North and Central America Political Overview


At the beginning of the 16th century, American Indian peoples such as the Aztecs, Maya and Inca lived in America. The Inuit lived in Alaska, Greenland and parts of Canada. The former discoverers of America, such as Columbus, were on the road on behalf of the Spanish or Portuguese crown. America was conquered, however, by the so-called conquistadors, who forcibly subjugated the peoples of Central and South America. During the later colonization, Spain became the most powerful colonial power, ruling Mexico, Panama and Guatemala in Central America. In North America, settlement began in the 17th century with the establishment of the English colonial city of Jamestown in Virginia. The first French settlement was Quebec, from where further areas were developed.


In Central America, the borderlines that emerged in the early 19th century, when most states achieved their independence, essentially still exist. Younger are the states of Panama (independent since 1903) and Belize, the former British Honduras (independent since 1981). Most of the islands of the Caribbean gained their independence in the second half of the 20th century. For the population consisting mainly of Indians, Afro-Americans and mongrels, however, political independence initially meant no political participation. Instead, a small European class gained political and economic power (e.g. as a large landowner on one of the many haciendas). Check other nations in Central America on


The founding of the state of Canada took place as early as 1867. However, Canada did not become independent from Great Britain until 1931. The United States of America (USA) was formed through the amalgamation of the colonies on the east coast. The territory of the Oregon Territory was incorporated into the United States in 1859, followed by Washington, Montana, and Idaho. The last states to join the United States were Oklahoma, Arizona, New Mexico, and Hawaii. In 1867, Russia sold Alaska to the United States. Greenland, which has belonged to the Kingdom of Denmark since the beginning of the 18th century, has been able to administer itself in part since 1979. Since then, Denmark has been regulating the island’s foreign, defense and monetary policy, while economic, social and cultural policy are among the tasks of the Greenland government. About 85 percent of the population are Inuit.

With an average population density of 35 residents per square kilometer (as of 2016), the United States is much more sparsely populated than many European countries (for comparison: Germany 237 residents / km2; Poland 124 residents / km2; France 122 residents / km2; Spain 93 people / km2) or China (147 people / km2) or India (445 people / km2). There are considerable contrasts within the United States. The most densely populated regions are in the east and on the Pacific coast. In between there are extensive areas in the area of ​​the Great Plains, the Rocky Mountains and the intramontane basins between the Rocky Mountains and the coastal chain, which are only very sparsely populated. The only exceptions are a few large cities such as Denver and Salt Lake City. The agglomerations are also distributed accordingly. They are concentrated in the northeast of the country. In 2016, 82 percent of Americans lived in cities (265 million), of which 44 percent lived in the twelve largest metropolitan areas alone (in terms of population: New York, Greater Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington, Greater San Francisco Bay, Boston, Philadelphia, Dallas-Fort Worth, Miami, Houston, Atlanta, Detroit). Within the metropolitan areas, most of the population lives in the suburban area. In the north-east in particular, the cities have grown together to form closed bands of settlements. In Canada, the population centers are in the south: along the St. Lawrence River, in the Great Plains and as an island on the west coast.

Central America

In North and Central America, different large landscapes can be distinguished: for example the mountain ranges of the Rocky Mountains in western North America, the Great Plains in the east of the American Midwest and in Central America the numerous islands of the Caribbean.


The geologically young fold mountains of the Rocky Mountains are characterized by their striking north-south orientation. The actual Rocky Mountains extend in western Canada and over the US states of Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico. In a broader sense, the mountain belt extends from the northernmost point outside the map section on the Canadian border with Alaska to Central America. In Central America, the Rocky Mountains continue to Mexico.


The Caribbean islands form a wide, curved arc of almost 4,000 kilometers in length. They range from the North American Florida peninsula to the northeast coast of the South American state of Venezuela. The islands are of very different sizes. The largest island is Cuba with a west-east extension of about 1250 kilometers. Furthermore, the Caribbean is divided into archipelagos: the Bahamas, the Lesser Antilles, the Greater Antilles (which also includes Cuba), Hispanola (Haiti, Dominican Republic), Puerto Rico and the Cayman Islands. The Lesser Antilles are in turn divided into the Leeward Islands and the Leeward Islands (off the coast of Venezuela).


The Rocky Mountains and the coastal mountains in western Canada and the USA were unfolded at the geologically very old and stable American Shield when the Pacific Plate collided with the North American Plate in the Mesozoic. The Great Plains are characterized by wide, open landscapes. In the east, the large bodies of water around Chicago, Detroit and Toronto join the Great Plains. These include the Great Lakes (Lake Erie, Lake Huron, Lake Michigan, Lake Superior, Lake Ontario) as well as the St. Lawrence River and the Mississippi.