Dates of independence for Latin American countries From the 1500s onwards, the region now described as Latin America (South America, Mexico and Central America) was ruled by Spain, with the important exception of Brazil, which became part of the Portuguese Empire. The countries of Latin America won their independence from European rule in the early 1800s. Millions of European immigrants arrived to start new lives in countries that were often governed by dictators and fighting each other over land and resources. Today the entire continent is largely at peace and under democratic government.
The Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire in South America in the 1530s, added to their conquest of the Aztec Empire in Mexico and Central America in the 1520s, gave the Spanish the second biggest empire in world history to date, after the Mongol Empire of the 1200s. The Spanish destroyed the ancient cultures they found, while European diseases wiped out much of the local population. Spanish rule was restricted mainly to the big cities and road systems, with the more sparsely inhabited interior still only partly colonized by 1800. The main benefit of the empire was the huge wealth of silver mined in Bolivia and brought back to Spain in fleets that regularly crossed the Atlantic Ocean. This wealth funded Spanish armies in Europe and underpinned all European trade.
Simón Bolívar's full name was: Simón José Antonio de la Santísima Trinidad Bolívar y Palacios Ponte y Blanco.
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