Central America: challenges 200 years after its independence

200 years have passed since the independence of the provinces from the Captaincy General of Guatemala. The signing of the act on September 15, 1821, which put an end to Spanish colonial rule, would give rise to the current States of Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

Although the end of political dependence and the formation of the new republics in the 19th century meant an important political change, “if we look at the social and cultural reality, discrimination and inequality, or structural features such as economic dependence on foreigners, We see that it didn’t change that much, ”historian Carlos Haas, from the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich, tells DW.

“You have to keep in mind what independence means, from what, for whom. From the perspective of the daily life of the great majority of the population of Central America, there were no major changes in the sense that the struggle to survive, to combat poverty, inequality and discrimination continues, ”he adds. The researcher reviews part of the history of these states and how, for example, with the presence of the United States and its banana companies, “the characteristics of dependence on the global north did not change, what changed were the actors.”

In the political sphere, milestones of the second half of the 20th century, the Somoza dynasty in Nicaragua or the military dictators in Guatemala and Honduras, showed the extent of the east-west conflict. “The region was on the international stage and they made it figure as the well-known backyard of the Cold War in the US discourse,” Salvadoran historian Ricardo Castellón, a researcher at the University of Cologne, points out in dialogue with DW.

Bicentennial with critical vision

The bicentennial is the opportunity to do a critical review. Central American and European experts will review history and present at the conference 200 years: Central America in the world, organized by the universities of Munich and Cologne, and which will be held on September 9 and 10 in the rooms of the Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Berlin and It may also be followed by videoconference.

One of the issues is “non-knowledge and ideas about the region”, which has been the object of misperceptions and foreign patterns of interpretation since the very independence process. “The Creole independentistas spoke a lot about European ideas, about enlightenment, modernity, progress and freedom. European ideas were transferred to the Central American reality and there they did not work. This has a lot to do with the ignorance and lack of connection with the reality of Central Americans from other social groups, ”says Haas. It is a phenomenon that continues to this day, says the historian: “We use patterns of interpretation that are originally European to analyze, describe and judge the Central American region. It is heard that he is unable to develop or that he is always left behind because of his own fault. It is a look full of ignorance and ignorance ”.

Natural disasters are recurrent in the region and it is a factor that marks the image that is had of it
Natural disasters are recurrent in the region and it is a factor that marks the image that is had of it

“Central America is a small territory, divided into very small countries, but it has big surprises in store. It has been one of the least observed and possibly least understood regions, but not understanding a region comes from its ignorance ”, says Castellón. The image normally associated with it is that of “crime, migration and, if one goes a little further, the armed conflicts that had such a painful impact on our society,” he adds. In his opinion, in the region “there are many more encounters than disagreements.”

New interpretation patterns

The experts and organizers of the conference propose an integrative history that represents the cultural, ethnic and socioeconomic diversity and accounts for the contrasts of Central America. Incorporating, for example, indigenous terms and categories in a dialogue that contributes to a change of perspective. Also with the idea of ​​facing challenges such as “the great socioeconomic inequality, the extreme poverty that we still see in some areas with malnutrition and infant mortality, the inheritance of civil wars, as well as violence at all levels of life, in the family and community, which is seen as a solution, and the effects of climate change ”, Haas mentioned.

And, as a consequence of all this, the phenomenon of migration as a mark of the region. “Today we observe transnationalism as a result of migration. A third of the population of El Salvador lives abroad and from that, new forms of exercise of power are being traced. Remittances have a great impact on the economy and at the same time try to persevere with the idea of ​​a Central American common market ”, indicates Castellón.

The integration of diversity in Central America, the struggle of indigenous peoples for greater representation, the example of social and environmental activists, all aim to face the current crises. Without forgetting the responsibility of developed countries, not only to understand but also to have a fair relationship with the region. Haas alludes to a current issue, such as the accumulation of vaccines in rich countries, while in Central America there is a shortage.

“We want to offer an integrative perspective. If we listen to all the actors, we could start a social discussion and thus generate a change. In Central America there is a saying: speaking, people understand ”, proposes Haas. This is also key in another of the great challenges, contributes Castellón: “Today we have great hope of strengthening democratic processes.”

“I have a lot of trust in the Central American population. I see a lot of activism from peasants, indigenous peoples and I trust that they will be a powerful voice to get out of poverty, inequality, corruption and violence. We have a responsibility not to lose confidence, faith and optimism, ”concludes Haas.

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