THE Federal Republic of Central America it was a country that existed for two centuries for about 15 years.
Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica, the five countries that celebrated 200 years of independence from Spain on September 15, were part of that nation, while Panama followed its own course along with Greater Colombia.
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If it existed today, the Federal Republic of Central America would be a nation of 46 million people. with a territory of 423 thousand square kilometers.
It would be the seventh largest economy in Latin America and the Caribbean, after Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Peru. Its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) would reach around US$ 200 billion.
If we were to include a sixth country, Panama, in this exercise in historical fiction, the power of the unified bloc would be much greater.
Currently, the six countries are the world’s largest exporters of pineapple and cardamom, the second largest exporter of bananas and the third largest exporter of coffee, according to a study published this year by the Secretariat for Economic Integration of Central America (SIECA).
But how would this Federal Republic of Central America work politically? Noone can know.
This nation has had such a fleeting and surprising passage through the continent’s history that all speculations about what its current fate would have been are possible.
However, if there is one thing that continues to puzzle historians, it is: how was it possible for such different provinces to unite to create a single nation?
What happened to the dream of creating a single country
During the colony, the territories of Central America were part of the Captaincy General of Guatemala, also known as the Kingdom of Guatemala.
The Kingdom of Guatemala at that time included what we now know as Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, as well as two of the present-day provinces of Panama and the Mexican state of Chiapas.
After independence from the Spanish crown on September 15, 1821, the area was annexed to the so-called First Mexican Empire, headed by Agustín de Iturbide (1783-1824).
A few years later, Iturbide was overthrown. Most of this empire gave rise to Mexico, while the territories to the southeast became independent.
Thus, in July 1823, the rebel provinces signed an Act of Absolute Independence of Mexico and Spain, and in 1824 they officially adopted the name of the Federal Republic of Central America, proclaiming their Constitution.
The visible face of this republic, which over the years became an icon of unionism and a kind of “Simón Bolivar of Central America”, was the Honduran Francisco Morazán (1792-1842).
Morazán was the victim of a shooting attack.
Amidst chaos and struggles between different political factions, the Federal Republic of Central America finally saw its extinction in 1838, when Congress convened for the last time, says academic Mario Vázquez, from the Latin American and Caribbean Research Center ( CIALC) of the Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM).
It was a time when liberals, conservatives, centralists, federalists clashed. A time when, in addition to different political views, the specific interests of each territory were in conflict.
“There were deep divisions of provincial interests. They had fights since colonial times and strong lawsuits over appeals because it was a poor region”, explains Vázquez, author of the book “The Federal Republic of Central America: Territory, Nation and Diplomacy”.
At the same time, he adds, there was a major conflict against the capital, which was in Guatemala. “They felt they had gone from Spanish rule to Mexican rule and from Mexican rule to Guatemalan hegemony.”
Amidst the multiple conflicts, there was a permanent tension between those who wanted to maintain unity and those who wanted to go their own way.
In addition to internal pressures, external tensions are added, such as the nation’s conflicts with Mexico, Colombia and even England over Belize.
“The United Kingdom, which was its main trading partner, did not recognize the Federal Republic of Central America. It never received an ambassador,” says Vázquez, adding that this shortened the country’s chances of extending itself in time.
“They had everything to share and very little to remain united as a nation.”
“If this republic existed today, perhaps it would be a less poor country. Perhaps it could be compared to Ecuador, with a very great ethnic diversity”, ventures the historian.
“We could imagine that a united Central America would be a more prosperous and viable country, but we don’t know.”
What was independence for?
Alberto Mora Román, a researcher at the State of the Nation Program (PEN), linked to public universities in Costa Rica, answers the question about what the Federal Republic of Central America would be like today with another question.
“What is the use of Central American countries being independent today? Unfortunately, in most countries, this independence has not served to build solid foundations for people to live better.”
“The lag conditions that Central American countries have in relation to other countries in Latin America and the world show that autonomy has not been well managed.”
However, to know whether these countries would be better off if they were a single nation, “you would have to venture into the realm of prediction and the occult sciences.”
“The fact that each of the countries managed to take charge of managing their destinations, with their successes and mistakes, also generated opportunities”, as in the case of Costa Rica, highlights Mora.
“Slower than the Caravels of Columbus”
The five members of the former Federal Republic of Central America have had — since 1960 — a Central American Common Market (CACM) that includes a free trade zone and a common external tariff for most products.
Sources consulted by BBC News Mundo, who declined to be identified, say that, despite efforts, economic integration has been very slow and point out that what the region really needs is a customs union, something that, in practice, is far from being Reached.
“A truck travels slower between the countries of Central America than the caravels of Colombo”, they point out.
And there is a common parliament, Parlacen, created in the 1980s, whose current role is just to make recommendations.
The countries that belonged to the Federal Republic of Central America — in addition to Panama, Belize and the Dominican Republic — are coordinated through a mechanism called the Central American Integration System (SICA).
“We have to integrate because of our condition as small countries, with little population, and also because we are countries strongly intertwined by development dynamics that transcend our borders”, says researcher Alberto Mora, coordinator of the “Informe Estado de la Región” research. academic publication that periodically reviews issues related to Central America.
An example of the challenges that transcend national borders, says the expert, is the coordination to manage natural disasters.
Another area where integration between countries is fundamental, he adds, is related to the geopolitics of drug trafficking, because “Central America is the natural corridor through which drugs flow from South America to the United States and through which money returns to production centers”.
Among the tangible advances in integration, says the researcher, is the joint purchase of medicines.
“This generated savings of US$90 million for the countries between 2011 and 2019, because it allowed them to improve their negotiation margins with suppliers”.
But integration is certainly not easy.
“There is a great dispersion of actions. Many of them lack adequate funding and depend on international cooperation. This affects the results”, says Mora.
For him, one of the biggest challenges of regional integration today is the strengthening of democracy and political stability. “Without that, nothing works.”
And this is directly related to the historical problem of the high levels of violence that have affected the region. “There are countries that are weak in controlling their territory and protecting the right to life.”
After all, he argues, “actions to improve social, economic and environmental issues go through a robust institutional framework that generates stability.”
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