Courtesy Reuters

Latin America's Multiplying Peoples

IN Latin America, as elsewhere, population trends are a significant clue to political, economic and social developments. Indeed, in certain areas, population is regarded as the problem. Yet scarcely any other branch of Latin American study is exposed to so much careless handling -- so much myth, fiction and straight neglect -- as this one.

There are two opposite views concerning the statistics of the region, both erroneous and both a priori. One holds that no reliable statistics on population can be obtained in the countries to the south, and that consequently nobody knows what is going on down there demographically. The other blithely assumes that all Latin American population figures appearing in print are correct, and draws its conclusions accordingly. The truth, of course, lies between the two. A number of the republics and dependencies have reliable figures on population, and a number of them do not. The question of validity cannot be decided for the region as a whole, nor can it be decided on an a priori basis. It requires a painstaking study of each country's statistics. Most countries are good on some kinds of figures but bad on other kinds. Even in a country where the data are not accurate, systematic analysis and correction may produce information of real value.

Like most other countries, including the United States, the Latin American nations generally have better censuses than vital statistics. Yet it often happens that the vital statistics can be checked against the censuses and thus corrected in some respects. The censuses themselves vary as to what they include and leave out, and as to what they do well or do poorly. Some countries (e.g. Brazil) get data on race, while others (e.g. Colombia) ignore this topic. Some have good returns on cities (Chile, Mexico), while others have poor returns on them (Guatemala, Jamaica). Some have taken many censuses (Chile, Cuba, Guatemala, Mexico, Venezuela) while others have taken few or none (Ecuador, Bolivia, Paraguay, Haiti). Argentina

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