SOUTHERN SOUTH AMERICA

Brazil is the giant of South America, occupying almost half the continent and containing more than half its people. Once-rich Argentina has been impoverished by corrupt government, and all six countries in this region have had long periods of military or dictatorial rule in recent years, although all now have elected governments.

HOW LONG IS THE AMAZON RIVER?

The Amazon River is 4,001 miles (6,439 km) long, which makes it the longest river in South America and second-longest in the world after the Nile. It flows from the Peruvian Andes eastward across Brazil to the Atlantic Ocean. The Amazon carries one-fifth of the world’s fresh water and discharges so much water into the Atlantic that seawater 110 miles (180 km) out to sea is still only slightly salty.

WHAT ARE THE PAMPAS?

The Pampas are vast, fertile grasslands that stretch across Argentina and Uruguay. This land is ideal for growing wheat and other cereals and for feeding vast herds of sheep and cattle, all of which are extremely important to the two national economies. Gauchos (cowboys) rode the pampas for 300 years, working on cattle ranches, but there are few left now, since their role has largely disappeared.

WHAT ARE FAVELAS?

The favelas are the sprawling shanty towns around most of the big cities in South America, notably Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo in Brazil. Overcrowding and the lack of affordable housing in the cities force poor people to build their own homes from scrap metal and junk. The favelas have little running water or sanitation. Recent self-help schemes have begun to introduce some basic amenities, but progress is slow.

DO NATIVE INDIANS STILL LIVE IN THE RAINFORESTS?

There were once more than two million native Indians living in the Amazon rainforest, but today only about 240,000 survive. Most of them were wiped out by Western diseases such as influenza and measles. Deforestation, farming, and gold prospecting are a threat to the habitat of many tribes, although some, like the Xingu, now live in protected areas.

WHAT IS SOUTH AMERICA’S MOST SOUTHERLY TOWN?

The town of Ushuaia lies at the southern tip of Argentina, so close to the Antarctic that it is bitterly cold for much of the year. The town is situated on a chain of islands called Tierra del Fuego, or “land of fire” in Spanish, named after the Indian fires seen there by the first explorers. Once a port for whaling ships, Ushuaia is now a bustling, modern town.

WHY HAVE SO MANY EUROPEANS SETTLED IN ARGENTINA?

About 98 percent of the population of Argentina is descended from European settlers. This includes the descendants of the two million people who came from Italy to escape poverty in the years before World War I, and many people from Wales. Immigrants were attracted by the relative wealth of the country and the almost unlimited areas of fertile land for farming.

WHAT IS THE NATIONAL DANCE OF ARGENTINA?

The tango began in the slums of the Argentinian capital, Buenos Aires, in the late 1800s, but is now danced worldwide. It is a passionate dance for two people and has a distinctive stop–start rhythm. It was traditionally accompanied by a type of concertina known as a bandoneon, together with a piano and a violin.

FACTFILE: SOUTHERN SOUTH AMERICA

BRAZIL

Capital city: Brasília

Area: 3,268,470 sq miles (8,511,965 sq km)

Population: 175 million

Official language: Portuguese

Major religion: Roman Catholic

Currency: Real

CHILE

Capital city: Santiago

Area: 292,258 sq miles (756,950 sq km)

Population: 15.6 million

Official language: Spanish

Major religion: Roman Catholic

Currency: Chilean peso

BOLIVIA

Capital city: La Paz (administrative); Sucre (judicial)

Area: 424,162 sq miles (1,098,580 sq km)

Population: 8.7 million

Official languages: Spanish, Quechua, and Aymara

Major religion: Roman Catholic

Currency: Boliviano

ARGENTINA

Capital city: Buenos Aires

Area: 1,068,296 sq miles (2,766,890 sq km)

Population: 37.9 million

Official language: Spanish

Major religion: Roman Catholic

Currency: Argentine peso

PARAGUAY

Capital city: Asunción

Area: 157,046 sq miles (406,750 sq km)

Population: 5.8 million

Official language: Spanish

Major religion: Roman Catholic

Currency: Guaraní

URUGUAY

Capital city: Montevideo

Area: 68,039 sq miles (176,220 sq km)

Population: 3.4 million

Official language: Spanish

Major religion: Roman Catholic

Currency: Uruguayan peso

Copyright © 2007 Dorling Kindersley