The northern tropics, the five countries on the northern coast of South America, have both similarities and differences. Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana together are called the Guianas. They share a tropical wet climate and a narrow coastal plain on the Atlantic Ocean. Their cultures are different from most of the Many people in the Guianas are of Asian or African descent. Many others are mulattoes, people of mixed African and other ancestry. Most live by fishing or growing sugar cane and rice. Others mine bauxite, a mineral used in making aluminum. Colombia and Venezuela have three physical regions—lowlands, mountains, and the llanos, or grassy plains. Climate depends on elevation. Different crops are grown at different elevations. (See dia- gram on right.)
Venezuela’s economy is based on oil. Although Venezuela has huge oil reserves, oil is not a renewable resource. Therefore, Venezuela is also investing in other industries, including bauxite and iron mines, power plants, and factories Colombia’s farmers depend mostly on one crop—coffee. A country that depends on one crop, such as coffee, faces prob- lems if prices drop or coffee trees die. The government is trying to encour- age the export of other crops. Colombia also grows two illegal crops—marijuana and cocaine. People who control the drug trade have a lot of power. Colombia and the United States are working to end the drug trade and its violence.

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#1 Which country in the northern tropics is rich in oil?
#2 Diagram Skills: What is the name for the climate zone where coffee is grown?


The Andes form the backbone of South America, shaping the economies and lifestyles of the people in Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and Chile. It is the longest unbroken mountain chain in the world. The Andes stretch from the Caribbean Sea to the southern tip of South America. A long nar- row coastal plain lies between the Andes and the Pacific Ocean. In northern Chile, the coastal plain is occupied by the Atacama Desert, the driest place on earth. Between the peaks of the Andes are highland valleys and plateaus. The climate in the Andes varies with elevation. At high elevations, only cold- weather plants grow. At the bottom of the eastern slopes are forested tropical low- lands called the selva. People are drawn to the Andes because of its rich soil and wealth of minerals. The original inhabitants of the highlands were groups of Native Americans, who still make up between 25 and 55 percent of the populations of Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru. These Indians follow a traditional lifestyle in the highlands, practicing sub- sistence agriculture. The next largest group of inhabitants is mestizos, who speak Spanish and live in cities and towns. People of European background make up a small percentage of the population, but because they con- trol most of the wealth, they have the most political power. Chile is a long, narrow country and unlike other Andean nations, it has rela- tively few Indians. About two thirds of its people are mestizos. Another quarter is of European descent. Most Chileans live in the fertile Central Valley.

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#3 Which of the Andean countries has the smallest Indian population?
#4 Chart Skills: Which of the Andean countries has the smallest population?


The three nations of southern South America are Uruguay, Paraguay, and Argentina. They are among the richest countries of the continent. The region is bound together by several large rivers that flow into the Río de la Plata. The Plata is an estuary, a broad river mouth formed where a flooded river valley meets the sea.The highest peaks of the Andes are in western Argentina. Lower down is the gently rolling piedmont, or foothills, region. The Gran Chaco is a hot, interior lowland in parts of Paraguay, Argentina, and Bolivia. The pampas are temperate grasslands in Argentina and Uruguay. Gauchos, or cowboys, once herded cattle on the pam- pas. Now grains are grown there too. South of the pampas is Patagonia, a dry, old plateau. It has oil and bauxite and is good for raising sheep.Paraguay has no seacoast, but the Río de la Plata provides an outlet to the Atlantic Ocean. Most Paraguayans are mestizos. Paraguay and Brazil worked together to build the Itaipu Dam, one of the world’s largest hydroelectric projects. Uruguay has good grasslands for raising livestock. The coun- try produces wool, meat, and leather. Most of the people of Uruguay and Argentina are of European descent. Argentina is the wealthiest country in South America. Most Argentineans live in cities. There are many factories and good harbors.
#5 What is the wealthiest country of South America?
#6 Chart Skills: In what countries is the Gran Chaco located?