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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).
By the end of the 20th century, Central America’s governments had attempted to revitalize the economy by fostering the diversification and expansion of nontraditional exports and free-trade zones, and assembly plants (Growing diversification in the economies of the region, however, has not provided a more equitable distribution of wealth.
This extensive form of cultivation has become less sustainable as fallow periods are shortened in response to rising demographic pressures and as the forest soils lose their ability to recuperate.
The Central American forests are relatively sparsely populated with mammals, generously populated with reptiles, and extremely rich in birds and insects.
Until the beginning of the 19th century, immigration was officially limited to citizens of Spain, and the Spanish were thus the only significant European contributors to the ethnic mixture of the area.
Three-fifths of the people of Central America are of mixed European and Indian descent (called Ladinos in Guatemala and mestizos elsewhere), and one-fifth are Indian.