South America, the fourth largest continent; 17.8 million km2, 350
million residents (2001). South America forms the southern part of the American
Continent; geographically, the boundary between north and south is most often
set at the narrowest point in Central America: the Panama Canal. In practice,
the border between Colombia and Panama separates the two continents.
nature of South America holds great contrasts, from tropical rainforest and
subtropical desert in the north to icy winds to the south. As a whole, South
America is sparsely populated and characterized by economic and social
inequalities, both internally within and between countries. A common feature of
all the states is an ethnic and cultural diversity and mix as well as the great
importance of the Catholic Church.
Most countries became independent in the 1800's, but colonial dependence has
been partially replaced by a strong economic connection to the United States and
Western Europe. Regarding cultural conditions etc., see also Latin America.
A table of South American countries, capitals, population and area can be
found in the following or on
Countries in South America.
||Population in thousands (2001)
||Area in km2
||23,543 th most common
|Falkland Islands (UK)
South America - geography
South America contains landscapes with mountains,
rainforest, river plains and low plateaus.
The native Native American population is still found in the rainforest, but
otherwise the population of the South American countries is culturally very
mixed due to immigration from all over the world, beginning with the Spanish and
Portuguese colonization in the 1500's.
In some of the countries, there are striking social differences that stem
from dealing with the economic crisis of the 1980's. Today, the countries'
economies are generally under control. Most of the South American countries are
middle-income countries, but there are also stronger and weaker economies in
Two landscape elements dominate large parts of South America: the 7,000 km
long Andes mountain range that stretches along the west coast, and the vast
rainforest area of the Amazon. East of the Andes, the landscape consists of
river plains and low plateaus, interrupted by the highlands of Guyana, Mato
Grosso and the highlands of Brazil. These landscapes are very old, developed in
areas that have been geologically stable for a very long time. Farthest south is
the flat and windswept Patagonia.
The Spanish and Portuguese colonization from the 1500's. had catastrophic
consequences for the indigenous population, which succumbed to wars, forced
labor, and foreign diseases.
The Indians were pushed away from the most fertile areas, had to give up
their original way of life and now tempt in many places a miserable existence in
high mountain areas. In Patagonia and on Tierra del Fuego, they were completely
For the past 500 years, the peoples of other continents have invaded the
continent. Colonization and importation of labor has created a culturally very
mixed society. The Spaniards and especially the Portuguese set up plantations
and introduced slaves from Africa.
On the north coast, Dutch, French, and English established smaller colonies
in the 1600's. In the 1800's. continued European immigration of Germans and
Italians, while Asians, especially Japanese and Chinese, flocked to in the early
The various peoples have in many places established themselves in collective
areas, and here you can still see the culture of the homeland preserved in
architecture, business culture and food selection; German "colonies" in southern
Brazil and Paraguay, English and Welsh in Argentina and Chile, Hindu communities
in Guyana and Japanese communities in Brazil. Across South America, Arab
minorities have a significant position in trade. See also Argentina - Danish
Native American groups can still be found in the Amazon rainforest, but
whites and blacks have often mingled with the Indians and with each other. In
all countries, there is legal equality before the law, but racial discrimination
is widespread. In general, economic and political influence and social status
can be read by skin color: the lightest are in power, and dark skin color often
indicates poor education, unemployment, and poverty.
The population is very unevenly distributed. Large parts of the rainforest,
the driest parts of the Andes and Patagonia are largely uninhabited, while large
concentrations are found along the coasts. The continent is characterized by
skewed land distribution, and in the second half of the 1900-t. large sections
of the rural population left their residence to seek happiness in the big
In 2000, 28 cities had over 1 million. residents, including some of the
world's largest metropolises (São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires), and vast
slums are found in most.