The continent became a battlefield of the Cold War in the late 20th century. Some democratically elected governments of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay and Paraguay were overthrown or displaced by United States-aligned military dictatorships in the 1960s and 1970s. To curtail opposition, their governments detained tens of thousands of political prisoners, many of whom were tortured and/or killed on inter-state collaboration.
Colombia currently faces an internal conflict, which started in 1964 with the creation of Marxist guerrillas and now involves several illegal armed groups of leftist leaning ideology as well as the private armies of powerful drug lords.
Revolutionary movements and right-wing military dictatorships became common after World War II, but since the 1980s a wave of democratization came through the continent, and democratic rule is widespread now. International indebtedness turned into a severe problem in late 1980s, and some countries, despite having strong democracies, have not yet developed political institutions capable of handling such crises without recurring to unorthodox economical policies, as most recently illustrated by Argentina's default in the early 21st century.
Education is divided into three levels, with several grades in each division. Fundamental education (the first educational level) is free for everyone (including adults), and mandatory for children between the ages of 6-14. Secondary education is also free, but it is not mandatory. Higher education (including graduate degrees) is free at public universities.
Roman Catholicism is the dominant religion (over 80% in Hispanic countries, some 65%-70% in Brazil). This religion was brought to South America by the conquistadores during the first part of the 16th century. During the colonial period most of the native peoples of the continent, with the exception of those in the Amazon Basin, on the Pampas, and in Patagonia, were converted to this faith.
French Guiana also has a large number of Protestants. Guyana and Suriname are exceptions, with three major religions: Christianity in general, Hinduism, and Islam. In lowland South America, as well as the Andes, animism and shamanism are common, as noted among the Urarina of Peruvian Amazonia.