South America: 50 Surprising Facts About Its Past & Present

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1Only Continent Without Monarchy

Only Continent Without Monarchy

The only continent where people live without monarchies is South America. Except for Suriname (which is a parliamentary republic) and French Guiana (a French overseas department), every country in South America is a presidential republic.


2. The oldest mummies ever discovered are from the South American Chinchorro civilization. They're older than the pyramids in Egypt by almost two millennia, or over 7,000 years.


3. The Mapuche were one of the few South American tribes to successfully resist Spanish colonization and maintain their independence for more than 300 years. The Spaniards earned the nickname "New Incas" as they too put up a valiant fight against the Incan Empire. It wasn't until 1883 that they finally succumbed to the Spanish.


4. Polynesians arrived in South America circa 1200 A.D., hundreds of years before the Europeans did.


5. If you were to draw a line due south from Jacksonville, Florida, the entire continent of South America would lie to the east of that line.


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Room of Forgotten Souls


6Rio Pact

Rio Pact

The United States has a defense pact with most of South America; it's called the Rio Pact, or TIAR, and it guarantees each country's right to an equal share of military aid from the other. It has been invoked numerous times, and this alliance predates NATO by two years. Cuba, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Mexico, and Ecuador are not part of this treaty, however.


7. When humans arrived in North America some 10,000 years ago, they eradicated the entire native population of mountain lions. Since then, mountain lions have been spotted all over North America, but they are actually the offspring of mountain lions native to South America who made their way north.


8. With a frequency of over 100%, blood type "O" is the most common blood type among the native populations of the Americas, particularly in Central and South American tribes.


9. There is evidence that prehistoric monkeys crossed the Atlantic Ocean on makeshift rafts to get from Africa to South America. A fossil discovered in Peru hints that, more than 30 million years ago, a distinct, completely extinct family of monkeys performed this oceanic migration when Africa and South America were much closer than they are now.


10. Over 200 lightning strikes an hour can be seen in the Lake Maracaibo basin in Venezuela for up to 10 hours at a time. You can plan ahead for it up to a few months, and it happens more than a hundred times a year. It has been named Catatumbo lightning and as many as 448,000 lightning strikes are reported here every year. Because lightning strikes happen so often and are so accurate, they have been used as a sailing beacon for a long time.


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11South American Slave Trade

South American Slave Trade

Out of the 12.5 million slaves that made the Atlantic crossing, only 388,000 were sold in the United States. Mexico and South America received the remaining 10.7 million.


12. The United States routinely sprays herbicides across the jungles of Central and South America as part of the war on drugs, wiping out both food and drug crops.


13. After successfully negotiating the purchase of New Amsterdam (now known as New York) from the Dutch in 1667, the English agreed to give up their claims to the contested South American region of Suriname. As of the 21st century, Suriname is the only sovereign nation in the Americas where Dutch is the official language.


14. Dutch is spoken widely in Suriname, in South America, but the locals also speak Sranan Tongo, a creole language derived from Portuguese, Dutch, and West African languages. The population consists of aboriginals, Dutch, Indonesians, Indians, Chinese, and escaped slaves (Maroons). As a result of centuries of Dutch control and the subsequent forced or voluntary migration of people of many different nationalities, the country is now one of the most culturally and religiously diverse places on the planet.


15. Colonia Tovar is a little town in Venezuela that was founded by German immigrants in 1843, and it has remained true to its Germanic roots ever since, earning it the nickname "The Germany of the Caribbean" due to its authentic architecture, cuisine, and language.


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16Portuguese Dominance in S. America

Portuguese Dominance in S. America

Because Brazil has a much larger population than any of the other Spanish-speaking countries in South America, Portuguese is the most widely spoken language in South America.


17. About 2.7 million years ago, the Isthmus of Panama rose, creating a land bridge between North and South America. This is when the Great American Interchange happened, which saw bears, cougars, and horses heading south and creatures such as armadillos, opossums, porcupines, and others migrating northward.


18. As an overseas department and region of France, French Guiana lacks the autonomy of a true independent state. French Guiana is in South America, but it is part of the European Union, uses the euro, and everyone who lives there is a French citizen, even though the country is in South America.


19. The great South American liberator Simón Bolívar was known as "Iron Butt" (culo de hierro) for his "endurance on horseback." In the 1800s, "iron butt" helped liberate Venezuela, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Panama from Spanish rule.


20. The prehistoric Titanoboa snake could reach a length of 42 feet and a weight of up to 2,500 pounds. It is believed to have preyed on giant crocodiles and existed in what is now South America.


21Capybara in South America

Capybara in South America

Capybaras are the world's largest extant species of rodent, and they have flourished well in South American cities, where they are commonly spotted in parks and around lakes. Capybaras are tame and often tolerate being petted by humans; however, this is not recommended due to the ticks these mammals carry, which can transmit Rocky Mountain spotted fever.


22. In the past, South America was home to carnivorous, flightless birds that reached heights of 8 feet and weighed as much as 300 pounds. They were commonly referred to as "terror birds." It lived approximately 5 to 2 million years ago.


23. Only the spectacled bear is indigenous to South America. One of four living bear species, they are also known as Andean bears since they prefer to spend most of their time in trees. Only 5–7% of their diet consists of meat, making it predominantly vegetarian. Paddington Bear was based on this species of bear.


24. Arthur Raymond Chung, President of Guyana, South America, from 1970 to 1980, is noted for being the first ethnically Chinese head of state in a non-Asian majority country.


25. There was a war between Peru and Ecuador in 1941. Neither nation was an Axis or an Allied power. In other words, this was an international war that broke out during World War 2 but had nothing to do with the European theater.

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67 COMMENTS

  1. RE: Fact# 2 – Oldest Mummies:These mummies were a part of the Chinchorro community. When a family member passed away, they would remove the entire body—including the bone marrow—and replace it with sticks. The Inca continued to mummify their deceased and bring them out for festivals thousands of years later, but they created separate homes for them rather than residing with them.

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    • they created separate homes for them rather than residing with them.

      When it came to the royal mummies, they went beyond just having a seperate home. Because of the belief that the mummies still contained the spirit of the person, the old emperor kept the properties they possesed in life. Their mummies would keep their palaces and money ,which would be used by a sort of regent/caretaker to make sure the mummy stayed well preserved.

      This meant that new emperors were pretty poor when they were crowned, and had to go on the warpath to collect their own wealth and estates.

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    • We’re talking about a sizable raft and A fruiting trees The article includes a video of what they think it would have looked like in the past.

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      • Although I’d prefer to think otherwise, this video is on a river. If we had some proof that a raft could span the ocean now, or at least manage whatever the distance was that many years ago, I suppose the water would be much harsher. likely less as a result of tectonic action. The distance was approximately 930 to 1100 miles, as stated in the article

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  2. RE: Fact# 3 – Mapuche People:Before you continue to think of the Mapuches as a helpless, peaceful tribe that was “massacred” by “evil whites,” you should know that they were aggressive conquerors who frequently and violently murdered other peaceful tribes.

    For instance, the Tehuelche tribe, who was tranquil and friendly with the Spaniards, first occupied the Patagonian regions of Argentina. The mapuches arrived from Chile, where they were originally from, killed everyone, and then took over the territory. Remember that they did this in the 1800s, after colonialism and the use of firearms against unarmed people. The “Conquista del Desierto” campaign was carried out as vengeance for this, and it wasn’t only to kill local people as many revisionist historians suggest; rather, it was to defend against an invading force that had essentially wiped off our original tribes and inhabitants.

    Despite the fact that they are not at all an indigenous tribe, they continue to assert their ownership to Patagonia in Argentina. Many years prior to them, Europeans had already established in Argentina.

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    • People tend to portray the natives as saints who only sought good for the earth.

      The problem is that if everyone is truly equal, we have to assume that many of these tribes weren’t like that and were content to plunder, rape, or enslave others.

      People have said that white people are the most terrible race in the world, but the truth is that white people are simply fortunate to have mastered long-distance ship travel and early organization. And certain white people in recent history—not all of them—English, French, etc.—used this to their advantage to essentially conquer the world.

      However, it’s crucial to keep in mind that any group is capable of mass murder, genocide, and land theft if we honestly think that everyone is created equal. A lot of folks don’t seem to get this for some reason.

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      • It’s referred to as “noble savage,” and it’s just another form of racism with some historical illiteracy mixed in. Simple good versus evil narratives are cozy, and we all have a propensity to automatically order reality into them.

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      • It’s simply impossible to apply our standards to it because it’s a different time. I discovered that the history of the US Great Plains can be summarized as follows from Empire of the Summer Moon;

        Everyone was an arse. Comanche would kidnap your kids, skin your family alive, use them as targets, slowly cook their carcasses next to a fire, and leave them out for you to find.

        The Texas Rangers and other indigenous tribes would then traverse valley after valley, hill after hill, and kill every man, woman, and child they could locate. steal their own offspring, “eradicating” the Indian.

        Ask me not which is worst. I’m not sure.

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  3. RE: Fact# 1 – Only Continent Without Monarchy: Until a military coup deposed the Emperor of Brazil in 1889, Brazil was a monarchy.

    After Emperor Pedro II abolished slavery in Brazil, he was overthrown by the country’s landowners and the military.

    In an effort to safeguard the Imperial family, some emancipated slaves formed a covert paramilitary organization. They were known as the Black Guard).

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    • Brazil’s history is really bizarre. In addition to being a monarchy, our nation also took in Portugal’s entire royal family and court in 1808, when they escaped the Napoleonic Wars that had overthrown so many European monarchies. The Portuguese Empire was ruled from Brazil for 12 years before they finally returned to Europe. Dom Pedro II, the son of Prince Pedro I, ruled the country until his peaceful overthrow in 1889. Dom Pedro II had declared independence in 1824 but abdicated a few years later.

      Following the overthrow of the monarchy, the aristocracy had remarkably little of their wealth taken from them. Family members of the deposed royals continue to assert their legal right to a portion of the meager assets they were able to salvage. A large portion of the land that is still owned by politically influential families today was granted by the king during the era of colonial rule. In the history of the Brazilian state, there has never been a true revolution that succeeded in toppling the current elite.

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      • leaving the throne to his son, then a kid, Dom Pedro II, who was peacefully deposed in 1889.

        He enjoyed a great deal of public support, the unwavering devotion of the Imperial Navy and their terrifying Imperial Marines, as well as the fervent backing of groups like the Black Guard. So, if he had wanted to, he could have refused, and, to be completely honest, he probably would have prevailed in the end. Pedro, however, promised to renounce all claims to the throne and go into exile in exchange for the abolitionist statute not being overturned because he was tired of seeing the tragedy of the American Civil war repeated on Brazilian land.

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        • It should be mentioned that Pedro II had developed into a little of what we now refer to as a doomer in the later years of his reign when it came to the future prospects of the Brazilian monarchy.

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    • Surprisingly, the treatment of Native Americans was a recurring theme throughout the various Independence movements.

      Native Americans had safeguards from the Spanish Crown, including land rights that were upheld by the Crown, because it saw them as its subjects. The fight for independence was mostly led by the white local elites, and one of the main motivations was to destroy the aforementioned land rights in order to evict the indigenous population and erect plantations. The majority of Mestizos and Native Americans support the Spanish, and many of the terrifying tales you heard about Spanish officers chopping off hands when gold quotas weren’t fulfilled or other things were independentist/British propaganda.

      In the US, the same fucking thing happened as well, so let’s not act like Americans are superior here. Only those Native Americans who signed treaties guaranteeing their countries’ independence and the security of their territories allied with the United States against the British. And have a look at how well it fucked up for them.

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      • In the US, the same fucking thing happened as well, so let’s not act like Americans are superior here.

        The American landowners’ desire to invade territory that the British had publicly acknowledged as belonging to the native Americans led to the declaration of independence in major part.

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      • In terms of minority rights, monarchies frequently outperformed the early liberal republics. More important to the feudal system than a non-existent national ideal were religion and monarchy allegiance. The French revolution, in the spirit of equality and unity, overturned the local autonomy that the Ancien regime had granted to Basques and Occitans in France. Since then, all minority languages in France have essentially been wiped out in a cultural holocaust.

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  4. RE: Fact# 15 – Colonia Tovar: In actuality, Latin America is full of this kind of thing. Germany has made a significant musical impact on a lot of traditional Mexican music. I’ve traveled through Costa Rica on occasion. My brother and I couldn’t help but notice the German architecture while we were driving around Lake Arenal. (It appeared to be in Bavaria.) We made a pit break for bratwurst and sauerkraut in one location. I would have easily believed I was in Garmisch if it weren’t for the extreme temperatures and humidity.

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  5. RE: Fact# 8 – Blood Type O: Malaria resistance is also partially conferred by type O blood. Which, I’m certain, is not an accident.

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      • Yes, but during the Columbian era, malaria was introduced, and many people perished. Therefore, is this still a coincidence?

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        • In regions like the Andes and Alaska’s North Bank, which neither support Anopheles, there were also millions of indigenous people. This is a mapof the Anopheles range, which does not completely encircle the Americas and not all of which may transmit malaria. Even if non-O-type American Natives were 100% lethal to malaria, many would still never even be exposed.

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  6. RE: Fact# 5 – S. America’s West of Jacksonville: Also interesting:

    There are 6 US State capitals west of Los Angeles and Rome is further north than NYC.

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  7. RE: Fact# 7 – South American Mountain Lions: Mountain lions were just “extirpated” 10,000 years ago, according to the source. There is no mention of human being responsible of this.

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    • Around the time that humans arrived in the new world, almost all of North America’s megafauna died extinct. Although it’s possible that the mega-fauna just went extinct at this time, it’s also highly likely that human communities discovered a new source of calories that hadn’t evolved in tandem with human demands and was a very simple diet. This also parallels the extinction of the megafauna from Australia 50,000 years ago due to human expansion. It’s possible that humans’ reduction in the variety and richness of huge cats’ prey species in North America caused pressure that the animals couldn’t withstand. It is really difficult to make a completely conclusive judgment when studying matters like these, but the coincidences seem to indicate that there are pressures on humans. Before humans arrived on the scene, megafauna in North America had survived multiple (about 20) glacial cycles. Coincidentally, I just finished reading a chapter of Guns, Germs, and Steel yesterday that talked about the extinction of mega-fauna.

      I also wanted to note that this is speculation. There are various hypotheses for the extinction events, and the wiki article includes a link to the Pleistocene extinction event (several of them being human caused). Despite the fact that this opinion is “informed,” readers should not take it as scientific truth.

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      • This is something I’ve heard before, but what precisely is this “labor”? I consider labor and the effort put in to produce an outcome. Even the southern slave trade produced something. What is the jail industry’s final product? Although they may generate some license plates or other items, I don’t see an end result for all of this “work.” Does anyone know where the prison population is produced?

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        • “The Left Business Observer claims that all military helmets, ammunition belts, bulletproof vests, ID badges, shirts, pants, tents, backpacks, and canteens are produced entirely by the federal prison industry. Along with providing 98% of the market’s total equipment assembly services, 93% of the paints and paintbrushes, 92% of the stove assembly, 46% of the body armor, 36% of the home appliances, 30% of the headphones, microphones, and speakers, and 21% of the office furniture, prison laborers also provide war supplies. Prisoners are also breeding seeing-eye dogs for blind people in addition to farming airplane parts, medical supplies, and much more.”

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  8. RE: Fact# 11 – South American Slave Trade:
    Brazil had to import so many because they kept dying from disease and being worked to death

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    • United States also didn’t need to import as many because the gender ratio was kept at a relative equal in order to keep up the birth rates of new slaves. Source

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      • Not long after the constitution was ratified, the USA prohibited the importation of slaves, forcing those who relied on them to feed, clothe, and house them rather than causing their deaths from overwork and neglect. The practice of using existing slaves until they died and importing new ones persisted in South and Central America. Africans committed to the plantations and colonies ruled by the Spanish, French, and Portuguese were essentially given death sentences from malnutrition, exposure, and tropical diseases.

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  9. RE: Fact# 2 – Oldest Mummies:Mummies are fascinating because most of them may be found all over the world.

    Pre-Incan mummies that were chosen deliberately to be sacrifices and fed a particular diet in their final days can be found in South America. They were discovered in low-oxygen, high altitude environments. Even though they probably had no idea how, the ancients were aware that this preserved the bodies.

    There are two different ancient mummy preparations in North America. Although this may be because there was once a massive Rome-sized civilization in the Southwest US during Mesoamerican times and their culture may have been a branch of South American Mesoamerican cultures, the Anasazi peoples had a mummification ritual that was similar to that of the South Americans.

    Additionally, researchers have discovered that tribes would travel great distances to bury their dead in the wetlands of the southeast US 12–15 thousand years ago. They effectively resembled bog bodies.

    Speaking of bog bodies, there are two different kinds of mummies in Europe. Bog bodies refer to cases in which individuals were dumped into bogs or deliberately deposited there. Similar to Siberia, many tombs in Russia are constructed in frigid temperatures to preserve the bodies of the deceased.

    Egypt is another example, and I was just thinking how terrible it is that mummies were crushed up and used to make paint. Countless amounts of knowledge have been lost due to centuries of history-destroying theft, desecrating, and looting. Other mummies have been discovered in Africa, but we don’t know much about them.

    Buddhist monks were also mummified. Long periods of time were spent on a certain diet, followed by lotus position meditation till death. There have even been well-known accounts of a Buddhist statue made of gold being discovered to contain a mummified monk. Tradition holds that they are still alive, they are simply hibernating for a very long time. Creepy.

    In addition to mummies and pyramids, China once undoubtedly possessed some of the most sophisticated preservation practices in recorded human history. We are unable to excavate the Pyramid of Qi, the site of the Terracotta Warriors, in large part because after the high quantities of mercury in the soil were discovered, researchers recognized that not only were the old tales about the pyramid genuine, but it also included ACTIVE BOOBY TRAPS. There are other additional crossbows that almost sound mythological, like pressure-activated crossbows with mechanisms that have been maintained in resin to ensure they continue to shoot even now. Very interesting material

    There are mummies from the Persian civilization, the Pilipino people, the Vikings, the catacombs of Europe, and even mummies from island settlements all over the world.

    We did this for what?

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    • Pyramid of Qi

      Do you have a link to any of these “booby traps” or crossbow traps? I remember reading an article specifically about whether such traps ever existed anywhere outside of stories, movies, TV and books, and the answer was: no. Years ago, I read about some ancient text describing a tomb which was built with portions that would collapse if it was ever broken into, but nothing like that had ever been found in real life.

      I’m not saying you’re wrong or lying, but I remember reading that such ancient booby traps have never existed.

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      • First off, the “Pyramid of Qi” does not exist.

        The Qin Shih Huangdi mausoleum is designed with the tomb itself laid out as a scale representation of his former empire, covered by a huge, tiered pyramid with a truncated top.

        The legends of booby traps (summarized here in this pop history article) come from The Records of The Grand Historian, about 500 years later.

        We won’t know if there were any traps even though some things (such the dam and the mercury lake) seem to be real until further studies are conducted.

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    • The phrase Mesoamerican is being misused here. In South America, there were no Mesoamerican ethnic groups. Mesoamerica especially refers to the societies and cultures that existed in Central America from northern Mexico all the way down to El Salvador and northern Costa Rica before the Spanish conquest. Precolombian is probably the correct phrase to use in this context.

      I would also like to see a source on how South American peoples settled in or perhaps influenced Southeastern US communities like Cahokia. Despite their extensive distribution, which extended as far north as the Caribbean, I’ve never heard of any Arawak effect on the US mainland.

      With this comment, you’ve got some misleading info floating around, like the notion that China produced terracotta mummies. I’d go over some of the references from which you drew some of this data.

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      • Even so, Mesoamerica’s geographical expanse is still quite broad. The bulk of Mesoamerican civilizations that are addressed and are unmistakably Mesoamerican are found in Guatemala and Belize as well as the lower half of Mexico.

        While Mesoamerican characteristics can be seen in some cultures and sites in Northern Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras, and possibly Nicaragua and Costa Rica, those regions are more commonly regarded as belonging to their own cultural regions, namely Aridoamerica for the former and Central America for the latter.

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    • If the area is small enough to make this possible, they should, even if only as a test to determine how useful/effective it is.

      That being said, I suppose it would be constructed elsewhere and put in on one of the quieter days. But would you want to be the one in charge of its setup, upkeep, and other things?

      I imagine that this suit or this might be sufficient to protect you (or might not … lightning is perhaps more than these are designed for) but even so … sounds like scary stuff.

      Good TIL material!

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  10. RE: Fact# 3 – Mapuche People: That is incredible because it suggests Colombians, not the Spanish Empire, were responsible for their conquest.

    And I observe the Mapuche resistance and the Mexican Yaqui uprising; they only “surrendered” after the government began bombing them from the air in the 1960s, and their resistance is still going strong now.

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  11. RE: Fact# 19 – Simón Bolívar a.k.a. Iron Butt:Simon Bolivar was a very fascinating man. If anyone is interested, Mike Duncan has a fantastic podcast about him and the South American revolutions that is both entertaining and incredibly educational. I believe this is the fifth episode of the “Revolutions” podcast series.

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    • In the 1990s, it was Alberto Fujimori. However, he was a corrupt, human-rights-trampling furious jerk who is now imprisoned.

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  12. RE: Fact# 27 – Giant Otters of S. America: Ammmmmaaaazing. I learn about new things every day there hat I never would have thought about.

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    • When I read that “after the jaguar, the giant otter is South America’s largest and most capable predator,” it really blew my mind.

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    • My dad once showed me a documentary on the Amazon that mostly focused on these otters. I used to watch it constantly, and I vividly recall the loud clicking sounds they produce. They are among my favorite creatures. I believe that children should be exposed to the whole range of biodiversity that this planet has to offer from a young age. It contributes to the development of a deep-seated love of the environment and a desire to protect it for the benefit of its inhabitants. I believe that not enough individuals are exposed to this important sense.

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      • The evolution of pterodactyls, which were extremely high-altitude floaters that fed on air algae or plankton yet were so translucent and light that they never left their fossils. Info on this subject was touched on by Stephen Baxter. Baxter is great yet his hard science fiction usually hurts my brain.

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  13. RE: Fact# 6 – Rio Pact: It’s interesting to note that Venezuela also left the alliance in 2015 before returning in 2019. Every country indicated in the fact was formerly a member of the alliance but has since either left or been expelled.

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  14. RE: Fact# 18 – French Guiana in EU:It also serves as the primary launch site for the ESA, which is the European Space Agency.

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    • To dissuade them from declaring independence, France gives the area a ton of money.

      Even closer to the equator than Florida, the launch site uses less energy to deploy geostationary satellites into orbit. For polar orbits, it is not particularly important.

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      • Yeah, mate, Guyana’s independence movements are completely gone. When asked if they desired additional autonomy, there was a referendum in 2010, and the No side triumphed with 70% of the vote.

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  15. RE: Fact# 28 – Prehistoric Giant Sloths:In South America, large ground sloths constructed huge burrows thousands of years ago that are still there now. The largest ones are 2,000 feet long and nearly 6 feet tall.

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    • The species went extinct when humans with spears arrived, like the majority of megafauna.

      The Mega-Sloths were exceedingly successful; as a result, the species spread and lesser sloths evolved from them over the course of millennia, giving rise to the sloths we see today.

      It’s a shame that MegaSloths are extinct because if they were, we could train them to dig for us.

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  16. RE: Fact# 29 – No Road to Iquitos:I have been there! Carts pulled by motorbikes are the most common form of transportation pver there. Gaudi designed one of their buildings. There is the depressing slum of Belen, and there is also a burger joint named Ari’s serving up delicious yuccas fritas and excellent PISCO sours.

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  17. Even in South America, Suriname is a peculiar duck because very little there appears in the media. Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay, and of course big guy Brazil are frequently mentioned when I’m in Argentina. Also frequently mentioned are Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, and Venezuela. But from Guyana and Suriname? Nothing!

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    • In comparison to the rest of the continent, Suriname (Dutch Guiana), Guyana (British Guiana), and French Guiana (which is technically a part of France) are unquestionably strange ducks. The reason for such nations’ isolation is that they all share borders with the Brazilian bush. I have only ever traveled to one South American country, which is strange for me as well. I want to travel the world!

      Funny story: of all places, Hawaii is where I first acquired a little bit of Argentine (Argentine?) Spanish. Many foreigners worked in one bar/restaurant where I spent a lot of time chatting with an Argentinian woman. I jokingly inquired as to how to communicate, “I’m a flirt,” in their own language. Chamuyero! Like, I guess, “charmer” in English. Another woman, who was Peruvian, advised me to use the word “mujeriego,” or womanizer. I’m neither, but I learned a few words I can use later.

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