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Cotton, sugar, and beef were exported in increasing amounts after World War II.
Corn (maize), beans, and squash traditionally have been grown as staple foods.
Vigorous economic growth during the 1960s and ’70s was followed by national indebtedness and low or negative economic growth rates in the 1980s.
Throughout the 1980s and into the ’90s, armed conflict, civil wars, high inflation, and poor social conditions contributed to a deteriorating economy, and most countries had to seek foreign aid from the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund.
The civil unrest of the 1980s displaced up to 1,000,000 people, including an estimated 500,000 Salvadorans who entered the United States.
Tens of thousands of others migrated to Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and other countries in the region.
Elevation steadily increases west of the Caribbean lowlands, until, toward the Pacific Coast, plateau highlands culminate in mountain ridges and some 40 volcanic cones, some of which attain elevations of more than 12,000 feet (3,700 metres).
Rainfall occurs primarily during the summer and is heaviest between May and November. In general, the Caribbean side receives about twice as much rain as the Pacific region. Tropical rainforests occupy the eastern lowlands, while evergreen forests clothe the lower slopes along the Pacific coast, and pine and oak forests grow at somewhat higher elevations.
The weathered volcanic lavas produce a fertile soil, however, and the highlands of the volcanic zones have consequently become highly productive agricultural zones and areas of dense population.
The climates of Central America are essentially tropical, tempered by proximity to the sea, by elevation, by latitude, and by local topography; in consequence, they may vary substantially over short distances.
Smaller communities of mulattoes (people of mixed European and African descent), zambos (mixed Indian and African descent), descendants of Europeans, and descendants of Chinese, South Asian, and African indentured labourers make up the remainder.
Most of the region’s Indian population is in Guatemala (the Maya, making up more than two-fifths of that country’s total population).
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Humid swamps and lowlands extend along both the west and east coasts, but four-fifths of Central America is either hilly or mountainous.