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date: 07 July 2020

Abstract and Keywords

Central America experienced the construction of multiple forms of new identities from independence in 1821 to the present. Between 1825 and 1840, Central American politicians formed a Federal Republic to keep the region integrated as a single country but failed by getting involved in civil wars. Only Costa Rica remained relatively peaceful during the first decades after independence. During much of the nineteenth century, the other four countries confronted the problem of how to achieve political centralization. But local caudillos, the confrontations between elites, internal civil wars, economic weakness, and imperial interventions limited their plans. After 1870, the Central American nation-states started developing three patterns of racial identities: first, a liberal state in Costa Rica which was able to secure the image of a homogenous, white society with juridical institutions and electoral democracy; second, mestizo nations with limited citizenship in Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Honduras where politicians and intellectuals managed to rule with the military; and third, a nation-state in Guatemala where indigenous people remained outside the national identity during most of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. After 1954, social exclusion promoted revolutions commanded by guerrilla groups with the support of indigenous communities. During the 1980s, most of Central America was in civil war as a consequence of illegitimate states, a weak popular identification with national identities, and the legacy of decades of social exclusion, state violence, and inequality. By the end of the 1980s and early 1990s, local elites, political authorities, and guerrilla warriors in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua negotiated peace. During the 1990s, access to power was decided through elections throughout Central America, and state institutions, such as supreme courts, legislative assemblies, ministers, and press, had the opportunity to bloom. Yet, democracy is still weak in this region.

Keywords: nation-state, Central America, democracy, civil war, political development, identity, invented traditions, revolutions, peace

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