The transitional landscapes of Latin America

The American Continent. Brazilian Artist Vik Muniz

The landmass called America has been transformed by societies with greater or lesser complexity throughout the centuries (i.e. Mesoamerican and Inca civilizations), nevertheless the intensity of this transfiguration precipitated after the European discovery of the New World, officially dated on October 12th 1492 AD.

From the late 15th century to the early 19th century the American continent operated as a supply zone of energy, food and raw materials for Europe. Latin America (a region of the American continent where languages derived from Latin are primarily spoken) was ruled mainly under authorities from the Spanish and Portuguese Kingdoms. These territories experienced the transformation of their lands by the replication of the urban and rural patterns from Europe. In many cases (i.e. Canada or Argentina) these replicas shaped areas in the American continent up to the point to create a Neo-Europe. The colonisation of the “new” soil suggested the mapping of the land discovered.

It is impossible to deny the influence of the European colonialism in Latin America: Colombia got its name as recognition of the European explorer Christopher Columbus and the origins of the name Venezuela comes from the word “little Venice”. The land now called Mexico was called New Spain for nearly 300 years and Buenos Aires is often called “The Paris of South America” because of the European legacy in the architecture of this city. Thousand of works have been written and studied about the consequences of the colonial heritage on these territories. For more than three centuries the landscape of Latin America was built by a colonial order, by a European authority:

“Creating ecological replicas of Europe was only part of this enormous task [the discovery of America]. The European population of institutions –the whole spectrum of governmental, commercial, ecclesiastic, and educational organizations- also had to be replicated on the other side of the ocean. Europe’s institutions were a complex mixture of markets, antimarkets, and rationalised bureaucracies, and their replicas across the Atlantic were equally varied. Moreover, the transformation of the American continent into a supply region involved interactions between institutions of different areas, more specifically, a mixture of different strategies for the extraction of surpluses, some ancient, some new, in a process akin to Europe’s self-colonization.”

The American Continent. Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei

By 1830 the majority of the former colonies in Latin America had become sovereign territories (the last country to achieve its sovereignty was Cuba, which became independent from Spain in 1898 with the aid of United States). In a merely historical perspective the 19th century witnessed several wars of independence and national movements that founded the contemporary national states of Latin America. The 20th century could be portrayed as the arena where the consolidation of national identities took place. The Mexican Revolution in 1910 provided Mexico with a national identity for the entire century, a breaking point with the colonial heritage. In terms of its political order and sovereignty, at the beginning of the 21st century Latin America is neither colonial nor post-colonial.
In a mathematical, linear description of the human history in Latin America the 19th was the last century of a formal European authority over that landscape (cities included). The 20th century was marked by the consolidation of national boundaries and regional governances. Nowadays in the Americas, six cities (Mexico City, Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, Los Angeles and New York) host more than 10 million people each.At the beginning of the 21st century, after the decolonisation of an entire landmass and the solidification of national states on it, the construction and representation of the Latin American landscapes do not correspond to the notions of colonialism or postcolonialism. By contrast, when using the term transitional landscapes of Latin America (cities, for instance) I am looking for a different definition of the current human-made habitats. The sustainable cartography of the emerging landscapes of Mexico could be enriched with the analysis of a macrocontext: the landscapes of the former Terra Nova.

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