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.
Living in Latin America 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. Individual ownership of phones and personal computers, however, is not widespread due to cost.
People and Their Environment The rain forests of Brazil, like those in other parts of the world, are rapidly disappearing. Brazil 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, substandard housing, air pollution, and inadequate resources for sanitation, employment, health care, and education. Regional cooperation is addressing border disputes and other issues. The region is attempting to reverse its high birthrate through education and increased economic opportunities, and it tries to manage migration to cities or outside the region. Latin America is vulnerable to natural disasters, such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and hurricanes, and needs to deal with air and water pollution.