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The Andes Mountains The diverse physical and human geographies of Latin America—from the peaks of the Andean range to the low, moist floors of the rainforests— create physical barriers to overcome. Before the completion of the Panama Canal in 1914, economies located in the Andes Mountain region were seriously disadvantaged due to their distance from trade markets. These mountains cut Andean communities off from other Latin American societies by preventing the construction of roads, railroads and communication lines. Moving a ton of goods from Lima, Peru to Bogota, Columbia cost about $75 as compared to $3 to Buenos Aires, Argentina or Montevideo, Uruguay. Trade with coastal cities promoted overseas trade in a region where overland shipping could be as expensive as sending goods halfway around the world. In Bolivia and Ecuador, for example, costs from coastal ports to the capital city were between four and five times the cost of shipping from England. The cold climate and lack of fertile soil made agriculture difficult in this region so Andean communities were dependent on mining to fuel their economy. However, mines were typically opened by multinational businessmen with little commitment to sustainable environmental policy. For example, when a New York firm was allowed to mine in a region of Peru’s Central Andes, it constructed a network of roads, railroads, smelters, mining camps, hydroelectric plants. These activities promoted deforestation and polluted air and rivers. Products were sold globally, but the devastation was local. Tropical Rainforests European colonizers avoided living in the harsh conditions of the tropical Central American countries and Brazil where malaria and extreme humidity made work difficult. However, these European settlers did not want to miss out on the opportunity to enrich themselves on the regions rich natural resources. The resources and climate of the tropical regions of Latin America were perfect for growing cash crops* like sugar, bananas and coffee for export. The crops grown in the tropical regions required a lot of labor; however the native population was almost wiped out by European disease, which caused European colonizers to depend on imported African slaves until the late 19th century. The negative effects of an economy driven by agricultural exports* extended beyond the use of slaves. The environmental costs were also severe. The Central American region was transformed from subtropical forest to an agricultural export economy by clearing and planting, pushing the frontier, and exhausting the soil. In Brazil, trees in the tropical rainforest were burned in short-term effort to increase soil fertility and because they were believed to compete with coffee for water. *Cash Crops: A crop grown for immediate sale. *Exports: Goods or services sold to a foreign country. Panama Isthmus The Isthmus of Panama is a thin strip of land that extends from the border of Costa Rica to the border of Colombia and connects North and South America. It separates the Caribbean Sea from the Gulf of Panama. Historically, this landform allowed plants and animals to migrate between the two American continents. In more recent history, the isthmus has served as an important trade link that colonial powers have fought over. Under Spanish colonial rule, the region was an important economic center, especially after a railroad was built in the mid-1800s. The Panama Canal was completed and opened by the United States in 1914 and only increased the economic and strategic importance of the region by opening a direct trade route between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Amazon River The Amazon River carries more water than any other river in the world, and is responsible for about one-fifth of the fresh water that flows into the world’s oceans. The total length of the river from Southern Peru to where it empties into the Atlantic Ocean on the northeastern coast of Brazil is at least 4,000 miles which makes it only slightly shorter than the Nile River. Historically, this river has enabled transportation, trade and communication across South America. However, since the later decades of the 20th century, human activities have increasingly threatened the equilibrium of the forest’s highly complex ecology. As new highways and air transport facilities are built along the Amazon River’s banks, deforestation and pollution threaten the biodiversity that lives within the its waters. The Pampas The Pampas are a grassland biome in Argentina and Uruguay, extending over an area of 300,000 square miles. They are flat, fertile planes with a humid and warm climate. The humid Pampas ecosystem is one of the richest grazing areas in the world. Because of its temperature climate and rich, deep soil, most of the Pampas has been cultivated and turned into croplands. Crop and beef productivity have been growing steadily at increasing rates, and this has resulted in increased surpluses to fulfill domestic and export needs. The expansion of cultivation is causing rapid simplification of the rural landscape, especially in continuously cropped lands. Unfortunately, domestic livestock and farming has severely affected the Pampas, and it is considered to be one of the most endangered habitats on earth. The persistent conversion of natural grasslands into cultivated lands, the extensive use of fire for managing rangelands and grasslands, the introduction of grazing cattle, and the spreading of nonconservative tillage operations have triggered frequent soil erosion episodes and transformed a carbon sequestering region into a carbonemitting one. Yucatan Peninsula The Yucatan Peninsula separates the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico with the northern coastline of the Yucatan Channel. It comprises a significant proportion of the ancient Maya Lowlands and there are many Mayan archaeological sites throughout the peninsula. The peninsula is composed of limestone bedrock and has very little surface water. Caves and sinkholes cover most of the surface. Where lakes and swamps are present, the water is marshy and undrinkable. The Yucatan Peninsula is home to many rainforests and jungles and the climate is tropical, consisting of wet and dry seasons. Traditionally, the Yucatan Peninsula was largely a cattle ranching, logging, chicle (natural gum) and henquen (agave) production area. Since the 1970s, the Yucatan Peninsula has reoriented its economy towards tourism, with millions of tourists visiting the area every year. Tulum and Cancun are the most popular cities. Tierra Del Fuego Tierra del Fuego, archipelago, at the southern extremity of South America. The physical features of Tierra del Fuego are varied. Most of the northern portion of the main island, consisting of glacial topography, mainly lakes and moraines, is under 600 feet (180 metres) in height, and the Atlantic and Strait of Magellan coasts are low-lying. In contrast, the southern and western parts of the main island and the archipelago are a prolongation of the Andes, with peaks exceeding 7,000 feet, notably Monte Sarmiento (7,550 feet [2,300 metres]) and Monte Darwin (7,999 feet [2,438 metres]), and mountain glaciers. The climate of Tierra del Fuego is predictably cool in summer and cold in winter, with great contrast in annual rainfall, from 180 inches to 20 inches. In the exposed southern and western areas, vegetation is limited to mosses and stunted trees. The central part of the main island has deciduous beech forests, and the northern plains have a tussock grass cover. The archipelago was discovered by the navigator Ferdinand Magellan in 1520, when he sailed through the strait named after him and called the region Tierra del Fuego (Land of Fire). Various navigators traversed the area, but no systematic exploration was attempted until the British Admiralty undertook a thorough survey of the entire archipelago between 1826 and 1836.