The Caribbean, Mexico, and Central America make up the realm of Middle America. Two types of development patterns emerged with European colonialism. The rimland, with its plantation agriculture, dominated the Caribbean and coastal regions. The mainland, with its haciendas, dominated Mexico and interior regions of Central America.
European colonialism decimated the Amerindian population of the Caribbean and conquered the Aztec Empire of the mainland. Colonialism altered the food production, building methods, urbanization, language, and religion of the realm.
African slave labor became prominent in the Caribbean and altered the ethnic makeup of most islands. Amerindians make up most of the lower working class on the mainland. A minority of wealthy Europeans continue to be at the top of the socioeconomic class structure. Most of Mexico’s population is of mestizo heritage.
Mexico has transitioned from a Spanish colony to a partner in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Trade relations have helped industrialize Mexico’s economy and provide employment, especially in maquiladoras that thrive in Mexico. Mexico has many natural resources but still struggles to provide economic opportunities for its entire population. Wealth and power is controlled by an elite minority with a European heritage.
Various geographic concepts and principles can be applied to this realm: rural-to-urban shift, core-periphery spatial relationship, altitudinal zonation, and the impact of climate types on human habitation.
Population growth and the lack of employment opportunities have contributed to the high poverty levels in many areas. There is a wide disparity between the income levels of the wealthy and the poor. Haiti, for example, is one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere.
The United States has had a major impact on this region, both politically and economically. The US military has intervened in many places to control its interests. US companies have dominated the region’s economies. Most recently, the United States has supported industrial activities and the implementation of free-trade agreements to take advantage of cheap labor.
Earthquakes, volcanoes, and hurricanes continue to bring devastation and destruction to human activity in Middle America. Other environmental issues, such as deforestation and soil degradation, have also become serious problems.
Central America is a diverse and fragmented realm with every country, island, or republic possessing a different geography. The varied styles of music that have emerged from the region provide a good example of cultural diversity.
Tourism is an important economic sector that has mixed impacts on the local situation. Every part of the Middle American realm has sought to improve their tourism draw to help bolster their economy.
The global economy has prompted the political entities of the region to work more closely together to advance their economic interests. Trade associations such as NAFTA, the Central American-Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR), and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) are attempts to develop a greater level of economic integration. Some argue that multinational corporations stand to benefit the most from free-trade agreements.
Tropical cyclones are storms that occur in the tropical regions over warm ocean water. In the North Atlantic, when wind speeds reach seventy-four miles per hour, they are called hurricanes. Hurricane season is between June 1 and November 30, and cruise ships do not usually operate in the Caribbean during this time. High winds and storm surges have caused serious flooding and damage to the human landscape.