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The Sai Movement In Latin America
Zone 2

By Leonardo Gutter

This article first appeared in Heart2Heart, April 2006.


In this introduction, we talk mainly about the various countries in Latin America. Some information about the Sai movement is given at the end, but most if it is in the articles for the countries.

Loosely speaking,  Latin America is the part of the continent of America that lies to the south of the United States. In a more strict sense, the term Latin America stands for all the countries that were once colonies of Spain, Portugal, and France. Since Spanish, Portuguese, and French were all derived from Latin, the term Latin America generally designates nations that were once the colonies in the New World of these European powers.

In geographical terms, the American continent may be considered to be made up of three parts: North America, South America, and Central America. North and South America are linked by Central America, which at one point becomes very narrow.

Latin America as presently understood, comprises 23 countries: Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Brazil, and the Guayanas. We begin with a description of the region known as Central America .



This region comprises Mexico, the countries that lie below Mexico right down to Panama, and the Caribbean islands. Many volcanoes crisscross the region from the West to the East. The climate of Central America is generally warm, though in the hilly regions it tends to be mild and pleasant.

Barring Cuba and Puerto Rico where the population is predominantly white, in all other countries the population is mixed, with some whites, some blacks, some of Indian origin [not from India!], and the rest racially mixed. The official language in most countries is Spanish --Brazil of course being a major exception, where the official language is Portuguese. However, many other languages and dialects are also spoken, especially where the indigenous population is predominant.


There is also considerable diversity in the economic levels of the different segments of the population, with many of them being quite poor.



Mexico, just south of the United States, has the shape of a horn. It is washed by the Pacific on the western side and the Atlantic on the eastern side. The land slopes sharply on the Pacific coast while the slope is gentler on the Atlantic side. The capital city is Mexico City, which is at quite a height above sea level. It is also densely populated. The other big cities are: Guadalajara and Monterrey .

The official language is Spanish. There is no official religion; however, Catholics form the majority. Thanks to the fertile soil, agriculture is widespread, the crops raised ranging from corn, wheat, and rice all the way to sugarcane, coffee, and cocoa. There are also many industries. Mexico produces oil, fifty percent of which is exported to the United States.

Mexico City - an aerial view


Guatemala is a very mountainous country, with land elevation varying quite substantially across the country. As a result, there is a considerable variation in the climate, the upper regions being cold and the lower regions being warm.

The population is quite mixed racially, with people of indigenous origin being in majority. Most of the people are Catholics. The official language is Spanish, and the Capital is Guatemala City. The country is predominantly agricultural, and not very rich. Sugar cane and bananas form the main export items.

A Guatemala mountain



This small country is located on the south east of the Yucatan Peninsula, having Mexico and Guatemala as neighbours. There are rich tropical forests near the coast and pine forests in the interior.

Thanks to the moderating influence of the sea, the climate is not as warm as it otherwise might have been. The population is mostly indigenous and of African origin. The country is poor and the economy depends mainly on forest products. The capital is Belmopan.

Rich forest in Belize

El Salvador:

El Salvador is flanked by the Pacific, Guatemala, and Honduras. The country is mountainous and there are many volcanoes. It is also prone to earthquakes. The rivers are not very long and of torrential character, with many cascades as they flow to the ocean.

A cathedral in Santa Ana
One of the many volcanoes in El Salvador

The Capital city is San Salvador and the other big cities include San Vicente, Holy An,n and Sansonate. Spanish is the official language, and the people are predominantly Roman Catholics. The bulk of the population is mostly racially mixed and also poor. Coffee, corn, cotton, and sugar constitute some of the major agricultural products; besides that, there is also some mining of gold, silver, copper, and iron. Almost all the minerals are exported.



Honduras is a small country tucked between the Caribbean Sea in the north and the Pacific in the south, besides flanked by Guatemala, Nicaragua and El Salvador.

The country is quite mountainous and receives a lot of rain. The capital is Tegucigalpa, and the population is mostly made up of people of mixed racial origin.

A large part of the country is covered by forests with cedar, mahogany, and oak. Agriculture is the main occupation.

Friends in Honduras...


Nicaragua too is like most of the central American republics: mountainous with many volcanoes, sandwiched between the Pacific and the Atlantic, generally poor, and ethnically diverse. There are some valuable mineral deposits also. The capital is Managua, and the official language is Spanish.

A child in Nicaragua
Banana - an important product in Costa Rica

Costa Rica:

Another small country, very similar to many others in the region but with a more humid and tropical climate compared to the countries to the north of it. As in most central American countries, banana is an important agricultural product. The Capital is San Jose and the official language is Spanish.



Though a tiny country, Panama is probably better known than most of its northern neighbours on account of the famous Panama canal. Here, the huge and expansive American continent shrinks to a mere 65 km or so. No wonder that the man-made canal linking the Atlantic and the Pacific is located here.

On account of being an important maritime highway, Panama naturally has a very cosmopolitan population. Spanish naturally is the official language, but English is quite well understood. There is of course agriculture, mining etc., but the Panama Canal is unquestionably the country’s greatest “industry”.

The Panama Canal


Haiti is truly an interesting country. It forms the western part of a Caribbean island close to Cuba. Historically, it used to be a French colony, but the black slaves rose in rebellion and drove the French out over two hundred years ago.

Thus Haiti not only became independent a long time ago but also a French-speaking “black” republic! As is to be expected, the official language is French, another factor that makes Haiti unique. The capital is Port au Prince, and the dominant religion is Catholicism.

Dominican Republic:

This country occupies the eastern part of the island of which Haiti forms the other part. Historically, the Spanish ruled this part of the island, hence Dominican Republic. Though similar to Haiti in terms of topography, landscape, climate, etc., it has a rather different cultural tradition and of course language, which is Spanish. The population is made up largely of people of mixed racial origin.  




The land mass normally described as South America is not only huge but also quite distinctive in many ways. First, there are the tall mountains that run right through, almost close to the Pacific coast.

To the east of the Andes mountains, the land slopes toward the Atlantic, providing a nice route for the many rivers rising in the Andes, the famous Amazon being of course the biggest of them all -– indeed, the Amazon can rightfully claim to be the biggest river in the whole world.

The climate is predominantly tropical, and the principal racial groups are the native Indians, the blacks, the whites, and people of mixed racial origin.

The countries that make up South America include: Venezuela, Columbia, Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru, Paraguay, Chile, Uruguay, and of course the big ones, namely, Brazil and Argentina. Spanish is the official language everywhere, except in Brazil, where it is Portuguese, for well-known historical reasons.

We now offer a thumb-nail picture of the countries in the region.




Venezuela is to the northeast of the South American landmass and flanks the Atlantic Ocean. It is partly mountainous and has many lakes.

The population is substantially of mixed racial origin, with a small minority of whites and blacks.

The capital is Caracas, the language is Spanish, and most of the people are Roman Catholics. Oil is the important produce, and there is some agriculture as well.

Caracas - The capital of Venezuela


The Republic of Colombia is between the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean, bordering Panama, Venezuela, Brazil, Peru, and Ecuador. The soil of Colombia is characterized by its immense variety.

The Andes dominate the western region, and the Amazon has its origin there. The capital is Bogota.

As elsewhere, Spanish is the official language, and the population is mostly of mixed racial origin. Coffee is the most important product. The country is also rich in many minerals.

Coffee picking in Colombia



Ecuador is a small country with the Pacific to the west, Columbia to the north, and Peru to the south. The equator crosses through Ecuador. There are many volcanoes. The capital city is Quito. Guayaquil is another important city. The population is quite mixed, being composed of native Indians, white, black and people of mixed races. Spanish is the official language. The country is, like many in the region, quite poor.

Perhaps, Ecuador is most famous for the Galapagos islands that belong to it. These islands lie in the Pacific more than a 1000 km away from the mainland, and this is where Charles Darwin made many crucial observations that later led him to formulate his famous Theory of Evolution. The country has some oil and a lot of mineral resources. However, they are yet to be exploited vigorously.

The Galapagos islands of Equador


Peru is one of the important countries in the southern hemisphere, with a substantial land mass.

It shares with Bolivia, its neighbour on the south east, the famous Titicaca lake. Its western region is very mountainous with snow-capped peaks, but to the east there are rich forests.

The capital is Lima, and the official language is Spanish. Roughly 46% of the population is made up of native Indians, besides which there are, as elsewhere in the continent, the usual quota of whites, blacks, and people of mixed racial origin. In addition, there are many Chinese and Japanese immigrants.

The Natives of Peru...



This country, named after the famous freedom fighter Simon Bolivar, is landlocked, being surrounded by Peru, Chile, Brazil , Argentina, and Paraguay.

There are some mountains. Part of the country is a plateau, and part of it a plain.

More than half the population is made up of native Indians, while the rest is made up of the usual mix, including whites and blacks.

The constitutional capital is Sucre, while the government works from the city of La Paz .

The official language is Spanish, but the use of native Indian languages is widespread. Mining is the main industry.

Tropical forest in Bolivia


Chile is a country with a unique shape, a long narrow strip enveloping the Andes, bordering the Pacific Ocean, and stretching right down to a point facing the Antarctic continent. The capital is Santiago, and the population is almost exclusively white. The official language is Spanish.

A church in Santiago, Chile's capital
Native Indians in Paraguay


Paraguay is yet another landlocked country, tucked between, Brazil, Bolivia, and Argentina. It is relatively flat and semi-arid, with two big rivers running across. The climate is warm and dry. The Tropic of Capricorn runs through this country. Paraguayans are primarily native Indians, especially of the Guarani tribe. The Capital is Asuncion. The country has two languages, Spanish and Guarani. The economy is essentially agricultural.


Spice garden in Brazil
Rio de Janeiro - a famous city of Brazil

Brazil is truly huge, with most of the South American rivers that drain into the Atlantic, passing through it, the Amazon being of course the biggest of them all. There are numerous lakes in the country. The climate is varied, being equatorial in some regions, tropical in some places and subtropical in others. The population is predominantly white, but there is a sizeable population of blacks and people of mixed racial origin. In marked contrast to the other countries in the region, Portuguese is the official language. Brasilia is the capital, though Rio de Janeiro is probably better known. Agriculture no doubt forms an important segment of the economy, but Brazil is industrially quite advanced in many sectors. In this respect, it stands out compared to many other Latin American countries.


Uruguay flanks the Atlantic coast, with Brazil and Argentina as its neighbours. The river Uruguay separates the country from Argentina.

The terrain is marked by gentle hills making the landscape slightly wavy. The population is made up mostly of immigrants from Spain and Italy.

The official language is Spanish, and dominant religion is Catholicism.

A park square in Uruguay


Argentina is a big country, the western part being mountainous, the eastern part being flat, and the region in between being a plateau. The population is predominantly white. The official language is Spanish, although in the interior where native Indians live, Indian dialects are also spoken. The capital is Buenos Aires, and the people are substantially Catholic. Agriculture is an important occupation. The country also produces some oil. It has big reserves of iron ore and natural gas.

An Argentinian farmer
A catholic church in Buenos Aires

The above is meant to be a general introduction to Latin America. As can be seen, this part of the world was opened up mainly by the Spanish, the Portuguese, and to a smaller extent the French. Culturally, ethnicall,y and economically and in many other ways, Latin America is very different from USA and Canada.

The introductions to the various countries in Latin America contain information on the Sai movement in those countres.

But here, in terms of the Sai movement, we note two important factors. First, unlike Hislop, who played a key role in the Sai movement taking roots in USA , one cannot identify one central figure associated where Latin America is concerned. Second, unlike in USA and Canada, there is hardly any Asian Indian population in Latin America. Thus, the character and the growth of the Sai movement in Latin America has a unique character of its own, and one can clearly see Swami guiding the growth in His own special way.

The Sai youth of Mexico are very active in forming groups and looking for difficult service activities. In Veracruz, a group of youth have been doing a beach cleaning service, which no one wanted to do, not even the authorities. Other youth have dedicated themselves to establish electronic web information such as Sai Bhajans, discourses, and a site for Sathya Sai EHV. Mexico will continue to lead the way for many to find the Avatar in this historic moment of time.