Consult a dictionary and you would likely find that Latin America is "the countries of the western hemisphere south of the Rio Grande, in which the official languages are derived from Latin." It is the standard definition used by many individuals yet today. But the Latin American Alliance says it more simply:
"Latin America is made up of South America, Mexico, Central America, and the West Indies. Within this region are nearly three dozen independent nations plus some colonies and other political units that have special ties with the United States, Great Britain, France, or The Netherlands." Spanish and Portuguese colonies in Central and South America became independent during the first half of the 19th century. Haiti, the first Latin American country to win independence, gained its freedom from France in 1804. In the West Indies the Spanish-American War in 1898 freed Cuba and Puerto Rico from Spanish rule. From the end of World War II through the 1980s, several Netherlands colonies have become self-governing and all the British associated states have been granted independence.
"Latin America today is one of the world's three major developing regions and is making rapid economic progress. Foreign investments in mining and manufacturing have greatly stimulated development. The region is a major world supplier of tropical agricultural commodities, such as coffee, sugar, and bananas. Wheat, soybeans, wool, and meat come from its cooler temperate regions. Rich deposits of important minerals are found throughout Latin America. The United States depends heavily on Mexico and Venezuela for much of its supply of petroleum.
The people of Latin America reflect a variety of ethnic heritage that is unmatched in any other region. Intermarriage among Indians, whites, and blacks has created unique blends of cultures in the region. Traditions inherited from Indians, black slaves, and white immigrants have contributed to a rich regional culture. Music, arts and crafts, foods, religion, architecture, and language all reflect the contributions of American, African, and European heritage.
In this year of 1999, Latin America has been chosen as the region of the world to be featured in programs and activities throughout the fall semester at Missouri Southern State College. Why in 1999? Because it is at midnight December 31, 1999, that transfer of control of the Panama Canal from the United States to the Panamanian government takes place. It is an event which is likely to hold momentous importance in the Western Hemisphere and in the relations the United States has with the nations of Central and South America.
Therefore, in preparation for that transfer and in preparation for the increased significance that all of Latin America will have in the affairs of the United States, we observe "The Latin America Semester."