Geography and History of the World © 2010 Indiana Edition
The Region Today: Latin America
Most of Latin America’s people live in cities, yet most of the region’s countries rely heavily on agriculture. Latin America today faces the challenge of developing modern, industrial economies that promote regional and global trade, but do not destroy its natural resources.
The Economy Most of the region's countries rely on agriculture
for a major portion of their incomes, exporting such products as bananas, sugarcane,
and coffee. Cash crops are raised on latifundia, large commercial farms. Countries
depending on only one or two export products can experience hardships in case
of crop failures. Industrial growth in the region is limited by high mountains,
dense forests, a drain on profits by foreigners, and political instability.
Some Latin American countries, however, are developing industries. Many foreign
firms have built manufacturing plants in the region. The North American Free
Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has helped boost Mexico's economy. Many Latin American
countries are struggling to repay the debts they have accumulated while borrowing
funds from foreign countries to finance their industrial development. Because
of imposing physical barriers, only a few major highway systems can be found
in Latin America. Some countries have well-developed rail systems, while inland
waterways remain important for transportation. An emerging communications industry
provides newspapers, television, and radio to most Latin Americans. Cellular and satellite services have reduced the cost of infrastructure and helped many people afford access.
The economies in most Latin American countries reflect a historic dependence on
farming as well as increasing reliance on a developing industrial sector. Countries
in the region are faced with the problem of trying to improve the economic conditions
of their people without doing irreparable harm to the environment.
People and Their Environment The rain forests of the Amazon Basin, like those
in other parts of the world, are rapidly disappearing. Countries of the Amazon Basin has to balance the need to preserve the forests with economic development, which means cutting
down large tracts of forests to make way for settlements, farms and ranches,
roads, and access to natural resources. Rapidly growing cities face problems
of overcrowding, air pollution, and inadequate resources. Regional cooperation
is addressing border disputes and other issues. Latin America
is vulnerable to natural disasters, such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions,
and hurricanes, and needs to deal with air and water pollution.