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The Federal Republic of Central America, known as the United Provinces of Central America in its first year of creation, was a short-lived sovereign state in Central America, which consisted of the territories of the former Captaincy General of Guatemala. A republican democracy, it existed from July 1823 to 1840. The coat of arms on the nation's flag from 1823–1824 referred to the federation (in Spanish) as Provincias Unidas del Centro de América ("United Provinces of the Center of America"); however, its 1824 constitution, coat of arms, and flag called it República Federal de Centroamérica / Centro América ("Federal Republic of Central America"). It is also sometimes incorrectly referred to in English as the United States of Central America. The flag was introduced to the area by Commodore Louis-Michel Aury inspired by the Argentine flag. The term United Provinces was also used in Argentina's first title "Provincias Unidas del Río de la Plata" (United Provinces of the Silver River). Commodore Aury established the first independent republic in Old Providence Islandmarker (Isla de Providencia) in 1818, off the coast of Nicaraguamarker.

The republic consisted of the states of Guatemalamarker, El Salvadormarker, Hondurasmarker, Nicaraguamarker, and Costa Ricamarker (Panamamarker was still part of Colombiamarker at the time). In the 1830s, an additional sixth state was added – Los Altos, with its capital in Quetzaltenangomarker – occupying parts of what are now the western highlands of Guatemala and Chiapasmarker. Although the new nation was now independent of Spainmarker, it had been annex by Mexico. The annexation was the focus of disagreement, some seeing the Mexican constitution with its abolition of slavery and establishment of free trade as an improvement over the status quo. During the period of 1838–1840, the federation engaged in civil war by Conservatives fighting against the Liberals. Without a sustained struggle for independence to cement a sense of national identity, the various political factions were unable to overcome their ideological differences and the federation dissolved after a series of bloody conflicts.


United Provinces of Central America (1823 to 1825)
Central American liberals had high hopes for the federal republic, which they believed would evolve into a modern, democratic nation, enriched by trade passing through it between the Atlanticmarker and the Pacificmarker 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. As a governor of Mexico, Vicente Filisola occupied Guatemala Citymarker after the formation of Federal Republic of Central America and was successful in annexing El Salvadormarker in 1822, causing an uprising there. In compliance with the Mexican constitution, Filisola convened the Central American congress which forthwith declared its independence from Mexico. Filisola was not able to maintain a fighting force, and his troops were sent back to Mexico by the residents of Guatemala City who paid for their transportation.

The liberal democratic project was strongly opposed by conservative factions allied with the Roman Catholic clergy and 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, perhaps owing to their continued loyalty to the Roman Catholic church in Spain. The federal bureaucracy in Guatemala Citymarker proved ineffectual, and fears of Guatemalan domination of the union led to protests that resulted in the relocation of the capital to San Salvadormarker in 1831. 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 Canalmarker), from which Central America could have obtained considerable economic benefits.


Member Nations 1839
Guatemala El Salvador Honduras Nicaragua Costa Rica Los Altos

Dissolution of the Union

The union dissolved in civil war between 1838 and 1840. Its disintegration began when Nicaraguamarker separated from the federation on November 5, 1838, followed by Hondurasmarker and Costa Ricamarker. The union effectively dissolved in 1840, by which time four of its five states had declared independence. The union was only officially ended upon El Salvador's self-proclamation of the establishment of an independent republic in February 1841. Because of the chaotic nature of this period an exact date does not exist, but on May 31, 1838, the congress met to declare that the provinces were free to create their own independent republics. In reality, they were just making legal the process of disintegration that had already begun.

Various attempts were made to reunite Central America in the nineteenth century, but none succeeded for any length of time:
  • The first attempt was in 1842 by former President Francisco Morazán, who became involved in a struggle for control over Costa Rica. After taking control over the capital, Morazán announced he would create a large army to re-create the Federal Republic. Popular feeling rapidly turned against him and a sudden revolt resulted in his arrest and execution by firing squad in September of that year.
  • A second attempt was made in October 1852 when El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua created a Federation of Central America (Federación de Centro América). The union lasted less than a month.
  • Guatemalan President General Justo Rufino Barrios attempted to reunite the nation by force of arms in the 1880s but he died in battle near the town of Chalchuapamarker, El Salvador.
  • A third union of Honduras, Nicaragua, and El Salvador as the Greater Republic of Central America or "República Mayor de Centroamérica" lasted from 1896 to 1898.
  • The latest attempt occurred between June 1921 and January 1922 when El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras formed a (second) Federation of Central America. This second Federation was nearly moribund from the start, having only a Provisional Federal Council made up of delegates from each state.

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.marker 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, modified its flag significantly in 1848 by darkening the blue and adding a double-wide inner red band, in honor of the French tricolor.) The short lived sixth state of Los Altos was forcibly annexed by Guatemalamarker's President General Rafael Carrera.

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