What European Nations Established Colonies in Latin America?

Santo Domingo was formerly part of the Spanish colony of Hispanola.
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Latin America, a region of South and Central America and the Caribbean where Spanish and Portuguese are spoken, was colonized by various European countries beginning in the 15th century. While Spain and Portugal led the way in establishing colonies in the region, other countries like France, the Netherlands, Britain as a whole, and Scotland, before its absorption into Britain, managed Latin American colonies.

1 Spain

Spain was the first European nation to colonize Latin America, beginning with Christopher Columbus' voyage in 1492. Columbus and his fellow voyagers conquered Hispanola, an island in the Caribbean Sea. A few decades later, Spain sent Hernando Cortez to conquer the Aztec Empire in 1519. In 1535, the Spanish moved deeper into South America and conquered the Incan Empire under Francisco Pizarro. Across this region, numerous Spanish colonies were founded in the modern-day countries of Mexico, Peru and a series of others that today speak predominantly Spanish.

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2 Portugal

Portugal was the second nation to establish colonies in the Americas, beginning with its conquest of Brazil. In a voyage led by Pedro Alvarez Cabral, Portuguese explorers accidentally found the land known today as Brazil in the year 1500. Portugal's colonization of Brazil, however, was already dictated by a previous treaty between Spain and Portugal known as the Treaty of Tordesillas. Thanks to arbitration by the Catholic Church, Spain and Portugal agreed to split lands based on a line 370 leagues west of the Cape Verde Islands. Portugal would take the eastern lands, which included Brazil, while Spain would take those to the west.

3 France

After initial colonization by Spain and Portugal, France arrived in the Americas to take remaining land, like French Guiana. Unlike other Latin American colonies, French Guiana was not founded until 1763, during the reign of French King Louis XV. French Guiana is sometimes not considered part of Latin America because French, and not Spanish or Portuguese, is the official language. Other French colonies in the region included Haiti, which operated as a wealthy slave colony known as Saint-Domingue.

4 Non-Latin Countries

Some European countries that did not speak a Romance language established short-lived colonies in Latin America that either failed or were lost. One such example is Scotland's Darien Scheme, an attempt to establish a colony in modern-day Panama. The colony failed at the end of the 17th century. The Netherlands also established colonies in modern-day Latin America, like the short-lived Dutch Brazil, also known as New Holland. The region was lost to Portugal in the mid-1600s. While the Netherlands managed to hang onto regions such as Suriname and the Netherlands Antilles into the 20th century, these areas use Dutch as a main language, rather than a Romance language, and are not necessarily considered part of Latin America specifically.

Kevin Wandrei has written extensively on higher education. His work has been published with Kaplan, Textbooks.com, and Shmoop, Inc., among others. He is currently pursuing a Master of Public Administration at Cornell University.