After the end of the Cold War, in addition to Costa Rica’s steady progress on the established development track, other Central American countries are facing difficulties and confusion on the road to peaceful development. They once followed the footsteps of the United States and tried to become as rich and stable as Costa Rica, but they have not been able to do so. This change will probably kick off the new development model in a certain sense. Interestingly, illegal immigrant groups have their own concerns. They are on the US-Mexico border and look forward to entering the United States.
A hundred years after independence – the oligarchic politics prevails
In 1492, Columbus landed on the island of Huatlin in the Bahamas, kicking off the colonial America in Spain and other countries. Spain’s colonial rule was dominated by resource plunder, and Central America, which has developed the Mayan civilization, is no exception. The consequence is that the colony has not established the external environment and internal reserves necessary for independent development for more than three centuries.
Around 1821, Spain’s “Guatemalan Governorate of Central America” was divided into five separate provinces: Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and the subsequent five provinces merged into parts of Mexico. Two years later, the Mexican king abdicated and the five provinces became independent again, establishing the Central American Federation.
However, the degree of development varies greatly among provinces, and the provinces that represent the interests of the owners and priests are in constant conflict with the provinces that represent the interests of the bourgeoisie. In 1838, Nicaragua withdrew from the Union and then Honduras followed suit. In May of the same year, the Federal Parliament announced that the provinces could establish their own republics. Two years later, only the El Salvador held the federal flag in the five provinces, and with the declaration of independence by El Salvador, the short-lived federal government was officially dissolved.
Since then, countries have developed large-scale plantation economies under the leadership of some large families, producing a single type of agricultural products and exporting bananas and coffee. After the completion of the Panama Railway, coffee from Central America has become increasingly convenient for exports to Europe and the United States. By the end of the 19th century, coffee had played an important role in the exports of Central American countries. The short-lived prosperity was accompanied by the emergence of a large number of landless peasants who had to rely on plantations to make a living by labor, providing an economic and social foundation for oligarchy dictatorship. The stability of high-pressure governance, in the end, lies in the turbulence risk caused by many internal differentiation.
Around the 1940s, the rise of the people’s movement within countries led to a certain blow to dictatorship. Some countries, such as Costa Rica and Guatemala, have initiated some symbolic democratization reforms, but they have fallen into political turmoil because of the lack of the necessary economic and social foundations. Among them, the Nicaraguan coup has been frequent, up to 139 times. In the process of short-term political transformation, countries still established dictatorship and maintained stability through high-pressure means.
The Cold War Year – Central American Revolution and Crisis
The contradictions within countries are still fermenting, and the Cold War has provided new exogenous contradictions. Both the United States and the Soviet Union regard Central America as an important battlefield outside Europe and the Middle East. With the victory of the Cuban Revolution, the Soviet Union gained a fortress in North America.
After the victory of the 1959 revolution, Cuba was busy exporting revolutions to Central America. The United States regards Central America as its own backyard and does not want to be swept by the revolutionary wave. In order to fight against the Soviet Union, the US foreign policy has a very contradictory side: in Europe, the United States flaunts itself to stand with the democratic forces, while in Central America, the United States provides military assistance and repression with the dictatorships of the countries and even the military government. Endogenous and exogenous people’s movements.
The economic singularity of Central American countries facilitates external intervention. In Guatemala, which borders Mexico, United Fruits Co., Ltd. occupies more than half of the land, grows bananas, builds telegraphs, ports and other infrastructure, and has monopoly rights to the facilities, but enjoys tax-free convenience. When the rise of the People’s Movement in 1944 overthrew the dictatorship, Union Fruits became the target of rectification, but the company had close ties with US politicians, and some of the Eisenhower government officials had served in the company before entering the White House.
In 1954, the Eisenhower administration intervened in Guatemala’s internal affairs. The CIA has developed an assassination plan that targets specific political leaders. According to the internal assassination manual, “although assassination is not allowed ethically, the careers of individual political leaders pose a clear and tangible threat to the cause of freedom.” After the coup in Guatemala in 1954, a pro-US military government came to power. In September 1982, the Guatemalan army launched a massacre of local Mayans and more than 9,000 Mayans were killed.
In Nicaragua, the United States also established close ties with the Somoza family in power through multinational corporations. In the words of the US ambassador to Nepal, this is a blessing for American investors. In 1979, when the Sandinista National Liberation Front overthrew the rule of the Somoza family and took power, the Carter government pursued human rights diplomacy, and the intervention was mainly carried out behind the scenes, with little effect.
The Reagan administration believes in the theory of low-intensity wars and advocates using the soft power and local military means to compete with the Soviet Union in the third world. As a result, the United States established a rebel base in Honduras, a northern neighbor of Nicaragua, and hopes to use this force to overthrow the Sandino regime in the future. In 1984, the Sandinist regime brought the United States to the International Court of Justice and accused its destructive actions. Until the end of Reagan’s two-term term, Sandino still dominated the regime.
In El Salvador, since 1979, the US government has provided assistance to support the military government and the Marty National Liberation Front for 12 years of civil war, resulting in 75,000 deaths and more than 8,000 missing. In the meantime, the government army carried out the Ermozot massacre in 1981 in the name of the guerrillas. In 1991, the Argentine forensic doctor identified the bones excavated from the site of the massacre and found that the youngest was only two months old.
In the second half of the 1980s, the Cold War situation in the United States and the Soviet Union eased. In 1988, Gorbachev announced in Cuba that the Soviet Union opposed the export of revolution to Central America. The following year, the Bush administration resorted to political and diplomatic means to resolve the Central American issue and stopped aiding the rebels. The Nicaraguan rebels had to return to Honduras because of insufficient supply. The confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union within the Central American countries has also eased relatively. The persecution of the right-wing forces against civilians has decreased. The anti-American adjustments of the left-wing parties have also been fine-tuned. Countries have begun political and social transformations and gradually repaired the trauma of war.
It is worth noting that in the mid-American crisis caused by the struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union, Costa Rica, bordering Panama, was able to stay out of the way. Although the joint fruit company is also operating in the country, Costa Rica taxed it and developed its own industry, which did not allow the joint fruit company to sit still. Costa Rica conducts democratic elections, changes the high-risk single economic development model, gets rid of its economic dependence on the United States, and strengthens relations with other Latin American countries and Western Europe. In the 1970s, the country established diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union and some countries in Eastern Europe. In 1983, Costa Rica declared itself a neutral country with immune function to the violent neighbors.
Multipolarity – a difficult process of peaceful development
After the end of the bipolar pattern, the Central American countries have finally embarked on the path of repairing trauma and self-development, but everything in the past is still in the shadows. Due to the lack of the political mechanisms and economic base necessary for national reconstruction, the Central American countries outside Costa Rica have struggled for a peaceful development process.
After the end of the Cold War, most countries in Central America embarked on the American road of separation of powers and democratic elections, but only with procedural legitimacy. The long-term single economic structure has led to the failure of countries to grow a stable middle class as the backbone of a democratic society; the fragility of economic external dependence has spawned a highly polarized society that is not rich or poor. This means that a small number of elite forces still hold the main resources, and most poor people cannot participate in the democratic political process with a low stability coefficient. The resurgence of a coup in Honduras in 2009 is an example.
In economic terms, countries actively cooperate with the United States. In 2006, the five Central American countries signed a free trade agreement with the United States, but in addition to Costa Rica’s emphasis on broadening the industrial structure and balancing development, the exports of other countries are mainly concentrated in the field of primary agricultural products. The land is still dominated by large plantations, the employment channels are narrow, and the violent crime rate remains high. At the same time, although it is the separation of the three powers, the administrative agencies are generally monopolized, and the judiciary cannot assume its functions as a corrective agency. In order to avoid crimes, a large number of women and children traveled long distances to the US-Mexico border and waited for entry into the United States.
Governance failures and violent crimes provide an opportunity for the Central American regime to reinforce the state machine. Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador have regained security measures during the authoritarian period to varying degrees, while the United States has provided some technical assistance for stability. A Honduran civil rights person sat in Washington at the meeting and sneered: “Thanks to the help of the United States, our national security personnel have made great strides: using more sophisticated technology to promote crime and corruption.”
In order to alleviate the pressure of refugees facing it, the United States launched the Central American North Triangle Prosperity Alliance Program in 2014. The United States provides assistance in the hope of reducing the entry of refugees. However, the funds of the plan have not been fully in place, and during the period of Trump’s administration, the previous budget was also cut.
However, in the era of multi-polarization, even in the case of internal governance, there is no shortage of opportunities in the diplomatic field. The expression of Honduran President Hernandez is quite representative of the characteristics of this wave of diplomatic turn. He believes that the US cuts in support will hinder Honduras’ efforts to curb illegal immigration, but China’s growing diplomatic presence in Central America provides an opportunity for the region.
Having said that, regardless of the source of assistance, if Central American countries cannot internalize them into their own capabilities in the process of receiving aid, they will gradually eliminate the root causes of vigour and crime in areas such as political stability, economic development and social security. It is not helpful to replace the backing. Perhaps the experience of Costa Rica is more practical. After all, they once had a common heavy history and faced similar difficulties and confusion.