Exploring Our World: People, Places, and Cultures
Latin America Today
Mexico is the second-largest country in Latin America by population and is the United States's nearest southern neighbor. Its people and culture reflect the blending of Spanish and Native American populations over the centuries. Sports, religion, and celebrations reveal the influences of both cultures. Mexico is a federal republic like the United States; a strong president leads the national government. The country has three economic regions: the North, Central Mexico, and the South. In the North, farming and ranching are important activities, and the region also profits from rich mineral deposits. Fertile soil benefits agricultural products while large industrial cities also prosper in Central Mexico. In the central South, most people are subsistence farmers; the coasts along the South benefit from tourism. While the country's economy is improving, Mexico still faces significant challenges from poverty, overcrowded cities, and environmental issues.
In Central America, crops such as bananas, sugarcane, and coffee are produced for export, but political conflict has held back the economies of some countries such as Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua. Costa Rica and Panama are Central American countries that have had stable governments and better economic growth.
Many of the island countries of the Caribbean face political and economic challenges as well. Some islands benefit from tourism, but people in Cuba and Haiti endure poverty as well as political conflict. Puerto Rico, compared to most Caribbean islands, has a high standard of living due to its status as a commonwealth of the United States.
South America's countries are diverse both politically and economically. Brazil, the largest country in South America, has a high standard of living: it has valuable mineral resources and is one of the world's leading producers of food crops such as coffee, oranges, and cassava. Argentina depends heavily on farming and ranching, and it is one of the most industrialized countries in South America. Despite its resources, Argentina's economy has struggled. A few countries in South America, such as Venezuela and Colombia, have faced political and social conflict that hinder their economic development. Venezuela's wealth of oil does not translate into prosperity for its people. Colombia has been weakened especially by illegal drug trade. Other countries such as Chile have had strong economic growth in recent years.