--Dominican(s).
Population (2001): 9.2 million.
Annual growth rate (2005): 7.5%.
Ethnic groups: European 16%, African origin 11%, mixed 73%.
Religion: Roman Catholic 95%.
Language: Spanish.
Education: Years compulsory--6 Attendance--70%. Literacy--84.7%.
Health: Infant mortality rate: 28.3/1,000. Life expectancy--70.2 years for men, 73.3 years for women.
Work force: 60.2% services (tourism, transportation, communications, finances, others), 15.5% industry (manufacturing), 11.5% construction, 11.3% agriculture, 1.5% mining.

About half of Dominicans live in rural areas; many are small landholders. Haitians form the largest foreign minority group. All religions are tolerated; the state religion is Roman Catholicism.


--  Ecuador (06/06)
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Ecuadorian(s).
Population (July 2005 est.): 13,363,593
Annual population growth rate (July 2005 est.): 1.24%.
Ethnic groups: Indigenous 25%, mestizo (mixed Indian and Spanish) 65%, Caucasian and others 7%, African 3%.
Religion: Predominantly Roman Catholic (95%), but religious freedom recognized.
Languages: Spanish (official), indigenous languages, especially Quichua, the Ecuadorian dialect of Quechua.
Education: Years compulsory--ages 6-14, but enforcement varies. Attendance (through 6th grade)--76% urban, 33% rural. Literacy--92%.
Health: Infant mortality rate--23.66/1,000. Life expectancy--76.21 yrs.

Ecuador's population is ethnically mixed. The largest ethnic groups are indigenous and mestizo (mixed Indian-Caucasian). Although Ecuadorians were heavily concentrated in the mountainous central highland region a few decades ago, today's population is divided about equally between that area and the coastal lowlands. Migration toward cities--particularly larger cities--in all regions has increased the urban population to over 60%. The tropical forest region to the east of the mountains remains sparsely populated and contains only about 3% of the population. Due to an economic crisis in the late 1990s, more than 600,000 Ecuadorians emigrated to the U.S. and Europe from 2000 to 2001. It is estimated that there are over two million Ecuadorians currently residing in the U.S.

--  El Salvador (12/05)
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Salvadoran(s).
Population (2003): 6.6 million.
Annual growth rate (2003): 2%.
Ethnic groups: Mestizo 90%, indigenous 1%, Caucasian 9%.
Religion: About 55% Roman Catholic, with significant and growing numbers of Protestant groups.
Language: Spanish.
Education: Free through ninth grade. Attendance (grades 1-9)--85%. Literacy--84.1% nationally; 75.3% in rural areas.
Health: Infant mortality rate (2003)--26.4/1,000. Life expectancy at birth (2003)--70.6 years.
Work force (about 2.7 million, 2003): Agriculture--17.1%; services--19.8%; commerce--28.8%; manufacturing--17.8%; construction--6.5%; transportation and communication--4.5%; other--4.4%.

El Salvador's population numbers about 6.6 million. Almost 90% is of mixed Indian and Spanish extraction. About 1% is indigenous; very few Indians have retained their customs and traditions. The country's people are largely Roman Catholic and Protestant. Spanish is the language spoken by virtually all inhabitants. The capital city of San Salvador has about 1.7 million people; an estimated 42% of El Salvador's population live in rural areas.

--  Guatemala (11/05)
People
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Guatemalan(s).
Population (2005 est.): 12.7 million.
Annual population growth rate (2005 est.): 2.5%.
Ethnic groups: Mestizo (mixed Spanish-Indian), indigenous.
Religions: Roman Catholic, Protestant, traditional Mayan.
Languages: Spanish, 24 indigenous languages (principally Kiche, Kaqchikel, Q'eqchi, and Mam).
Education: Years compulsory--6. Attendance--41%. Literacy--70.6%.
Health: Infant mortality rate--36.9/1,000. Life expectancy--65.19 yrs.
Work force salaried breakdown: Services--40%; industry and commerce--37%; agriculture--15%; construction, mining, utilities--4%. Fifty percent of the population engages in some form of agriculture, often at the subsistence level outside the monetized economy.

More than half of Guatemalans are descendants of indigenous Mayan peoples. Westernized Mayans and mestizos (mixed European and indigenous ancestry) are known as Ladinos. Most of Guatemala's population is rural, though urbanization is accelerating. The predominant religion is Roman Catholicism, into which many indigenous Guatemalans have incorporated traditional forms of worship. Protestantism and traditional Mayan religions are practiced by an estimated 40% and 1% of the population, respectively. Though the official language is Spanish, it is not universally understood among the indigenous population. The peace accords signed in December 1996 provide for the translation of some official documents and voting materials into several indigenous languages.

--  Honduras (01/06)
People
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Honduran(s).
Population (2005 est.): 7 million.
Growth rate (2005 est.): 2.2%.
Ethnic groups: 90% mestizo (mixed Indian and European); others of European, Arab, African, or Asian ancestry; and indigenous Indians.
Religions: Roman Catholic, Protestant minority.
Language: Spanish.
Education (2003): Years compulsory--6. Attendance--88% overall, 31% at junior high level. Literacy--76.2%.
Health: Infant mortality rate--29.64/1,000. Life expectancy--66.2 yrs.
Work force: Services--42.2%; natural resources/agriculture--35.9%; manufacturing--16.3%; construction/housing--5.6%.

About 90% of the population is mestizo. There also are small minorities of European, African, Asian, Arab, and indigenous Indian descent. Most Hondurans are Roman Catholic, but Protestant churches are growing in number. While Spanish is the predominant language, some English is spoken along the northern coast and is prevalent on the Caribbean Bay Islands. Several indigenous Indian languages and Garífuna (a mixture of Afro-indigenous languages) are also spoken. The restored Mayan ruins near the Guatemalan border in Copan reflect the great Mayan culture that flourished there for hundreds of years until the early 9th century. Columbus landed at mainland Honduras (Trujillo) in 1502, and named the area "Honduras" (meaning "depths") for the deep water off the coast. Spaniard Hernan Cortes arrived in 1524.

--  Mexico (12/05)

People
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Mexican(s).
Population (2004 estimate): 105 million.
Annual growth rate (2004 net): 1.2%.
Ethnic groups: Indian-Spanish (mestizo) 60%, Indian 30%, Caucasian 9%, other 1%.
Religions: Roman Catholic 89%, Protestant 6%, other 5%.
Language: Spanish.
Education: Years compulsory--12 (note: preschool education was made mandatory in Dec. 2001). Literacy--89.4%.
Health (2004 est.): Infant mortality rate--21.69/1000. Life expectancy--male 72.18 years; female 77.83 years.
Work force (2000, 39.81 million): Agriculture, forestry, hunting, fishing--21.0%; services--32.2%; commerce--16.9%; manufacturing--18.7%; construction--5.6%; transportation and communication--4.5%; mining and quarrying--1.0%.

Mexico is the most populous Spanish-speaking country in the world and the second most-populous country in Latin America after Portuguese-speaking Brazil. About 70% of the people live in urban areas. Many Mexicans emigrate from rural areas that lack job opportunities--such as the underdeveloped southern states and the crowded central plateau--to the industrialized urban centers and the developing areas along the U.S.-Mexico border. According to some estimates, the population of the area around Mexico City is about 18 million, which would make it the largest concentration of population in the Western Hemisphere. Cities bordering on the United States--such as Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez--and cities in the interior--such as Guadalajara, Monterrey, and Puebla--have undergone sharp rises in population in recent years.

Education is one of the Government of Mexico’s highest priorities. The education budget has increased significantly in recent years; funding in real terms for education has increased by almost 25% over the last decade. Education in Mexico also is being decentralized from federal to state authority in order to improve accountability. Although educational levels in Mexico have improved substantially in recent decades, the country still faces daunting problems.

Education is mandatory from ages 6 through 18. In addition, the Mexican Congress voted in December of 2001 to make one year of preschool mandatory, which went into effect in 2004. The increase in school enrollments during the past two decades has been dramatic. By 1999, 94% of the population between the ages of 6 and 14 were enrolled in school. Primary, including preschool, enrollment totaled 17.2 million in 2000. Enrollment at the secondary public school level rose from 1.4 million in 1972 to 5.4 million in 2000. A rapid rise also occurred in higher education. Between 1959-2000 college enrollments rose from 62,000 to more than 2.0 million.

--  Nicaragua (11/05)
People
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Nicaraguan(s).
Population (2005 est.): 5.48 million.
Annual growth rate (2005 est.): 1.75%. Density--42 per sq. km.
Ethnic groups: Mestizo (mixed European and indigenous) 69%, white 17%, black (Jamaican origin) 9%, indigenous 5%.
Religion: Predominantly Roman Catholic, with rapidly growing percentage of Evangelical Protestants.
Languages: Spanish (official), English and indigenous languages on Caribbean coast.
Education: Years compulsory--none enforced (28% of first graders eventually finish sixth grade). Literacy—67.5%.
Health (2005): Life expectancy--70 yrs. Infant mortality rate—35.50/1,000.
Work force (2004 est.): 1.9 million. Unemployed--12%; underemployed--35%.

Most Nicaraguans are of both European and Indian ancestry, and the culture of the country reflects the Ibero-European and Indian heritage of its people. Only the Indians of the eastern half of the country remain ethnically distinct and retain tribal customs and languages. A large black minority, of Jamaican origin, is concentrated on the Caribbean coast. In the mid-1980s, the central government divided the eastern half of the country--the former department of Zelaya--into two autonomous regions and granted the people of the region limited self-rule.

Roman Catholicism is the major religion, but Evangelical Protestant groups have grown recently, and there are strong Anglican and Moravian communities on the Caribbean coast. Most Nicaraguans live in the Pacific lowlands and the adjacent interior highlands. The population is 58% urban.

--  Panama (01/06)

People
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Panamanian(s).
Population (2004 estimate): 3.2 million.
Annual growth rate: 1.7%.
Ethnic groups: Mestizo (mixed Amerindian and European ancestry) 70%, Amerindian and mixed (West Indian) 14%, Caucasian 10%, Amerindian 6%.
Religions: Roman Catholic 84%, Protestant 15%, other 1%.
Languages: Spanish (official); 14% speak English as their native tongue; various indigenous languages. Many Panamanians are bilingual.
Education: Years compulsory--6. Attendance--95% for primary school-age children, 60% for secondary. Literacy--92.6% overall: urban 94%, rural 62%.
Health: Infant mortality rate--15.2/1,000. Life expectancy--75.0 yrs.
Work force (1.4 million): Commerce (wholesale and retail)--19.1%; agriculture, cattle, hunting, silviculture--14%; industries (manufactures)--8.8%; construction--7.7%; transportation, storage, communications--7.2%; public and defense administration--6.9%; other community and social activities--5.8%; hotels and restaurants--3.7%; financial intermediation--2.6%.

Panamanians’ culture, customs, and language are predominantly Caribbean Spanish. The majority of the population is ethnically mestizo or mixed Spanish, Indigenous, Chinese, and West Indian. Spanish is the official and dominant language; English is a common second language spoken by the West Indians and by many businesspeople and professionals. More than half the population lives in the Panama City-Colon metropolitan corridor.

Panama is rich in folklore and popular traditions. Lively salsa--a mixture of Latin American popular music, rhythm and blues, jazz, and rock--is a Panamanian specialty, and Ruben Blades its best-known performer. Indigenous influences dominate handicrafts such as the famous Kuna textile molas. Artist Roberto Lewis' Presidential Palace murals and his restoration work and ceiling in the National Theater are well known and admired.

More than 65,000 Panamanian students attend the University of Panama, the Technological University, and the University of Santa Maria La Antigua, a private Catholic institution. Including smaller colleges, there are 14 institutions of higher education in Panama. The first six years of primary education are compulsory, and there are about 357,000 students currently enrolled in grades one through six. The total enrollment in the six secondary grades is about 207,000. More than 90% of Panamanians are literate.

-- Peru (06/06)
People
Nationality: Peruvian.
Ethnic groups: Indigenous (45%), mixed background ("mestizo") (37%), European (15%), African, Japanese, Chinese, and other (3%).
Population: 27.2 million (2005 census). Approximately 30% of the population lives in the Lima/Callao metropolitan area.
Annual population growth rate (2005 est.): 1.46%.
Religions: Roman Catholic (90%), Seventh Day Adventist (1.4%), other Christian (0.7%).
Languages: Spanish is the principal language. Quechua, Aymara and other indigenous languages also have official status.
Education: Years compulsory--11. Attendance--92% ages 6-11, and 66% ages 12-16. Literacy--95% in urban areas, 77% in rural areas.
Health: Infant mortality rate (2005)--31.94/1,000. Life expectancy (2005)--67.77 years male; 71.37 years female.
Unemployment (2005): 9.6%; underemployment (2005): 54.9%.

Peru is the fifth most populous country in Latin America (after Brazil, Mexico, Colombia and Argentina). Twenty-one cities have a population of 100,000 or more. Rural migration has increased the urban population from 35.4% of the total population in 1940 to an estimated 73% today.

Most Peruvians are either Spanish-speaking mestizos--a term that usually refers to a mixture of indigenous and European/Caucasian--or Amerindians, largely Quechua-speaking indigenous people. Peruvians of European descent make up about 15% of the population. There also are small numbers of persons of African, Japanese, and Chinese ancestry. Socioeconomic and cultural indicators are increasingly important as identifiers. For example, Peruvians of Amerindian descent who have adopted aspects of Hispanic culture also are considered mestizo. With economic development, access to education, intermarriage, and large-scale migration from rural to urban areas, a more homogeneous national culture is developing, mainly along the relatively more prosperous coast. Peru's distinct geographical regions are mirrored in a socioeconomic divide between the coast's mestizo-Hispanic culture and the more diverse, traditional Andean cultures of the mountains and highlands.

--  Paraguay (03/06)
People
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Paraguayan(s).
Population (2004 est.): 6,191,368.
Annual population growth rate: 2.3% (projected 1999-2015, UNDP).
Ethnic groups: Mixed Spanish and Indian descent (mestizo) 95%.
Religions: Roman Catholic 90%; Mennonite and other Protestant denominations.
Languages: Spanish (language of business and government), Guarani (spoken and understood by 90% of the population).
Education: Years compulsory--9. Attendance--92%. Literacy--94%. (UNICEF)
Health: Infant mortality rate--27/1,000. Life expectancy--72 years male; 77 years female.
Work force (2002, 2.5 million): Agriculture--45%; industry and commerce--31%; services--19%; government--4%.

Paraguay's population is distributed unevenly throughout the country. The vast majority of the people live in the eastern region, most within 160 kilometers (100 mi.) of Asuncion, the capital and largest city. The Chaco, which accounts for about 60% of the territory, is home to less than 2% of the population. Ethnically, culturally, and socially, Paraguay has one of the most homogeneous populations in South America. About 95% of the people are of mixed Spanish and Guarani Indian descent. Little trace is left of the original Guarani culture except the language, which is understood by 90% of the population. About 75% of all Paraguayans speak Spanish. Guarani and Spanish are official languages. Brazilians, Argentines, Germans, Arabs, Koreans, Chinese, and Japanese are among those who have settled in Paraguay with Brazilians representing the largest number.

--  Uruguay (03/06)
People
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Uruguayan(s).
Population (2004): 3.2 million.
Annual growth rate: 0.6%.
Ethnic groups (est.): European descent 93%, African descent 5%, mestizo 1%.
Religions: Roman Catholic 52%, Protestant and other Christian 16%, Jewish 2%, non-professing or other 30%.
Language: Spanish.
Education: Literacy (2004)--97%.
Health: Life expectancy (2004)--75.4 yrs. (79.2 yrs females; 71.3 yrs. males). Infant mortality rate--15/1,000 (2003).
Work force (1.3 million, 2004): Manufacturing--13.5%; agriculture--4.0%; services--75%

Uruguayans share a Spanish linguistic and cultural background, even though about one-quarter of the population is of Italian origin. Most are nominally Roman Catholic although the majority of Uruguayans do not actively practice a religion. Church and state are officially separated.

Uruguay is distinguished by its high literacy rate, large urban middle class, and relatively even income distribution. The average Uruguayan standard of living compares favorably with that of most other Latin Americans. Metropolitan Montevideo, with about 1.4 million inhabitants, is the only large city. The rest of the urban population lives in about 20 towns. During the past two decades, an estimated 500,000 Uruguayans have emigrated, principally to Argentina and Spain. Emigration to the United States also rose significantly. As a result of the low birth rate, high life expectancy, and relatively high rate of emigration of younger people, Uruguay's population is quite mature.

--  Venezuela (03/06)

People
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Venezuelan(s).
Population (2005 est.): 26,577,423.
Annual population growth: 1%.
Religion: Roman Catholic 96%, Protestant 2%, other 2%
Language: Spanish (official), numerous indigenous dialects.
Education: Years compulsory--9. Literacy--93.4% (male 93.8%, female 93.1%)
Health: Infant mortality rate--26.17 deaths/1,000 live births. Life expectancy--73.81 yrs.
Ethnic groups: Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Arab, German, African, Amerindian.

Venezuela is the sixth-most populous country in Latin America, after Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Argentina and Peru. About 85% of the population lives in urban areas in the northern portion of the country. While almost half of Venezuela's land area lies south of the Orinoco River in the states of Bolivar and Amazonas, this region contains only 5% of the population. The population of Venezuela is comprised of a combination of European, indigenous, and African heritages.

 


Copyright 2006 LatinoStories.com design and content by John S. Christie and Jose B. Gonzalez
Copyright 2006 Latino Boom: An Anthology of U.S. Latino Literature, Pearson Education, Inc.
Copyright 2006 Latino Fiction and the Modernist Imagination, John S. Christie

 
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Last Updated: July 31, 2009