The countries of Latin America share common historical, cultural and linguistic characteristics and some similarities in economic and social development. When the colonial powers left the region the newly independent countries had relatively similar political and economic structures. Agriculture was the backbone of all the economies and industry made only a small contribution to national wealth as it was slow to develop. The role of the state in the economy and society was substantial, defined not only by the specifics of each country but also by the type of government in question. Most of the countries came under military dictatorship at some point in time, often in response to economic instability or to prevent leftist parties or movements from gaining power. The differences between the countries in size, human power and natural factor endowments created divergent forces and resulted in today’s economic and market heterogeneity in the region.
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