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South America - Continent facts

Intro

South America is a continent, with most of its area in the Southern Hemisphere. South America is situated between the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean.
Commonly referred to as part of America, like North America, South America is named after Amerigo Vespucci, who was the first European to suggest that the Americas were not the East Indies, but a previously undiscovered New World.
South America has an area of 17,821,601 km² (6,880,959 sq mi), or almost 3.5% of the Earth's surface. As of 2005, its population was estimated at more than 371,200,000. South America ranks fourth in area (after Asia, Africa, and North America) and fifth in population (after Asia, Africa, Europe, and North America).

Geography

The classification of its geographic location is subject to dispute, as in some non-English speaking regions of the world, the Americas are a continent and North, Central and South America are its subcontinents. In English-speaking and certain other regions of the world, North and South America are considered to be continents and their union is referred to as the supercontinent of the Americas. The classification given to South America, as a subcontinent in a continent or a continent in a supercontinent, depends entirely on regional preferences.
It became attached to North America only recently (geologically speaking) with the formation of the Isthmus of Panama some 3 million years ago, which resulted in the Great American Interchange. The Andes, likewise a comparatively young and seismically restless mountain range, run down the western edge of the continent; the land to the east of the Andes is largely tropical rain forest, the vast Amazon River basin. The continent also contains drier regions such as Patagonia and the extremely arid Atacama desert.
The region of South America also includes various islands, most of which belong to countries on the continent. The Caribbean territories are grouped with North America. The South American nations that border the Caribbean Sea – including Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana – are also known as Caribbean South America.
Major natural resources are copper, iron ore, tin and oil. The many resources in South America have become useful around the world, but they have failed to diversify their economies. This has lead to major highs and lows in their economy causing instability.
South America is home to many interesting species of animals including parrots, tarantulas, snakes, and mammals.
The largest country in South America by far, in both area and population, is Brazil followed by Argentina. Regions in South America include the Andean States, the Guianas, the Southern Cone, and Eastern South America.

History

South America is thought to have been first inhabited by people crossing the Bering Land Bridge, now the Bering strait, though there are also suggestions of migration from the southern Pacific Ocean.

Chavín
The Chavín established a trade network and developed agriculture by 900 BC, according to some estimates and archeological finds. Artifacts were found at a site called Chavín de Huantar in modern Peru at an elevation of 3,177 meters. Chavín civilization spanned 900 BC to 300 BC.

Inca
Holding their capital at the great city of Cusco, the Inca civilization dominated the Andes region from 1438 to 1533. Known as Tahuantinsuyu, or "the land of the four regions," in Quechua, the Inca culture was highly distinct and developed. Cities were built with precise, unmatched stonework, constructed over many levels of mountain terrain. Terrace farming was a useful form of agriculture. There is evidence of excellent metalwork and even successful brain surgery in Inca civilization.

European colonization
Before arrival of Europeans, an estimated 30 million people lived in South America.
In 1494, Portugal and Spain, the two great maritime powers of that time, on the expectation of new lands being discovered in the west, signed the Treaty of Tordesillas, by which they agreed that all the land outside Europe should be an exclusive duopoly between the two countries. The Treaty established an imaginary line along a north-south meridian 370 leagues west of Cape Verde Islands, roughly 46° 37' W. In terms of the treaty, all land to the west of the line (which is now known to comprehend most of the South American soil), would belong to Spain, and all land to the east, to Portugal. As accurate measurements of longitude were impossible at that time, the line was not strictly enforced, resulting in a Portuguese expansion of Brazil across the meridian.
Beginning in the 1530s, the people and natural resources of South America were repeatedly exploited by foreign conquistadors, first from Spain and later from Portugal. These competing colonial nations claimed the land and resources as their own and divided it into colonies.

European diseases (smallpox, influenza, measles and typhus) to which the native populations had no resistance, and cruel systems of forced labor, such as the infamous haciendas and mining industry's mita, decimated the American population under Spanish control. After this, African slaves, who had developed immunities to these diseases, were quickly brought in to replace them.

The Spaniards were committed to converting their American subjects to Christianity, and were quick to purge any native cultural practices that hindered this end. However, most initial attempts at this were only partially successful, as American groups simply blended Catholicism with their traditional beliefs. On the other hand, the Spaniards did not impose their language to the degree they did their religion, and the Catholic Church's evangelization in Quechua, Nahuatl and Guaraní actually contributed to the expansion of these American languages, equipping them with writing systems.
Eventually the Natives and the Spaniards interbred, forming a Mestizo class. These and the original Americans were often forced to pay unfair taxes to the Spanish government and were punished harshly for disobeying their laws. Many native artworks were considered pagan idols and destroyed by Spanish explorers. This included the many gold and silver sculptures found in the Americas, which were melted down before transport to Europe.

The Spanish colonies won their independence in the first quarter of the 19th century, in the South American Wars of Independence. Simon Bolivar and José de San Martín led their independence struggle. In Brazil, a Portuguese colony, Dom Pedro I (also Pedro IV of Portugal), son of the Portuguese king Dom João VI, proclaimed the country's independence in 1822 and became Brazil's first Emperor. This was peacefully accepted by the crown in Portugal. Although Bolivar attempted to keep the Spanish-speaking parts of the continent politically unified, they rapidly became independent of one another as well, and several further wars were fought, such as the War of the Triple Alliance and the War of the Pacific.

A few countries did not gain independence until the 20th century: Trinidad and Tobago, from the United Kingdom, in 1962 , Guyana, from the United Kingdom, in 1966, Suriname, from the Dutch control, in 1975 ,French Guiana remains part of France as of 2005, and hosts the European Union's principal spaceport, the Centre Spatial Guyanais.

Recent history
The continent, like many others, became a battlefield of the Cold War in the late 20th century. The government of Chile was overthrown in the early 1970s, as a late (and peculiar) development of the U.S. Monroe Doctrine. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Peru suffered from internal conflicts (see Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement and Shining Path). Other revolutions and military dictatorships have been common, but starting in the 1980s a wave of democratization came through the continent, and democratic rule is the norm now. Allegations of corruption remain common, and several nations have seen crises which have forced the resignation of their presidents, although normal civilian succession has continued.
International indebtedness became a notable problem, as most recently illustrated by Argentina's default in the early 21st century.

Politics

Argentina The Argentine constitution of 1853, as revised in 1994, mandates a separation of powers into executive, legislative, and judicial branches at the national and provincial level. The president and vice president are directly elected to 4-year terms. Both are limited to two consecutive terms; they are allowed to stand for a third term or more after an interval of at least one term. The president appoints cabinet ministers, and the constitution grants him considerable power as both head of state and head of government, including authority to enact laws by presidential decree under conditions of "urgency and necessity" and the line-item veto. Argentina's parliament is the bicameral National Congress or Congreso de la Nación, consisting of a Senate (Senado) of 72 seats and a Chamber of Deputies (Cámara de Diputados) of 257 members. Since 2001, senators have been directly elected, with each province, including the Federal Capital, represented by three senators. Senators serve 6-year terms. One-third of the Senate stands for reelection every 2 years via a partial majority system in each district. Members of the Chamber of Deputies are directly elected to 4-year term via a system of proportional representation. Voters elect half the members of the lower house every 2 years. See also Argentinian Legal System
Bolivia The 1967 constitution, revised in 1994, provides for balanced executive, legislative, and judicial powers. The traditionally strong executive, however, tends to overshadow the Congress, whose role is generally limited to debating and approving legislation initiated by the executive. The judiciary, consisting of the Supreme Court and departmental and lower courts, has long been riddled with corruption and inefficiency. Through revisions to the constitution in 1994, and subsequent laws, the government has initiated potentially far-reaching reforms in the judicial system and processes. Bolivia's nine departments received greater autonomy under the Administrative Decentralization law of 1995, although principal departmental officials are still appointed by the central government. Bolivian cities and towns are governed by directly elected mayors and councils. Municipal elections were held on 5 December 2004, with councils elected to five-year terms. The Popular Participation Law of April 1994, which distributes a significant portion of national revenues to municipalities for discretionary use, has enabled previously neglected communities to make striking improvements in their facilities and services.
Brazil The 1988 constitution grants broad powers to the federal government. The President has extensive executive powers: he appoints the Cabinet, and he is also both head of state and head of government. The President and Vice-President are elected on the same ticket by popular vote for four-year terms. The Brazilian legislature, the bicameral National Congress or Congresso Nacional, includes the Federal Senate or Senado Federal of 81 seats, of which three members from each state or federal district are elected according to the principle of majority to serve eight-year terms; one-third elected after a four-year period, two-thirds elected after the next four-year period. Beside the Senate there is the Chamber of Deputies or Câmara dos Deputados of 513 seats, whose members are elected by proportional representation to serve four-year terms.
Chile Chile's Constitution was approved in a tightly controlled national plebiscite in September 1980, under the military government of Augusto Pinochet. It entered into force in March 1981. After Pinochet's defeat in the 1988 plebiscite, the Constitution was amended to ease provisions for future amendments to the Constitution. In 2005 over 50 reforms were approved, which eliminated the remaining undemocratic areas of the text, such as the existence of non-elected Senators (institutional senators, or senators for life) and the inability of the President to remove the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces. These reforms led the President to controversially declare Chile's transition to democracy as complete. Chile's bicameral Congress has a 48-seat Senate—38 elected, 9 appointed, 1 for life—and a 120-member Chamber of Deputies. Deputies are elected every 4 years. Senators serve for 8 years with staggered terms. The current Senate is evenly split 24-24 between pro-government and opposition Senators. Nine institutional senators were appointed in 1999, and two "senators for life," former Presidents Pinochet (who resigned in 2002) and Frei. (Chile's Constitution provided that former presidents who have served at least 6 years shall be entitled to a lifetime senate seat.) The last congressional elections were held in December 2001. The current lower house—the Chamber of Deputies—contains 60 members of the governing center-left coalition and 56 from the center-right opposition. Currently 4 Deputies have their voting rights suspended on legal grounds. The Congress is located in the port city of Valparaíso, about 140 kilometers (84 mi.) west of the capital, Santiago. Chile's congressional elections are governed by a unique binomial system that rewards coalition slates. Each coalition can run two candidates for the two Senate and two lower chamber seats apportioned to each chamber's electoral districts. Typically, the two largest coalitions split the seats in a district. Only if the leading coalition ticket out-polls the second-place coalition by a margin of more than 2-to-1 does the winning coalition gain both seats. In the 2001 congressional elections, the conservative Independent Democratic Union surpassed the Christian Democrats for the first time to become the largest party in the lower house. The Communist Party again failed to gain any seats in the 2001 elections. The next presidential and congressional elections are set for December 2005. (See Chilean presidential election, 2005.) Chile's judiciary is independent and includes a court of appeal, a system of military courts, a constitutional tribunal, and the Supreme Court. Chile will complete in mid-2005 a multi-year overhaul of its criminal justice system. The reform has replaced inquisitorial proceedings with an adversarial system more similar to that of the United States.
Colombia Colombia is a republic where the executive branch dominates government structure. Up until recently, the president was elected together with the vice-president by popular vote for a single four-year term, which functioned as both head of government and head of state. However, on October 19, 2005 the Colombian Congress amended the constitution, which now allows Colombian presidents to serve up to two consecutive four-year terms. Colombia's bicameral parliament is the Congress of Colombia or Congreso, which consists of the 166-seat House of Representatives of Colombia and the 102-seat Senate of Colombia. Members of both houses are elected by popular vote to serve four-year terms. Colombia is also a member of the South American Community of Nations. In the 1990s, the Colombian judicial system underwent significant reforms and is undergoing a process of migration from a inquisitorial system to an adversary system. parts of the coffee growing region of Colombia and Bogotá have already adopted the adversary system, with the rest of the country following suit starting on January 1, 2006.
Ecuador The constitution provides for concurrent 4-year terms of office for the president, vice president, and members of Congress. Presidents may be re-elected after an intervening term, while legislators may be re-elected immediately. The executive branch includes 15 ministries. Provincial governors and councilors, like mayors and aldermen and parish boards, are directly elected. Congress meets throughout the year except for recess in July and December. There are twenty 7-member congressional committees. Justices of the Supreme Court are appointed by the Congress for indefinite terms.
Falkland Islands (UK) Executive authority comes from the Queen and is exercised by the Governor on her behalf. The Governor is also responsible for the administration of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, as these islands have no native inhabitants. Defence and Foreign Affairs are the responsibility of the United Kingdom. Under the constitution, the latest version of which came into force in 1985, there is an Executive Council and a Legislative Council. The Executive Council, which advises the Governor, is also chaired by the Governor. It consists of the Chief Executive, Financial Secretary and three Legislative Councillors, who are elected by the other Legislative Councillors. The Legislative Council consists of the Chief Executive, Financial Secretary and the eight Legislative Councillors, of whom five are elected from Stanley and three from Camp, for four year terms. It is presided over by the Speaker, currently Geoffrey Lionel Blake. The loss of the war against Britain over control of the islands led to the collapse of the Argentine military dictatorship in 1983. Disputes over control of the islands continue. In 2001, British Prime Minister Tony Blair became the first to visit Argentina since the war. On the 22nd anniversary of the war, Argentina's President Néstor Kirchner gave a speech insisting that the islands would once again be part of Argentina. Kirchner, campaigning for president in 2003, regarded the islands a top priority. In June 2003 the issue was brought before a United Nations committee, and attempts have been made to open talks with Britain to resolve the issue of the islands. As far as the Falkland Islands Government and people are concerned there is no issue to resolve. The Falkland Islanders themselves are almost entirely British and maintain their allegiance to the United Kingdom. (See also Sovereignty of the Falkland Islands.) Falkland Islanders were granted full British citizenship from 1 January 1983 under the British Nationality (Falkland Islands) Act 1983.
French Guiana (France) As an integral part of France, French Guiana is part of the European Union, the largest part in area outside Europe and the only part outside Europe that is not an island (other than the Spanish exclaves in Morocco). The Head of State is the French President who appoints a Préfet (resident at the Prefecture building in Cayenne) as his/her representative. There are two legislative bodies: the 19-member General Council and the 34-member Regional Council, both elected. French Guiana has two seat at the National Assembly in Paris. French Guiana has traditionally been conservative, though the socialist party has been increasingly successful in recent years. Though many would like to see more autonomy for the region, support for complete independence is very low.
Guyana Legislative power rests in the unicameral Guyanese parliament, called the National Assembly, with 53 members chosen on the basis of proportional representation from national lists named by the political parties. An additional 12 members are elected by regional councils at the same time as the National Assembly. Executive authority is exercised by the president, who appoints and supervises the prime minister and other ministers. The president is not directly elected; each party presenting a slate of candidates for the assembly must designate in advance a leader who will become president if that party receives the largest number of votes. Any dissolution of the assembly and election of a new assembly can lead to a change in the assembly majority and consequently a change in the presidency. An ethnocultural divide between the two main ethnic groups has persisted and has on occasion led to turbulent politics. The highest judicial body is the Court of Appeal, headed by a chancellor of the judiciary. The second level is the High Court, presided over by a chief justice. The chancellor and the Chief Justice are appointed by the president. The Audit Office of Guyana (AOG) is the country's Supreme Audit Institution (SAI). Guyana is a full and participating founder-member of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the headquarters of which is located in Georgetown. The CARICOM Single Market & Economy (CSME) will, by necessity, bring Caribbean-wide legislation into force and a Carribean Court of Justice (CCJ).
Paraguay Paraguay's highly centralised and often dictatorial government was fundamentally changed by the 1992 constitution, which provides for a division of powers. The president and vice president are elected on the same ticket by popular vote for five-year terms, after which the president appoints a cabinet. The president functions as both head of state and head of government. The bicameral parliament, the Congress or Congreso, consists of an 80-member Chamber of Deputies (Cámara de Diputados) and a 45-member Senate (Cámara de Senadores), elected concurrently with the president through a proportional representation system. Deputies are elected by department and senators nationwide on a list system, both for five-year terms. Each of Paraguay's 17 departments is headed by a popularly elected governor. Paraguay's highest court is the Supreme Court. The Senate and the president select its nine members on the basis of recommendations from a constitutionally created Magistrates Council. A Paraguayan peculiarity is its flag, which features a slightly different design on the reverse side than on the front. The three stripes on the flag (red, white, and blue) come from the French flag. The front side contains the National Seal of Paraguay and the reverse contains the words "Paz y Justicia"(Peace and Justice) along with a lion and a Phrygian Cap on a pole.
Peru The current president is Alejandro Toledo, leader of Perú Posible. This governing party is, with 45 seats, the largest in the 120-seat parliament. The second and third largest parties are in opposition; respectively Partido Aprista Peruano (short: PAP, 28 seats), which is led by Alan García Pérez, and Unidad Nacional (short: UN, 17 seats), which is led by Lourdes Flores Nano.
South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands Executive power is vested in The Queen, and is exercised by the Civil Commissioner, a post held by the Governor of the Falkland Islands. The current Civil Commissioner is Howard Pearce. An Assistant Commissioner deals with policy matters and is also Director of SGSSI Fisheries, responsible for the issue of fishing licenses. An Operations Manager deals with administrative matters relating to the territory. The Financial Secretary and Attorney General of the territory are appointed and hold similar appointments in the Falkland Islands' Government. As there are no permanent inhabitants on the islands, there is no legislative council and no elections are held. The UK Foreign Office manages the foreign relations of the territory. Since 1982, the territory celebrates Liberation Day on June 14. The constitution of the territory, the manner in which its government is directed, and the availability of judicial review were discussed in a series of litigations in 2001 to 2005; see in particular Regina v. Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Appellant) ex parte Quark Fishing Limited [2005] UKHL 57. Although its government is entirely directed by the UK Foreign Office, it was held that its decisions under that direction could not be challenged as if they were in law decisions of a UK government department; thus the European Convention on Human Rights did not apply.
Suriname Suriname is a democracy based on the 1987 constitution. The government's legislative branch is the National Assembly, consisting of 51 members. These members are elected every five years. The National Assembly elects the head of the executive branch, the president, by a two-third majority. If no candidate achieves such a majority, the president is elected by the People's Assembly, a 869 member institute consisting of the National Assembly and regional representatives. Suriname is a full & participating member of the Caribbean Community (CARICO
Uruguay Uruguay's Constitution of 1967 created a strong presidency, subject to legislative and judicial controls. The president, who is both head of state and head of government, is elected by popular vote for a five-year term, with the vice president elected on the same ticket. Thirteen cabinet ministers, appointed by the president, head executive departments.The parliament is the bicameral General Assembly or Asamblea General, which consists of a 30-member senate (Cámara de Senadores), presided over by the vice president of the republic, and a 99-member Chamber of Representatives (Cámara de Representantes). Members for both houses are elected by popular vote for a five-year term. The highest court is the Supreme Court; below it are appellate and lower courts, and justices of the peace. In addition, there are electoral and administrative ("contentious") courts, an accounts court, and a military justice system. For most of Uruguay's history, the Colorado and National parties have alternated in power. The elections of 2004, however, brought the Encuentro Progresista-Frente Amplio-Nueva Mayoría, a coalition of various leftist parties, to power with majorities in both houses of parliament and the election of President Tabaré Vázquez Rosas by an absolute majority. Uruguay is a country of many diverse people and cultures.
Venezuela The Venezuelan president is elected by a popular vote, with direct and universal suffrage, and functions as both head of state and head of government. The term of office is six years, and a president may be re-elected to a single consecutive term. The president appoints the vice-president and decides the size and composition of the cabinet and makes appointments to it with the involvement of the legislature. The president can ask the legislature to reconsider portions of laws he finds objectionable, but a simple parliamentary majority can override these objections. The unicameral Venezuelan parliament is the National Assembly or Asamblea Nacional. Its 165 deputies, of which three are reserved for indigenous peoples, serve five-year terms and may be re-elected for a maximum of two additional terms. They are elected by popular vote through a combination of party lists and single member constituencies. The highest judicial body is the Supreme Tribunal of Justice or Tribunal Supremo de Justicia, whose magistrates are elected by parliament for a single 12-year term. The Consejo Nacional Electoral is in charge of electoral processes; it is formed by five main directors elected by the National Assembly. Members of the Venezuelan military, including Hugo Chávez, attempted a coup in 1992 to remove the democratically elected president, Carlos Andrés Pérez from power. The coup, which resulted in the deaths of 80 civilians and 17 members of the armed forces, failed and its supporters were jailed for treason. President Pérez was eventually impeached and convicted of corruption and his successor Rafael Caldera released the coup leaders from jail in 1994. Chávez's role in the coup made him popular amongst the lower classes leading him to run for president in 1998. Chávez was elected president in 1998 with 56% of the vote as part of a new political party, the Movement for the Fifth Republic. His platform, (Bolivarian revolution), called for the signing of a new constitution written by a Constituent Assembly and approved by referendum in 1999. Chávez was re-elected in 2000 under the new constitution with 59% of the vote. In November 2000, the National Assembly granted Chávez the right to rule by decree for one year, and in November 2001, Chávez made a set of 49 decrees, including large reforms in oil and agrarian policy which made him even more popular with the poor. Chávez has enacted a number of socialist reforms in Venezuela, fostering close ties with Cuban President Fidel Castro, including expropriation of plantations that owner-occupants claim are private property. Although political parties supporting Chávez have consistently won a majority of seats in parliament, Chávez has slowly made party policy to garner control of most branches of the government. The government has often had to create new grassroots public services in the form of "missions." The government's claim is that this is necessary to avoid going through a "corrupt bureaucracy," but after six years in power, and with a almost absolute control of the several governmental branches, it has begun to raise questions as to its indifference - or powerlessness - to eradicate corruption. (see Transparency International). In December 2001, the umbrella group of the nation's largest business organizations, Fedecamaras, several workers' groups, the Confederación de Trabajadores de Venezuela and the petroleum workers' union, PDVSA, called the country to a general strike. It was a first in the history of labour relations; owners, executives, managers and a few rank-and-file workers joined together to protest Chávez's economic policies. In April 11th 2002, high-ranking members within the Armed Forces, during massive opposition demonstrations that unexpectedly began to march towards the Presidential Palace refused to carry out the Plan Avila, ordered by Chávez. Although the exact circumstances are unknown, many unarmed protesters were shot at, with the result that 18 people were killed. Television broadcasts at the time showed pro-government protesters firing guns into the general direction of the demonstrators, but footage shot from an other camera-angle disputes this. To this day, the responsibility for these deaths has not been established. During the chaos that ensued, high-ranking military officials reported that Chávez had resigned (though, later on, Chavez insisted he had been taken hostage by the military and forced to sign a letter of resignation). During the confusion that followed the power void, Fedecámaras President Pedro Carmona Estanga stepped up and took power. Though initially supported by the high-ranking military that had rebelled against Chávez, he lost support after he proceeded to dissolve all democratic institutions formed under the Chávez regime - and part of the military that remained loyal to Chávez brought him back. Diosdado Cabello, Vice President of Venezuela, exerted his constitutional rights and temporarily assumed the position of president, until Chávez was restored to the Presidency. The following two years were marked by massive protests by the opposition, who managed in 2004 to obtain more than 3 million signatures to call for a referendum on Chávez, who in turn accused many of the signatures of being fraudulent. The recall referendum was held on 15 August 2004, and Chávez won (that is, he was permitted to stay in office) with approximately 60% of the vote. Leaders and supporters of the opposition refused to accept the results of the election, and claimed fraud, despite international observers that endorsed the election as free and fair. Although the Organization of American States and the Carter Center certified the referendum, disillusioned protests continued. On 4 December 2005, five of Venezuela's major opposition parties (in the end only 10% of the candidates) boycotted the elections, charging that they were not being administered fairly. Nonetheless, these parliamentary elections were marked by a low voter turnout of 25%, compared to 50 to 60% in previous parliamentary elections (2000 and 2002)[1]. Chavez’s party, the Movement for the Fifth Republic (MVR), won 114 or 68% of the 167 seats in the new National Assembly, with the rest going to allied parties. Venezuela now no longer has a coherent, elected political opposition to Chavez's Bolivarian Revolution. This gives Chavez extremely broad latitude to enact his social and economic policies, and his overwhelming majority in the legislature allows him to easily draft amendments to Venezuela's constitution. Chavez condemned the boycott as an attempt, largely backed by the United States, to destabilize both his government and its reforms as well as the election. His critics argue that the election is illegitimate, since a parliament majority of 65% elected by 25% of eligible voters cannot truly represent the electorate. Re-elected MVR congressman, and current Assembly president Nicolás Maduro, has proposed to make voting mandatory in response to December's abstention. On december 9, 2005, National Assembly President Nicolas Maduro, MVR party leader Cilia Flores, and National Assembly Vice President Pedro Carreño claimed that Venezuelan state intelligence forces thwarted a plot to destabilize Venezuela during last Sunday’s parliamentary election. They presented recordings allegedly involving active and retired dissident military officers talking about causing 15,000 deaths, chaos, and attacks on government institutions. According to the lawmakers, the CIA supported this plan. The recordings allegedly included the voices of various retired officers who were involved in the April 2002 events and are currently being sought by the police. It is worth noting that this anouncement was not made by any of the State's judicial bodies, but by the aforementioned group of congresspeople, who presented the alleged physical evidence to the media. The explosion of two small devices known in Venezuela as "niple," a few days before the election, and the sabotage of a major oil pipeline on election eve were part of the plan, said the lawmakers. The night before the election, an explosion destroyed a part of the oil pipeline that supplies Venezuela’s Paraguaná oil refining complex, one of the largest in the world. Authorities later explained that the explosion was caused by C-4 plastic explosive. A day earlier, officials discovered 24 kilos of C-4 and various weapons and grenades in Zulia state, in western Venezuela. President Chávez and members of his government have repeatedly accused the U.S. of being involved in plots to kill him and to destabilize his government with terrorist actions. The Chávez administration has so far presented no evidence supporting these accusations, however, although it has been documented that the U.S. government, via institutions such as the National Endowment for Democracy and the US Agency for International Development, has provided opposition groups with monetary support.

Economy

As of 2002, South America's gross domestic product declined by 0.3 percent, and its unemployment rate was 10.8 percent.
Due to histories of high inflation in nearly all South American countries, interest rates and thus investment remain high and low, respectively. Interest rates are usually double that of the United States. For example, interest rates are about 22 percent in Venezuela and 23 percent in Suriname. The exception is Chile, which had a head start from 1973 under Augusto Pinochet.
The South American Community of Nations is a planned continent-wide free trade zone to unite two existing free-trade organizations—Mercosur and the Andean Community.
In South America, the gap between the rich and the poor is tremendous. In Venezuela, Paraguay, Brazil, and many other South American countries, the richest 20 percent may own over 60 percent of the nation's wealth, while the poorest 20 percent may own less than 5 percent. This wide gap can be seen in many large South American cities where makeshift shacks and slums lie next to skyscrapers and upper-class luxury apartments.

Demographics

Ethnic groups of South America include: Awá, Banawa, Caiapos, Enxet, European descendants, especially from Spain, Portugal and Italy, Ge, Guarani, Incas,
Quechuas,Juris, Latin peoples, Mapuche, Mestizo, Xucuru, Zaparos.
Indigenous peoples make up the majority of the population in Bolivia and Peru, and are a significant element in most other former Spanish colonies. Exceptions to this include Argentina and Uruguay. At least three of the Amerindian languages (Quechua in Peru and Bolivia, Aymara also in Bolivia, and Guarani in Paraguay) are recognized along with Spanish as national languages. Argentina is 10 percent Indian.

Languages

Portuguese and Spanish are the primary languages of the continent. The majority of South Americans (51%) speak Portuguese. However, most South American countries are Spanish-speaking, and nearly all of the continent's lusophones reside in Brazil. Among other languages used by many South Americans are: Aymará in Bolivia and Peru, Quechua in Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru, Guaraní in Paraguay, English in Guyana, Hindi in Guyana and Suriname, Dutch and Indonesian in Suriname, Italian and German in certain pockets across southern South America.

Culture

Roman Catholicism is the dominant religion. French Guiana also has a large number of Protestants. Guyana and Suriname are exceptions, with three major religions: Christianity in general, Hinduism, and Islam.
Portuguese and Spanish are the primary languages of the continent. The majority of South Americans (51%) speak Portuguese. However, most South American countries are Spanish-speaking, and nearly all of the continent's lusophones reside in Brazil. Among other languages used by many South Americans are: Aymará in Bolivia and Peru, Quechua in Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru, Guaraní in Paraguay, English in Guyana, Hindi in Guyana and Suriname, Dutch and Indonesian in Suriname, Italian and German in certain pockets across southern South America.
South American nations have a rich variety of music. Some of the most famous genres include samba from Brazil and cumbia from Colombia.
Because of South America's ethnic mix, South American cuisine takes on African, American Indian, and European influences. Bahia, Brazil, is especially well-known for its West African-influenced cuisine.

Religion

Religion is central to South American society. Daily life and major events are marked, celebrated, and aided by the performance of religious rituals derived from a range of traditions, including Andean, Inca, shamanism, Catholicism, and Protestantism. In agricultural areas planting and harvesting are imbued with religious meaning. Marriage, healing, and even travel require celebration of religious rituals. Religion in South America also reflects and reproduces gender norms in the society. Forms of veneration, rituals of healing, rites of reconciliation, and specific religious cults follow gender lines.The gender specificity of religious belief, practices, and rituals in pre-Colombian South America defied the logic of the Spanish who invaded the region in the sixteenth century. The principle characteristics of Andean and Inca religion are gender parallelism and complementarity, which reflect and reinforce social organization. By contrast, Spanish Mediterranean monotheistic religion in which a supreme male deity dominated supported a patriarchal model of the society in which men presided over the family and society. Spanish chroniclers misunderstood Andean and Inca religion and condemned religious practices that defied the patriarchal model by suggesting they were the work of the devil.



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