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HISTORY

Where did the Inca civilization develop?

In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the civilization of the Incas developed in the altiplanos of the Andes mountains. Altiplanos are high plains located among the mountains that are suitable for habitation. The Bolivian capital of La Paz is also located on an altiplano. The Inca civilization lasted from approximately the eleventh through sixteenth centuries.

What is Machu Picchu?

Machu Picchu is an ancient Incan city constructed at an elevation of 8,000 feet (2,438 meters) above sea level, and located about 43 miles (69 kilometers) northwest of Cuzco in Peru. It was built by the Incan ruler Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui between 1460 and 1470. It is comprised of more than 200 buildings, which are visited by thousands of tourists each year. Tourists reach the city either by bus or by a ritualistic 20-mile hike to the summit. It was rediscovered by a Yale University team, headed by Hiram Bingham, in 1911. Some argue that other explorers may have discovered the site earlier, including a German businessman named Augusto Bern in the 1880s.

A view of Machu Picchu in the Andes Mountains (photo by Paul A. Tucci).

A view of Machu Picchu in the Andes Mountains (photo by Paul A. Tucci).

How was the New World divided between Spain and Portugal?

In 1493 Pope Alexander VI divided the New World into Spanish and Portuguese spheres of influence. A line was placed "100 leagues" (about 300 miles [480 kilometers]) west of the Azores islands, located several hundred miles west of Portugal in the Atlantic Ocean. Everything in the New World to the east of this Demarcation Line, which lay off the east coast of South America, belonged to Portugal, while the lands in the west belonged to Spain. Since this division provided little land for Portugal, the Portuguese were dissatisfied. The Treaty of Tordesillas established a new line about 800 miles (1,300 kilometers) to the west of the old line. Pope Julius II approved the line in 1506.

Which South American country was the first to gain independence from colonial rule?

In 1816, Argentina gained independence from Spain. International recognition of the independent country, then called the United Provinces of the Plate River, did not come until 1823, when the United States recognized the new state.

Who was Che Guevara?

Ernesto Che Guevara (1928-1967) was an Argentine Marxist revolutionary, physician, author, and guerrilla leader. He formed his political ideas after seeing the extreme poverty in Latin America, believing that the cause was economic inequality due to monopolistic capitalism, neo-colonialism, and imperialism. He was instrumental in helping Cuba's Fidel Castro overthrow the U.S.-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista.

Which South American territory has yet to gain its independence?

French Guyana, on the northeast coast of South America, has been a colony of France since 1817. It is officially a department (state) of France and is the launch site of the European Space Agency.

How did Brazil become a Portuguese colony?

Most of the present-day country of Brazil was east of the line drawn in the Treaty of Tordesillas, so it became Portuguese territory in 1506. Brazil's official language is Portuguese, making it the only Portuguese-speaking country in South America.

Which place in South America is part of the European Union?

Although not a country, French Guyana, lying just north of Brazil and one of the 26 departments of France, is part of the European Union. It uses the euro as its national currency.

What is Devil's Island?

Devil's Island, located off the coast of French Guyana, became the overseas prison of France in the middle of the nineteenth century. France stopped using the island as a penal colony in 1938.

What was Gran Colombia?

After many wars against Spain for independence, Gran Colombia, led by Simon Bolivar, became an independent country in 1821. Gran Columbia consisted of the area that is now present-day Colombia, Panama, Ecuador, and Venezuela. In 1830, Gran Colombia was split into Colombia (which included Panama), Ecuador, and Venezuela.

Why did Peru and Ecuador fight two wars in the twentieth century?

When Ecuador split off from Gran Colombia in the nineteenth century, it signed a border agreement with Peru, defining its boundaries along the Maranon River. In 1941, Peru invaded Ecuador and occupied half the country for ten days. Afterwards, a peace treaty was brokered and guaranteed by the United States, Brazil, Argentina, and Chile. The United States mapped the border, leaving approximately 48 miles (78 kilometers) of a line in the Cordillera del Condor area unmarked. The area became a site for dispute in 1941, and again in 1995.

Who was Simon Bolivar?

In the early nineteenth century, Simon Bolivar led the fight in South America for independence from Spain. He is revered as a hero among South Americans for his role in the independence of Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. Bolivia was named in honor of Bolivar.

 
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