Like Asia or Europe, Latin America is not a homogeneous region in many respects. The name Latin America itself conjures up a jigsaw puzzle whose pieces would be extremely difficult to fit together on account of the historical vicissitudes of these countries and the present situation which exists within them. Any attempt or intent to treat the recent advances in EIA in all Latin America together would prove to be impossible and could lead to the most base generalizations or to a repetition of the preconceived judgements found sometimes in the literature on EIA in developing countries. Therefore, this chapter is restricted to the provision of some information showing how these countries have been dealing with their environmental problems and how EIA has been adapted to suit the national situation in a few of them.
The twenty independent countries that form what is known as Latin America cover an area of 20019000km2 (7729344 square miles) with a population of about 300 million inhabitants. Eighteen countries are former Spanish colonies, whereas one, Haiti, was colonized by France and one, Brazil, by Portugal. The largest and most populated is Brazil comprising 8511 965km2 and 130 million inhabitants. EI Salvador is the smallest (20935km2) and Panama is the least populated with about 1.5 million people. These countries have gradually evolved to form a diverse range on the basis of their different geographical situations, the various origins of their settlers and immigrants and their individual political and cultural circumstances.
Although their social and political organizations are at different stages of development, they share in common not only socioeconomic characteristics which are the consequence of colonization, but also the model of development that has prevailed for one and a half centuries of politically independent history. Latifundia, monoculture for export, and pre-capitalist forms of labour division are still a large component of agricultural exploitation in Latin American countries. On the other hand, it is a well-known fact that industrialization in these countries came about as a response to the economic needs of Western industrialized countries. Therefore, industrialization has been concentrated precisely in. those sectors of the economy of international market interest, namely agriculture and mining, rather than in local consumption or local resource utilization. This concentration in the primary sectors of the economy