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Land and Resources

largest nation, Spanish conquest, rich soil, Caribbean Sea, torrential rains

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Guatemala is the westernmost country of Central America. It is bounded on the west and north by Mexico, on the east by Belize and the Caribbean Sea, on the southeast by Honduras and El Salvador, and on the south by the Pacific Ocean. Its total area of 108,889 sq km (42,042 sq mi) makes it the third largest nation in Central America, after Nicaragua and Honduras. At its widest points, the republic stretches about 430 km (about 270 mi) east to west and 450 km (280 mi) north to south.

Guatemala’s geography has at times influenced its history. About two-thirds of the country’s total land area is mountainous. The rugged terrain provided refuge that allowed the indigenous peoples to survive the Spanish conquest in the 16th century, while the fertile valleys eventually produced fine coffees and other crops that dominated the nation’s economy. Frequent volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and torrential rains have often brought disaster to the country and made building and maintaining roads and railways very difficult.

Natural Resources

Guatemala’s primary natural resource is the rich soil of its highland valleys and coastal plains, but it also has some petroleum, as well as nickel, lead, zinc, iron, and small quantities of gold, silver, and jade. Only 13 percent of the land is farmed. Forests and woodlands cover 36 percent, offering valuable timber, fine woods, and other products for both domestic use and export. The remaining sections of the country include urban areas, rugged terrain, desert, and lowland areas that have become exhausted or are otherwise unsuitable for agriculture or grazing.

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