Guatemala is one of the northernmost countries in Central America, bordering Mexico, Belize, Honduras and El Salvador. Guatemala’s mountainous terrain, tropical latitude and small size limit the country's influence in the Caribbean basin as compared to stronger North American neighbors. The Sierra Madre Mountains stretch from Mexico into Guatemala, forming the majority of the country’s territory. The height and rugged terrain of this active volcanic range complicates the construction and maintenance of infrastructure, thereby limiting state control over the territory. To the north, the tropical lowland Peten region comprises nearly a third of Guatemala’s territory. This humid region is densely forested with a climate unsuitable for agriculture. As a result, Peten is very lightly populated. Although Peten was for a time the heart of the Mayan civilization, the modern core of Guatemala lies in the southern Highlands. At nearly 5,000 feet in elevation, the altitude of the capital, Guatemala City, moderates the tropical latitude, creating a mild climate suitable for growing crops like corn and beans that can support a sizable human population. The city's strategic location gives the country access to both coasts and maritime trade on the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Guatemala has historically found itself battered by the policies of its larger neighbors, including a 36-year civil war that was directly influence by the Cold War. Today, Guatemala is a stopping point for western hemispheric drug traffickers. Difficult geography, a complex political neighborhood and few natural resources stand in the way of economic development and will continue to complicate Guatemala’s geopolitical future.

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