The Americas

History of the Americas


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Perspective


The history of the Americas began with migration of hunter-gatherers who came to the Americas via Beringia, a former land mass that covered the Bering Strait. They spawned cultures that ranged from the Inuit and Aleuts of the arctic to the Meso-American civilizations of the Maya, Aztec, Olmec, and Toltec, and the Andean civilization of the Inca. They hunted bison, mammoth, and caribou, and lived isolated from the outside world. These civilizations flourished until the arrival of Europeans in the 10th century. Coming first from Iceland, they were led by Leif Erikson and followed in 1492 by Christopher Columbus. European colonization of the Americas brought plagues that swept the Americas and decimated the indigenous peoples. Their numbers crashed from about 115 million at the time of the arrival of the Spanish to just several millions by the time the Pilgrims arrived in New England barely 100 years later.

After the discovery of the Americas by Christopher Columbus in 1492, colonization poured in from Spain, Portugal, England, France and the Netherlands, conquering and settling the Americas. Spain colonized the present-day southwestern United States across to Florida and the Caribbean, and all the way to the southern tip of South America, while Portugal settled present-day Brazil. England established its North American colonies along the eastern coast of the United States, as well as in the Pacific Northwest and throughout Canada. France established New France in Quebec and throughout eastern Canada and the central United States. The Netherlands settled New Netherland (with its headquarters in what is now New York), along with some of the sugar islands of the Caribbean and Dutch Guiana in South America.

Colonization transformed the society of the Americas, as well as its architecture, religion, cuisine, arts and especially languages. Spanish now has nearly 400 million speakers, English nearly as many, and Portuguese more than 200 million. Colonization continued for three centuries until the early 19th century, when Brazil and other Latin American nations declared independence. The United States had become independent from Great Britain in 1776, and Canada became a dominion in 1867 and independence in 1931. Cuba and Puerto Rico remained occupied to Spain until 1898. Guyana became independent in the mid-20th century, while some Caribbean islands and French Guiana remain European colonies today.

After the Cold War ended, policy-makers in the United States developed the Washington Consensus, a reform package devised to assist developing countries in Latin America wracked with financial crises. The resources of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank were made available, along with draconian measures that fueled resentment and unrest. This initiative was cemented in North America by the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement.

In recent years, several Latin American countries led by socialist or other left wing governments, notably Argentina and Venezuela, have adopted policies that contravene the guidance of to the Washington Consensus. Other leftist Latin countries such as those of Brazil, Mexico, Chile and Peru have implemented most of these policies. But the broader debate has focused on the role of the free market, the constraints upon Latin American governance, and the influence of the United States on national sovereignty.

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Early Americas

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