The Federal Republic of Central America was a country that existed two centuries ago for about 15 years.
Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica, the five countries that this Wednesday celebrate the 200 years of their independence from Spain, were part of the experiment, while Panama continued its own course to the interior of Greater Colombia.
If it existed today, the Federal Republic of Central America would be a nation of 46 million inhabitants with a territory of 423,000 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 about US$200.000 millones.
If we included 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 exporter of pineapples and cardamom, the second largest exporter of bananas and the third largest exporter of coffee, according to a study published this year by the Central American Economic Integration Secretariat (SIECA) .
How would this Federal Republic of Central America function politically? Nobody can know.
That nation had such a fleeting and surprising passage through the history of the continent that all speculations about what its current destiny would have been are possible.
However, if there is one thing that continues to intrigue historians, it is a question asked exactly the other way around: how was it possible that such different provinces came together 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 know today as Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, in addition to two of the current Panamanian provinces and the Mexican state of Chiapas.
After independence from the Spanish crown on September 15, 1821, the area was annexed to what was then called First Mexican Empire, headed by Agustín de Iturbide.
A couple of years later, Iturbide was overthrown. Most of that empire became Mexico, while the territories to the southeast became independent.
It was thus that 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 and proclaimed its Constitution.
The visible face of this republic, which over the years was turned into an icon of unionism and a kind of “Simón Bolívar de Centroamérica”, was the Honduran Francisco Morazán, who was shot.
In the midst of chaos and struggles between different political factions, the Federal Republic of Central America finally saw its extinction in 1838, when Congress was in session for the last time, says the academic Mario Vázquez, from the Center for Research on Latin America and the Caribbean (CIALC), from the Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM).
It was a time when liberals, conservatives, centralists, federalists clashed. A time where in addition to the different political views, the specific interests of each territory were in conflict.
“They had everything to divide”
“There were deep divisions of provincial interests. They had fights since colonial times and strong lawsuits over resources because it was a poor region,” explains Vázquez, author of the book “The Federal Republic of Central America: Territory, Nation and Diplomacy.”
In parallel, he adds, there was a great conflict against the capital, which was in Guatemala. “They felt that they passed from Spanish rule to Mexican rule, and from Mexican rule to Guatemalan hegemony“.
In the midst of the multiple conflicts, there was the permanent tension between those who wanted to maintain unity and those who wanted to go their own way.
To the internal pressures were added external tensions, such as the nation’s conflicts with Mexico, with Colombia and even with England for Belice.
“The United Kingdom, which was its main trading partner, does not recognize the Federal Republic of Central America. It never received an ambassador,” says Vázquez, adding that the chances of the nation extending over time were minimal.
“They had everything to divide and very little to remain united as a nation.”
“If that republic existed today, perhaps it would be a less poor country. Perhaps it could be compared to Ecuador, with a very great ethnic diversity,” the historian ventures.
“We could imagine that a united Central America would be a more prosperous, more viable country, but we don’t know.”
What has independence served for?
Alberto Mora Román, a researcher for the State of the Nation Program (PEN), linked to the public universities of Costa Rica, answers the question about what the Federal Republic of Central America would be like today with another question.
“What is the use for Central American countries to be independent today? Unfortunately in most countries that independence has not served to build solid foundations for people to live better.”
“The conditions of lag 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 if these countries would be better off if they were a single nation, “one would have to venture into the realm of predictions and occult sciences.”
“The fact that each of the countries has been able to take charge of the management of their destinies, with their successes and mistakes, has also generated opportunities,” as for example the case of Costa Rica, points out Mora.
“Slower than Columbus’s caravels”
The five members of the extinct Federal Republic of Central America have – 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 Mundo who preferred to remain anonymous say that despite the efforts, economic integration has been too slow and point out that what the region really requires is a customs union, something that in practice is far from being achieved.
“A truck moves slower among the Central American countries than the Columbus caravels,” they point out.
On the other hand, there is a common parliament, the Parlacen, created in the 1980s, whose current mandate is only to formulate recommendations.
Why do you have to integrate?
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 ourselves 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, who is the research coordinator for the “State of the Region “, an academic publication that periodically analyzes issues related to Central America.
An example of the challenges that transcend national boundaries, says the expert, is 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 flows to the United States. the production centers “.
Among the tangible advances of integration, says the researcher, is the joint purchase of drugs.
“This has generated savings for the countries of US $ 90 million between 2011 and 2019, because it allowed them to improve their negotiation margins with suppliers.”
But certainly integration is not easy.
“There is a huge dispersion of actions. Many of them without adequate financing and dependent on international cooperation. That affects the results,” says Mora.
From his perspective, one of the biggest debts that regional integration currently has is the strengthening of democracy and political stability. “Without that everything else starts to leak.”
And that 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.”
At the end of the day, he argues, “actions to improve social, economic and environmental matters go through a robust institutional framework that generates stability.”
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