Central America

From Roach Busters

Provincias Unidas del Centro de América
United Provinces of the Center of America

Flag of Central America Coat of arms of Central America
Flag Coat of arms

"Dios, Unión y Libertad" (Spanish)
"God, Union and Liberty"

La Granadera

Location of Central America


Largest city
San Salvador
13°40′N, 89°10′W
Guatemala City

Official languages Spanish

Demonym Central American

 - President
 - Vice-President
 - President of the Congress
Federal constitutional republic
Óscar Arias
Rafael Espada
Carlos Sosa Coello

State religion Roman Catholic Church

 - Independence from Spain
 - Independence from Mexico
 - Current constitution adopted

September 15, 1821
July 1, 1823
April 24, 1974

 - Total

 - Water (%)

423,016 km²
163,362 sq mi

 - 2008 estimate
 - Density

231/sq mi

 - Total
 - Per capita
2007 estimate
$523 billion

GDP (nominal)
 - Total
 - Per capita
2007 estimate
$540 billion

Gini (2006) 51.8 (high)

HDI (2005) 0.836 (high)

Currency Central American real (CAR)

Time zone
- Summer (DST)
CST (UTC -6)
not observed (UTC -6)

Internet TLD .up

Calling code +500

The United Provinces of the Center of America (Spanish: Provincias Unidas del Centro de América), commonly called Central America (Spanish: Centroamérica or América Central), is an upper-middle income nation in Central America. Bordering Mexico to the north, Belize to the northeast, and Panama to the south, it is one of the oldest republics in the Western Hemisphere. The nation was formed from the union of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua, and despite a fairly tumultuous history, is now a peaceful and stable nation with a relatively high standard of living, albeit with considerable disparities in wealth and land ownership, a source of ongoing friction.

A geographically and culturally diverse nation abundant in resources, flora, and fauna, the United Provinces of Central America enjoys some of the greatest biodiversity in the world, making it a major tourist attraction. Also of note is the country's extensive, sometimes tumultuous, geographic activity; volcanic eruptions and earthquakes occur from time to time, with varying degrees of severity, from minor tremors to cataclysmic disasters taking thousands of lives (notable examples being the 1931 and 1972 Managua earthquakes).

An intensely socially conservative nation, it is one of the only countries in the world where abortion is illegal without exception — even when the mother's life is in danger. Divorce and homosexuality remain social taboos, and, despite many advances made in the past few decades, the status of women still leaves much to be desired. Though religious freedom is protected by law and the majority of Central Americans are tolerant of other faiths, the Roman Catholic Church remains the official religion and wields an inordinate level of influence.

The country is ranked 5th in the world, and 1st among the Americas, in terms of the 2008 Environmental Performance Index. In 2007 the government of Central America stated that they want Central America to be the first country to become carbon neutral by 2021.

Central America maintains a fairly low profile in international affairs, but its relationship with its closest ally — the United States of America — remains exceptionally warm.


[edit] History

[edit] Pre-colonial history

In pre-Columbian times, most of modern Central America was part of the Mesoamerican civilization. The Native American societies of Mesoamerica occupied the land ranging from central Mexico in the north to Costa Rica in the south. Most notable among these were the Maya, who had built numerous cities throughout the region, and the Aztecs, who created a vast empire. The pre-Columbian cultures of Panama traded with both Mesoamerica and South America, and can be considered transitional between those two cultural areas.

[edit] Colonization

Following Christopher Columbus's discovery of the Americas for Spain, the Spanish sent numerous expeditions to the region, and they began their conquest of Maya lands in the 1520s. In 1540, Spain established the Captaincy General of Guatemala, which extended from southern Mexico to Costa Rica, and thus encompassed most of what is currently known as Central America, with the exception of British Honduras (present-day Belize). This lasted nearly three centuries, until a rebellion (which followed closely on the heels of the Mexican War of Independence) in 1821.

[edit] Independence

In 1821 a congress of Central American criollos declared their independence from Spain, effective on September 15 of that year. That date is still marked as the independence day by Central America. The Spanish Captain General, Gabino Gaínza, sympathized with the rebels and it was decided that he should stay on as interim leader until a new government could be formed. Independence was short-lived, for the conservative leaders in Guatemala welcomed annexation by the Mexican Empire of Agustín de Iturbide on January 5, 1822. Central American liberals objected to this, but an army from Mexico under General Vicente Filisola occupied Guatemala City and quelled dissent.

When Mexico became a republic the following year, it acknowledged Central America's right to determine its own destiny. On July 1, 1823, the congress of Central America declared absolute independence from Spain, Mexico, and any other foreign nation, and a republican system of government was established.

[edit] Early republic

Early map of the United Provinces.

In 1823 the nation of Central America was formed. It was intended to be a federal republic modeled after the United States of America. The Central American nation consisted of the states of Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica.

Central American liberals had high hopes for the United Provinces, which they believed would evolve into a modern, democratic nation, enriched by trade crossing 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 the late 1830s, the nation nearly dissolved as a result of civil war, which directly resulted from Honduras's attempt to secede on November 5, 1838. A brief but economically disastrous war followed, which ended in 1840 with Honduras's re-integration into the Union.

The remainder of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th were characterized by alternating periods of spectacular economic growth and economic malaise, and general peace but severe political instability; most governments were both notoriously corrupt and short-lived. Two parties — the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party — dominated the political arena. The difference between the two was negligible. Both were staunchly conservative with strong ties to the Roman Catholic Church, and both represented the tiny but extremely powerful oligarchy, which, while numerically small, controlled the vast majority of the country's wealth and owned most of the land. Patronage, nepotism, and political infighting were rife. In concert with developments in Europe, class consciousness and social tensions gradually began to build in Central America.

[edit] United States involvement (1909—1933)

The early 20th century was characterized by pervasive involvement in Central American politics by the United States. In 1909, the U.S. provided political support to conservative-led forces rebelling against then-President Zelaya. U.S. motives included differences over the proposed Central American Canal and Zelaya's attempts to regulate foreign access to Central American natural resources. On November 18, 1909, U.S. warships were sent to the area after 500 revolutionaries (including two Americans) were executed by order of Zelaya. The U.S. justified the intervention by claiming to protect U.S. lives and property. Zelaya resigned later that year.

In August 1912 the President of Central America, Manuel Estrada Cabrera (who had succeeded Zelaya), requested that the Secretary of War, General Luis Mena, resign for fear that he was leading an insurrection. Mena fled San Salvador with his brother, the Chief of Police of San Salvador, to start an insurrection. When the U.S. Legation asked President Estrada to ensure the safety of American citizens and property during the insurrection he replied that he could not and that "In consequence my Government desires that the Government of the United States guarantee with its forces security for the property of American Citizens in Central America and that it extend its protection to all the inhabitants of the Republic."

U.S. Marines occupied Central America from 1912 to 1933, except for a nine month period beginning in 1925. Estrada ruled the country until 1923. He brought stability to Central America, often at the price of dictatorial rule. He encouraged development of the nation's infrastructure of highways, railroads, and sea ports. The United Fruit Company became an important force in Central America during his presidency. Opposition to his regime slowly grew; by 1920, opposition was widespread. In 1923, he was removed from office by the army, which charged that he was "mentally incompetent." With Estrada's departure went the nation's political stability; between 1923 and 1937, the country had eight Presidents.

Following the evacuation of U.S. Marines, another violent conflict between Liberals and Conservatives took place in 1926, known as the Constitutionalist War, which resulted in a coalition government and the return of U.S. Marines.

From 1927 until 1933, Gen. Augusto C. Sandino led a sustained guerrilla war first against the Conservative regime and subsequently against the U.S. Marines, who withdrew upon the establishment of a new Liberal government. Sandino was the only Central American general to refuse to sign the el tratado del Espino Negro agreement and then headed up to the northern mountains of Las Segovias, where he fought the U.S. Marines for over five years. The revolt finally forced the United States to compromise and leave the country. When the Americans left in 1933, they set up the Guardia Nacional (National Guard), a combined military and police force trained and equipped by the Marines. Anastasio Somoza García was put in charge of the Guardia Nacional. He was one of the three rulers of the country, the others being Sandino and the mostly figurehead President Juan Bautista Sacasa.

After the U.S. Marines withdrew from Nicaragua in January 1933, Sandino and the newly-elected Sacasa government reached an agreement by which he would cease his guerrilla activities in return for amnesty, a grant of land for an agricultural colony, and retention of an armed band of 100 men for a year. But a growing hostility between Sandino and Somoza led Somoza to order the assassination of Sandino. Fearing future armed opposition from Sandino, Somoza invited him to a meeting in Managua, where Sandino was assassinated on February 21, 1934 by the Guardia Nacional.

[edit] The Somoza era (1936—1948)

In 1936, Somoza orchestrated a bloodless coup d'état, deposing Sacasa. A series of hand-picked puppets ruled for the remainder of the year; in December, Somoza was elected in his own right, and assumed office on New Year's Day, 1937. Somoza suspended the constitution, centralized and concentrated considerable power into his own hands, doled out important positions in the government and military to close relatives and friends, and accumulated a considerable fortune, primarily through investments in agricultural exports, but also by granting generous concessions to foreign (primarily American) companies to exploit gold, rubber and timber, for which he received 'executive levies' and 'presidential commissions.'

While opposition parties continued to exist (at least on paper), real power rested firmly in the hands of the Somoza family, and the two main parties, the Liberal Party (Somoza's party) and the Conservative Party, had virtually indistinguishable platforms. The presidency rotated between Somoza and hand-picked candidates, but regardless of who held the presidency, the Somozas always wielded power behind the scenes, with the backing of the National Guard.

On a positive note, the country enjoyed a great degree of political stability and peace, and much economic progress was made. However, rampant corruption and an increasingly wide gap between the elite and the rural poor alienated many from Somoza.

In the international arena, Somoza aligned his country closely with the United States. Central America became the first country in Latin America to join the United States in formal declaration of World War II, and it was also a major supplier of materials to the U.S. war effort. Central America was also one of the original signatories to the United Nations Charter (and the first nation in the world to ratify the UN charter). With the advent of the Cold War, Somoza, well-known as a staunch anticommunist, readily received U.S. support. Central America gained a reputation as one of the most outspokenly pro-Western and anticommunist countries in the Third World.

In 1948, in the aftermath of a highly disputed election (which, naturally, Somoza won), José Figueres Ferrer led an armed uprising against the government. With more than 2,000 dead, the resulting 44-day civil war was the bloodiest event in Central American history during the first half of the twentieth-century. Afterwards, the new, victorious government junta, led by the opposition, abolished the National Guard (replacing it with an apolitical, professional military), sent Somoza into exile (where he ended up settling in Miami, Florida), and oversaw the drafting of a new constitution by a democratically-elected assembly. Most significantly, the country's draconian ballot access laws were relaxed, effectively ending the two-party duopoly that had endured since the 19th century. Several new parties sprung into being as a result, including the social democratic National Liberation Party (Partido Liberación Nacional), founded by Figueres.

Having enacted these reforms, the regime finally relinquished its power on November 8, 1949 to the new democratic government. After the coup d'état, Figueres became a national hero, winning the country's first democratic election under the new constitution in 1953.

As for Somoza, his legacy remains a mixed one. His supporters characterize him as a "benevolent dictator," citing the progress Central America made on the economic front as well as the general stability that prevailed through his administration. However, his detractors are quick to point out that under Somoza, corruption reached endemic proportions, the country's illusory "democracy" was a façade, and dissent was not tolerated. Somoza himself was known as saying that he was personally in favor of democracy, but only when the country was "ready" for it. In a 1953 interview with the New York Times, he said, "I would like nothing better than to give [the Central Americans] the same kind of freedom as that of the United States...It is like what you do with a baby. First you give it milk by drops, then more and more, then a little piece of pig, and finally it can eat everything...You cannot give a bunch of five-year-olds guns...They will kill each other. You have to teach them how to use freedom, not to abuse it."

Somoza died of natural causes in Miami, Florida on September 29, 1956. He was 60 years old.

[edit] Central America on the upswing (1953—1958)

The government of José Figueres Ferrer was the most progressive one Central America ever had. Women's suffrage was granted; the banking, telecommunications, and utilities sectors were nationalized; resources earmarked for education increased 250% between 1953 and 1958; a generous social security system and labor code were introduced; and ambitious public works programs were launched. Central America pursued a pragmatic, middle-of-the-road economic policy, combining a business-friendly environment with a progressive welfare state, in an effort to counterbalance both reactionary oligarchs and an increasingly militant left-wing grassroots movement. Figueres maintained the pro-American foreign policy initiated by his predecessors.

Figueres was immensely popular both at home and abroad for his reformism, pragmatism, and strenuous opposition to extremism on both ends of the political spectrum. While he came nowhere close to fulfilling all his goals (especially in the area of land reform), he left office with very high approval ratings.

[edit] The specter of Cuba (1958—1970)

Shortly before leaving office, Figueres granted former President Somoza a posthumous pardon, and permitted the Somoza family to return to Central America from exile. They did so, and to the surprise of many, Somoza's elder son, Luis Somoza Debayle, entered the presidential race in 1958 and won. While he proved to be a great deal more moderate and lenient of opposition than his father, he was criticized for appointing a disproportionate number of family members and close friends to top government and military positions, and several companies owned by the Somoza family and its friends acquired monopolies and accumulated millions in illicit wealth. The escalating level of corruption effectively radicalized certain segments of the population — particularly left-leaning clergy, college students, and trade unions — and made them ripe for communist infiltration.

Central America earned the undying hatred of Cuba's Fidel Castro when, in 1960, the country provided basing and logistical support for the ill-fated Bay of Pigs operation. Castro retaliated in kind by covertly funneling weapons and money to anti-government groups. In 1962, a radical left-wing guerrilla organization, the Sandinista National Liberation Front (Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional), named after the late revolutionary Augusto C. Sandino, was created, with the goal of overthrowing the government and establishing a Marxist-Leninist state aligned with the Soviet bloc. Beginning in 1964, a low-key insurgency began, with sporadic skirmishes between guerrillas and government forces taking place, mostly in the countryside.

In 1962, Luis's term came to an end, and he was succeeded by René Schick, widely viewed as a weak politician. Cynics lamented — not without justification — that the Somozas were the real "power behind the throne" during this time. Even so, Luis's plan to run for President in 1966 was thwarted by his unexpected death, by a massive heart attack, that same year. Luis's younger brother, Anastasio Somoza Debayle, ran in his place. He won a landslide victory, but the election was widely boycotted by the opposition. His first term was largely uneventful, and he stepped down in 1970, owing to a law which forbade consecutive re-election. Central American liberation hero and former President José Figueres Ferrer was elected to his third and final term that year.

[edit] The crisis years (1975—1979)

The early 1970s were relatively calm and stable, in marked contrast to the social unrest and frequent anti-government demonstrations of the late 1960s. The economy was sound, and Figueres's social programs, moderation, and appeals for pragmatism dissuaded most Central Americans from supporting the FSLN, and the organization disappeared for the time being; most assumed that it disbanded, but it was simply biding its time.

Perhaps Figueres's most enduring legacy was his timely, effective response to the 1972 earthquake which devastated Managua, Nicaragua. He successfully sought, and received, considerable international assistance, from friendly and unfriendly governments alike (even Cuba and the Warsaw Pact countries contributed aid), as well as the private sector and non-profit organizations. Figueres appointed a bipartisan team of highly-efficient technocrats to oversee the reconstruction of Managua, and his appeals to national unity brought together Central Americans as no event has before or since. Even former President Somoza, a political rival of Figueres, effusively praised Figueres's "heroism and bold leadership in Central America's darkest hour."

Shortly toward the end of Figueres's term, a new constitution was adopted, replacing the unicameral legislature with a bicameral one and extending the President's term from four years to six (however, this would not take effect until after the next President took office).

Figueres retired from politics in 1974, and handed over leadership of the party to Daniel Oduber Quirós. That year, Obuder ran for President as candidate for the National Liberation Party, but lost in a close race to former President Somoza.

Initially, Somoza's second term was promising. Record levels of foreign investment poured into the country, and the economy flourished. Corruption remained rampant, but so long as the average Central American had a stable job and a roof over his head, he was willing to overlook this. Little did anyone suspect that the now-forgotten FSLN would soon return with a vengeance — and nearly bring down the government in the process.

The murder of newspaper editor Pedro Joaquín Chamorro, a long-time critic of the Somoza family, in 1975, provoked widespread demonstrations, some numbering in the hundreds of thousands, against the government. Although his involvement was never proven, Somoza was widely accused of ordering, or at least being privy to the planning of, Chamorro's murder. Chamorro's murder remains unsolved, and the circumstances surrounding his death remain highly controversial, contentious, and hotly debated to this day.

When ill-disciplined security forces shot and killed a number of the protesters, the situation was inflamed further, and the FSLN, capitalizing on the growing polarization of society and breakdown of stability, began staging a series of increasingly bold attacks on banks, police stations, military bases, power plants, and other "strategic" targets. Somoza responded by declaring a state of siege and granting the military nearly unlimited power to deal with the situation however they saw fit. Massive atrocities were committed by both sides, including torture, extrajudicial killings, and collective punishment.

By 1978, almost 20,000 civilians had been killed, and the economy was devastated. After a series of military reversals, the armed forces finally gained the upper hand, and the capture and execution of such major FSLN leaders as the Ortega brothers and Tomás Borge, effectively decapitated the resistance. The increasingly gruesome and brutal tactics of the FSLN also alienated an increasingly large segment of society. In July 1979, the FSLN offered to surrender, on the condition that Somoza resign. He agreed to do so, "in the interest of national reconciliation," and he stepped down on July 17, 1979, handing over the reins of power to his Vice-President, Francisco Urcuyo Maliaños. The remaining Sandinistas disbanded (most went into voluntary exile), and Urcuyo completed the remainder of Somoza's term before retiring from politics.

[edit] Renewal and recovery (1980—2004)

In 1980, a relatively unknown politician — José Napoleón Duarte of the centrist Christian Democratic Party — was elected President on a platform of "reconstruction and reconciliation." The day he assumed office, all political prisoners were freed, and a blanket amnesty was granted to both military personnel and FSLN guerrillas who had committed human rights abuses. Duarte appointed people from across the political spectrum to his cabinet, encouraged all Central Americans to participate in the rebuilding of the country, and worked closely with the IMF and the World Bank in an effort to attract foreign investment into the country. His efforts largely succeeded, and by the time his term ended in 1986, the economy had recovered to its pre-1975 level. Duarte was succeeded by social democrat Óscar Arias of the National Liberation Party.

Under Arias and his successors, the center-right Alfredo Cristiani and Francisco Flores Pérez of the Conservative Party, the economy continued to grow, and free trade agreements were signed with various countries. President Flores Pérez came under significant criticism (mostly from abroad) when his government signed into law a bill making abortion illegal under any circumstances. Even so, most Central Americans approved of the bill, although the number of underground abortions skyrocketed, as did the number of maternal deaths due to unsafe abortions.

[edit] The second Arias administration (2004—present)

Voters returned Arias to the presidency in 2004. He has continued the trade liberalization initiated by his predecessors, while also introducing a willing-buyer, willing-seller land reform program to address the considerable disparity in land distribution. Progress has been slow, but noticeable, and Arias himself remains popular with most Central Americans. Relations with the country's historic ally, the United States, remain cordial.

[edit] Economy

Central America is an upper-middle income mixed economy with a business-friendly climate, a generous welfare state, and a thriving middle class. The standard of living is fairly high, with a per capita income of about U.S. $5,800. Land ownership is widespread. The country remains a popular destination for foreign investment and job outsourcing. Central America is also the Latin American pioneer in the implementation of a modern welfare state. Its welfare spending is as high as that of Scandinavian countries.

Implementing CAFTA-DR (U.S.-Central American-Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement), passing fiscal reform, pursuing responsible monetary policy, and creating an effective concessions process are the biggest challenges for the country's economic policymakers. Central America ranks 85th out of 175 countries in the World Bank's Doing Business Index. This hampers the flow of investment and resources badly needed to repair and rebuild the country's deteriorated public infrastructure.

Central America's major economic resources are its fertile land and frequent rainfall, its well-educated population, its political stability, and its location in the Central American isthmus, which provides easy access to North and South American markets and direct ocean access to the European and Asian continents. One-fourth of Central America's land is dedicated to national forests, often adjoining picturesque beaches, which has made the country a popular destination for affluent retirees and eco-tourists despite increasing crime.

Central America used to be known principally as a producer of bananas and coffee, but pineapples have surpassed coffee as the number two agricultural export. In recent years, Central America has successfully attracted important investments by such companies as Intel Corporation, Proctor and Gamble, and Hospira and Baxter Healthcare. Manufacturing and industry's contribution to GDP overtook agriculture over the course of the 1990s, led by foreign investment in Central America's free trade zone. Well over half of that investment has come from the United States. Dole and Chiquita have a large presence in the banana and pineapple industries. Two-way trade between the U.S. and Central America exceeded $40 billion in 2007.

The country's mountainous terrain and abundant rainfall have permitted the construction of numerous hydroelectric power plants, making it largely self-sufficient in electricity, but it is completely reliant on imports for liquid fuels. Central America has the potential to become a major electricity exporter if plans for new generating plants and a regional distribution grid are realized.

Central America's public infrastructure has suffered from a lack of maintenance and new investment. Most parts of the country are accessible through an extensive road system of more than 30,000 kilometers, although much of the system has fallen into disrepair. Contamination in rivers, beaches, and aquifers is a matter of rising concern. Just 3.5% of the country's sewage is managed in sewage treatment facilities and the Water and Sewage Institute (AyA) estimates that perhaps 50% of septic systems function. In 2007, Central America experienced nationwide blackouts resulting from a severe dry season (which limited hydroelectric resources) and the state electricity monopoly's inadequate investment in maintenance and capacity increases. Since 1999, tourism earns more foreign exchange than the combined exports of the country's three main cash crops: bananas, pineapples and coffee. Central America is famous for its gourmet coffee beans, with Tarrazú among the finest Arabica coffee beans in the world used for making espresso coffee.

Proposals to privatize state-owned utilities face strong public opposition.

Approximately 16% of the population lives below the poverty line. The unemployment rate currently stands at 5.5%.

Relatively high inflation (10%) and uneven income distribution also remain pressing concerns. The Arias administration has promised to tackle both of these issues, but how successful he will be remains to be seen.

[edit] Politics

Central America is a federal republic with a level of de-centralization surpassed only by Switzerland. Like Switzerland, it is highly democratic, and the Constitution guarantees a great deal of civil liberties. Suffrage is universal and (in theory) compulsory at age 18, but this is rarely enforced, and voter apathy is becoming increasingly common. Even so, Central Americans are a public-spirited, civic-minded, highly politically active people, and large demonstrations, both pro- and anti-government, are very common, especially among university students. Central America's media is among the freest in the hemisphere, and many newspapers regularly criticize government policies; however, many are also prone to sensationalism and rather lacking in objectivity.

Political debate is lively, and elections are a popular subject to discuss, even among non-voters.

The Central American Communist Party (Partido Comunista Centroamericano) remains banned, as do other Marxist-oriented parties and organizations.

[edit] Political parties

Party name Party leader Platform
National Liberation Party
Partido Liberación Nacional
Francisco Antonio Pacheco Fernández Social democracy, democratic socialism
Liberal Party
Partido Liberal
Anastasio Somoza Portocarrero Populism, somocismo
Conservative Party
Partido Conservador
Rodrigo Ávila Neoliberalism, social conservatism, clericalism
Christian Democratic Party
Partido Demócrata Cristiano
Rodolfo Parker Centrism, Christian democracy
Citizens' Action Party
Partido Acción Ciudadana
Epsy Campbell Progressivism, anti-corruption
Libertarian Movement
Movimiento Libertario
Otto Guevara Classical liberalism, moderate libertarianism
Constitutionalist Liberal Party
Partido Liberal Constitucionalista
Jorge Quant Liberalism, anti-somocismo
Ecologist Green Party
Partido Verde Ecologista
Edward Martín Salazar Cruz Green politics, ecology
Democratic Change
Cambio Democrático
Héctor Miguel Antonio Dada Hirezi Center-left

[edit] The National Congress

The National Palace.

The legislative branch of Central America is the bicameral National Congress (Congreso Nacional), or Congress (Congreso), comprising the Chamber of Deputies (Cámara de Diputados) and the Senate (Senado). Both houses convene in the National Palace (Palacio Nacional), located in the capital, San Salvador.

[edit] Sessions

The Congress ordinarily meets in the capital on April 15 each year, and holds sixty sessions. The number of sessions may be extended by thirty more by resolution of both houses, issued its own initiative or at the request of the executive branch. If Congress is unable to meet on the dates indicated, it does so as soon as possible. The houses open and closed their sessions simultaneously, and must hold them in such a way that the number of meetings between them in no case exceeds three, unless otherwise agreed between the two. The President of Central America witnesses the opening of regular sessions of Congress in the united chambers and submits a report on the actions of his administration, which he may commission to the Minister of the Government. This formality is not essential for Congress to exercise its legitimate functions. The quorum required for either house to hold sessions is a simple majority of its members (however, a quorum in the Senate does not take into account ex-Presidents/senators for life or the senator who attained his seat by virtue of coming in second place at the last presidential election).

[edit] Powers and Functions

The National Congress has power:

  • To legislate in matters of national competence.
  • To propose amendments to and revisions of the Constitution, on the terms established in the Constitution.
  • To declare war and to make peace.
  • To lay and collect taxes.
  • To discuss and approve the national budget and any bill relating to the taxation system and to public credit.
  • To authorize appropriations in addition to the budget.
  • To approve the general guidelines for the national economic and social development plan submtitted by the President.
  • To authorize the President to enter into contracts in the national interest, in the cases established by law.
  • To authorize the departure of the President from the national territory, when such absence is to last longer than five consecutive days.
  • To approve by law any international treaties or agreements entered into by the President.
  • To declare the coat of arms, the national flag, and the national anthem, by a vote of two-thirds of members
  • To initiate impeachment proceedings against government officials.
  • To fix the standard of weights and measures.
  • To fix the currency.
  • To grant general amnesties for political crimes.
  • To enact its own internal regulations and apply such sanctions as may be provided for thereunder.
  • To pass on the qualifications of its members and take notice of their resignation.
  • To organize its own internal security service.
  • To pass and implement its budget of expenditures, taking into account the country's financial limitations.
  • To implement resolutions concerning its own administrative organization and functioning.
  • To perform such other functions as authorized by the Constitution and by the laws.

[edit] Formulation of laws

A draft of each law is submitted to the Chamber of Deputies. If it decides to take it into consideration, it sends it to a commission and submits it to a first and second reading in different sessions. If the bill passes the Chamber of Deputies, it will then be sent to the Senate. The Senate then sends it to a commission and submits it to a first and second reading in different sessions. If it approves, the bill is then sent to the executive for promulgation. If a bill is scrapped in its entirety by the Senate, it will be returned to the Chamber of Deputies with the reasons for its rejection so that the house will decide, in a single debate, on the matter. If the Chamber of Deputies insists on the original bill, it will be sent back to the Senate, and if the Senate maintains its previous approach, it will be rejected; otherwise, it will be approved and sent to the executive for promulgation. A bill renovated or added to by the Senate will be sent to the Chamber of Deputies for debate; if the changes are not approved by the Chamber of Deputies, the bill will be returned to the Senate. If it insists on its criterion, the bill will be considered rejected, but if both chambers approve, it will be sent to the executive branch. If the Chamber of Deputies approves the deletions, alterations, or additions made by the Senate, the draft will be returned to this house to pass on to the executive.

When the executive branch submits an initiative to Congress as a matter of urgency, each chamber must act within ten days.

If the President uses the power of veto, rejecting, modifying, or adding to a bill, it must be returned to Congress through the Senate, within ten days of receipt, with the reasons on which he based his decision. If he approves the bill, it is signed into law.

When the Senate receives the veto of a bill, it immediately proposes a meeting of both chambers of Congress to submit it for consideration. If Congress ratifies the rejected bill or partially or completely accepts any additions or reforms added by the executive, by a vote of two-thirds of its members, the bill is sent back to the executive to be promulgated.

The following do not require promulgation by the executive branch: the budget law; and provisions installing or closing the Congress, transferring its residence to another place, and suspending or extending its meetings.

[edit] Composition and election

The Chamber of Deputies is made up of 150 deputies, directly elected by a simple majority from single-member constituencies apportioned among the provinces by population, with one deputy for every 250,000 people. To be eligible for membership in the Chamber of Deputies, a candidate must be at least 25 years of age, a Central American citizen by birth (born of either a Central American father or mother, or both), in full enjoyment of their political and civic rights, and they must have been resident in the country for the previous five years.

The Senate is comprised of 30 elected members, directly elected by the nation at large, acting as a single constituency. In addition, former Presidents of Central America, as well as the runner-up in the most recent presidential election, are entitled to membership in the Senate. The Senate currently has 33 senators: 30 elected members, 2 ex-Presidents (Alfredo Cristiani and Francisco Flores Pérez, both members of the Conservative Party), and the runner-up of the last presidential election (Anastasio Somoza Portocarrero of the Liberal Party). To be eligible for membership in the Senate, a candidate must be at least 40 years of age, a Central American citizen by birth (born of either a Central American father or mother, or both), in full enjoyment of their political and civic rights, and they must have been resident in the country for the previous five years.

Members of both the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate serve for six year terms (except for ex-Presidents in the Senate, who serve for life). There are no term limits, and both consecutive and non-consecutive re-election are allowed.

The National Congress is presided over by the President of the Congress (Presidente del Congreso), elected by the Congress from among its members; this position is currently held by Carlos Sosa Coello of the National Liberation Party.

The composition of the current Congress is:

Party name Chamber of Deputies Senate
National Liberation Party 48 13
Liberal Party 37 8
Conservative Party 30 6
Christian Democratic Party 15 2
Citizens' Action Party 8 1
Libertarian Movement Party 5 0
Constitutionalist Liberal Party 4 0
Ecologist Green Party 4 0
Democratic Change 3 0

[edit] The President

Casa Presidencial (Presidential House).

The executive branch is headed by the President (Presidente), who serves as chief of state, head of government, and commander-in-chief of the armed forces.

The President is popularly elected by a simple majority to a term of six years. There are no term limits, but consecutive re-election is not permitted.

The Constitution of Central America does not provide for a Vice-President. In the event of the President's death, the Minister of the Government (the equivalent of the Attorney-General in the United States) succeeds him.

The President's official residence is the Casa Presidencial (English: "Presidential House").

[edit] Requirements to hold office

To be eligible to run for President, a candidate is required to:

  • Be a natural-born citizen of Central America.
  • Be 25 years of age or older.
  • Be in full enjoyment of his political and civic rights.
  • Have been resident in the country for at least five years prior to the date of the election.
  • Not be an official of any church or religious organization.
  • Not be an officer of the armed forces or law enforcement, unless they relinquish their position at least twelve months prior to the election.
  • Not be in active military service during the six months prior to the election.
  • Not be a presidential appointee, Minister, Vice-Minister, or other member of the Cabinet, a magistrate or judge, or a mayor, unless they resign from their position at least six months prior to the election.

[edit] Powers, Duties, and Functions

  • To direct the general policy of the State and represent it.
  • To maintain the independence, honor, integrity, and inviolability of Central America.
  • To maintain the peace and security of Central America and repel any attack or foreign aggression.
  • To execute and enforce the Constitution, treaties and conventions, laws, and other legal dispositions.
  • To issue decrees, regulations, and resolutions pursuant to law.
  • To sanction, veto, publish, and promulgate laws passed by the National Congress.
  • To participate in the introduction of legislaton to the National Congress by the cabinet secretaries.
  • To address the National Congress at any time, and to adjourn each ordinary legislative session.
  • To call the National Congress into special session, or propose an extension of the ordinary session.
  • To freely appoint and remove the secretaries of his cabinet, and other posts whose appointments are not assigned to other officials.
  • To direct foreign policy.
  • To conclude treaties and conventions, to be ratified by the National Congress.
  • To appoint the heads of diplomatic and consular missions.
  • To receive heads of state and diplomatic representatives.
  • To conduct economic and financial policy.
  • To dictate extraordinary measures on economic and financial matters when required by the national interest (which must be reported to the National Congress).
  • To formulate the National Development Plan, discussed in the cabinet and approved of by the National Congress, and to then direct and implement that plan.
  • To negotiate international loans, seeking the approval of the National Congress as required.
  • To confer military and civilian decorations.
  • To pardon and commute criminal sentences.
  • To declare war and peace in the event of congressional recess (although the National Congress must be called into session immediately on such occasion).
  • To allow or deny, with the authorization of the National Congress, troops of another country passage through Central America.
  • To allow, with the authorization of the National Congress, the output of Central American troops to serve in foreign territory.
  • To perform such other functions as authorized by the Constitution and by the law.

[edit] The Council of Ministers

The Council of Ministers is a cabinet of advisors to the President, comprising Ministers appointed by him. At present, the following individuals are members of the Council of Ministers:

Portfolio Minister
Minister of Agriculture and Livestock
Ministro de Agricultura y Ganadería
Rafael Ocón Mora
Minister of Defense
Ministro de Defensa
Julio Salazar Ramirez
Minister of Economy, Industry, and Commerce
Ministro de Economía, Industria y Comercio
Rómulo Martínez Hidalgo
Minister of Foreign Relations
Ministro de Relaciones Exteriores
Roberto de Paula Hernández
Minister of Finance and Public Credit
Ministro de Hacienda y Crédito Público
Tomás Caldera Guitierrez
Minister of the Government
Ministro de la Gobernación
Rubén Urtecho Vegas
Minister of Labor
Ministro del Trabajo
Leonardo Gallardo Ugarte
Minister of Public Education
Ministro de Educación Pública
César López Sánchez
Minister of Public Health
Ministro de Salud Pública
José Rafael Espada
Minister of Public Works
Ministro de Obras Públicas
Amilcar Guerrero Cerezo

[edit] The Supreme Court of Justice

The Supreme Court of Justice.

The judiciary of Central America comprises the Supreme Court of Justice, the Court of Appeals, the Supreme Labor Tribunal, the Administrative Court, State, District, and Local Judges, Judges of Labor, and Public Property Registrars. Federal and state judges serve six year terms; district judges serve three year terms; local judges serve one year terms. The judiciary is independent of the executive branch. All tribunal and court hearings are open to the public.

The nine-member Supreme Court of Justice (Suprema Corte de Justicia) functions as a court of last resort, hears cases against senior government officials, and reviews the constitutionality of laws. Its members are elected by the National Congress. The Court is presided over by the President of the Supreme Court of Justice (Presidente de la Corte Suprema de Justicia), a position which is essentially the equivalent of the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court; he is chosen by the Court from among its own members. The current President of the Supreme Court of Justice is José Amílcar Velásquez Zárate.

Judges must be natural-born citizens, in full enjoyment of their political and civic rights, of proven honesty and morality, at least 35 years of age (but no older than 60), and they must have practiced law for a minimum of ten years.

[edit] State governments

State and local governments are organizationally somewhat similar to the federal government. Each state has its own legislature (known simply as "Congress"; however, state legislatures differ from the National Congress in that they are unicameral), executive branch (headed by a popularly elected Governor), and judiciary (like its federal counterpart, known as the Supreme Court of Justice). Members of state legislatures serve two-year terms, which are staggered so that half of the members are elected one year, and the other half are elected the following year. A Governor's term of office is four years; most states allow consecutive re-election, but all states except El Salvador also have term limits. Costa Rica's Supreme Court of Justice is popularly elected (members serve six year terms, which are staggered so that one-third of its members are elected every two years), Guatemala's is appointed by the Governor, and the remainder are appointed by their respective state legislatures.

The Constitution stipulates that whatever powers are not explicitly granted to the federal government, nor denied by it to the states, are reserved for the state and local governments. As such, the states enjoy a very large degree of autonomy.

[edit] Subdivisions

The United Provinces of the Center of America comprises 5 states (estados), divided into 77 departments (departamentos), which are in turn divided into 1,126 municipalities (municipios).

Main article: Subdivisions of Central America


State Capital Governor Population Area
Costa Rica San José Kevin Casas Zamora (PLN) 4,195,914 51,100 km²
El Salvador San Salvador Antonio Saca (PC) 7,066,403 21,040 km²
Guatemala Guatemala City Álvaro Colom (PLN) 13,002,206 108,890 km²
Honduras Tegucigalpa Manuel Zelaya (PL) 7,639,327 112,492 km²
Nicaragua Managua Eduardo Montealegre (PL) 5,785,846 129,494 km²

[edit] Demographics

[edit] Age structure

0-14 years = 27.2%
15-64 years = 66.8%
65 years and over = 6%

[edit] Sex ratio

At birth = 1.05 male(s)/female
Under 15 years = 1.05 male(s)/female
15-64 years = 1.02 male(s)/female
65 years and over = 0.86 male(s)/female
Total population = 1.02 male(s)/female

[edit] Infant mortality rate

Total = 13.4 deaths/1,000 live births
Male = 14.35 deaths/1,000 live births
Female = 12.42 deaths/1,000 live births

[edit] Life expectancy at birth

Total population = 77.4 years
Male = 74.79 years
Female = 80.14 years

[edit] Total fertility rate

2.17 children born/woman

[edit] HIV/AIDS - adult prevalence rate


[edit] Nationality

Noun: Central American(s)
Adjective: Central American

[edit] Ethnic groups

Mestizo = 76.6%
Amerindian = 16.4%
White = 4.5%
Black = 2.1%
Other = 0.4%

[edit] Religions

Roman Catholic = 68.2%
Protestant = 23.5%
Jehovah's Witnesses = 0.7%
Mormon = 0.1%
Other = 1.6%
None = 5.9%

[edit] Languages

Spanish (official)
English (spoken as a second language by many educated Central Americans)
Indigenous dialects

[edit] Literacy rate

Definition: Age 15 and over can read and write
Total population: 91.9%
Male: 92.5%
Female: 91.2%

[edit] Culture

National symbols of Central America
Anthem La Granadera
Hero José Figueres Ferrer
Animal Jaguar
Bird Turquoise-browed Motmot
Flower Lycaste skinneri
Tree Enterolobium cyclocarpum
Fruit Banana
Sport Fútbol (soccer)

Central America enjoys rich diversity in people and cultures. The Roman Catholic Church, which claims almost 70% of the population as adherents, wields a strong influence on the country's society and politics. Much of the population is staunchly conservative on social issues.

Nearly every Central American is rabidly enthusiastic for sports, especially fútbol (soccer), which can only be described as a national obsession, enjoyed by Central Americans of every age, race, class, gender, and creed. The nation's love of sports is not confined solely to soccer, however; baseball, basketball, hunting, and fishing are also popular.

Central Americans are said to be a warm and hospitable people, and the majority of tourists who come to the country leave with a favorable impression, describing the Central Americans as gracious hosts and charming, amiable people.

Indigenous Central Americans are famous for their colorful and elaborate clothing, fascinating stories and legends, and the world-captivating temples and pyramids built by their forefathers.

[edit] Public holidays

  • January 1 - New Year's Day
  • March or April - Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Easter Sunday, and Easter Monday
  • April 14 - Day of the Americas
  • April 24 - Constitution Day
  • May 1 - Labor Day
  • May 10 - Mother's Day
  • August 15 - Assumption of Mary
  • September 10 - Children's Day
  • September 15 - Independence Day
  • September 25 - José Figueres Ferrer Day
  • October 12 - Meeting of Cultures Day
  • November 1 - All Saints' Day
  • December 24 - Christmas Eve
  • December 25 - Christmas Day

note: Each state also has its own public holiday commemorating its patron saint.

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