Mexico is bordered by the United States in the north; the Pacific Ocean in the west and south; Guatemala, Belize, and the Caribbean Sea in the southeast; and the Gulf of Mexico in the east. Mexico is a little larger than three times the size of Texas. It is the largest Spanish-speaking country in the world.
Things to notice as you look at the map:
- The topography of Mexico is highly varied, comprising deserts, snow-capped mountains, and rain forests. It is prone to earthquakes and hurricanes; it has also experienced significant man-made environmental damage, including deforestation and desertification from the overuse and clearing of land for agriculture and grazing.
- Mexico shares a 2000 mile border with the United States, which cuts a line through the desert from Baja in the west, to the Rio Grande River at Juarez, and then follows the meandering path of the river out to the Gulf of Mexico. The waters of the Rio Grande are not navigable by ships and in certain places, during the dry season, the Rio Grande is little more than a dry riverbed. Mexico borders California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas; this border is the busiest land border in the world. A partially constructed and very controversial fence, built at the US’s expense, currently covers 613 miles of the US-Mexican border.
- The US-Mexico border comprises both desert and busy commercial centers known as maquiladora towns, named for the thousands of maquiladora factories located there. The maquiladoras are designed to assemble imported parts into manufactured goods for re-export to the US and other markets. Many of these factories are owned by American companies. Security and environmental challenges for Mexico are posed by the migration of large numbers of Mexicans to the maquiladora towns.
- Mexico’s southern border with Guatemala is considered a gateway for Central and South American immigrants heading for the United States. This is also a transit point for many illicit drugs on their way north, although drugs are also smuggled through coastal ports.
- Mexico’s history and current national profile are marked by significant North-South tensions within the country. The North is more highly urbanized and home to a much higher percentage of the population than the South; the North also has significant problems with lack of water. The North has only 10% of the country’s water supplies. Rainfall throughout the country is seasonal and very localized, leaving droughts in some parts of the country and creating floods in others. It is estimated that nearly 70% of Mexico’s annual rainfall lands in the frequently flood-ravaged Tabasco region.
- Insufficient infrastructure connects Mexico’s far-flung cities and towns. The country lacks sufficient road, rail, and river transportation. This has lead to the isolation and resulting marginalization of rural peasants and contributed to their frequent uprisings against the national government.
- Mexico City, located in the south-central portion of the country, is Mexico’s capital and one of the world’s largest and most polluted cities. Rapid growth has outpaced capacity and urban planning; the city suffers from crowding, pollution, and poor sanitation services for its 20 million people. In addition, lack of alternative infrastructure in the region means that nearly all goods transported by land from Central and South America must travel through Mexico City’s clogged roadways. Because of its location between two mountain ranges, industrial and automobile pollution often becomes trapped over the city.
- Mexico’s location along the vast Gulf of Mexico brings both fortune and misfortune. The Gulf is home to most of Mexico’s considerable oil supplies, the earnings from which make up almost 40% of government revenues. Oil is extracted by 3000 drilling platforms located in the Gulf. The Gulf is also home to seasonal hurricanes and tsunamis that endanger Mexico’s oil assets and coastal populations.
- Mexico’s long coastlines, particularly in the Yucatan and the Baja Peninsula, are valuable tourist attractions, drawing visitors from all over the world. The Yucatan Peninsula is also home to the Great Maya Barrier Reef, the second largest barrier reef in the world, making Mexico a popular destination for scuba divers. These scenic areas, combined with Mexico’s Mayan and Aztec ruins, make tourism the third largest revenue generator for the country.
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