United States of Central America
The United States of Central America was a country formed in Central America in 1823. It was intended to be a federal republic modeled after the United States of America, and it was also known as the "United Provinces of Central America" and, according to its 1824 Constitution, the "Federation of Central America" (Spanish: Federación de Centroamérica).
The Central American federation 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 the Mexican state of Chiapas.
Map of Central America (1860s)
Central American liberals had high hopes for the federal republic, which they believed would evolve into a modern, democratic nation, enriched by trade crossing through it between the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans. These aspirations are reflected in the emblems of the federal republic: The flag shows a white band between two blue stripes, representing the land between two oceans. The coat of arms shows five mountains (one for each state) between two oceans, surmounted by a Phrygian cap, the emblem of the French Revolution.
In practice, however, the federation faced insurmountable problems. The liberal democratic project was strongly opposed by conservative factions allied to the Roman Catholic clergy and to the wealthy landowners. Transportation and communication routes between the states were extremely deficient. The bulk of the population lacked any sense of commitment towards the broader federation. The federal bureaucracy in Guatemala City proved ineffectual. Wars soon broke out between various factions both in the federation and within individual states. The poverty and extreme political instability of the region prevented the construction of an inter-oceanic canal (see Nicaragua Canal and Panama Canal), from which Central America could have obtained considerable economic benefits.
- 1823 – 1825 : José Cecilo del Valle
- 1825 – 1829 : Manuel José Arce
- 1829 – 1830 : José F. Barrundia (interim president after Arce's resignation)
- 1830 – 1839 : Francisco Morazán (continued as chief of state of the disintegrating republic until 1840)
Dissolution 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 succeeded for any length of time. The first attempt was in 1842 by former President Morazán, who was quickly captured 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 the hope for eventual reunification persist in the nations formerly in the union. In 1856–1857 the region successfully established a military coalition to repel an invasion by U.S. adventurer William Walker. Today, all five nations fly flags that retain the old federal motif of two outer blue bands bounding an inner white stripe. (Costa Rica, traditionally the least committed of the five to regional integration, modified its flag significantly in 1848 by darkening the blue and adding a double-wide inner red band, in honor of the French tricolor).
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