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South America


- Post-Columbian Explorers -

- Exploration of the Interior -

- 16th to 18th Centuries -

- Wars of Independence -

- Problems in the 19th Century -

- 20th Century and U.S. Policy -

- Future Challenges -

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After 1453, when the Turks completed the conquest of the Byzantine Empire and won control of the eastern Mediterranean, the western nations, chiefly Portugal and Spain, were forced to seek a new route to Asia. The Portuguese, who had made a number of pioneering voyages southward in the Atlantic Ocean, sought the new route by probing the coast of Africa, reaching the Cape of Good Hope in 1486. In 1492 Christopher Columbus attempted to reach India by sailing due west across the Atlantic Ocean; but he landed in the present-day West Indies, opening up a new world to European commerce and civilization.

After Columbus returned to Europe, Spain and Portugal became involved in controversy concerning land rights in the New World. The dispute was settled in 1493 by Pope Alexander VI, who allotted to Portugal all new territory east of a line in the Atlantic Ocean running due north and south 100 leagues west of the Azores and to Spain, all territory to the west of the line. The demarcation line was later modified, with the result that Portugal obtained suzerainty over the eastern bulge of South America. This region subsequently became Brazil.

On August 1, 1498, during his third voyage, Columbus sailed to a point off the mouth of the Orinoco River and sighted the South American mainland. After cruising along the coast for several days he began to comprehend the continental character of the region.

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