Federal Republic of Central America

Federal Republic of Central America
Federal Republic of Central America
República Federal de Centroamérica


Flag Coat of arms
La Granadera
Capital Guatemala City (Until 1834)
San Salvador
Language(s) Spanish
Government Republic
 - Independence from First Mexican Empire July 1, 1823
 - Disestablished May 31, 1838
Currency Central American Republic real
Preceded by Succeeded by
First Mexican Empire
United Provinces of Central America
Costa Rica
El Salvador
Los Altos
Today part of  Costa Rica
 El Salvador

The Federal Republic of Central America, known as the United Provinces of Central America in its first year of creation, was a sovereign state in Central America, which consisted of the territories of the former Captaincy General of Guatemala of New Spain. It existed from September 1821 to 1841, formed into a republican democracy.

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 River Plate). Commodore Aury established the first independent republic in Old Providence Island (Isla de Providencia) in 1818, off the coast of Nicaragua.

The republic consisted of the present-day states of Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica. (Panama was part of Bolivar's Republica de Colombia in 1821.) In the 1830s, an additional sixth state was added – Los Altos, with its capital in Quetzaltenango – occupying parts of what are now the western highlands of Guatemala and Chiapas state in southern Mexico. Although the new nation was now independent of Spain, it had been annexed by the First Mexican Empire.

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.[1]


Independence and annexation by the Mexican Empire

Since the 16th Century Spanish conquest of Central America, the territories that became the Federation were governed by a Captaincy General of the Kingdom of Guatemala, based in Guatemala City and associated with the Viceroyalty of New Spain in Mexico City.

On February 24, 1821, General Agustín de Iturbide proclaimed in the town of Iguala, Mexico, the Independence of Mexico under terms thereafter referred to as the Plan of Iguala. The Plan of Iguala had three primary premises: establishment of Roman Catholicism, political independence from Spain, and constitutional equality for all social and ethnic groups in the new order, summarized as "Religion, Independence and Unity" ("Religión, Independencia y Unión"). Developments in Mexico caused considerable concern in Central America. On April 10, in Guatemala City, Captain General Brigadier Gabino Gainza issued a statement denouncing the 'Plan of Iguala' and pledging the Captaincy General to the Spanish Crown.[2]

Events in Mexico precipitated a political crisis in the Captaincy General. On August 24, Viceroy Juan O'Donojú accepted the terms of the Plan of Iguala to end the Mexican Wars of Independence and recognized Mexican independence in the Treaty of Cordoba. On September 8, in Ciudad Real, in assembly, the people of Chiapas, one of the provinces composing the Captaincy General, proclaimed its independence, adopting the Plan of Iguala. In San Salvador the Province of El Salvador declared itself for independence under the Plan of Iguala, but fell short of proclaiming it. Finally on September 14, in Guatemala City, the Captain General and his councilors convoked a General Assembly of dignitaries (including the Archbishop, the heads of the Military branches, the Mayor of Guatemala and his Council and others) to review the question. Before this assembly could be installed, a Popular Assembly called by the City Council which included deputies from the provinces and the citizenry of Guatemala declared independence and the Deed of Declaration of Independence ("Acta de Independencia") was signed and proclaimed on September 15, 1821, which is now recognized as Independence Day by five Central American republics.[2]

An "Interim Consultative Board for the Government of Central America" was installed with representatives from all of the provinces, so that in consultation and agreement with the Captain General, it governed the provinces of the Kingdom of Guatemala until a Constitutional Congress was established. Captain General Gainza was named Executive ("Poder Supremo") and a Congress was called to convene in Guatemala City on the 1st of March, 1822. On September 18, Captain General Gainza communicated to the Regent of Mexico, General Agustin de Iturbide, that the Provinces of the Kingdom of Guatemala, by popular vote, had proclaimed their independence from Spain.[2]

Iturbide responded in a note to Captain General Gainza dated October 19 that " ... the current interests of Mexico and Guatemala are so identical and indivisible, that separate or independent nations cannot be erected without risking their existence or security ..." and ordered the Count de la Cadena to lead a protective expedition to Guatemala, Panama and Campeche to insure their people "enjoyment of their civil liberty and rights as men living in society".[2]


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 Atlantic and the Pacific 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 president of Mexico, Vicente Filisola occupied Guatemala City after the formation of Federal Republic of Central America and was successful in annexing El Salvador 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.[1]

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 City proved ineffectual, and fears of Guatemalan domination of the union led to protests that resulted in the relocation of the capital to San Salvador 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 Canal), from which Central America could have obtained considerable economic benefits.


Member Nations 1839
Flag of Guatemala (1839-1843).svg Flag of El Salvador (1839-1865).svg Flag of Honduras (1839-1866).svg Flag of Nicaragua (1839-1858).svg Flag of Costa Rica (1839-1848).svg Flag of Los Altos.svg
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 Nicaragua separated from the federation on November 5, 1838, followed by Honduras and Costa Rica. The union effectively dissolved in 1840, by which time four of its five states had declared independence. The union was officially ended only 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.[3]

Later attempts at a federal union of Central American states

Various attempts were made to reunite Central America in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, 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 Chalchuapa, 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, Honduras and Costa Rica formed a (second) Federation of Central America. The treaty establishing this federation was signed at San Jose, Costa Rica on January 19, 1921.[4] The treaty stipulated for the future creation of one state of all the four signatories, under one constitution. 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. 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 Guatemala's President General Rafael Carrera except the Chiapas section, which was annexed by Mexico.

Current flags
Flag of Guatemala.svg Flag of El Salvador.svg Flag of Honduras.svg Flag of Nicaragua.svg Flag of Costa Rica.svg
Guatemala El Salvador Honduras Nicaragua Costa Rica

See also


  1. ^ a b Foster, Lynn V. (2000). A Brief History of Central America. New York: Facts on File. pp. 134–136. ISBN 0816039623. 
  2. ^ a b c d Monterrey, Francisco J. (1977). Historia de El Salvador, Anotaciones Cronologicas 1810 - 1841 First Volume (Second Edition ed.). San Salvador, El Salvador: Editorial Universitaria. pp. 68–72. 
  3. ^ Karnes, Thomas L. (1961). The Failure of Union: Central America, 1824-1960. Durham, NC: University of North Carolina Press. pp. 85. 
  4. ^ Text in League of Nations Treaty Series, vol. 5, pp. 10-31.

External links

Coordinates: 14°37′N 90°31′W / 14.617°N 90.517°W / 14.617; -90.517

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