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South America

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South America, fourth largest of the Earth's seven continents (after Asia, Africa, and North America), occupying 17,820,900 sq km (6,880,700 sq mi), or 12 percent of the Earth's land surface. It lies astride the equator and tropic of Capricorn and is joined by the Isthmus of Panama, on the north, to Central and North America. The continent extends 7,400 km (4,600 mi) from the Caribbean Sea on the north to Cape Horn on the south, and its maximum width, between Ponta do Seixas, on Brazil's Atlantic coast, and Punta Parinas, on Peru's Pacific coast, is 5,160 km (3,210 mi).

South America has a 2008 estimated population of 384 million, or 6 percent of the world's people. The continent comprises 12 nations. Ten of the countries are Latin: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela. Two of the nations are former dependencies: Guyana, of the United Kingdom, and Suriname, of The Netherlands. South America also includes French Guiana, an overseas department of France. Located at great distances from the continent in the Pacific Ocean are several territories of South American republics: the Juan Fernandez Islands and Easter Island (Chile) and the Galapagos Islands (Ecuador). Nearer the coast, in the Atlantic Ocean, is the Fernando de Noronha Archipelago, which is a Brazilian territory, and, farther south, the British dependency of the Falkland Islands, which is claimed by Argentina as the Islas Malvinas. The coastline of South America is relatively regular except in the extreme south and southwest, where it is indented by numerous fjords.

Robinson, David J., B.A., Ph.D.

Dellplain Professor of Latin American Geography, Syracuse University. Director of Latin American Studies Program, Global Affairs Institute, Maxwell School, Syracuse University. Editor of "Migration in Colonial Latin America" and other books.

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