Does Latin America Include the Caribbean?

In general, Latin America is understood to encompass the entire continent of South America, as well as Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean islands, whose inhabitants speak a Romance language. According to the United Nations, there are 33 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean today. Mexico is the largest and most populous Spanish-speaking country in the world, with a population of approximately 129 million people and a total area of 1,943,950 m2. It is also the second largest country in Latin America. Mexico is a federal state similar to the United States and its official name is United Mexican States.

The country has 31 states plus the capital, Mexico City. Mexico has a rich history and culture, including ancient civilizations such as those of the Aztecs and the Maya. The ruins of ancient sites such as Chichén Itzá, Palenque and Teotihuacán are popular tourist attractions today. In addition to tourism, Mexico's main economic activities include manufacturing and exporting oil and gas.

Mexico is a country of great disparity between its wealthy and its poor. In fact, it has the second highest degree of socio-economic disparity among the 34 countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The people of Mexico are a mixture of many cultures, including pre-Columbian indigenous people and descendants of Spanish settlers. Many Mexicans, especially in southern Mexico, still speak indigenous languages.

Central America consists of seven countries: Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama. All but one of these countries (Belize) have Spanish as their official language. Guatemala is the most populous country in Central America with a population of around 17.9 million while Belize is the least populated with approximately 397,000 people. Unfortunately, Central America has earned a reputation for violence and poverty.

The situation is particularly serious in what is known as the Northern Triangle of Central America which consists of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. In recent years an average of around 265,000 people a year have left this region to escape violence and poverty. Many try to reach the United States. The Caribbean consists of 13 countries with Haiti being the most populous with 11.4 million people followed by Cuba with 11.3 million people.

Cuba is also the largest country in the Caribbean with an area of 106,440 square meters. The total population of the Caribbean nears 44 million with most people speaking Romance languages such as Spanish (in Cuba, Dominican Republic and United States), French (in Haiti and several French overseas territories) or English/Dutch (in other Caribbean countries/territories). Another language known as Creole which is a mixture of European languages and African languages is spoken throughout the Caribbean with several dialects. In economic terms, the Caribbean is best known for its tourism sector although not exclusively.

The Bahamas has a strong financial services sector while Jamaica relies heavily on remittances from Jamaicans living abroad and Cuba/Dominican Republic are still famous for their cigars. Spanish is the official language in all Latin American countries except Brazil (Portuguese), Guyana (English) and Suriname (Dutch). French Guiana has French as its official language while English is spoken in British overseas territory Malvinas Islands which geographically form part of South America. In addition to Spanish/Portuguese spoken by majority of South Americans millions also speak indigenous languages such as Quechua which is spoken by those of Inca descent.

Indigenous people continue to number millions in South America while rest of continent's population consists of Europeans, Africans, Asians or mixed descent making up total population of 433 million people in South America alone. Brazil is largest/most populous country in both South America/Latin America with population 212 million people and total area 8,358,140 m2 making it ninth largest economy in world.

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