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War in Central America Essay

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Central America is the southernmost part of the North American continent. It lies south south of Mexico and form the land connection with South America. Central America is commonly defined as including Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama. The total land area is roughly 200,000 square miles (518, 000 km2), about three-fourths that of Texas. Central America is long and narrow, tapering to a width of barely 30 miles (48km) in parts of Panama. On the east is the Caribbean Sea, on the west, the Pacific Ocean.

Both coasts are deeply indented in places, and offshore islands are numerous, especially in the Caribbean. The land is mostly mountainous, with scattered active volcanoes. Except for the coastal plains, which are narrow in most places, there is little flat land (Woodward, 1999). In the early 1900’s, there was unrest in several Central American countries. The United States intervened militarily in the region several times to restore order and protect its interests. After World War II, most Central American countries had dictatorial governments.

In 1951, the Organization of Central American States was formed to promote economic and cultural cooperation among the countries. One of its achievements was the creation of the Central American Market in 1960. Cooperation began to break down, however, when national antagonists started to resurface in the late 1960’s. Many of the countries experienced violence between the left- and right- wing political factions, as well as guerrilla insurgencies, inflation, and foreign debt (Woodward, 1999). Political turmoil increased in the 1980’s.

Nicaragua’s government was controlled by a leftist group called the Sandinistas, which restricted political freedom in Nicaragua and was accused of supporting a strong Communist insurgency in El Salvador. The United States began giving aids to rebels called contras, who were trying to overthrow the Sandinista regime. There were also abuses of human rights and restrictions of political freedom in other countries in the region. In 1987, the governments of El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica signed an agreement designed to end the region’s civil wars and foster democracy.

The author of the agreement, Costa Rican president Oscar Arias, received the Nobel Peace Prize (Woodward, 1999). This paper discusses and compares two countries of Central America, Guatemala and Panama, focusing on the challenges for democratic consolidation and economic development. II. Background A. Guatemala Guatemala or republic of Guatemala is an independent country of Central America. Its borders Mexico, Belize, Honduras, and El Salvador and lies between the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. Guatemala has an area of 42, 042 square miles.

Maximum distances are roughly 280 miles north-south and 250 miles east-west. Narrow lowlands run along the pacific and Atlantic coasts. Between them lie the highlands, covering about half of the country. Dominant features are mountains, volcanoes, high plateaus, broad basins, and many valleys. Forests are one of Guatemala’s richest resources. The Atlantic lowland and the Peten are largely covered by tropical rain forests. Savannas predominate along the drier pacific coast. The highlands are covered by grasslands and forests that are deciduous at low elevations and coniferous higher up.

B. Panama Panama or Panama City or Republic of Panama is a city and the capital of the republic. It is on the bay of Panama at the Pacific end of the Panama Canal, 38 miles southeast of Colon on the Atlantic. The city’s economy is largely supported by the canal and by tourists. Products include furniture, beer, handicrafts, and clothing. Panama is a hilly country crossed by several mountain ranges, the highest of which are in the west. Near the Costa Rican border is Volcan Baru, an extinct volcano rising 11, 401 feet above sea level. III. Discussion A. Guatemala • Government

Under the constitution of 1985, which went into effect in 1986, Guatemala is a republic governed by a president and one-chamber Congress, both elected for four years popular vote. A council of ministers is appointed by the president. The judiciary is headed by a nine-member into 23 administrative departments. Voting is mandatory for all literate citizens age is 18 or over (Grandin, 2000). • History The Maya Indians inhabited Guatemala as early as 2400 B. C. They developed an advanced civilization and flourished there, but declined after 900 A. D. In the 16th century, the Mayas were subdued by Spaniards under Pedro de Alvarado.

He governed the captaincy general of Guatemala, which included all Central America except Panama. For nearly three centuries the region was under Spanish rule (Lovell, 2002). In 1821, the five provinces making up captaincy general of Guatemala declared their independence, but the next year they became part of the New Mexico Empire under Agustin de Iturbide. When Iturbide was driven from power in 1823, the province gained independence as a confederation called the united provinces of Central America. During 1838-39, the confederation collapsed. Guatemala became an independent state in 1839 (Grandin, 2000).

Rafael Carrera, leader of the conservative forces that helped to bring about dissolution of the confederation, made himself president of Guatemala in 1844 ands became the dominant political figure in Central America. In 1854, he was made president for life. He died in 1865. Vicente Cerna, one of Carrera’s generals, succeeded him as president but was overthrown in 1871. General Justo Rufino Barrios, a liberal, came to power in 1873, and the nation made economic progress under his rule. He was killed in 1885 in a war with El Salvador, while attempting to set up a union of Central American states.

In 1898, Manuel Estrada Cabrera became president. In 20th century, Estrada Cabrera ruled as a despot for 22 years. He favored the wealthy classes and encouraged industrial development. He was overthrown in 1920. Relative order prevailed until 1930, when economic depression led to another uprising. In 1931, General Jorge Ubico came to power. Under his dictatorship, order was maintained and economic stability restored. In 1944 an alliance of students, liberals, and dissident members of the army forced Ubico out of office and seized control of the country.

Many social and economic reforms were introduced by presidents Juan Jose Arevalo and Jacobo Arbenz Guzman. During their presidencies, Communist influence in the government began to grow. When Arbenz instituted land reforms and encouraged the growth of labor unions, his opponents claimed that he was under Communist control. The army, with covert aid from the United States, overthrew Arbenz in 1954 and outlawed the Communist party. Two corrupt and largely ineffective military dictatorships followed (Grandin, 2000). In 1963, Colonel Enrique Peralta Azurdia led a successful revolt.

He governed by decree, but promised to hold elections after a new constitution was enacted. The constitution took effect in 1965 and a civilian government was elected. In attempted economic and social reforms, but its programs were blocked by resistance from conservative businessmen and wealthy landowners. Reform was also delayed by a civil war that raged for several years between Communist guerrillas and the army. Both sides used terrorism, including assassinations and kidnappings. In the 1970’s a series of conservative military governments held power and suppressed the insurgents. A presidential election was held in 1982.

Soon after, the government was overthrown by the army, whose leaders promised a return to democracy. A new constitution was approved in 1985, and later that year Marco Vinicio Cerezo was elected president. • Economy Guatemala’s economy is still in an early stage of development. Private enterprise prevails; government regulation is negligible. A small group controls most of the nation’s wealth, while the vast majority of the people, especially the Indians, live in extreme poverty. Guatemala is largely an agricultural country, one favored by a diverse climate and rich soils, especially the volcanic soils of the highlands.

Peasant landholdings are usually small and crudely worked, but provide a livelihood, at the subsistence level, for most of the people. Corn and beans are the main crops. In contrast, commercial plantations specialize in export crops and are generally large, modern, and owned. Coffee is the leading export; cotton ranks second. Bananas, sugar, and meat are also significant exports. Livestock consists mainly of beef cattle, sheep, and pigs (Grandin, 2000). B. Panama • Government Under the constitution of 1972, and later amendments, Panama is a republic. The president, assisted by a cabinet, exercises executive power.

He is elected by popular vote to a five-year term and may not serve consecutive terms. The legislature consists of the National Legislative Council (the upper house). Members of both houses are popularly elected. Assembly members serve four-year terms; Council members serve for six years. The judiciary is headed by a supreme court of nine justices, appointed by the president for 10-year terms. Each of the nine provinces is headed by an appointed governor and is divided into municipal districts. Panama has a military force known as the National Defense Force (Hedrick, 2000).

• History The Caribbean coast of Panama was explored by a Spanish expedition under Rodrigo de Bastidas about 1500. The region was inhabited by several tribes of Indians, the Cuna being the largest. In 1502, Christopher Columbus sailed along the coast to the central part of the isthmus and claimed the area for Spain. The northern coast of Panama was the location of the first Spanish settlement on the mainland. In 1509, the Spanish government issued licenses to Alonso de Ojeda and Diego de Nicuesa to settle the regions explored by Bastidas and Columbus.

The first colonies were established in 1510 at San Sebastian (on what is now the northern coast of Colombia) and Nombre de Dios. They did not flourish, however, because of disease, famine, and conflicts with the Indians. The first successful settlement, Santa Maria, was founded in 1510, when Vasco Nunez de Balboa convinced the settlers at San Sebastian to move to a new location on the west shore of the Gulf of Darien. The Indians at the new site were quickly subdued and Balboa became governor of the new colony. In 1513, balboa made his way across the isthmus and discovered the Pacific (Hedrick, 2000).

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