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History of Central America

Table of contents
1 Before European Contact
2 Spanish Colonial Era
3 Independence
4 The United States of Central America
5 Disolution of the Union

Before European Contact

Most of modern Central America was part of the Mesoamerican cultural area in Pre-Columbian times. The Native American civilizations of Mesoamerica extended from central Mexico down to Costa Rica. The Precolumbian cultures of Panama traded both with Mesoamerica and the cultures of South America, and can be considered transitional between the two cultural areas.

Spanish Colonial Era

After the Spanish Conquest in the 16th century, most of the region now known as Central America shared a common history. The exceptions were the two nations at the north and south ends of Central America. Panama was part of Spanish New Granada, and then of the nation of Colombia, until 1903. Belize was the British colony of British Honduras until 1973.

From the 16th century to the early 19th century Central America was part of the Spanish Viceroyalty of New Spain, administered by the Captain General's administration in Antigua Guatemala and later Guatemala City. The area was sometimes called "The Kingdom of Guatemala", and included Chiapas (now part of Mexico) as well as the modern nations of Central America.


In 1821 a congress of Central American Creoles declared their independence from Spain, effective on 15 September of that year. The date is is still marked as the independence day of many Central American nations. The Spanish Captain General sympathized with the rebels, and it was decided that he should stay on as interim leader until a new government could be formed. However this initial independence was short lived, for on 5 January, 1822 Central America was anexed by the Mexican Empire under Agustín de Iturbide. Central American liberals objected to this, but an army from Mexico under General Vicente Filisola occupied Guatemala City and quelled dissent.

When Mexico became a republic the following year, it acknowledged Central America's right to determine its own destiny. On 1 July, 1823, the congress in Central America declared absolute independence from Spain, Mexico, and any other foreign nation, and a Republican system of government was established.

The United States of Central America

In 1823 the nation of Central America was formed. It was known alternately as "The United States of Central America" or "The United Provinces of Central America", but most commonly simply as "Central America" ("Centroamerica"). The Central American nation consisted of the states of Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica. In the 1830s an additional state was added, Los Altos, with its capital in Quetzaltenango, occupying parts of what is now the western highlands of Guatemala and Chiapas, Mexico.

Presidents of Central America:

Map of Central America, c.1860

Disolution of the Union

The Union dissolved in civil war between 1838 and 1840. Its disintegration began when Honduras separated from the federation on November 5, 1838. Various attempts were made to reunite Central America in the 19th century, but none succeded for any length of time. The first attempt was in 1842 by former President Morazan, who was captured by rebels and executed. Guatemalan President Justo Rufino Barrios attempted to reunite the nation by force of arms in the 1880s and was also killed in the process. A union of Honduras, Nicaragua, and El Salvador as the Republic of Central America lasted from 1896 to 1898.

Despite the failure of a lasting political union, the sense of shared history and hopes for eventual reunification persist in the nations formerly in the union; all five fly flags that are modified versions of the old flag of the United States of Central America, a white stripe between two blue stripes, representing the land between two oceans.

In 1907 the Central American Court of Justice was formed.

On December 13, 1960 the Central American Common Market ("CACM") was established by Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua with hopes of greater political unification to follow; however little progress has yet been made in that direction.

History of the present-day nations of Central America:

History of Belize
History of Costa Rica
History of El Salvador
History of Guatemala
History of Honduras
History of Nicaragua
History of Panama

See also:
History of Mexico