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CENTRAL AMERICA At the time of the discovery of Central America by Christopher Columbus in 1502, highly civilized Maya and Nahua Indians inhabited the westernmost part of the isthmus. The impressive ruins of Tikal in Guatemala, Copan in Honduras, and Tazumal in El Salvador are relics of that civilization. Panama and most of Costa Rica were occupied by less civilized societies that shared cultural characteristics with the Indians of northern South America. Within 25 years of the discovery of Central America the Spanish had essentially completed their conquest. Vasco Nunez de Balboa crossed Panama and discovered the Pacific Ocean in 1513. Exploring along the Pacific coast north and west of Panama in 1522, Gil Gonzalez Davila ventured into Costa Rica and Nicaragua. During 1524 Pedro de Alvarado defeated the Quiche, Cakchiquel, and Mam peoples in battle and seized their respective Guatemalan strongholds of Utatlan, Iximche, and Zacaleu. Shortly thereafter Hernando Cortez marched southeastward from Mexico into Guatemala and Honduras. Following various shifts in administrative borders, in 1570 the Spanish reestablished the Captaincy-General of Guatemala, whose authority extended from the province of Chiapas in southern Mexico eastward to the province of Costa Rica. These borders remained intact until after 1821 when Chiapas and Soconusco were stripped away from Central America and annexed to Mexico. Panama, initially included in the Viceroyalty of Peru, came under the control of the Viceroyalty of New Granada in 1718 and was ruled from Colombia. As early as the 16th century the Spanish were required to relocate and fortify Caribbean port settlements because of repeated attacks by English, French, and Dutch privateers. The English established holdings along the Caribbean shoreline between the Yucatan and Nicaragua that initially were devoted to the cutting of logwood from which dyes were produced, and later to the lumbering of mahogany. Rebellious Caribs, transported by the English from St. Vincent, in the West Indies, to Caribbean shoreline settlements in 1797, remained a major element of the local population. The only part of the coast over which the English were to maintain control into the 20th century was the colony of British Honduras, which is now the independent nation of Belize. For nearly three centuries Central America was joined under the banner of Spain. The Captaincy-General of Guatemala was governed from Ciudad Vieja until its destruction by an earthquake and flood in 1541. The capital then was transferred to the new city of Santiago de los Caballeros, which is known today as Antigua. An earthquake in 1773 destroyed Antigua and resulted in the relocation of the capital to the site of present-day Guatemala City. Independence from Spain in 1821 was followed by a political union with Mexico under Emperor Agustin Iturbide. In 1823 Central America declared its independence from Mexico and formed the United Provinces of Central America. The province of Chiapas remained with Mexico. The final breakup of the United Provinces of Central America took place in 1838 with the withdrawal of Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica. During the remainder of the 19th century the history of Central America was dominated by internal conflict between conservatives, who supported the traditions of royal Spain and the Catholic church, and liberals, who favored broad reforms and a federated union of the states of Central America. This was further complicated by the intervention of foreign powers vying for control of passages across the isthmus and by the British attempt to maintain its influence along the Caribbean shoreline. The struggle between conservatives and liberals occurred between the independent nations as well as between cities within the nations. In Guatemala conservative Quezaltenango was pitted against Guatemala City; in Honduras, Comayagua against Tegucigalpa; and in Nicaragua, Granada against Leon. For more than 40 years after independence, the politics of Central America were dominated by the conservative Guatemalan dictator Rafael Carrera. Between 1873 and 1885 Justo Rufino Barrios, an anticlerical liberal, was president of Guatemala and successfully exercised his authority in support of liberal allies in other nations of Central America. During this period, foreign currency, earned from the export of coffee, supported the construction of railroads and the modernization of national economies. President Barrios was fatally wounded during a conflict with El Salvador while attempting to force the political reunification of Central America. After independence, the idea of establishing an interoceanic passage across Central America drew the increasing attention of entrepreneurs from the United States and Europe. The discovery of gold in California in 1848 further fueled competition for exclusive rights to routes across Nicaragua and Panama. The British, in an effort to assure their control of the Caribbean entrance to a proposed canal across Nicaragua, occupied the port of San Juan del Norte between 1848 and 1850, renaming it Greytown. In 1851 Cornelius Vanderbilt established a highly profitable route across Nicaragua by waterway and carriage road. A railroad under the control of the United States was completed across Panama in 1855. A number of treaties and concessions were drawn regarding the construction of a transisthmian canal; however, the only major attempt to build a canal was undertaken by the French after 1880. It ended in failure in 1889. After futile attempts with the government of Colombia to construct a canal across Panama, the United States managed to conclude a treaty for that purpose with Panama in 1903.

The American filibusterer William Walker went to Nicaragua, where he attempted to acquire control of transisthmian transit. In 1856 he became president of Nicaragua. The opposition of Vanderbilt and the neighboring nations of Central America ultimately led to his capture and execution in 1860. The record of internal and external affairs in Central America during the 20th century featured a number of distinctions from the preceding century. The attempt to unify Central America as a single political unit faded as a major issue. Conflicts between nations revolved around issues, generally boundaries, rather than attempts to overthrow governments. These conflicts included disputes between Guatemala and Honduras in 1933, between Nicaragua and Costa Rica during the mid-1950s, and between El Salvador and Honduras in the 1969 Soccer War. Governments were dominated by military regimes supported by organized armed forces. Long-term dictatorships included those led by Manuel Estrada Cabrera and Jorge Ubico Castaneda in Guatemala, Maximiliano Hernandez Martinez in El Salvador, Tiburcio Carias Andino in Honduras, and the Somoza family in Nicaragua. In the 20th century European domination in Central American affairs gave way to North American interests. The Hay-Pauncefote Treaty of 1901 alerted the British that the United States was no longer bound by the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty of 1850, which required neutral control in the construction of a transisthmian canal. The signing of the Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty in 1903 provided for the establishment of the Panamanian Canal Zone, the building of a canal, and the presence of the armed forces of the United States and their right to intervene in Panama in the event of public disturbance. In an effort to secure the canal, which was opened in 1914, the United States was increasingly involved as a mediator in maintaining political stability within Central America. Military forces occupied Nicaragua between 1912 and 1925, and between 1927 and 1933. It was during the latter period that Augusto Sandino gained prominence as a leader of guerrilla forces opposed to occupation by United States Marines. Political turmoil in the early 1930s was a by-product of the economic collapse brought about by the Great Depression. During this period, political unrest contributed to the founding of the dictatorial regimes of Jorge Ubico Castaneda in Guatemala, Maximiliano Hernandez Martinez in El Salvador, Tiburcio Carias Andino in Honduras, and Anastasio Somoza Garcia in Nicaragua. The period after World War II introduced a rise of nationalism and concern for the economic and social welfare of the underprivileged in Central America. This led to the overthrow of conservative military governments in Guatemala and El Salvador in 1944. Jose Figueres led a liberation army against ultra-leftist forces in Costa Rica in 1948. He also worked toward the overthrow of the Somoza regime in Nicaragua. Labor agitation and government restrictions in Honduras in 1954 led to a movement in Central America to force the United Fruit Company, which owned many banana plantations and had a virtual monopoly on the transportation network in the area, to make concessions. The company since disposed of many of its holdings in plantations and rail and port facilities. After riots in Panama in the early 1960s, the United States agreed to review its policy of sovereignty over the Canal Zone. Belize gained independence in 1981. The dream of reuniting the nations of Central America was partially fulfilled by the establishment of the Central American Common Market in 1960. The market, however, has had many problems since it was established. Panama and Belize chose not to participate. The Soccer War between El Salvador and Honduras in 1969 brought to an end economic cooperation between the member nations of the Central American Common Market. Continued armed conflict between Central American nations contributed to the political instability of the entire region. Border tensions, except between Costa Rica and Panama, were common throughout the region. This was particularly true along borders between El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica. Guatemala continued to pressure Belize for border adjustments. On Dec. 20, 1989, the United States invaded Panama to oust strongman Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega and install a friendly government. The Organization of American States and the United Nations passed resolutions deploring the invasion. The presidents of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua signed an accord in August 1989 to disband the contra rebels. The Marxist Sandinista regime of Nicaragua fell after the country’s February 1990 elections. Opposition candidate Violeta Barrios de Chamorro was elected president. By early 1992 a peace plan was in place in El Salvador between rebel forces and the government. In June 1990 United States President George Bush proposed an initiative to encourage the growth of free-market economies in Central America by canceling part of their debt to the United States and by promising to work towards establishing a free trad

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