Usumacinta River

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Usumacinta River

Usumacinta River, a waterway in northwestern Guatemala and southeastern Mexico. Beginning in northern Guatemala, where the Chixoy and La Pasión rivers meet, the Usumacinta flows through a sparsely populated area marking the border between Chiapas, Mexico, and Petén, Guatemala. Surrounded by tropical forest, the river cuts across the rolling limestone plateau of the Petén before entering Tabasco state. In Tabasco the waterway forms an alluvial floodplain and annually inundates large areas, creating numerous lagoons and swamps. Near Frontera, Tabasco, the Usumacinta joins the Grijalva River and flows into the Bay of Campeche. Together, the Usumacinta-Grijalva river system forms Mexico's largest watershed by volume, accounting for nearly half of the country's stream flow.

Historically, the river was a trade artery for the lowland Mayas, yet its modern use has been limited to moving logs and chicle downstream. Efforts to incorporate this peripheral area into modern Mexico have centered upon hydroelectric and flood-control projects. A large dam near Balancán, Tabasco, produces electricity and has enabled the reclamation of agricultural lands and pastures in Tabasco. Further upstream, Mexico and Guatemala have proposed a series of dams along their common border, but the project has been postponed because of costs, the possible flooding of important archaeological sites, and international pressure against developing the largest remaining rain forest in Central America.

See alsoForests; Guatemala.


David Barkin and Timothy King, Regional Economic Development: The River Basin Approach in Mexico (1970), esp. pp. 102-107.

Nancy M. Farriss, Maya Society Under Colonial Rule: The Collective Enterprise of Survival (1984), pp. 152-154.

Larry Rohter, "Dam Project Is Seen as a Threat to Maya Sites," New York Times, 26 March 1987, sec. 1, p. 13.

Additional Bibliography

McIntosh, Roderick J., and Joseph A. Tainter. The Way the Wind Blows: Climate, History, and Human Action. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000.

Sharer, Robert J., and Loa P. Traxler. The Ancient Maya. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2006.

Usumacinta sites. Albuquerque: Far Horizons, 1998.

                                        Marie D. Price