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The Creole elite in the captaincy general of Guatemala followed Mexico’s lead and severed its allegiance to Spain in 1821. The area then became part of the Mexican Empire of Agustin de Iturbide, but when Iturbide’s conservative government fell in 1823, liberals seized control, declared independence from Mexico, and formed the United Provinces of Central America. Chiapas, however, remained with Mexico, and Panama joined the Republic of Colombia (also known as Gran Colombia), headed by Simon Bolivar.

The United Provinces embarked on an ambitious but unrealistic program of republican reform and economic development, rejecting the Spanish heritage. Intense regionalism, political intrigue among the elite, and civil war resulted. In 1834 the liberals moved the capital from Guatemala to El Salvador, but their policies still faced bitter opposition and rebellion from conservative members of the elite and the rural masses. After the Guatemalan peasant leader Rafael Carrera captured Guatemala City in 1838, the federation began to disintegrate; the federal president, Francisco Morazan, finally resigned in 1840. Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica emerged as independent, conservative republics.

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