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Chiapas

Chiapas (chēäˈpäs) [key], state (1990 pop. 3,210,496), 28,732 sq mi (74,416 sq km), SE Mexico, on the Pacific Ocean between Guatemala and the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. Tuxtla Gutiérrez is the capital. Chiapas is crossed by mountain ranges rising from the isthmus and extending southeast into Guatemala. They are separated by low, subtropical valleys. Paralleling the coastal plain is the Sierra Madre de Chiapas, reaching 13,310 ft (4,057 m) at Tacaná volcano. The state's principal river valley is the Grijalva, northeast of which are the central highlands. Farther to the northeast are lower ranges, lakes, and valleys, falling away toward the Usumacinta River and the rain-forested plains of Tabasco. This sparsely inhabited region contains valuable but dwindling forests of dyewoods and hardwoods and is also the site of ruined Mayan cities (notably Palenque). The area is also the retreat of the Lacandones, a gradually disappearing indigenous people often thought to be related to the ancient Maya.

The climate of Chiapas, except for the highlands, is hot. Rainfall is heavy from June to November. Subsistence crops are grown, and coffee (of which Chiapas is a leading national producer), rubber, and cacao are economically important, as is livestock breeding. The state's rich mineral resources, especially silver, gold, and copper, remain mostly unexploited, although petroleum production has become significant. Chiapas also has valuable amber deposits. The state is also a major producer of hydroelectric power from dams on the Grijalva River. In general, economic development has been hindered by remoteness and inadequate communication; however, airlines and the Inter-American Highway link Tuxtla with the highland towns, especially the pre-1892 capital, San Cristóbal de las Casas, and are opening up the interior. Tourism and ethnological research are both increasingly important. Interesting archaeological sites have been discovered near the village of Chiapa de Corzo.

Conquered with difficulty by the Spanish, Chiapa, as it was then called, was attached to the captain generalcy of Guatemala. Never part of colonial Mexico, quasi-independent Chiapas was annexed by the republic following the collapse in 1823 of the empire of Agustín de Iturbide. Its people, however, many of them members of highland Maya tribes, resisted the central government in various uprisings. In early 1994 several towns in Chiapas were briefly occupied during an uprising by peasants, who remain on the socioeconomic and political margins in the state. Armed conflict was brief, and the rebels (the Zapatista National Liberation Army) established control in a number of communities after a truce was declared. The Zapatistas have continued to press for greater autonomy for all of Mexico's indigenous communities, and there have been sporadic outbreaks of violence.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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