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Central America is situated in the southmost part of North America, in between Mexico and South America and consists of even countries: Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama. Although Southern Mexico is linked in culture and history to the countries of Central America, it is not part of Central America. The bulk of the region is included in the tapered isthmus which separates the Caribbean Sea. The isthmus is approximately 30 miles across at its narrowest part. Nothing in Central America is more than 30 125 miles from the ocean.

Prior to the arrival of Columbus, Central America was inhabited by people of Mesoamerica, including the Aztecs, the Mayans, the Cuzcatlecs, and the Lenca, among others. Columbus died still believing that he had discovered islands near India, it was not until much later when subsequent explorers realized that it was indeed the New World. And they vied for this New World fiercely.

While Britain, France, and the Netherlands concentrated on South America, the Spanish were scooping up territory in Central America. In 1510, Vasco Núñez de Balboa founded Santa María la Antigua del Darién where modern-day Colombia is, marking the first city founded by conquistadors in mainland America. In 1519, Pedro Arias de Avila was toppling city-states all up and down the isthmus, beginning in Panama and moving northward from there. At the same time, Hernán Cortés landed in what is now Mexico and in 1521, the Aztec empire was conquered by him in the name of Spain

By 1529, the Spanish had conquered the majority of Maya city-states. Approximately 90% of the indigenous people of all of these conquered lands died European diseases such as smallpox which their immune systems could not repel. They were enslaved by the Spaniards, and their religions were replaced by Catholicism.

In 1821, Spain's Colonial period came to a screeching halt after the Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica gained their independence. It wasn't long before they were each worrying about attempted annexation from the newly freed and much larger country of Mexico.

The five independent countries formed the United Provinces of Central America in 1823. It was also known as the Federal Republic of Central America, a sovereign state and a republican democracy. (Panama joined Simon Bolivar's República de Colombia in 1821 so was not a party.) The nation-state lasted until 1838 when Nicaragua split from the federation, followed soon by Costa Rica and Honduras. The split appeared to have been due to personal and political differences.

The fledgling country dissolved into civil war with liberals and conservatives fighting one another while separatists fighting to secede. The creation of the Panama Canal in 1913 changed everything. The idea had been in the air since 1819 when Vasco Núñez de Balboa discovered a narrow land bridge which linked North and South America.

Such a canal would shorten the routes of ship which were heretofore forced to sail all the way south to Cape Horn and back up. A ship sailing from New York to San Francisco saves 7,800 miles by going through the canal. The French began work on the canal in 1882, but the challenges, which included mud, loss of equipment during mudslides, and disease, proved to be too much, and in 1889, the company went bankrupt. President Theodore Roosevelt wanted to pick up the project, which had been essentially at a standstill from 1869 until 1902. He got Congress to agree in 1902, at a time when conflicts in the region were many.

Colombia was in the midst of their civil war, the Thousand Days' War, with conservatism versus liberalism once again being the issue. This war, the Thousand Days' War. The Panamanian Liberals tried three times to seize control of Panama. Roosevelt stepped in and convinced Colombia that the United States should be in control of the canal, and he would give them $10 million in one lump and $250,000 annually starting in 1912.

It seemed to be going well, but eventually, Colombian government refused to sign the treaty unless they got more money. After years of construction, numerous uprisings, major disagreements, and much blood, sweat, and tears, the Panama Canal opened official on October 10, 1913. 75,000 people worked on building the canal, and 5,609 died from accidents and diseases.



Costa Rica

El Salvador







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