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North America - Continent facts


North America is a continent in the northern hemisphere bordered on the north by the Arctic Ocean, on the east by the North Atlantic Ocean, on the south by the Caribbean Sea, and on the west by the North Pacific Ocean. It covers an area of 24,497,994 km² (9,458,728 sq mi), or about 4.8% of the Earth's surface. As of July 2002, its population was estimated at more than 514,600,000. It is the third largest continent in area, after Asia and Africa, and is fourth in population after Asia, Africa, and Europe. Both North and South America are named after Amerigo Vespucci, who was the first European to suggest that the Americas were not the East Indies, but a previously undiscovered (by Europeans) New World.
North America occupies the northern portion of the landmass generally referred to as the New World, the Western Hemisphere, the Americas, or simply America. North America's only land connection is to South America at the narrow Isthmus of Panama. (For geopolitical reasons, all of Panama – including the segment east of the Panama Canal in the isthmus – is often considered a part of North America alone.) According to some authorities, North America begins not at the Isthmus of Panama but at the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, with the intervening region called Central America and resting on the Caribbean Plate. Most, however, tend to see Central America as a region of North America, considering it too small to be a continent on its own. Greenland, although a part of North America geographically, is not considered to be part of the continent politically.


Plate tectonics recognizes the vast majority of North America as being the surface of the North American Plate. Parts of California and western Mexico are known for being the edge of the Pacific Plate, with the two plates meeting along the San Andreas fault.
The continent can be divided into four great regions (each of which contains many sub-regions): the Great Plains stretching from the Gulf of Mexico to the Canadian Arctic; the geologically young, mountainous west, including the Rocky Mountains, the Great Basin, California and Alaska; the raised but relatively flat plateau of the Canadian Shield in the northeast; and the varied eastern region, which includes the Appalachian Mountains, the coastal plain along the Atlantic seaboard, and the Florida peninsula. Mexico, with its long plateaus and cordilleras, falls largely in the western region, although the eastern coastal plain does extend south along the Gulf.
The western mountains are split in the middle, into the main range of the Rockies and the coast ranges in California, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia with the Great Basin – a lower area containing smaller ranges and low-lying deserts – in between. The highest peak is Denali in Alaska.
Since 1931, Rugby, North Dakota, has officially been recognized as being at the geographic center of North America. The location is marked by a 4.5 metre (15 foot) field stone obelisk.


Many natives of North America, when the Europeans found them, were semi-nomadic tribes of hunter-gatherers; others were sedentary and agricultural civilizations. Many formed new tribes or confederations in response to European colonization. Well-known groups included the Aztec, Maya, Huron, Mohawk, Apache, Cherokee, Sioux, Mohegan, Iroquois, and Inuit. The first Europeans known for certain to have reached (Newfoundland) North America are the Vikings, who called it Vinland. They reached it around the year 1000. While some settlement activity took place, they did not leave much of a mark on the continent. After Christopher Columbus's 1492 voyage, the Spanish were the first Europeans to arrive to stay. They gained control of most of the largest islands in the Caribbean and conquered the Aztecs, gaining control of Mexico and Central America. While some smaller powers like the Dutch and Swedish had minor holdings on the continent, the main land and most of the islands were divided between the Spanish, the French, and the English empires.

Almost 500 years after Leif Ericson, John Cabot and Sir Charles Jahn explored the east coast of what would become Canada in 1497. Giovanni da Verrazzano explored the East Coast of America from Florida to presumably Newfoundland in 1524. Jacques Cartier made a series of voyages on behalf of the French crown in 1534 and penetrated the St. Lawrence River. The first English settlements were at Jamestown and Plymouth Rock, in what are today Virginia and Massachusetts respectively. The first French settlements were Port Royal (1604) and Quebec City (1608) in what is now Nova Scotia and Quebec.


Anguilla Anguilla (UK)
Executive authority is invested in The Queen, who is represented in the territory by the Governor. The Governor is appointed by the Queen on the advice of the British Government. Defence and Foreign Affairs remain the responsibility of the United Kingdom.
The constitution of Anguilla came into force in 1982, amended in 1990. The head of the government is the Chief Minister who is appointed by the Governor. The legislative branch consists of a unicameral parliament, the House of Assembly, made up of 11 members. Elections are held for 7 seats in the House of Assembly, 2 members being ex-offcio and 2 appointed.
The current Governor is Alan Huckle, appointed in May 2004. The current Chief Minister is Osbourne Fleming following the victory of the United Front in elections held during February 2005.
Antigua and Barbuda
Antigua and Barbuda is a Commonwealth Realm and the head of state is Queen Elizabeth II, who is represented in Antigua and Barbuda by a governor general. Executive power is in the hands of the prime minister, who is also the head of government. The prime minister is usually the leader of the winning party of the elections for the House of Representatives (17 members), held every five years. The other chamber of the parliament, the Senate, has 17 members which are appointed by the governor general. Its current prime minister is Baldwin Spencer (24 March 2004-).
Aruba Aruba (Netherlands)
The Netherlands has been a parliamentary democracy since 1848 and a constitutional monarchy since 1815; before that it had been a republic from 1581 to 1806 (it was occupied by France between 1806 and 1815). The pro forma head of state, since 1980, is Queen Beatrix of the House of Orange-Nassau. The Dutch monarch has little political power, but serves mostly as a ceremonial figurehead to represent the nation.
Dutch governments always consist of a coalition, as there is not (and has never been) a single political party large enough to get the majority vote. Formally, the queen appoints the members of the government. In practice, once the results of parliamentary elections are known, a coalition government is formed (in a process of negotiations that can take several months), after which the government formed in this way is officially appointed by the queen. The head of the government is the Prime Minister, in Dutch Minister President or Premier, a primus inter pares who is usually also the leader of the largest party in the coalition. The degree of influence the queen has on actual government decision making is a topic of ongoing speculation.
The parliament consists of two houses. The 150 members of the Lower House (Tweede Kamer, or Second Chamber) are elected every four years in direct elections. The provincial parliaments are directly elected every 4 years as well. The members of the provincial parliaments vote (indirectly) for the less important Senate (Eerste Kamer, or First Chamber). Together, the First and Second Chamber are known as the Staten Generaal, the States General.
Political scientists consider The Netherlands a classic example of a consociational state, at least in part caused by the necessity in the Netherlands since the middle ages for different cities to cooperate in order to fight the water (different cities were at the time like different countries by today's standards, and often at war). This necessity to reach an agreement despite differences is called the polder model in Dutch. Also, the Netherlands has long been a nation of traders and for international trade one has to be tolerant of the other person's culture. The Netherlands is a neutral country in most international affairs and thus managed to keep out of World War I (although this did not work in World War II). As a result, the Dutch have a 'friendly' reputation in other countries, to the point that bearers of a Dutch passport often have relatively little difficulty getting into other countries, for visits or even for emigration purposes.
However, the early years of the 21st century have seen a political change with the right wing in politics gaining on the left. This is illustrated by the quick rise (and fall) of the LPF. Pim Fortuyn, its founder, held former cabinets responsible for the failing integration of immigrants.
The present government is led by the cabinet Balkenende II. This cabinet got some critique about economic reforms and the immigration policies.
On June 1 2005 the Dutch electorate voted in a referendum against the proposed EU Constitution by a majority of 61.6%, three days after the French had also voted against.
Queen Elizabeth II is the head of state of The Bahamas, which has remained a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. She is represented in the Bahamas by a Governor-General, appointed on the recommendation of the elected government. A multi-party democracy in the British tradition, the Bahamas has a bicameral parliament with an elected assembly and an appointed senate. The country is governed by a cabinet headed by a prime minister. Elections are held every five years.
Queen Elizabeth II is recognized as Queen of Barbados, and thus head of state, and is represented by a Governor General. In Barbados the Queen is styled "By the Grace of God, Queen of Barbados and of Her other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth." The present government is proposing that Barbados become a republic within the Commonwealth, with a ceremonial president replacing the Queen.
Executive power however is in the hands of the prime minister and his cabinet. The prime minister is usually the leader of the winning party in the elections for the House of Assembly, the lower house of parliament, which has 30 seats. Its members are elected every five years. The Senate has 21 members, and its members are appointed by the governor general.Barbados is a full and participating member of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).
Belize is a parliamentary democracy and a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. The head of state is currently Queen Elizabeth II, represented in the country by a governor-general, who must be a Belizean.
The primary executive organ of government is the cabinet, led by a prime minister who is head of government. Cabinet ministers are members of the majority political party in parliament and usually hold elected seats within it concurrently with their cabinet positions.
The bicameral Belizean parliament is the National Assembly, which consists of a House of Representatives and a Senate. The 29 members of the House are popularly elected to a maximum 5-year term. Of the Senate's eight members, five are chosen by the prime minister, two by the leader of the opposition, and one by the governor general on the advice of the Belize Advisory Council. The Senate is headed by a president, who is a nonvoting member appointed by the governing party. Belize is a full participating member of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).
Bermuda (UK)
Executive authority in Bermuda is invested in The Queen and is exercised on her behalf by the Governor. The Governor is appointed by the Queen on the advice of the British Government. Defence and Foreign Affairs remain the responsibility of the United Kingdom.
The Constitution of Bermuda came into force on June 1, 1968, amended in 1989 and 2003. The Head of Government is the Premier. A cabinet is nominated by the Premier and appointed officially by the Governor. The legislative branch consists of a bicameral parliament. The Senate is the Upper House and consists of 11 members appointed by the Governor on the advice of the Premier and the Leader of the Opposition. The House of Assembly is Lower House and the 36 members are elected to serve a 5 year term.
The current Governor is Sir John Vereker, appointed on April 11, 2002. The Premier is currently Alex Scott following the election victory of the Progressive Labour Party in the July 2003 elections.
The Bermudian Government supports independence from the United Kingdom, although polls indicate that this is not supported by the population. A referendum in 1995 on independence was defeated.
British Virgin Islands
chief of state: Queen ELIZABETH II (since 6 February 1952), represented by Governor Tom Macan (since 2002)
head of government: Chief Minister Orlando Smith (since 17 June 2003)
cabinet: Executive Council appointed by the governor from members of the Legislative Council
elections: none; the monarch is hereditary; governor appointed by the monarch; chief minister appointed by the governor from among the members of the Legislative Council
Legislative branch: unicameral Legislative Council (13 seats; members are elected by direct popular vote, one member from each of 9 electoral districts, four at-large members; members serve five-year terms)
elections: last held 16 May 2003 (next to be held NA 2007)
election results: percent of vote by party - NA; seats by party - NDP 8, VIP 5
Judicial branch: Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, consisting of the High Court of Justice and the Court of Appeal (one judge of the Supreme Court is a resident of the islands and presides over the High Court); Magistrate's Court; Juvenile Court; Court of Summary Jurisdiction
Political parties and leaders:
Concerned Citizens Movement or CCM: Ethlyn Smith
National Democratic Party or NDP: Orlando Smith
United Party or UP: Gregory Maduro
Virgin Islands Party or VIP: Ralph T. O'Neal
International organization participation: Caricom (associate), CDB, ECLAC (associate), Interpol (subbureau), IOC, OECS (associate), UNESCO (associate)
Flag description: blue, with the flag of the UK in the upper hoist-side quadrant and the Virgin Islander coat of arms centered in the outer half of the flag; the coat of arms depicts a woman flanked on either side by a vertical column of six oil lamps above a scroll bearing the Latin word VIGILATE (Be Watchful)
Canada's head of state is the reigning Monarch, currently Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and commonly referred to as the Queen of Canada. However, the day-to-day duties of head of state are exercised by the Governor General, who is generally a retired politician, military leader, or other notable Canadian; the current Governor General is Michaëlle Jean. All government authority is derived from the monarch, and executive power is wielded by the Prime Minister of Canada and the cabinet. The Governor General is formally appointed by the Queen on the advice of the Prime Minister and is a non-partisan figure who fulfils many ceremonial and symbolic roles including providing Royal Assent to bills, reading the Speech from the Throne, officially welcoming dignitaries of foreign countries, presenting honours such as the Order of Canada, signing state documents, formally opening and ending sessions of Parliament, and dissolving Parliament for an election. The Governor General is also the titular Commander-in-Chief of the Canadian Armed Forces. The position of Governor General also beholds considerable reserve powers, but these have been rarely used. The last to do so was Jeanne Sauvé, who ignored the National Capital Commission and closed the grounds of Rideau Hall in the late 1980s; the most famous use of the Governor General's extraordinary powers was during the King-Byng Affair in 1926. At her farewell address to the Empire and Canadian Clubs on September 14, 2005, former Governor General Adrienne Clarkson stated: "My constitutional role has lain in what are called 'reserve powers': making sure that there is a prime minister and a government in place, and exercising the right `to encourage, to advise, and to warn.' Without really revealing any secrets, I can tell you that I have done all three."
Canada's constitution governs the legal framework of the country and consists of written text and unwritten traditions and conventions (see Westminster system). The federal government and the governments of nine provinces agreed to the patriation of the constitution, with procedures for amending it, at a meeting of First Ministers in November 1981. The Quebec government did not agree to the changes, and Quebec nationalists refer to that night as the Night of the Long Knives.
The patriation of the Constitution included the adoption of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees basic rights and freedoms for Canadians that, generally, cannot be overridden by legislation of any level of government in Canada. It contains, however, a "notwithstanding clause", which allows the federal parliament and the provincial legislatures the power to override other sections of the Charter temporarily, for a period of five years.
The position of Prime Minister, Canada's head of government, in practice belongs to the leader of the political party who can command a majority in the House of Commons. The Prime Minister and his or her cabinet are formally appointed by the Governor General; however, the Prime Minister effectively chooses the cabinet and the Governor General, by convention, has to appoint the Prime Minister's desired choices. The Cabinet is drawn, by convention, from members of the prime minister's party in both legislative houses, though mostly from the Commons. Executive power is exercised by the prime minister and cabinet, all of whom are sworn into the Privy Council of Canada and become ministers of the Crown. The Prime Minister exercises a great deal of individual political power, especially in terms of the appointment of other officials within the government and civil service.
The legislative branch of government has two houses: the elected House of Commons and the appointed Senate. Each member in the Commons is elected by simple plurality in one electoral district or "riding"; general elections are called by the Governor General when the prime minister so advises, and must occur every five years or less. Members of the Senate, whose seats are apportioned on a regional basis, are chosen by the prime minister and formally appointed by the Governor General, and serve until age 75.
Canada has four main political parties today. The traditionally centrist / left-of-centre Liberal Party of Canada formed the government in Canada for most of the 20th century, and is the party of the current Prime Minister Paul Martin. The only other party to have formed a government is the now-defunct, right-of-centre Progressive Conservative (PC) Party and its predecessor, the Conservative Party, which was the dominant political party in the 19th century. The PC Party merged with the Canadian Alliance to form a new rightist Conservative Party of Canada in December 2003. The New Democratic Party (NDP) is the major party furthest to the political left. The Bloc Québécois promotes Quebec independence from Canada and currently holds a majority of Quebec's seats in the Commons. There are many smaller parties and, while none have current representation in Parliament, the list of historical parties with elected representation is substantial.
Canada's judiciary plays an important role in interpreting laws and has the power to strike down laws that violate the constitution. The Supreme Court of Canada is the highest court and final arbiter; its nine members are directly appointed by Cabinet. All judges at the superior and appellate levels are selected and appointed by the federal government, after consultation with non-governmental legal bodies. The federal cabinet also appoints justices to superior courts at the provincial and territorial levels. Judicial posts at the lower provincial and territorial levels are filled by their respective governments (see Court system of Canada for more detail).
Common law prevails everywhere except in Quebec, where civil law predominates. Criminal law is solely a federal responsibility and is uniform throughout Canada. Law enforcement, including criminal courts, is a provincial responsibility, but in most provinces policing is contracted to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). The RCMP is one of few police forces in the world to perform three different levels of enforcement: municipal, provincial, and federal.
Cayman Islands
Although it is a British dependency, the Cayman Islands are largely self-governing concerning local affairs. A 15-seat Legislative Assembly is elected by the people every 4 years to handle domestic affairs. Of the elected Members of the Legislative Assembly, or MLA's, 5 are chosen to serve as government ministers. The head of government is the Leader of Government Business, which is currently The Honourable Kurt Tibbetts.
A Governor is appointed by the British government to represent the monarch. In modern times, the governor's powers are limited to handling defence, foreign affairs and the police force. Most of these affairs are actually handled by the Chief Secretary, who is the Acting Governor when the Governor is not able to discharge his usual duties for one reason or another, but on a day to day basis oversees the Civil Service including the portfolio of Internal & External Affairs. The current governor of the Cayman Islands is His Excellency the Governor Mr. Bruce Dinwiddy, CMG and the current Chief Secretary is Hon. George McCarthy, OBE, JP
The islands have been governed by a written constitution since becoming a British Crown Colony in 1962. Currently, the Governor has called for the Constitution to be modernised, an issue being debated by the Legislative Assembly, with Britain having made it known that such an action should originate within the people of the Cayman Islands and follow the referendum route.
Costa Rica
Costa Rica is a democratic republic with a strong system of constitutional checks and balances. Executive responsibilities are vested in a president, who is the country's center of power. There also are two vice presidents and a 15-member cabinet that includes one of the vice presidents. The president and 57 Legislative Assembly deputies are elected for 4-year terms. A constitutional amendment approved in 1969 limited presidents and deputies to one term, although a deputy may run again for an Assembly seat after sitting out a term. An amendment to the constitution to allow second presidential terms was proposed and also the constitutionality of the prohibition against a second presidential term has been challenged in the courts. In April 2003 the prohibition was officially recognized, in a highly polemic resolution, as anti-constitutional allowing Óscar Arias (Nobel Peace Prize, 1987) to run for President a second time in the upcoming 2006 elections. Arias is promoter of free trade and supports the free trade agreement with the United States which is the source of a great controversy that might develop in protests around the country in the upcoming months. Costa Rica uses a form of proportional representation to elect its national legislative body.
Governors appointed by the president head the country's seven provinces, but they exercise little power. There are no provincial legislatures. Autonomous state agencies enjoy considerable operational independence; they include the telecommunications and electrical power monopoly, the nationalized commercial banks, the state insurance monopoly, and the social security agency. Costa Rica has no military by constitution and maintains only domestic police and security forces for internal security.
The Cuban constitution states that, "the Communist Party of the superior guiding force of society and the state". Members of the Communist Party of Cuba are selected by the party in a thorough process that includes interviews with co-workers and neighbors. Those selected are considered model citizens because they are viewed as strong supporters of the revolution. It makes recommendations concerning the future development of the revolution, and it criticizes tendencies it considers counterrevolutionary. It has a relatively large influence in Cuba, but its authority is moral, not on any legal authority.
Elections are held by secret ballot. The Communist Party of Cuba is the sole legal political party, and no other party is legally allowed to exist. The vast majority of candidates are members of the Communist Party despite the fact that only 15 percent of the Cuban electorate are members. However, independent candidates are allowed to stand and do get elected. Critics of the Cuban government say the high proportion of Communists in power is due to the Communist Party's control over Cuba, while supporters say it shows that the Party has wide support among the populace. Save for those convicted of crimes, everyone age 16 or older can vote. The people nominate and elect candidates for the municipal assemblies. Candidates for the National Assembly are nominated by municipal assemblies and put to a yes/no vote; citizens are to vote for several candidates at both levels of government and may vote for none, some, or all of them. If the candidates do not receive more than 51% of the votes, new elections will be scheduled.
Legislative power is nominally in the hands of the National Assembly of People’s Power. However, save for two sessions a year, legislative power is exercised by the 31 member Council of State which is elected by the National Assembly from itself.
Executive authority is formally vested in the Council of Ministers, a large cabinet comprised of 8 members of the Council of State, the heads of the national ministries, and other persons. A smaller Executive Committee consisting of the more important members of the Council of Ministers oversees normal business.
Fidel Castro has been the head of government since 1959, first as prime minister and, after the abolition of that office with the adoption of the 1976 Constitution, as President of the Council of State, which also serves as head of state. He is also First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba, and since 1976 a member of the National Assembly from the municipality of Santiago de Cuba. (The 1976 Consitution and its 1992 revision require that the President of the Council of State be a member of the National Assembly.)
Dominica is a parliamentary democracy within the Commonwealth of Nations. The President is head of state, while executive power rests with the Cabinet, headed by the Prime Minister. The unicameral parliament consists of the 30-member House of Assembly, which consists of twenty-one directly elected members and nine Senators, who may either be appointed by the President or elected by the other members of the House.
Unlike other former British colonies in the region, Dominica was never a Commonwealth realm with the British monarch as head of state, as it instead became a republic on independence.
Dominica is a full and participating member of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS).
Dominican Republic
The Dominican Republic is a representative democracy whose national powers are divided among independent executive, legislative, and judicial branches. The president appoints the cabinet, executes laws passed by the legislative branch, and is commander-in-chief of the armed forces. The president and vice president run for office on the same ticket and are elected by direct vote for four-year terms.
Legislative power is exercised by a bicameral National Congress — the Senate (32 members), and the Chamber of Deputies (150 members). Presidential elections are held in years evenly divisible by four. Congressional and municipal elections are held in even-numbered years not divisible by four.
El Salvador
El Salvador is a democratic republic governed by a president and an 84-member unicameral Legislative Assembly. The president is elected by universal suffrage and serves for a five year term by absolute majority vote. A second round runoff is required in the event that no candidate receives more than 50% of the first round vote. Members of the assembly (called deputies, diputados), also elected by universal suffrage, serve for three-year terms. The country has an independent judiciary and Supreme Court.
The current President of El Salvador is Elías Antonio Saca González, elected on 21 March 2004. He took office on 1 June 2004, and his presidential term ends on 1 June 2009.
The current legal system of El Salvador, based on civil and Roman law with traces of common law, came into force with the passage of the constitution on 23 December 1983.
Greenland's Head of State is the Danish Monarch, currently Margrethe II. The Queen's government in Denmark appoints a Rigsombudsmand (High commissioner) representing the Danish government and monarchy.
Greenland has a 31 member elected parliament. The head of government is the Prime Minister, who is usually the leader of the majority party in Parliament.
It is notable that Greenland is not part of the European Union, despite Denmark itself being a member state.
As a Commonwealth Realm, Queen Elizabeth II is recognised as Queen of Grenada. She is represented by a governor general, but real executive power lies with the head of government, the prime minister. Although appointed by the governor general, the prime minister generally is the leader of the largest faction in the parliament.
The parliament consists of a Senate (13 members) and a House of Representatives (15 members). The senators are appointed by the government and the opposition, while the representatives are elected by the population for 5-year terms. With 49.9% of the votes and 8 seats in the 2003 election, the New National Party remains the largest party in Grenada. The largest opposition party is the National Democratic Congress with 45.1% of the votes and 7 seats.
Grenada is a full & participating member of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS)
chief of state: President Jacques Chirac of France (since 17 May 1995), represented by Prefect Dominique Vian (since 6 August 2002)
head of government: President of the General Council Jacques Gillot (since 26 March 2001); President of the Regional Council Lucette Michaux-Chevry (since 22 March 1992) cabinet: NA
elections: French president elected by popular vote for a five-year term; prefect appointed by the French president on the advice of the French Ministry of Interior; the presidents of the General and Regional Councils are elected by the members of those councils election results: NA
Legislative branch: unicameral General Council or Conseil General (42 seats; members are elected by popular vote to serve six-year terms) and the unicameral Regional Council or Conseil Regional (41 seats; members are elected by popular vote to serve six-year terms)
elections: General Council - last held 22 March 1998 (next to be held by NA 2004); Regional Council - last held 15 March 1998 (next to be held NA 2004)
election results: General Council - percent of vote by party - NA; seats by party - left-wing candidates 11, PS 8, RPR 8, PPDG 6, right-wing candidates 5, PCG 3, UDF 1; Regional Council - percent of vote by party - RPR 48.03%, PS/PPDG/diverse left parties 24.49%, PCG 5.29%, diverse right parties 5.73%; seats by party - RPR 25, PS/PPDG/diverse left parties 12, PCG 2, diverse right parties 2
note: Guadeloupe elects two representatives to the French Senate; elections last held NA September 1995 (next to be held NA September 2004); percent of vote by party - NA; seats by party - RPR 1, FGPS 1; Guadeloupe elects four representatives to the French National Assembly; elections last held 25 May - 1 June 1997 (next to be held NA 2002); percent of vote by party - NA; seats by party - FGPS 2, RPR 1, PPDG 1
Judicial branch: Court of Appeal or Cour d'Appel with jurisdiction over Guadeloupe, French Guiana, and Martinique.
Political parties and leaders:
Communist Party of Guadeloupe or PCG Christian Celeste
FGPS Dominique Larifla
Progressive Democratic Party or PPDG Henri Bangou
Rally for the Republic or RPR Aldo Blaise
Socialist Party or PS Georges Louisor
Union for French Democracy or UDF Marcel Esdras
Political pressure groups and leaders:
Christian Movement for the Liberation of Guadeloupe or KLPG
General Federation of Guadeloupe Workers or CGT-G
General Union of Guadeloupe Workers or UGTG
Movement for Independent Guadeloupe or MPGI
International organisation participation: FZ, WCL, WFTU
Guatemala's unicameral parliament, the Congreso de la República (Congress of the Republic) with 158 seats, is elected every four years, concurrently with the presidential elections. The President of Guatemala acts as the head of state and head of government. In his executive tasks, he is assisted by a cabinet of ministers, which he appoints.
Haiti is a presidential republic with an elected president and National Assembly. However, some claim it to be an authoritarian government in practice. On 29 February 2004, a rebellion culminated in the defacto resignation of president Jean-Bertrand Aristide and it is unknown if the current political structure will remain.
The constitution was introduced in 1987 under the administration of Leslie Manigat and is modeled on those of the United States and France. Having been either completely or partially suspended for some years, it was fully reinstated in 1994. Since, and as a result of, the aforementioned coup, the future of the 1987 Constitution has fallen into doubt, even though the planned elections for the Presidency, Parliament, and local governments are being held in accordance with its terms.
See List of Presidents of Haiti, 2006 Haitian Elections, 2000 Haitian Elections, 1995 Haitian Elections, 1990 Haitian Elections, and the Constitution of Haiti.
A Presidential and general election was held on November 27, 2005/ Manuel Zelaya of the Liberal Party of Honduras (Partido Liberal de Honduras: PLH) won with Porfirio Pepe Lobo of the National Party of Honduras (Partido Nacional de Honduras: PNH) coming in second. Zelaya is scheduled to become President on January 27, 2006 now that these results have been made official; the PHN had openly challenged them (the preliminary results were based on a small, but statistically significant sample) and was pushing for a complete recount.
Honduras has five registered political parties: PNH, PLH, Social Democrats (Partido Innovación Nacional y Social Demócrata: PINU-SD), Social Christians (Partido Demócrata-Cristiano: DC), and Democrat Unification (Partido Unificación Democrática: UD). The PNH and PLH have ruled the country for decades. In the last 23 years, Honduras has had four Liberal presidents: Roberto Suazo Córdova, José Azcona del Hoyo, Carlos Roberto Reina, and Carlos Roberto Flores, and two Nationalists: Rafael Leonardo Callejas Romero and Ricardo Maduro. The elections have been full of controversies including, questions about whether Azcona was born in Honduras or Spain, and whether Maduro should have been able to stand given he was born in Panama.
Roberto Suazo Cordoba ruled the country during the so called "Lost Decade" when hundreds of human rights violations were committed, and alleged political crimes were common place. In 1986, Azcona del Hoyo was elected via the "Formula B," when Azcona did not obtain the majority of votes. However, 5 Liberal candidates and 4 Nationalist were running for president at that time, and the "Formula B" required all votes from all candidates from the same party to be added together. Azcona then became the president. In 1990, Callejas won the election under the slogan "Llegó el momento del Cambio," (The time for Change is here), which was heavily criticized for resembling El Salvador's "ARENAs" political campaign. Callejas Romero gained a reputation for illicit enrichment. Callejas has been the subject of several scandals and accusations in the last two decades. In 1998, during Flores Facusse's mandate, Hurricane Mitch hit the country and all indications of economic growth were washed out in a period of 5 days.
In 2004 separate ballots were used for mayors, congress, and president. Many more candidates were registered for the 2005 election.
The Nationalist and Liberal parties are distinct political parties with their own dedicated band of supporters, but some have pointed out that their interests and policy measures throughout the 23 years of uninterrupted democracy have been very similar. They are often seen as primarily serving the interests of their own members, who receive jobs when their party gains power and lose them again when the other party does so. Both are seen as suppoertive of the elite who owns most of the wealth in the country, with neither of them promoting socialist ideals, even though in many ways Honduras is run like a democratic version of an old socialist state, with price controls and nationalized electric and land-line telephone services.However, President Maduro's administration "de-nationalized" the telecommunications sector in a move to promote the rapid diffusion of telecom services to the Honduran population. As of November 2005, there were around 10 private-sector telecom companies in the Honduran market, including two mobile phone companies.
Jamaica's current Constitution was drafted in 1962 by a bipartisan joint committee of the Jamaican legislature. It came into force with the Jamaica Independence Act, 1962 of the United Kingdom Parliament, which gave Jamaica political independence.
The Jamaican head of state is Queen Elizabeth II, who is given the title of "Queen of Jamaica." The Queen is represented by a governor general, appointed by the Prime Minister. Both serve largely ceremonial roles.
The Jamaican Parliament is bicameral, consisting of the House of Representatives and the Senate. Members of the House (known as 'Members of Parliament' or MPs) are directly elected, and the leader of the majority party in the House becomes the Prime Minister. Senators are appointed by the Prime Minister, and the parliamentary Leader of the Opposition.
The current Prime Minister of Jamaica is P. J. Patterson who has held office since the 1992 resignation of Michael Manley. The Current leader of the opposition is Bruce Golding. Patterson has been re-elected three times, the last being in 2002. Jamaica's constitution requires the Prime Minister to call the next general election by October 2007.
Jamaica has traditionally had a two party system, with power often alternating between the People's National Party and Jamaica Labour Party.
Jamaica is a full and participating member of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).
chief of state: President Jacques Chirac of France (since 17 May 1995); Prefect Yves Dassonville (since 2004)
head of government: President of the General Council Claude Lise (since 22 March 1992); President of the Regional Council Alfred Marie-Jeanne (since NA March 1998)
cabinet: NA
Elections: French president elected by popular vote for a five-year term; prefect appointed by the French president on the advice of the French Ministry of Interior; the presidents of the General and Regional Councils are elected by the members of those councils
Legislative branch: unicameral General Council or Conseil General (45 seats; members are elected by popular vote to serve six-year terms) and a unicameral Regional Assembly or Conseil Regional (41 seats; members are elected by popular vote to serve six-year terms)
elections: General Council - last held NA March 1994 (next to be held NA 2000); Regional Assembly - last held on 15 March 1998 (next to be held by March 2004)
election results: General Council - percent of vote by party - NA; seats by party - NA; note - the PPM won a plurality; Regional Assembly - percent of vote by party - NA; seats by party - RPR-UDF 14, MIM 13, PPM 7, left parties 4, PMS 3
note: Martinique elects 2 seats to the French Senate; elections last held NA September 1998 (next to be held September 2001); results - percent of vote by party - NA; seats by party - PPM 2; Martinique also elects 4 seats to the French National Assembly; elections last held 1 June 1997 (next to be held NA 2002); results - percent of vote by party - NA; seats by party - RPR 2, PS 1, independent 1
Judicial branch: Court of Appeal or Cour d'Appel
Political parties and leaders: Combat Worker [Gerard BEAUJOUR]; Martinique Communist Party or PCM [Armand NICOLAS]; Martinique Forces [Maurice LAOUCHEZ]; Martinique Independence Movement or MIM [Alfred MARIE-JEANNE]; Martinique Patriots or PM [leader NA]; Martinique Progressive Party or PPM [Camille DARSIERES]; Martinique Socialist Party or PMS [Ernest WAN-AJOUHU]; Movement for a Liberated Martinique [Philippe PETIT]; National Council of Popular Committees [Robert SAE]; Rally for Democratic Martinique [Felix HILAIRE-FORTUNE]; Rally for the Republic or RPR [Michel CHARLONE]; Republican Party or PR [Jean BAILLY]; Socialist Federation of Martinique or FSM [Jean CRUSOL]; Union for French Democracy or UDF [Jean MAREN]; Union for the Renewal of Ste. Marie [Guy LORDINOT]
Political pressure groups and leaders: Association for the Protection of Martinique's Heritage (ecologist) [Garcin MALSA]; Caribbean Revolutionary Alliance or ARC; Central Union for Martinique Workers or CSTM [Marc PULVAR]; Frantz Fanon Circle; League of Workers and Peasants; Proletarian Action Group or GAP; Socialist Revolution Group or GRS [Philippe PIERRE-CHARLES]
International organization participation: FZ, WCL, WFTU
Diplomatic representation in the US: none (overseas department of France)
Diplomatic representation from the US: none (overseas department of France)
Flag description: a light blue background is divided into four quadrants by a white cross; in the center of each rectangle is a white snake; the flag of France is used for official occasions
Mexico is divided into 31 states (estados) and a federal district. Each state has its own constitution and its citizens elect a governor as well as representatives to their respective state congresses.The Federal District is a special political division in Mexico, where the national capital, Mexico City, is located. It enjoys more limited local rule than the nation's "free and sovereign states": only since 1997 have its citizens been able to elect a Head of Government, whose powers are still more curtailed than those of a state governor. Much of the capital city's metropolitan area overflows the limits of the Federal District.
Montserrat is a British overseas territory (formerly a crown colony). The monarch, Elizabeth II, is represented by the Governor, Deborah Barnes-Jones.
The current Chief Minister of the island is John Osborne, of the New People's Liberation Movement. Moves towards full independence have been effectively halted by the volcano and the consequent evacuation.
Montserrat is a full and participating member of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS).
Vavassa Island (US)
Navassa Island or La Navase in Haitian Kreyòl is a small, uninhabited island in the Caribbean Sea. The government of the United States claims the island as an unincorporated territory of the United States, part of the United States Minor Outlying Islands, and it is administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. However, California businessman Bill Warren has advanced a claim against the island (using the Guano Islands Act), and it is also claimed by Haiti.
Netherlands Antilles
The head of state is the ruling monarch of the Netherlands, who is represented in the Netherlands Antilles by a governor. The governor is also head of the local government, and forms, together with the council of ministers, the executive branch of the government.
The legislative branch is two-layered. Delegates of the islands are represented in the government of the Netherlands Antilles, but each island has its own government that takes care of the daily tasks on the island.
Nicaragua is a constitutional republic with an elected president holding executive power. The unicameral legislative body is the National Assembly, which has 92 members elected for 5-year terms. The President, and the runner-up are both members of the National Assembly, as well, and the government operates according to pseudo-parliamentary rules.
Panama is a republic with three branches of government: executive and legislative branches elected by direct vote for 5-year terms, and an independently appointed judiciary. The executive branch includes a president and two vice presidents (second vice presidential seat will be eliminated in May 2009 elections). The legislative branch consists of a 78-member unicameral Legislative Assembly (legislative branch will decrease to 71 members in May 2009 elections). The judicial branch is organized under a nine-member Supreme Court and includes all tribunals and municipal courts. An autonomous Electoral Tribunal supervises voter registration, the election process, and the activities of political parties. Everyone over the age of 18 is required to vote, although those who fail to do so are not penalized.
General elections were held on May 2, 2004; the presidential contest was won by Martín Torrijos, son of the former strongman Omar Torrijos. Martín Torrijos assumed the presidency on September 1, 2004. The former president had been Mireya Moscoso, widow of the political leader Arnulfo Arias.
Puerto Rico
The island government is based on the U.S. Republic system composed of 3 branches: the Executive branch headed by the Governor, the Legislative branch consisting of a bicameral Legislative Assembly (a Senate and a House of Representatives) and the Judicial branch. The legal system is based on a mix of the Civil Law and the Common Law systems. The governor as well as legislators are elected by popular vote every four years. Members of the Judicial branch are appointed by the governor and approved by the senate. The island is divided into 78 municipalities, which elect a mayor and municipal assembly. Puerto Rico's formal Chief of State is the President of the United States; however, most of the executive functions are carried out by the governor.
The current Constitution of Puerto Rico was approved through referendum in 1952, and ratified by the U.S. Congress, which maintains ultimate sovereignty over Puerto Rico. Under the 1952 constitution, Puerto Rico is a territorial commonwealth of the United States and is permitted a high degree of autonomy. Still, Puerto Rico does not have voting representation in the U.S. Congress; neither does it have any delegates to the U.S. Electoral College, and therefore Puerto Rican citizens have no representation in the U.S. Presidential elections. A non-voting Resident Commissioner is elected by the residents of Puerto Rico to the U.S. Congress. Residents of the island do not pay federal income tax on income from island sources, although they do pay a hefty tax to local authorities. Further, island residents pay social security taxes and other federal taxes. Also, they haved limited access to several key federal programs. As U.S. citizens, Puerto Ricans are subject to military service and most federal laws.
Puerto Rico's three major political parties are most distinguished by their position on the political status of Puerto Rico. The Popular Democratic Party (PPD) seeks to maintain or improve the current Commonwealth status, the New Progressive Party (PNP) seeks to fully incorporate Puerto Rico as a U.S. state, and the Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) seeks national independence.
Three Puerto Rico status referenda have been held since the ratification of the 1952 constitution. Support for the commonwealth has eroded from over 60% in 1967 to about 48%, while support for statehood has grown to about 46%. In the 1998 referendum independence received 2.5%, but the "None of the above" option received more than 50%. Pro-statehooders claim that this option garnered the majority of votes due to a joint effort by commonwealth and pro-independence supporters to stop statehood.
Puerto Ricans living on the island are not counted among the Hispanics residing in the U.S.; in fact, they are not included in the U.S. population count at all, although all Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens. Puerto Rico also is not included in the Current Population Surveys that the Census Bureau conducts to update its decennial census.
Saint Kitts and Nevis
he country is an independent Commonwealth Realm with Queen Elizabeth II as its head of state, represented in St. Kitts and Nevis by a governor general, who acts on the advice of the Prime Minister and the cabinet. The prime minister is the leader of the majority party of the house, and the cabinet conducts affairs of state.
St. Kitts and Nevis has a unicameral legislature, known as the National Assembly. It is comprised of fourteen members - eleven elected representatives - three of whom are from the island of Nevis - and three members who are appointed by the Governor-General. The three appointed members are known as Senators, with two being appointed on the advice of the Prime Minister, and one on the advice of the leader of the opposition. Though they are referred to as Senators, they do not form a separate house of parliament, as in some other countries. Both representatives and senators serve five-year terms. The prime minister and the cabinet are responsible to the Parliament.
Saint Kitts and Nevis are a full & participating member of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS).
Saint Lucia
As a Commonwealth Realm, Saint Lucia recognizes Queen Elizabeth II as the Head of State of Saint Lucia, represented on the island by a Governor-General. Executive power, however, is in the hands of the prime minister and his cabinet. The prime minister is normally the head of the party winning the elections for the House of Assembly, which has 17 seats. The other chamber of parliament, the Senate, has 11 appointed members.
Saint Lucia is a full & participating member of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS).
Saint-Pierre and Miquelon
In 1992, a maritime boundary dispute with Canada over the delineation of the Exclusive Economic Zone belonging to France was settled by the International Court of Arbitration. In the decision, France kept the 12 nautical mile (NM) (22.2 km) territorial sea surrounding the islands and was given an additional 12 NM (22.2 km) contiguous zone as well as a 10.5 NM (19.4 km) wide corridor stretching 200 NM (370 km) south. The total area in the award was 18% of what France had requested.
The boundary dispute had been a flash point for Franco-Canadian relations. New claims made under UNCLOS by France over the continental shelf might cause new tensions between France and Canada.
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
St. Vincent and the Grenadines is a parliamentary democracy within the Commonwealth of Nations. Queen Elizabeth II is head of state and is represented on the island by a governor general, an office with mostly ceremonial functions. Control of the government rests with the prime minister and the cabinet. There is a parliamentary opposition made of the largest minority stakeholder in general elections, headed by the leader of the opposition.
The country has no formal armed forces, though Royal Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Police Force includes a Special Service Unit.
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines are a full & participating member of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS).
Trinidad and Tobago
Trinidad and Tobago is a liberal democracy with a two-party system and a bicameral parliamentary system based on the Westminster System. The Head of State of Trinidad and Tobago is the President, currently Professor Emeritus George Maxwell Richards. The Head of Government is the Prime Minister. The President is elected by an Electoral College consisting of the full membership of both houses of Parliament. The Prime Minister is appointed by the President. The President is required to appoint the leader of the party who in his opinion has the most support of the members of the House of Representatives to this post; this has generally been the leader of the party which won the most seats in the previous election (except in the case of the 2001 General Elections).
The Parliament consists of two chambers, the Senate (31 seats) and the House of Representatives (36 seats, will increase to 41 seats after the next election). The members of the Senate are appointed by the president. Sixteen Government Senators are appointed on the advice of the Prime Minister, six Opposition Senators are appointed on the advice of the Leader of the Opposition and nine Independent Senators are appointed by the President to represent other sectors of civil society. The 36 members of the House of Representatives are elected by the people for a maximum term of five years.
Since December 24, 2001, the governing party has been the People's National Movement led by Patrick Manning; the Opposition party is the United National Congress led by Basdeo Panday (Leader of the Opposition) and Winston Dookeran (UNC political leader).
Trinidad and Tobago is an active member of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).
Turks and Caicos Islands
The Turks and Caicos Islands is an overseas territory of the United Kingdom consisting of two groups of tropical islands in the Caribbean, southeast of the Bahamas, at 21°45′N 71°35′W. The territory is geographically part of the Bahamas islands, but not politically. The thirty islands total 166 sq. mi. (430 km²), primarily of low, flat limestone with extensive marshes and mangrove swamps. The weather is usually sunny and relatively dry, but suffers frequent hurricanes. The islands have limited natural fresh water resources; private cisterns collect rainwater for drinking. The primary natural resources are spiny lobster and conch. The United Nations Committee on Decolonization includes the Turks and Caicos Islands on the United Nations list of Non-Self-Governing Territories.
United States
With the Declaration of Independence, the thirteen colonies proclaimed themselves to be nation states modeled after the European states of the time. Although considered as sovereigns initially, under the Articles of Confederation of 1781 they entered into a "Perpetual Union" and created a fully sovereign federal state, delegating certain powers to the national Congress, including the right to engage in diplomatic relations and to levy war, while each retaining their individual sovereignty, freedom and independence. But the national government proved too ineffective, so the administrative structure of the government was vastly reorganized with the United States Constitution of 1789. Under this new union, the continued status of the individual states as sovereign nation states fell into dispute in 1861, as several states attempted to secede from the union; in response, then-President Abraham Lincoln claimed that such secession was illegal, and the result was the American Civil War. Since the Union victory in 1865, the independent status of the individual states has not been broached again by any state, and the status of each state within the union has been deemed by mainstream officials and academics to be settled as being subordinate to the union as a whole.
In subsequent years, the number of states grew steadily due to western expansion, the purchase of lands by the national government from other nation states, and the subdivision of existing states, resulting in the current total of 50. The states are generally divided into smaller administrative regions, including counties, cities and townships.
The United States–Canadian border is the longest undefended political boundary in the world. The U.S. is divided into three distinct sections: the "continental United States," also known as "the Lower 48" and more accurately termed the conterminous, coterminous or contiguous United States, Alaska, which is physically connected only to Canada, the archipelago of Hawaii, in the central Pacific Ocean.
The United States also holds several other territories, districts, and possessions, notably the federal district of the District of Columbia, which is the nation's capital, and several overseas insular areas, the most significant of which are American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the United States Virgin Islands. The Palmyra Atoll is the United States' only incorporated territory; it is unorganized and uninhabited.
The United States Navy has held a base at a portion of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, since 1898. The United States government possesses a lease to this land, which only mutual agreement or United States abandonment of the area can terminate. The present Cuban government of Fidel Castro disputes this arrangement, claiming Cuba was not truly sovereign at the time of the signing. The United States argues this point moot because Cuba apparently ratified the lease post-revolution, and with full sovereignty, when it cashed one rent check in accordance with the disputed treaty.
Political divisions of the United States
States Alabama | Alaska | Arizona | Arkansas | California | Colorado | Connecticut | Delaware | Florida | Georgia | Hawaii | Idaho | Illinois | Indiana | Iowa | Kansas | Kentucky | Louisiana | Maine | Maryland | Massachusetts | Michigan | Minnesota | Mississippi | Missouri | Montana | Nebraska | Nevada | New Hampshire | New Jersey | New Mexico | New York | North Carolina | North Dakota | Ohio | Oklahoma | Oregon | Pennsylvania | Rhode Island | South Carolina | South Dakota | Tennessee | Texas | Utah | Vermont | Virginia | Washington | West Virginia | Wisconsin | Wyoming
Federal district District of Columbia
Insular areas American Samoa | Baker Island | Guam | Howland Island | Jarvis Island | Johnston Atoll | Kingman Reef | Midway Atoll | Navassa Island | Northern Mariana Islands | Palmyra Atoll | Puerto Rico | Virgin Islands | Wake Island
U.S. Virgin Islands
The U.S. Virgin Islands are an organized, unincorporated territory of the United States. Although U.S. citizens, Virgin Islanders cannot vote in U.S. Presidential elections, though they can vote in Presidential primaries.
The main political parties in the U.S. Virgin Islands are the Democratic Party of the Virgin Islands, the Independent Citizens Movement (ICM), and the Republican Party of the Virgin Islands. Additional candidates run as independents.
At the national level, the U.S. Virgin Islands elects a delegate to Congress. However, the elected delegate while able to vote in comittee cannot participate in floor votes.
At the territorial level, fifteen senators—seven from the district of Saint Croix, seven from the district of Saint Thomas and Saint John, and one senator at-large who must be a resident of Saint John—are elected for two-years term to the unicameral Virgin Islands Legislature.
The U.S. Virgin Islands has elected a territorial governor every four years since 1970. Previous governors were appointed by the President of the United States.
The U.S. Virgin Islands has both a District Court and a Superior Court. Judges are appointed by the President and the Governor respectively.
The United States Congress has organized several local referenda to aid in the islands' self-determination. As with Puerto Rico, the residents have been given the choice of independence, status quo, or statehood; however, these measures have failed to attract sufficient civic interest or voter turn-out to produce even a noteworthy plurality, much less a majority, and thus the islands will retain their current territorial status for the forseeable future. It is theorized that future Puerto Rican statehood might serve as a catalyst for political interest in the V.I., as well as other territories.
With much controversy, these efforts by the Federal Government to normalize the unincorporated territory's status are completely discounted by the United Nations Committee on Decolonization, and the U.S. Virgin Islands are currently in the list of non-self-governing territories.


The economy of North America comprises more than 440 million people in 23 states. It is marked by a sharp division between the northern English-speaking countries of Canada (although has a large francophone minority) and the United States, which are some of the wealthiest and most developed nations in the world, and the countries of Central America and the Caribbean that are less well off. Mexico lies between these two extremes. While a part of NAFTA and a member of the OECD it remains poorer than he United States but almost on-par with Canada's ecomony, both of these which are its northern neighbours.


The first human inhabitants of North America are believed to be of Asian origin; they crossed over to Alaska from NE Asia roughly 20,000 years ago, and then moved southward through the Mackenzie River valley. European discovery and settlement of North America dates from the 10th cent., when Norsemen settled (986) in Greenland. Although evidence is fragmentary, they probably reached E Canada c.1000 at the latest. Of greater impact on the subsequent history of the continent were Christopher Columbus's exploration of the Bahamas in 1492 and later landings in the West Indies and Central America, and John Cabot's explorations of E Canada (1497), which established English claims to the continent. Spanish and French expeditions also explored much of North America.
Although the population of Canada and the United States is still largely of European origin, it is growing increasingly diverse with substantial immigration from Asia, Latin America, and Africa; it is also highly urbanized (about 74% live in urban areas); much of the population is centered in large conurbations and coalescing urban belts along the southern margin of Canada and in the northeastern quadrant of the United States around the Great Lakes and along the Atlantic coast. Mexico's population, about 60% mestizo (of European and Native American descent), is increasingly urbanized (about 72%). People of European descent are a minority in most Central American and Caribbean countries, and the population outside the major cities is largely rural. The largest urban agglomerations on the continent are Mexico City, New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago.


Various languages, both European and native, are spoken in America.
Spanish - spoken by approximately 350 million people in many nations, regions, islands, and communities throughout the continent.
English - spoken by approximately 300 million in the United States, Canada, Belize and islands of the Caribbean
French - spoken by approximately 7 million in Québec and 2 million in the rest of Canada; in the Caribbean, especially in Haiti; and in French Guiana.
Haitian Creole - creole language, based in French and various African languages, spoken by 7.8 million in Haiti.
Nahuatl - native language of central Mexico with 1.5 million speakers
Most of the non-native languages have, to different degrees, evolved differently from the mother country, but are usually still mutually intelligible. Some have combined though, which has even resulted in completely new languages, such as Papiamentu, which is a combination of Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch (representing the respective colonisers), native Arawak, various African languages and, more recently, English. Because of immigration, there are many communities where other languages are spoken from all parts of the world, especially in the United States and Canada, two important destinations for immigrants.


The United States, Canada, and the other English-speaking nations of the Americas (Belize, Guyana, and the Anglophone Caribbean) are sometimes grouped under the term Anglo-America, while the remaining nations of North and South America are grouped under the term Latin America.
Alternatively, Northern America is used to refer to Canada and the U.S. together (plus Greenland and Bermuda), while Central America is mainland North America south of the United States. The West Indies generally include all islands in the Caribbean Sea. In this respect, Latin America generally includes Central America and South America and, sometimes, the West Indies. The term Middle America is sometimes used to refer to Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean collectively.
The term "North America" may mean different things to different people. The term in common usage is often taken to mean "the United States and Canada, only" by some people of the United States and Canada, excluding Mexico and the countries of Central America, unless the context makes it clear that they are to be included (such as with specific reference to Mexico, when talking about NAFTA). For example, guides to wild flora and fauna published by the National Audubon Society for "North America" frequently include only species found in Canada and the U.S.
This may be attributed to the fact that culturally and economically, the U.S. and Canada are more alike to each other than they are to the rest of North America. Mexicans, however, are acutely aware that Mexico is a part of North America and object to this usage. Central Americans, however, are generally content to be called Central Americans – largely because of their shared history, which includes several attempts at supranational integration in the region and in which Mexico, their much larger northern neighbor, was never involved.


Other groups of colonists came to America searching for either an asylum to practice a religion without persecution or a refuge to begin a new and holier settlement where complete theological agreement could be found. After the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century and the new and seemingly radical doctrine of Calvinism, some Europeans began to drift away from their orthodox ways. Many more churches and denominations thus formed, leading to greater disagreement and tension among Europeans on the whole. Severe persecution did occur in some areas, such as Elizabeth’s Protestant troops in Catholic Ireland, but it was mainly less drastic circumstances that pushed some people from Europe. The freedom of unclaimed land was attractive to those who wished to escape from persecution, and with the help of a charter, groups then had a right to the land and a right to live in the way that they thought best. Some colonies were created as havens for specific religious groups, while others offered refuge to any group that wished to worship, believe, and live in their own manner. Other settlements, such as Pennsylvania, were designed to guarantee safe haven for certain groups (the Quakers), but were opened up to other religious denominations with complete freedom of religion. The stories of these successful colonies overshadowed the stories of American persecution (such as the Anne Hutchinson incident) and lured suffering people away from the Old World.
Major religious groups immigrating to the New World included: Puritans, Separatists, more commonly known as Pilgrims, Catholics, Quakers.

Adventure Trips visiting:
Caribbean | Central America