The Economies of Central America

The Economies of Central America

The Economies of Central America

The Economies of Central America

Excerpt

On his final voyage to the New World, Columbus encountered the Honduran coast, marking the European discovery of Central America. More than 450 years passed before the countries of Central America were rediscovered by the North American public. Despite the U.S. government's political role in the area in this century, Central America has been a terra incognita to most North Americans. In medieval times, cartographers adorned unknown areas with exotic monsters and mythical and fantastic geographical features. Somewhat similarly, Central America until recently was perceived (by those who considered it at all) as a vaguely defined geographical area characterized by bananas, coffee, and dictators in costumes out of a Gilbert and Sullivan musical. Certainly no other area of the world has had to bear a generically descriptive term as derisive as the label "Banana Republics."

There is a certain irony in the North American ignorance of Central America. North American military intervention south of the Rio Grande has a history of a century and a half, most of it occurring in Central America. Nationalistic Central Americans find it difficult to comprehend the fact that their countries have been dominated for over a century by the governments of the colossus to the north, yet even educated North Americans know so little of the twilight zone between Mexico and Colombia. The political turmoil that began in the mid-1970s highlighted rather than dispelled our ignorance of Central America. The fall of Somoza in 1979 in Nicaragua thrilled the left in the United States and filled the center and right with foreboding of more to come in El Salvador and Guatemala. Suddenly Central America was in the news, defined by North American policy makers as an arena of East-West conflict second in importance only to the Middle East. A presidential commission on Central America issued a report in early 1984 identifying the region as one of overwhelming strategic interest to the national security of the United States and dangerously vulnerable to Cuban- Soviet penetration and perhaps domination. While this book does not address itself explicitly to geopolitical issues, our discussion of the economic development of the region does provide insight into the political turmoil in Central America.

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