Central America

Central America

Honduran national hero Francisco Morazán was a prominent leader of the United Provinces Central America in the 1820s and 1830s, but his vision of a united Central America was never fully realized because of divisiveness among the five original member nations-- Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua--each of which went its separate way in 1838 with the official breakup of the federation. Subsequent hopes of restoring some type of political union were unsuccessful until the 1960s, when economic integration efforts led to the formation of the Central American Common Market (CACM). In December 1960, the General Treaty of Central American Integration was signed by El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua, and the CACM became effective in June 1961. One year later, Costa Rica acceded to the treaty.

The objectives of the CACM are to eliminate trade barriers among the five countries and institute a common external tariff (CET). Two important institutions were established as a result of CACM economic integration efforts in the 1960s. One was the Secretariat of the General Treaty on Central American Economic Integration (Secretaría Permanente del Tratado General de Integración Económica Centroamericana--SIECA), based in Guatemala City, which serves as the CACM's executive organ. The other was the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (Banco Centroamericano de Integración Económica--BCIE) headquartered in Tegucigalpa, which is the CACM's financial institution that lends funds to its member nations, particularly for infrastructure projects. The CACM integration process was somewhat successful in the 1960s, but by the end of the decade essentially fell into disarray because of the 1969 border war between Honduras and El Salvador, the so-called "Soccer War". Honduras officially suspended its participation in the CACM in December 1970, and relations with El Salvador remained tense in the 1970s, with border hostilities flaring up in 1976.

A peace treaty between Honduras and El Salvador was finally signed in 1980, reportedly under significant pressure from the United States. According to political scientist Ernesto Paz Aguilar, the treaty allied the Honduran and Salvadoran government in a campaign against the leftist Salvadoran insurgents, as evidenced by the Honduran military's participation in the Río Sumpul massacre of Salvadoran peasants in April 1980, when hundreds of Salvadoran peasants were reportedly killed as they attempted to cross the river into Honduras.

Given the historical animosity between the two nations, this military alliance was indeed surprising. As noted by Victor Meza, United States policy demanded "ideological and operational solidarity with a country [El Salvador]" with which there existed "a territorial dispute and an historic antagonism." For Honduras, United States military assistance would benefit Honduras not only in case of conflict with Nicaragua, but also, perhaps most importantly, in case of conflict with El Salvador. One example of United States disregard for Honduran sensitivities was the establishment of a Regional Center for Military Training at Puerto Castilla in 1983, primarily to train Salvadoran soldiers. The center was eventually closed in 1985 after General Álvarez Martínez, who had agreed to the establishment of the center, was ousted by General López Reyes. The official Salvadoran-Honduran bilateral relationship gradually improved in the 1980s.

In the early 1990s, there was considerable movement toward integration in Central America, in part because of the good personal relations among the Central American presidents. The semiannual Central American presidential summits became institutionalized and were complemented by numerous other meetings among two or more of the region's nations. The so-called northern triangle of Central America, consisting of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, made consistently stronger efforts toward integration than did Costa Rica or Nicaragua. At the tenth Central American summit held in San Salvador in July 1991, the presidents decided to incorporate Panama into the integration process, although the method by which this would occur had not been spelled out as of mid-1993. Belize has also attended the semiannual summits as an observer. Although Honduras actively participated in Central American summits since 1986, it officially rejoined the integration process in February 1992, when the Transitional Multilateral Free Trade Agreement between Honduras and the other Central American states came into force.

The rejuvenation of economic integration began in June 1990 at the eighth presidential summit held in Antigua, Guatemala, when the presidents pledged to restructure, strengthen, and reactivate the integration process. The presidents signed a Central American Economic Action Plan (Plan de Acción Económica de Centroamérica-- Paeca) that included a number of commitments and guidelines for integration. These included such varied measures as elimination of intraregional tariff barriers; support for commercial integration; tightening of regional coordination for external trade, foreign investment, and tourism; promotion of industrial restructuring; formulation and application of coordinated agricultural and science and technology policies; and promotion of coordinated macroeconomic adjustment processes.

At the eleventh presidential summit held in December 1991 in Tegucigalpa, the presidents signed a protocol for the establishment of the Central American Integration System (Sistema de Integración Centroamericana--Sica) to serve as a governing body for the integration process. The protocol was ratified by the Central American states, and Sica began operating in February 1993. The main objective of Sica is to coordinate the region's integration institutions, including SIECA and the BCIE, which were established in the 1960s.

Further progress toward economic integration was achieved in January 1993, when the five Central American states agreed to reduce the maximum external tariff for third countries from 40 to 20 percent. In April 1993, a new Central American Free Trade Zone went into effect among the three northern triangle states and Nicaragua. The new grouping reduced tariffs for intraregional trade to the 5-20 percent range for some 5,000 products, with the intention of lowering the tariff levels and expanding the scope of product coverage. The northern triangle states agreed to create a free trade area and customs union by April 1994.

As regards political integration, the Central American presidents in 1987 signed a Constituent Treaty to set up a Central American Parliament (Parlamento Centroamericano--Parlacen) to serve as a deliberative body that would support integration and democracy through consultations and recommendations. With the exception of Costa Rica, the other four Central American countries approved the treaty, and Parlacen was approved in September 1988. Each country was to have twenty elected deputies in the parliament, but by the date of its inauguration in October 1991, only three nations-- Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala--had elected representatives. Nicaragua planned to elect deputies by early 1994. Costa Rica's participation in Parlacen was impeded by domestic opposition. Since February 1993, Parlacen has formed part of Sica. Other political organizations under Sica are the Central American Court of Justice and the Consultative Committee, consisting of representatives from different social sectors.

As illustrated by the integration process, Honduras's relations with El Salvador and Nicaragua were close in the early 1990s. In September 1992, after six years of consideration, the ICJ ruled on the border dispute with El Salvador and awarded Honduras approximately two-thirds of the disputed area. Both countries agreed to abide by the decision. The ruling was viewed as a victory for Honduras, but also one that provided Honduras with significant challenges in dealing with the nearly 15,000 residents of the disputed bolsones who identified themselves as Salvadorans. Residents of the bolsones petitioned both governments in 1992 for land rights, freedom of movement between both nations, and the preservation of community organizations. A Honduran-Salvadoran Binational Commission was set up to work out any disputes. The ICJ also determined that El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua were to share control of the Golfo de Fonseca on the Pacific coast. El Salvador was awarded the islands of Meanguera and Meanguerita, and Honduras was awarded the island of El Tigre.

In 1993 political conflict in Nicaragua was again on the rise, with the government of President Chamorro struggling to achieve national reconciliation between conservatives of her former ruling coalition and the leftist Sandinistas. Conservative critics of Chamorro charged her with caving in to Sandinista demands and complained that the Sandinistas still controlled the military and policy. Rearmed former Contras were forming in northern Nicaragua, with reported support from Nicaraguan and Cuban communities in the United States. Memories of the early 1980s led some observers to fear a flare-up of hostilities in the Honduran-Nicaraguan border area, as well as the prospect of another flood of Nicaraguan refugees into Honduras. Political observers and most Hondurans were hopeful, however, that even should turmoil break out in neighboring countries, Honduras would be able to follow the course laid out in the 1980s and continue to strengthen its democratic traditions.

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