South America is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west . The island of Tierra del Fuego at the southern tip of South America is separated from the neighboring continent of Antarctica by the Drake Strait . A little south of Tierra del Fuego lies Cape Horn , where the Atlantic and Pacific meet. To the north there is a connection via the isthmus from Panama to North America .
The South American subcontinent can be divided into three main areas:
- The Andes as high mountains on the western side of the continent
- Three river plains east of the Andes
- Three mountainous countries east of the Andes
On the west coast lies the Andes, the longest overseas mountain range in the world. The high mountains stretches along the Pacific for over 7500 km from Venezuela to the southern tip of Patagonia . The highest mountain in the Andes, at the same time the highest mountain in South America and the highest mountain outside of Asia, is the Aconcagua at 6961 m . It lies on the border between Argentina and Chile . The Laguna del Carbón , at 105 meters below sea level the deepest point in South America, is located in the San Julian Basin in Patagonia. Cape Horn is usually referred to as the southernmost point of South America .
The largest river level forms the Amazon basin (Amazonia), an equatorial rainforest low level that is drained by the Amazon with its approximately 10,000 tributaries. The Amazon, which flows eastward from the Andes across the entire continent, is the longest river in South America with about 6448 km and the river with the most water on earth. To the north lies the Orinoco Plain, which is bounded to the Amazon basin to the south by the mountainous Guiana and to the north by the Venezuelan coastal mountainous region. Another river level lies in the south of the continent, where the river system from Río Paraguay and Río Paraná from the Pantanal in the north merges into a subtropical alluvial landscape in the south.
The mountainous lands are the Guiana Mountainous Country , the Brazilian Mountainous Country, and the Eastern Patagonian Mountainous Country . The mountainous region of Guiana is divided into the rainforest mountainous region of southern Venezuela, the central highlands of Guiana and the eastern mountain region of Guyana, stretching between the Orinoco and the Amazon with a maximum elevation of up to 2800 m. The central Brazilian mountain country dominates Central South America and extends to the coast of Brazil and the pampas of Argentina in the south. The East Patagonian mountains rise in the east of the Andes at the southern tip of South America.
For details, see Physical Geography of South America
Geology and geomorphology
The Pacific side of South America is characterized by an active continental margin in the form of a subduction zone, the Atlantic continental side is plate-tectonically passive. The eastern mountainous countries of South America have a large Precambrian base, which can be overlaid with sandstones . The basin structures of the river plains are dominated by tertiary and quaternary sediments . In the south, the Patagonian platform forms the basis for the Patagonian mountain country. The Andean orogen largely consists of volcanic-sedimentary cover layers, post-Precambrian sedimentary basins, and central and young Precambrian basements. (According to ZEIL 1986) The Andean regions are characterized by their location on the active continental margin through volcanism and earthquakes .
South America was once part of the ancient continent Gondwana . Indications for this are the exact fit to Africa, considerable basalt deposits, which formed when tearing open on today's east coast, the direction of the lines of sandstones and signs of the Permian - carbonic glaciation. The south of South America is characterized by glacial series of Quaternary glaciations. Geomorphological phenomena are glacial lakes , moraines and glacial runoff forms.
The climate in South America is extremely complex. Year-round climatic influences are the cold Humboldt Current on the west coast of Peru, the intra- tropical convergence zone (ITCZ), the formation of tropical cyclones on the edge of the subtropical high pressure area and the trade winds . The cold Humboldt Sea current causes the sea surface to cool off the coast of Peru and northern Chile, which leads to the formation of coastal deserts . This phenomenon is based on the fact that the cooled air leads to a constant inversion , thus to a stable high pressure area that does not allow convection and thus no precipitation. The impact is extensive desert regions on the coasts. The equatorial tropical location causes the formation of an intra-tropical convection zone over the central Amazon region in the southern winter and leads to heavy rainfall. In summer it shifts further south, so the inner tropics are characterized by year-round precipitation. Also in summer a continental low temperature forms , which is very rainy. The southern peripheral tropics are thus characterized by (southern) summer precipitation. The northern peripheral tropics are characterized by the trade winds in the east (high precipitation all year round) and by cool sea water on the coast in the north (very little precipitation).
The south trade winds on the east coast lead to increased precipitation in the coastal regions, characterized in the southern summer by the formation of monsoonal east winds and in the southern winter by accumulated precipitation on the coastal regions. The stable high pressure system on the western edge of South America in combination with the cold air masses of the southern polar regions leads to the formation of extra-tropical cyclones off the coast of western Patagonia. The cyclonic fronts vary in their location in southern summer and southern winter. The shift to the north in southern winter leads to periodic winter precipitation in the Great South of Chile ( jungle Chile ) and to sporadic winter precipitation in the Lesser South of Chile. In return, the shift in the cyclonic fronts in the southern summer (influenced by the changed position of the ITCZ) leads to a pronounced summer drought in all of southern Chile, with the exception of Patagonia. On the Andean windward side of the Patagonian Mountains, the cyclonic fronts form heavy rainfalls, which can be described as hypermaritime . This accumulated rainfall on the west side means that the Andean lee side of Patagonia is characterized by drought.
The Andes themselves have a further climatic subdivision in the vertical dimension. In general, five levels of altitude can be distinguished: the Tierra Caliente (warm earth, up to 1000 m), the Tierra Templada (temperate earth, up to 2000 m), the Tierra Fria (cold earth, up to 3500 m, cultivation limit and frost limit), the Tierra Helada (Icy earth, up to 4500 m, snow line) and the Tierra Glacial (glacial earth, up to 6000 m, anecumene ).
There are also glaciations in the Andes . The largest intra-tropical glaciers in the world can be found in Peru. In Patagonia there is extensive inland glaciation and tongue glaciers that reach down to sea level.
El Niño is a significant climatic phenomenon for the west coast of South America , because although its origin is a purely oceanic phenomenon, its climatic consequences are mainly perceived. The cold water flows off South America break up and warm water collects off the South American coast. As a climatic consequence, the normally prevailing stable high pressure situation is canceled and there is a reversal of the Walker circulation with serious effects from heavy precipitation.
From a zoogeographical point of view, South America belongs to the Neotropical Region, which also includes Central America and the West Indies . The South American continent was isolated from the other continents during most of the Modern Earth Era. At that time, unique mammal forms emerged, some of which are still characteristic of South America today. These include various marsupials, the armadillos , anteaters and sloths . The New World monkeys and guinea pig relatives also came to the continent very early (presumably from Africa) as island divers and produced a large number of native species. The rest of today's mammalian fauna in the Neotropical Region consists for the most part of groups that immigrated from North America about 3 million years ago as part of the great American fauna exchange . At that time, even-toed ungulates ( deer , camels , umbilical pigs ), odd-toed ungulates (tapirs), hares, predators (cats, dogs, martens, bears, small bears ), shrews and the rodent families of New World mice and squirrels immigrated from North America to South America. In addition, the trunk animals and horses also reached South America at that time, but they disappeared again in the course of the Quaternary extinction wave at the end of the Pleistocene. With them, numerous other large animals also disappeared, such as the giant sloth, glyptodont , toxodont , macrauchenia and the saber-toothed cat smilodon . Until 12,000 years ago, South America was a continent of giants, today the Central American tapir is the largest land mammal on the continent. The jaguar and spectacled bear are the largest land predators.
Before the conquista
According to the prevailing opinion about the colonization of America , the northern continent was around 15,000 BC. Populated by Asian tribes across the Bering Strait . The first human traces appear in South America between 20,000 and 10,000 BC. Chr. On. The Valdivia culture in Ecuador in the 4th millennium BC is considered the oldest American culture . Chr. From the 2nd millennium BC. Individual local cultures developed throughout South America. The earliest advanced civilization still recognizable today was that of the Chavín de Huántar , which lived around 800 BC. Until 300 BC Existed. There was also the Tiahuanaco , Paracas , Nazca , Moche , Chimú and Chachapoya cultures.
From around 1200 to 1532 the Inca , probably the most famous high culture in South America, ruled over large parts of the continent and created a huge empire with its center in today's Peru. With the arrival of the Spanish conquerors, the Inca Empire was smashed.
Already in 1494 South America was in the Treaty of Tordesillas by Pope Alexander VI. split between Spain and Portugal . The eastern part, today's Brazil, was awarded to Portugal. Panama and the rest of the continent fell to Spain. Numerous Spanish and Portuguese missionaries came to South America in the 15th and 16th centuries and introduced Christianity. For this reason, around 80 to 90% of South Americans still profess Catholic Christianity today .
In 1717, Ecuador and Colombia broke away from the viceroyalty of Peru and formed the viceroyalty of New Granada with Venezuela . Bolivia , Chile, Argentina and Paraguay followed suit in 1776 and created the new viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata .
Argentina fought for independence in the south in 1816. In the years 1817/1818 the independence of Chile followed. In 1819, the army under Simón Bolívar defeated the Spaniards in the Battle of Boyacá , thereby liberating Colombia. The independence of Ecuador was achieved in 1822 at the Battle of Pichincha . The armies of José de San Martín and Simón Bolívar united and won the decisive battle at Ayacucho in Peru on December 9, 1824. With this battle, the Spaniards finally withdrew as a political power from South America. In Brazil, the independence movement took a slightly different course. Since the Portuguese royal family and court fled to Brazil in 1808 on the run from Napoleon and thus the actual capital of the Portuguese Empire was relocated from Lisbon to Rio de Janeiro , Brazil was effectively and officially on an equal footing with Portugal from 1815 onwards. Independence was finally proclaimed in 1822 by the Portuguese heir to the throne, Pedro, and Brazil became a monarchy.
After independence from Spain, Greater Colombia was created , consisting of the states of Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador. For a short time Peru and Bolivia joined the alliance. But as early as 1832 the confederation finally disintegrated and today's nation-states were formed.
Development of the population of South America (in millions)
On January 1, 2010, there were about 390 million people in South America. The population of South America is characterized by the intermingling of the peoples who were indigenous there and the ethnic groups who later settled here. The latter were mostly European immigrants or slaves dragged here from Africa. Thus, the majority of the Mestizo , the Mulatto and Zambos predominate . In Brazil, the Afro-Latin Americans, descendants of the slaves abducted from Africa, make up a larger proportion of the population. Remnants of the indigenous population live almost exclusively in the Andean highlands and the Amazon region. Only in a few countries do indigenous peoples make up a substantial proportion of the population, such as Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia. (see also: South American cultural areas )
Since South America was divided between Spain and Portugal in the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494, the Brazilian variant of Portuguese is spoken in Brazil today , while Spanish is the national language in almost all other South American countries . Only in Suriname and on the islands of Aruba , Bonaire and Curaçao is Dutch spoken as the official language. In Suriname, Sranantongo is spoken as a lingua franca alongside Dutch . In Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago English and in French Guiana , which, however, not an independent state, but a French Overseas Territory , is French .
Other European languages that are common in South America are English (partly in Argentina), German (in the south of Brazil and Chile, in Argentina, Paraguay and in German-speaking places in Venezuela) and Low German Plautdietsch , Italian (in Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Venezuela) and Welsh (in southern Argentina).
In Bolivia , indigenous languages are spoken by more than half of the population, sometimes alongside Spanish. Quechua and Aymara are by far the most widely spoken, followed by Guaraní, which is spoken in the eastern lowlands . Since 2009, all indigenous languages of Bolivia have been recognized as official languages by the constitution alongside Spanish. In Peru , Quechua and Aymara are regionally recognized official languages alongside Spanish. Kichwa (or Quichua ), which is widespread in the highlands of Ecuador and is related to Quechua, is not an official language there, but is constitutionally recognized. Guaraní is one of the official languages of Paraguay , along with Spanish , where it is used by a bilingual majority. Colombia recognizes all indigenous languages spoken in the country as official languages, but less than one percent of them are native speakers. The most widely spoken indigenous language in Chile is Mapudungun ("Araucanian") of the Mapuche in southern Chile, with Aymara in northern Chile and Rapanui on Easter Island .
The vast majority of the population professes the Roman Catholic faith. From about 1960 onwards, the theology of liberation developed here , but it was supported by Pope John Paul II and the then head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and later Pope Benedict XVI. was fought. The proportion of Catholics has been steadily decreasing since then, and free churches and special religious communities in particular are enjoying the increase. The current Pope Francis is Argentinian.
Until the late 19th century, African slaves were mainly used on the export-oriented plantations in the Caribbean basin, on the Pacific coast and in Brazil. Slavery was not abolished in Brazil until 1888, later than in almost any other country.
Typical haciendas in the highlands secured the dependency of the indigenous people by allocating a small plot of land to the farm workers and having to do work in return for the patrón . The systematic attitude of addicts in the socially relatively closed hacienda system lasted well into the 20th century.
Mining played an important role in many pre-colonial cultures in South America. One of the main reasons for the conquista was the subjugation of the Indian gold and silver empires , with the legend of El Dorado playing a role that should not be underestimated.
The South American Andes are particularly rich in metallic mineral resources. Some of the world's largest copper , tin , gold and silver deposits can be found in the central Andean belt . The most important copper ore producing country in 2006 was by far Chile and among the five largest tin producing countries are three (Peru, Bolivia and Brazil) in South America. The salt lakes of Chile (e.g. Salar de Atacama ) and Bolivia (e.g. Salar de Uyuni ) in particular contain the largest deposits of lithium salts , some of which are not yet mined.
The deposits of fossil fuels are also significant. The countries in the Orinoco Delta in the north-west of the continent have a large share of the oil reserves : Venezuela is already one of the world's largest producing countries and in Brazil in 2007 a deposit was discovered that is one of the largest oil reserves in the world.
Accordingly, the export of mineral resources is the most important source of foreign currency for the states of South America. The development and exploitation of the deposits always leads to territorial and cultural conflicts between the interests of companies and the indigenous population. In particular, there are massive environmental problems with oil production: deforestation, road construction, soil and water contamination lead to a destruction of the ecological balance, especially in the Amazon lowlands, where many indigenous population groups still live in a sensitive ecosystem close to nature.
In the course of the Spanish conquest, the system of the encomienda ( Spanish for “order”) was first created. The goal was a profitable agricultural colonial system without the development of an autonomous hereditary nobility. For this purpose, the Spanish conquistadors received extensive land holdings in trust . The Spanish king remained feudal lord, who entrusted the encomendero ("contractor") with the task of cultivating the land and taking care of the protection and proselytizing of the indigenous people living there. In its practical implementation, however, this external administration is viewed as a particularly inhuman form of slavery , because the indigenous population did not represent any financial value for the landlords and was often tormented to death accordingly.
Although the institution of the encomienda existed formally until 1791, it was successively replaced by the repartimiento (in German "allocation") from 1549 . In the repartimiento system, Indian communities were obliged to provide the state with workers from their ranks.
After independence, the "fiduciary" large estates were converted into private ownership, and although the hacienda (Spanish) or fazenda (Portuguese) called farms were significantly smaller, they often comprised tens of thousands of hectares of land. The term latifundia is still in use today for these large estates .
In many countries in South America there are now efforts to distribute property more fairly through land reforms . So far, however, these have only been implemented reasonably effectively in Venezuela and Peru . The reform carried out by the Sandinista in Nicaragua has meanwhile been largely reversed. In Brazil, the Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra is fighting for extensive land reform.
Economic cooperation organizations
To date (as of 2016) a network of international organizations with partly changing memberships has formed:
- The Andean Community was founded around Peru in 1969 as an international organization (Spanish Comunidad Andina de Naciones , abbreviation: CAN) for economic , political and social integration .
- The Mercado Común del Sur (Mercosur for short; Spanish: Common Market of the South ) was established around Argentina in 1991 , in which the relatively heavily industrialized southern countries are striving to establish a single market .
- Around Hugo Chávez's Venezuela , countries with left-wing governments initiated the Bolivarian Alliance for America , ALBA for short. This organization initially exerted a lot of influence on the emancipation process in the states of South America, but is currently clearly the weakest of the organizations, at least in terms of economic importance.
- The Amazon Aspact , today OCTA (Portuguese: Organização do Tratado de Cooperação Amazônica ), was founded around Brazil in 1978 with the current goal of sustainable development of the Amazon.
- A more political than an economic project is the Union of South American Nations , UNASUR for short, which was established in 2004 and aims to promote continental integration based on the example of the European Union. The focus is on the fight against “inequality, social exclusion, hunger, poverty and insecurity”. The initiative came from the two large organizations Mercosur and CAN, but Chile, Venezuela and the other countries in South America, which are not full members there, also joined.
Bolivia, as a geographically central country with a significant share in both the Amazon and Andean regions, is the only country that is a full member in all organizations.
Due to the population concentration on the coasts of South America, the most important transport links run here. The lack of efficient land-based direct connections between the states of South America is problematic, as the interior of the continent is poorly developed. In particular, there is a lack of efficient connections over the Andes and over the Amazon with its tributaries.
Air traffic is important both for traffic within the states of South America and between the states. This is often the only connection between remote parts of the country, especially in large countries such as Brazil. It is also often the only connection between the states of South America.
Shipping is of essential importance for traffic in South America, both in the coastal area and on some rivers such as the Amazon, the Rio de la Plata, the Orinoco and its tributaries as well as on inland lakes. Important ports are in Buenos Aires and Rosario in Argentina, Montevideo in Uruguay, Belém , Fortaleza , Ilhéus , Imbituba , Manaus , Paranaguá , Porto Alegre , Recife , Rio de Janeiro , Rio Grande , Salvador , Santos and Vitória in Brazil, Cayenne in French Guiana, Paramaribo in Suriname, Georgetown in Guyana, La Guaira and Puerto Cabello in Venezuela, Barranquilla , Buenaventura and Cartagena in Colombia, Machala in Ecuador, Lima in Peru and Arica , Iquique , Antofagasta , Chañaral , Coquimbo , Valparaíso , San Antonio , Talcahuano , Puerto Montt and Punta Arenas in Chile. Until the opening of the Panama Canal , the most frequently used connection from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean was the dangerous circumnavigation of Cape Horn on the southern tip of the continent. The Strait of Magellan provides Chile with direct access to the Atlantic, which was important as the country's economy has long been oriented towards Europe.
Road and long-distance bus network
There is no connected road network. For example, the northern Brazilian city of Manaus is not connected to the rest of the road network. In order to improve the situation, road construction projects to develop the interior of South America and thus to create direct connections between the Atlantic and Pacific states are currently being planned or under construction, according to the Transoceánica and the Transamazônica . The continent is crossed by the Panamericana from north to south . Most countries drive on the right , while Guyana and Suriname drive on the left.
Despite the sometimes poor road connections and long distances, long-distance bus travel is very important in most South American countries, as tickets are usually much cheaper than plane tickets. Overnight journeys, which often last longer than 12 hours, are common in many places. Some international lines are also offered, but usually the vehicle has to be changed at the border. In addition to large buses, overland trips are also often offered with minibuses and regular taxis.
There is no coherent rail network. A dense rail network exists particularly in the area of the metropolises on the coasts, for example in the Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Buenos Aires, Caracas or Santiago de Chile area. Connections exist between the rail networks of Brazil, Bolivia, Argentina, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay. The rail networks of Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela and Guyana are isolated. There is currently no rail transport in Suriname or French Guiana. The rail networks in the hinterland of Brazil, Argentina and Chile have been greatly thinned out in the past few decades. Problematic are the very different common track widths of 600 mm, 760 mm, 1000 mm, 1435 mm, 1600 mm and 1676 mm, which hinder the standardization of rail traffic in South America. For passenger traffic, rail traffic is only of secondary importance, often in suburban traffic. Freight traffic is more important here. In some large cities, cable cars play an important role in local public transport.
Construction projects for pipelines are also being planned. This includes, for example, the construction of the Bolivia-Argentina route of the planned southern gas pipeline . There are around 5000 km of oil pipelines in Brazil. In addition, there are natural gas pipelines of around 4,250 km.
The states of South America are geopolitically divided as follows:
- Andean countries : Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia and Chile. These countries have specific ethnic, linguistic and cultural similarities, such as the use of Quechua and the Adobe design. As a result of the history of the Inca Empire, which stretched in this region between around 800 and 1500, the term “Andean countries” is still used today as a term for the common cultural area .
- Amazon Basin States ( Amazonia ): includes areas in the states of Brazil, French Guiana, Suriname, Guyana, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia. Due to its size, Brazil is also often seen as an independent unit.
- La Plata States : Argentina and Uruguay. Both countries share the direct location on the Río de la Plata , the 290 km long and up to 220 km wide confluence of the large South American rivers Paraná and Uruguay. Via the Río Paraguay and its tributaries, Paraguay and Bolivia also have a share in this catchment area.
- Cono Sur (German: southern cone ): Argentina, Chile and Uruguay, partly also Paraguay.
- Caribbean countries : Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana. These countries are often counted as part of the Caribbean due to their colonial history and their economic and transport links to the Caribbean islands.
- Trinidad and Tobago are traditionally part of the Caribbean islands and thus Central America. However, the main island of Trinidad lies on the South American continental shelf and is also culturally strongly influenced by neighboring Venezuela.
- Aruba , Bonaire and Curaçao ( ABC Islands ) belong to the Windward Islands , an archipelago off the coast of Venezuela, which is traditionally considered part of the Lesser Antilles and is therefore also often included in Central America.
States and Dependent Territories in South America
(people per sq km)
|km²||proportion of||Absolutely||proportion of|
|Aruba ( NL ) 2||Oranjestad||180||0%||106.050||0%||589||Dutch , Papiamentu|
|Bolivia||Sucre||1,098,581||6.2%||10,426,154||2.7%||8.4||Spanish , Quechua , Aymara|
|Bonaire ( NL ) 2||Kralendijk||288||0%||13,389||0%||46||Dutch , Papiamentu|
|Chile||Santiago de Chile||756.950||4.2%||17,948,141||4.4%||23.7||Spanish|
|Curacao ( NL ) 2||Willemstad||444||0%||142.180||0%||320||Dutch , Papiamentu , English|
|Ecuador||Quito||283,560||1.6%||16,144,363||3.6%||56.9||Spanish , Quechua|
|Falkland Islands ( UK ) 1||Port Stanley||12.173||0.1%||3,000||0%||0.2||English|
|French Guiana ( F )||Cayenne||86.504||0.5%||216,000||0.1%||2.5||French|
|Paraguay||Asunción||406.752||2.3%||6,831,000||1.7%||16.8||Spanish , guaraní|
|Peru||Lima||1,285,220||7.2%||29,461,933||7.5%||23.0||Spanish , Quechua , Aymara|
|South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands ( UK ) 1||Grytviken||4,066||0%||30th||0%||0.0||English|
|Trinidad and Tobago 2||Port of Spain||5,128||0%||1,360,088||0.3%||265.2||English , Spanish|
|Sum / average||17,831,312||100%||392.612.062||100%||21.9|
1 Claimed by Argentina
2 Is culturally geographically mostly attributed to North America
Political alliances and organizations
The Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) is the community of twelve South American states founded in 2008. In the founding charter, the Union's aim is the fight against “inequality, social exclusion, hunger, poverty and insecurity”. By the year 2025 , an integration comparable to that of the European Union should be achieved with a common currency , a South American parliament and uniform passports . With French Guiana, an overseas department of France , the European Union itself extends to South America and has an external border with Suriname and Brazil.
Despite all the progress, it currently (as of 2016) appears to be questionable whether the goals can be achieved by 2025. The various economic and political alliances sometimes pursue different goals, especially with regard to free trade and cooperation with the USA and other world powers. Often there is also a lack of willingness on the part of their members to transfer extensive competencies to the supranational alliances. The weakness of the leading countries Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela, which has existed for several years, is also a major obstacle to further integration steps.
In the course of the emancipation movements of growing importance for the states of South America, the community of Latin American and Caribbean states (in short: CELAC ), while the United States-dominated Organization of American States or even the Ibero-American summit dominated by Spain are increasingly taking a back seat .
- List of road tunnels in South America
- List of seaports: (the columns can be sorted; click on the "Country" column)
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